Archive for May, 2013

One of the books I’m working through this week is Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. I plan to post a review of it in coming days, but wanted to share this brief reflection on how cultural sensitivity informs our worship styles.

“Sensitivity to worshipers’ capacities goes awry when concern to communicate to those in our culture tempts us to be undiscerning about the realities of our culture. Jesus and Paul were willing to challenge religious traditions in order to communicate spiritual truth, but they were not naive about their choices. They refused to be bound by conventions that would hinder the gospel, but they respected cultural norms that would enable them to keep the gospel credible and knowable. Jesus ministered to the woman at the well (which would have raised eyebrows about his message) but he did not accompany her alone to her home (which would have resulted in the rejection of his message). Paul in Athens made allusion to an unknown God, but he did not make an offering at that altar. On Mars Hill the apostle quoted pagan poetry, but he care fully chose a passage that would underscore his message and not undermine his credibility. Concern for the witness of the gospel made Jesus and Paul willing to break with some traditions and willing to honor others.

Applications of these principles are always most difficult in the present tense. How do we minister to the necessities and capacities of people in our worship today? Their necessities require our faithfulness to the gospel. Our worship must reflect the truths of the ministry of Christ revealed in his Word. As previous chapters have demonstrated, the structure of our worship and the content of our words–said, read, demonstrated, prayed, and sung–communicate the message that God’s people need. People’s ability to understand and appropriate the message depends both on the work of the Spirit in their hearts and on worship leaders’ willingness and ability to discern how to communicate in the cultural context.

Sensitivity to the cultural context does not mean automatic capitulation to cultural norms. For example, the expectation that a generation that has grown up with Power Point presentations and video marketing will want the same in worship can be quite naive. Some in this generation feel so bombarded by all this cultural “noise” that they long for a place of quiet reflection. Some persons who have experience the dead spirituality of religious formalism will long for informality that communicates authenticity. Others who feels the aimlessness of a culture without heroes, institutions, or values to respect will seek churches that “feel like” church–where faith, at least, seems secure because continuities with the past are honored through traditional songs and symbols. Some will run from churches whose anachronistic music communicates lethargy and selfishness; others will run from churches too naive to recognize their music is so “with it” that it carries secular baggage that many young people are desperate to escape.”

Chapell is clearly not advocating for one worship style over another. What he is suggesting is that we be thoughtful, biblical, and gospel centered in how we order and conduct our worship.

Categories : Books, Worship
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May
29

Worship 101

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This week I’ve posted three foundational points that are basic to my understanding of worship. They were:
1. Worship is based on our redemption in Christ. (Exodus 20:1-2)
2. God identifies himself as the exclusive object of our worship. (Exodus 20:3)
3. We must guard our hearts against idolatry. (Exodus 20:4-6)

The fourth basic concerning worship found in Exodus 20 is God is to be reverenced and worshipped for who He is. Exodus 20:7 states, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.” Or as the KJV reads, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” I grew up in a Christian home, and the cardinal sin was “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” Nothing would cause my mother to flare with anger more quickly than that! I was not permitted to use common euphemisms such as “Oh my gosh,” or “golly” or “geez.” While the third commandment certainly would cover profanity, I don’t think that’s the main issue it seeks to address. The command is directed toward those who misuse God’s name to create a personal advantage or who take the name of God lightly. Irreverence is the issue. Profanity can be a part of that irreverence, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The next commandment reminds the reader that, in the words of Robert Webber, worship is a verb. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT). Sabbath was given by God for rest, reflection, and renewal. The ability to stop all activity was and is a sign of trust in God for our provision. Sabbath was also to remind us that we must be intentional about worship, and regular at that.

As a part of my preparation for this series I’ve been reading Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. Reading his survey of the history of Christian worship reminded me of the gifts of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation emphasized the participation of the congregation. The liturgy and the Scriptures were produced in the vernacular of the people. Congregational singing was instituted as well. God is to be revered in worship. It begins with Him and must be about Him.

The final six commandments deal with our social responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. Worship, therefore, is in the context of community. We worship as the people of God, not the persons of God. Hebrews 10:23-25 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Why is corporate worship important? First, because we encourage one another. Is it possible to worship alone? Sure. But if I neglect the opportunity to worship with others I might begin to think that I’m the only one with a problem. When we gather, we gather with others who face challenges and difficulties. Our mutuality inspires us to move forward by faith and to encourage others to do the same. The other reason for corporate worship given by the writer of Hebrews is that there is an urgency to our mission. “The day of his return is drawing near” challenges us to remain engaged in the mission of the Church and the message of the Kingdom.

Thanks for checking in this week. I trust that these thoughts on worship from Exodus 20 will challenge you and bless you as you think about our ultimate priority!

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May
28

Worship 101

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Our worship is based on our redemption in Christ. Unless we see that clearly, much of our “worship” will be conducted in vanity and will be for the most part self serving. Continuing in Exodus 20 we find the first commandment where God identifies himself as the exclusive object of worship. “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3, NLT).

Postmodernism has done much to deconstruct absolute truth including the Bible’s exclusive claim of monotheism. In one of my previous pastorates I preached a sermon that highlighted the exclusive claims of Christ. Afterwards I was confronted by a person who was indignant that I would make such a bold claim. “I think in the end all Gods are the same. We’re all praying to the same God and we’ll all end up in the same place.” The person continued, “If you are going to continue to preach that there’s only one God and one way of salvation, I’m going to have to find another church.” I simply replied, “If every way is ok then no way is necessary, and all of this is a colossal waste.”

God’s first commandment to the people of Israel was to always hold fast to the conviction that God is one and there are no others beside Him. This conviction does not justify spiritual arrogance or grant permission to be judgmental. You can hold a conviction without being angry about it. But if we yield to a system of plurality, we make worship about us instead of about God. We think of what we want and not what God desires. Which leads naturally into the second command.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on thoseb who love me and obey my commands” (Exodus 20:4-6, NLT). The claims of God are exclusive, yet our hearts are naturally inclined to idolatry.

Israel had scarcely caught their breath from their deliverance from Egypt. One would think that their dramatic rescue would have left a lasting impression on their hearts. Yet as God speaks these words to Moses on the mountain, Aaron is making a golden calf at the base. Why are idols so compelling? The thing about an idol is that it doesn’t have to be something we carve or chisel and erect on the mantle above the fireplace. It can be anything. An idol is when we take a good thing and make it a god thing. They can be subtle. Romans 1: 21-23 reads as follows: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.” Birds, animals, and reptiles were examples of idols in Paul’s day. In our day, we use birds, animals and reptiles as mascots for sports teams. Those of you who know me know that I like sports as much as the next person. But there’s a fine line between fanaticism and worship. We wear player jerseys, collect memorabilia, and pay big bucks for tickets. According to Deadspin, 41 of 50 states list a college coach as their highest paid state employee. Again, I’m not anti-sports. I’m simply trying to point out that idolatry is seductive and slippery, and once we erect them in our hearts they turn on us and become demanding taskmasters.

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May
27

Worship 101

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Yesterday I began a four week series at First Baptist Church on the subject of worship. In my preparation, I was reminded of Elmer Towns’ famous observation that the first murder in the Bible occurred over a dispute concerning worship (cf. Genesis 4:1-9). As I reflected on the story of Cain and Abel, I thought about how deeply we think and feel about worship. God too, for that matter!

The first sermon was titled “Worship 101” and was taken from Exodus 20. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, isn’t that where we find the 10 Commandments?” You are correct. Perhaps a little background will help you see the method to my logic. For 400 years the Israelites had been enslaved by the Egyptians. God saw their suffering and heard their cries and sent Moses to emancipate them from Pharaoh’s grip. There are plagues and the Passover, then the Exodus. Israel loaded up and moved out of town. The climactic end to their flight occurred as they passed through the Red Sea and stood on the shoreline while God folded the waters over Pharaoh’s army like a blanket.

Israel moved to the base to Mt. Sinai and set up camp. Moses went up the mountain to meet with God who gave him the Law. The first four commands are not just a list of rules. They are commands that are designed to help us know how to appropriately relate to God and to one another. These commands informed Israel as to how they were to worship.

Consider for example the prologue. “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery” (Exodus 20:2, NLT). The 10 Commandments represent God’s first words to the Israelites following their deliverance from slavery. As a redeemed people, their first priority was to learn how to worship God. Here’s the point: Worship is based on our redemption in Christ. The God who speaks is the God who saves, and He saves us so we might worship him. John MacArthur calls worship, “The ultimate priority of the Christian life.” We worship because of God’s saving grace.

Several years ago we permitted my daughter to get a dog. She was interested in a “rescue dog,” and surveyed the adoption listings from several area shelters. She found a Golden Retriever that she thought would be a good prospect, so we made an appointment to visit the shelter. When we arrived, the keeper introduced us to the dog who barely paid any attention to us. He just ran mad circles around the fenced in yard. While he ran round and round, another Golden came over and sat before us. “He’s a new intake,” the woman remarked. “Haven’t had time to put him on the website yet.” “Is he available?” we asked.

As the keeper told us his story, the dog that we would come to know and love as Jackson sat trembling before us. “We’ll take this one.” Rescue dogs can be a mess, and Jackson has been no exception. He’s chewed up countless shoes and two good pieces of furniture. We discovered that he was blind in one eye and had contracted Addison’s disease, both from suspected blunt force trauma from his previous owner. He takes two medications daily to regulate his Addison’s and believe it or not, depression. But he follows me around the house, regardless of where I go. If I’m at the table, he’s there. If I move to the couch, he’s there. If we sleep with our bedroom door closed, he lays across the threshold. I’d like to think that in some way Jackson behaves this way because he understands he’s been rescued and has been afforded a life that he never dreamed was possible.

That’s the first lesson in worship. We worship because we have been redeemed by Christ. He rescued us, and our worship is our appropriate response to God’s saving grace. If we don’t get that part down, much of what follows is meaningless.

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May
23

The Book of Acts in 3 Minutes

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When Lisa and I talked through our sermon series on marriage we considered several possible biblical couples. The list included the likes of Adam and Eve, Jacob and Rachel, David and Bathsheba, and Job and his unnamed wife. Each marriage had its own unique challenge that was not dissimilar from the challenges we face in the 21st century. But we settled on Acquila and Priscilla because of the positive influence they had as a couple for the sake of the Kingdom of God. They are mentioned in four passages from which we made four observations.

First, they were together in the marketplace (Acts 18:1-3). Priscilla and Acquila arrived in Corinth sometime after Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in AD 49 for preaching about Christ. There they met Paul who was also a tentmaker. We don’t know if Priscilla and Acquila were publicly preaching in Rome, but they certainly didn’t hide their faith in Corinth. They wore their faith on their sleeves and quickly drew the attention of Paul. They worked with Paul and opened their home to him.

In the next mention we find them together in missions (Acts 18:18). The time came for Paul to move on from Corinth, and evidently he enlisted Acquila and Priscilla to accompany him as he continued his second missionary journey. They sailed to Syria, where Paul left them in Ephesus while he traversed farther inland. Acquila and Priscilla were willing to uproot their lives and occupations for the sake of spreading the gospel on foreign soil.

At the end of Acts 18 Priscilla and Acquila were together in mentoring young Apollos. Apollos was educated in Alexandria and was a gifted communicator. They were impressed with his knowledge of Jesus the Messiah and his ability to offer an articulate apologetic to the Jews. The only issue Apollos had was that he didn’t know anything about Pentecost or believer’s baptism. Instead of publicly deriding him they privately pulled him aside and mentored him. Priscilla and Acquila invested their lives in a good man and helped him become better.

One of the unique opportunities before the modern church is the chance to have older couples mentor young couples and newlyweds. If you’ve been married 20 years or more you have a lot to offer young couples who are just starting out. Have a young couple in your home or take them to dinner. Help them understand that marriage is worthwhile and that difficulties can be overcome with faith and sweat equity.

The final mention of Acquila and Priscilla is found in the last chapter of Romans. In verses 3-5, Paul commended them for their lives together in ministry. A careful reader will note that they have returned to Rome after their eviction by Claudius. Paul noted that they had risked their lives for him. He also mentioned their reputation throughout all of the Gentile churches. He greeted them and the church that met in their homes.

So what is the value of all of this togetherness?

Serving together reminds us that marriage is more than striving to make our spouses happy or making money so we can retire or even having and raising children. Marriage is a living picture of Christ and his church.

Serving together keeps married couples focused on eternally significant things. It helps us keep life in perspective. You probably caught the fact that two of the four passages mention that Acquila and Priscilla expressed hospitality and used their house as a place of ministry. What could happen if we saw our houses as outposts for ministry and missions? How could you use your home as an opportunity to reach out?

Serving together causes spouses to challenge each other spiritually. When you serve together you are more likely to stay together spiritually than if one serves and the other does not. If you’re frustrated with your spouse’s tempo of spiritual growth, challenge him or her by inviting him or her to serve with you. You’ll be glad you did!

Categories : Marriage
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pennies6

Here are some more findings regarding tithing in America gleaned by Brian Kluth via STATE OF THE PLATE.

Categories : Stewardship
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May
17

Love Stories: Joseph and Mary:: 2

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I left yesterday’s post with an open ended question: How do we develop and cultivate trust in marriage?

1. Pray and read Scripture together on a regular basis. Many Christian couples who have mastered table grace have found it difficult to develop this routine with any degree of regularity, including us. It’s a hard discipline to master, because there’s always something else vying for our attention. But it does make a difference. Praying together is a tangible way to realize that life is not just about me or even us.

2. Recall God’s faithfulness in history. One of the things you may have noticed in your Old Testament readings is the frequency with which those characters recite their pilgrimage. Prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are an example of this. Another is the ongoing reminder of the Exodus and how God rescued them from slavery and delivered them through the Red Sea. By retelling these stories the Israelites were reminded of God’s past faithfulness. This recollection encouraged their faith in God for both the present and the future. Retelling the stories of God’s faithfulness in your marital history will build your faith in God for today and tomorrow.

3. Take conversations to a spiritual level. I recently read that we live out of two narratives. There is the narrative of what has happened, and then the narrative that I tell myself about what happened. While we may not be able to do much about the first narrative, we certainly have some influence over the second one. Too many times we fail to ask ourselves questions such as, “Where is God in all of this?” or “What does God say or think about this?” By elevating the conversation to a spiritual level we invite God to be a part of it and can begin to see his hand at work.

4. Encourage one another’s obedience to God. Lisa does this very well for me. When things happen that are difficult or disappointing, we can either join our spouse in complaining, blaming and excuse making or we can encourage our spouse to be obedient, reminding him or her of Christ’s obedience while on earth (Hebrews 5:7-9).

5. Rejoice that the struggle will make you stronger. Psalm 81:16 says, “But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with honey from the rock.” God has a way of bringing forth sweet things from hard places. The difficulties we endure produce growth and develop our character. Good things come out of those hard experiences.

Categories : Marriage
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May
16

Love Stories: Joseph and Mary

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Admittedly, we don’t think much about Joseph and Mary outside of the month of December, and when we do, they serve the story as supporting actors to the star who is swaddled in the manger. We don’t pay much attention to Joseph because we’re not certain of the significance he plays in the story. As for Mary, Baptist just plain get nervous about any conversations concerning her.

In Luke’s version of the incarnation, Mary receives an angelic visitation to announce the work of God through her. Luke 1:29 says that Mary was “confused and disturbed” about the announcement. Lisa pointed out in last weekend’s sermon that this description was, perhaps, an understatement. There were a lot of social implications that came with this divine request. To be the mother of the Messiah would have been a fair amount of pressure, not to mention the challenge of being a pregnant virgin who would have some explaining to do to her fiancé. The angelic visitation enabled her to trust God and obey him. Fortunately, Mary did have a relative she could turn to for support. She went to stay with Elizabeth, who was also pregnant at the time with a baby who we would later recognize as John the Baptizer.

The Gospel of Matthew reports Joseph’s point of view on the event. One can scarcely imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph as she tried to explain the story of how she had become pregnant. The Bible says that Joseph was a good man, but this news from Mary became a deal breaker for him. He must have had a lