Thinking Thankfully

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Today is Thanksgiving and with all holidays, for some folks today brings joy and anticipation (can you say cranberry sauce and stuffing? Football? Seeing family, throwing around little nephews, and perhaps even a nap?) and for others it brings none of those things in parenthesis and maybe even sadness and despair.

Yet…God’s Word instructs us to be thankful always.  Always.  #Ow.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

How important is it to be thankful?

Erwin Lutzer writes that “Giving thanks changes everything…in fact, thanksgiving is a game changer.”  Why?  He provides two reasons:

  1. Being thankful honors God by reaffirming his sovereignty.  When we thank him in all things, we admit that he is really and truly in control of all things.  Yes, even the bad stuff, and he is able to redeem and restore by the power of the gospel.
  2. Being thankful changes us.  It builds faith in our hearts; the weight of our burdens are God’s not ours.  It gives us a new perspective, if frees us to see difficulties as a part of a larger purpose. It also frees us up to worship God, and reminds us of his goodness, love, and providence.

To echo Lutzer’s last point – thankfulness to God gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  In this world we will all have hardship, but even in those times the answer is not to be full of self-pity and self-focus, but to cast our gaze outside of ourselves to the one who is able to redeem and restore all for his glory and our good.

In thankfulness, we make a conscious decision to thank God for all he has done for us in Christ – we take an axe to the root of unbelief that God isn’t truly good, or he isn’t truly for us, or truly not in control…and we find the strength to climb out of whatever hole we are in, and kill sin and it’s temptations with the grace of the gospel.

On The Road Again…headed to Kentucky #wge13

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Besides a bad Willie Nelson song going thru my head, we are actually leaving for Louisville, KY late tonight.  (Personal note:  I probably know every word to that song, I went thru a brief Country Music period in the 6th grade and have since repented and received Biblical counseling. Healing has begun.)

We will be first visiting the campus of Southern Seminary and then attending the WorshipGod East 2013 conference put on by the fine folks of Sovereign Grace Music.  For years, we have found SGM’s music helpful in teaching, encouraging, and building up our church body.  This will be my 3rd WG conference, and they always do a great job.  I’m looking forward to great times of teaching, worship like none other, and general refreshment and whacky hi-jinks that will surely go on when we get away.

Several members of our church worship team are attending as well, and as an online/hybrid MDiv student, I’m excited to be on campus for the first time and meet a few professors that I’ve enjoyed in virtual class.

Are you going?  Shoot me a line or a tweet.

I will try to continue my tradition of posting daily summaries to this blog, so stay tuned!

A Worship Problem

You may have heard me say it a lot – worship is not only just singing.  In fact, singing is a very small percent of worship – we worship with our entire being and person.  We are all created to be worshipers, therefore we all worship something – so what is it?

God created the world and created us to enjoy him and his creation that points back to him and his greatness.  In Romans 1 he says that this is obvious – just walk outside or sit by the ocean or the Grand Canyon, or the mountains and it smacks you in the face – there is a Creator.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)

Knowledge that there is a God and that he is eternally powerful and divine (not human) is “plain to” us in Creation.  The Apostle Paul then uses stronger language and says that we are “without excuse!”  We can’t say to God that “Oh, gee, I didn’t know you existed.”  He made everything in such obvious complex beauty and structure it is obvious that he exists.

And so if it so obvious that he exists, it also should be a given that he is to be worshiped.  C.J. Mahaney once said something to the effect that there are two categories- the created things and the Creator.   By nature and design the created things worship the Creator.

We are part of the created things and therefore need to worship the one who created us, but this isn’t just singing songs – it’s devoting our whole lives in worship to God.  He has provided a way for us to worship him fully in Jesus Christ. For as created things, we sin and that sin separates us from a 100% sinLESS God.   This is a cosmic dilemma for we cannot fix this separation ourselves.  God in his grace has provided a mediator for us in Jesus. Thru faith in Jesus and perseverance of a life dedicated to God we are restored and the separation repaired – this is the gospel. God’s Gospel.  His design and creation to reconcile us to himself.

Paul also uses strong language that we are to “obey” this  – calling it the obedience of faith in v5.   The bad part is that if we do not obey, we’ll still be worshipers – however we’ll worship the created things, instead of the Creator (v25) – and when worship is directed at the wrong things – it all goes wrong.  The list of sins that stem from this worship problem is astounding, and we see it everywhere today. Check out v26-32 for a commentary on much of what we see today.

No one will deny that this world is jacked up, that’s obvious too.  But, God is working his plan to fix what sin has broken and restore his creation back to him.  Let’s remember that creation itself screams out that God exists and the sin we see is an indication of a fundamental worship problem – and let’s all rightfully worship our Creator thru faith in Jesus.

Worship Team Training from Nehemiah

I wanted to share some thoughts that I recently shared with our worship team at this week’s rehearsal from Nehemiah.

I think there remains a misunderstanding that  the Bible is silent on musical worship.  True, it is not prescriptive and we don’t have exact details of what songs to sing, what to wear, etc. but we do have some references to musical worship that we can learn from and apply.  Let’s look at four things the Bible clearly mentions about musical worship – (1) it should be organized well, (2) it should be passionate, (3) we should consider the state of our hearts before the God we are leading others to worship, and (4)it should be culturally relevant

Musical worship should be organized well…

Did you know that Worship Leaders are in the Bible?  Look at Nehemiah 12 – the Jewish nation is rebuilding the temple, and hey…what is a construction project without music?  🙂  Neh 12:2 says that the Levites were in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. and later in 12:46 there is a reference to “long ago in the days of David and Asaph there we directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.”  We see that we have a “point person” that is responsible for the musical worship.  That’s good organization, that’s why we continue to do that today.

Our god is a God of order, not of chaos. (1 Cor 14:33) – we see Biblical support for organization and procedures in the musical worship of our God.

We want to do all things to the best of our ability and effort for God.  We aren’t earning favor with him, but our aim is to not be a distraction for others.

…it should be passionate

Few things in life are as much of a turn off as someone who is half-heartedly doing whatever they seem to be doing. One of the things that struck me the most when I started going to church again about 10 years ago was the passion-less worship.  I recall sitting in the back listening to a congregation sing “Our God…is an awesome God…” like they didn’t believe a word of it, nor cared.  It left a very negative impression on me a new believer that these folks must not really believe what they are singing, as their outward passion (or lack there of) was in direct opposition to the words they were singing or the “awesome” God they were supposedly singing to. God wants our whole hearts.

In Neh 12:27 – we see the people sang with gladness and thanksgiving. Many times in the Bible there are references to physical expressions of worship – lifting of hands, clapping, dancing, even shouting!  (NO WAY!)  Everyone on the worship team is a worship leader.  The body is looking at you to “lead” (go first) in worship or our GREAT God – who has created us, sustained us, and redeemed us in Jesus.  We should be passionate about that, we NEED to be passionate about that.  If we aren’t will we do a good job of encouraging others to be?  If we aren’t we may need to look somewhere closer to home…

…we should consider the state of our hearts before him

The Bible calls us to examine our hearts and test our ways (Lam 3:40).  As we cannot truly know our hearts, (Jer 17:9)we are to ask God to search our hearts and see if there be any wicked way in us. (Ps 139:24).  In our Nehemiah text, we see in 12:30 that the Levites ‘purified themselves.’  Yes, this is talking about ceremonial/ritual purification – but in the New Covenant (Heb 8, Jeremiah 31, John 4:21-26) it is no longer outward purification and ritual – it is within our hearts.  We must spend time before leading others in worship to draw near to God ourselves in our hearts, have him search our hearts, confess, repent, and bask in the forgiveness and grace of Jesus.

…it should be culturally relevant.

This is still one of the biggest misunderstandings in the church today. Every place/people group on this Earth has a culture.   Churches are no different.  Your church culture is a reflection of the people that make it up.  In our church, we have a wide variety of tastes, preferences, and personal  convictions.  We must weed thru them and separate the things of first importance from those of secondary importance.  The first importance things are things like Jesus is God, the Bible is inerrant, God is creator, God’s redemptive plan thru the gospel of Jesus, etc.  The secondary things are very culturally influenced – do we wear a tie or jeans?  Do we play drums or the organ? Do we sing 16th century hymns with a piano or today’s songs with a full band?  (the answer to all of those questions is YES, by the way…)– BUT here is the point — when we confuse the secondary stuff to be primary stuff – we take our eyes of Jesus and put them onto ourselves.  We elevate our personal preferences too high.

Nehemiah 12:27 says that they used the instruments available in that culture – their voices, cymbals, harps, and lyres.  If they had electric guitars and drums they would have used them too, but they sadly hadn’t been invented yet.  Music is a reflection of culture.  We wouldn’t go deep into the jungle of Africa and play Chris Tomlin songs – that’s a cultural mismatch…nor would I have an all hip-hop worship set at our church – although it is appropriate elsewhere in other bodies with that cultural make up.    When we don’t align the music of the culture with our church body culture we set up cultural barriers and negatively effect the message of the songs themselves – which is hopefully what is of first importance — the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God!

For 89% of us in churches in the US – we need to have a careful and sensitive eye to the balance of our music at our churches, thinking of others as more significant then ourselves (Phil 2:1-11).

Let us continue to search the Word of God and ask the Holy Spirit to cause us to understand it more as we apply it in the leading of worship to our great God!

 

Psalm 9 for 9/9

Sometimes as I go to prayer I will meditate on a few Psalms.  Don Whitney has spoken often about praying scripture and the Psalms are a great way to do that.  A suggestion is pick a Psalm by the day of the month – so today is the 9th so I checked out Psalm 9.  (You can also keep going “up” in the Psalms by adding 30 – so read also Psalm 39, 69, 99, 129…)  Odds are one of these Psalms will hit you, or more accurately – the Holy Spirit will grab you.  That’s why it’s so important to pray before we read the word of God – ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to what is in the text – He will do it!

It sure didn’t take long this morning for me.  He nailed me in the first 2 verses:

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

I will recount all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.  (ESV)

So the first thing I see is the four “I will” statements – talk about setting your mind right!  The author of the Psalm is telling himself what to do. That is very important that we tell ourselves truth instead of lies.  We cannot be slaves to how we feel.

  • I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart – Meditate on all that you have to be thankful for and thank Him.  With your inner person, your core, your whole self.
  • I will recount your wonderful deeds – “recount” – KJV says “I will shew forth” – another meaning of the Hebrew here is “rehearse”  – So, resolve to rehearse, to recount, to take account of His wonderful deeds – not past sin that he has paid for and is gone; not the enemies lies.  Dwell on the wonderful deeds he has done.  He has done them!
  • I will be glad and exult in you – telling yourself how to feel.  I love it, Martin Lloyd Jones would be proud!   Another translation of “exult” is “rejoice.”   Set your mind to be glad and take your joy in God in Jesus Christ.  He has done the most wonderful deed ever by reconciling us to Himself through Jesus death on the cross. (Rom 3:21-26)
  • I will sing praise to your name, O Most High – determine yourselves to praise his name in singing.  Of course as a worship leader this makes me happy.  We should be praising our Lord in singing – even if it’s out of our comfort zone.  Focus on the truth in the lyrics of the songs and praise him with a heart full of joy.  Get over your personal preferences and musical style issues and praise the One that is higher than us all.   [I expanded on this rant in an earlier post…]

Now, don’t feel like doing any of these?  Great!  Pray that you will.  Pray that God will enable you, through the Holy Spirit to give thanks to Him with your WHOLE heart, recount his wonderful deeds – start thinking of them…naming them.  I’ll bet you’ll start to become glad and exult in Him, focus on Jesus in the ultimate expression of the Father’s goodness, mercy, grace, and love for us.  And sing.  Even if you can’t and even if you may not like the style or the worship leader’s hair (or lack thereof).  Sing out with a heart full of the joy of God.

Culture and Worship (and Idolatry)

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure where this post is going to go.  There have been a bunch of things on my mind lately about worship after speaking with a couple last night and focusing on idolatry, I re-read Driscoll’s excellent chapter on Worship in his book “Doctrine – What Christians Should Believe.”  Then…well…yeah…it kind of opened a door…

Growing up as a quintessential “Christian kid” (though not really being a true Christian) there were many things that shaped my view of what Christian worship was.  It seemed to be church.  Just church itself, how we did it.    It was about us, not about God.  Lately, I’ve been realizing that still rings true in many churches today.

That is the nature of idolatry – making it all about something other than God and it is the root sin of all sins.

Driscoll writes –

Similarly in our own day religious people continue in various idolatries when they elevate their denomination, church building, liturgical order, Bible translation, worship music style, pastor, theological system, favorite author or ministry program to where it is a replacement mediator for Jesus, on in which their faith rests to keep them close to God. This also explains why any change to the tradition of a religious person is met with such hostility – people tend to cling to their idols, including their church buildings, which are now worshiped and sacred, just as the temple was.

I once had an older man confront me in anger and said “You know…worship is important to me too.”  Screaming in my head was my response, “Yes, but worship on your terms – your song preferences, your dress, your style of music.  Your interpretation and personal preference of worship is obviously extremely important to you.” I would say that his way of worshiping had become his idol.  Worship is not about us, it’s about God.

When we stand and refuse to sing because we think we can’t sing, or that’s just not us, or we don’t like the music, or the style, or don’t know the song by heart – who are we making it about?

The body of Christ is diverse, we live in a culture, we cannot esacpe that.   Driscoll writes and I agree ‘If we are alive, we are cultural.’  We use whatever the means of the culture to reach those in the culture with the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ.  Psalm 33 is not a list of acceptable musical instruments, it is a declaration to use whatever the culture has in that time to praise God – “Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.” (Ps. 33:2).  We use the communication and styles of the culture to communicate the unchangeable message of Jesus.  The method can and must adapt – the message cannot.  We wouldn’t go into a tribe in Africa and play Chris Tomlin songs…

Every church has contextualized their approach to church, it’s not a matter of if they have or not – it’s a matter of what year they stopped the contextualization.  What year did you stop?  1600?  1950?  1984?  What about those who live in the culture of 2011?

God has been beating into my head – among many things – it’s not about us, it’s about Him.  We have perverted Christianity into a religion, into “doing church” – and it’s not about that, it’s about God.  It’s about his unbelievable love towards a sinner like me, who saw all my future sin on the cross and paid it in advance and drew me to himself and called me his own and reconciled our relationship through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He gave me a new heart, a new life, made me a completely new person – the BBW is “regeneration.”  The Holy Spirit makes us new in Jesus by the grace of God.  We spend (or should spend the rest of our lives) making much of Jesus, not much of ourselves.

Does your personal worship reflect that?  Does your church reflect that?

Our world needs us to be authentic worshipers of God who make much of Him, not us.  They will see us pouring out our whole mind, soul, body, and strength in grateful worshipful service to our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.  They will see us worshiping, singing, with a full heart of joy. (So will our kids)  They will see that this is a great God, one of steadfast faithful love and tremendous mercy and patience in Jesus.  And we need to pray that the Holy Spirit comes and opens their eyes to the new life and hope in Jesus.

It is about Him, not us.

 

 

 

 

 

WorshipGod 11 – the last day…

Well the last day has arrived.  What a great conference this has been!

This morning Bob Kauflin lead us in worship – that is always a joy.  Here is the set he did – again thanks to Bob’s blog WorshipMatters.com for listing:

Saturday AM – Bob Kauflin and band
Come Praise and Glorify
Generous King
When You Move
O Great God (Bob Kauflin)
Behold our God

I LOVE the song “Behold Our God”  – in fact I am introducing it to our church this Sunday, unless Hurricane Irene interrupts that plan.  It is I think the conference favorite…what great lyrics that exalt our Lord and a very singable and catch melody as well.

Craig Cabaniss
spoke at this last general session.  His message was titled “Gathering to Commission.” Sovereign Grace has posted the audio for the message here.

Here are a few bullet points that stuck out to me:

  • Our services are the intersection of gathering and mission
  • Church gathers to praise and build up but then scatters on mission
  • Gathering should be missionally potent
  • God is present at these gatherings for many reasons – to save, etc.
  • 1 Peter 2:4-12
    • Who we are:
      • Chosen race
      • Royal priesthood – we are all priests – Heb 13:15 – we continually offer sacrifices up to God
      • Holy nation
      • People for his own passion
      • Proclaiming the excellence of him who called you – v11-12
        • Word for proclaim is used only 1 time in all Greek NT – meaning to declare/tell/count
        • used in Psalm 79 in the Septuagint
        • Proclaim the excellencies like you would proclaim the greatness of your new favorite restaurant coming to town!
        • Ps 96/105 – Come and see!
        • Proclaim the gospel
    • We gather for God
      • to declare his praises before those who may be in darkness – what what we sing matters
      • How we arrive, how we participate declaring his worth responding as one touched by mercy – they should leave knowing we believe in Jesus!
    • We are all gathering to commission – there is mission going on!
      • We gather and go – lather, rinse, repeat
      • Come and see – go and tell!
      • People of God gather in the presence of God to proclaim the excellencies of God
      • Ensure the gospel is on display and clear

This was a GREAT conference, I can’t wait until 2013.  If you don’t know much about Sovereign Grace, I urge you to check them out: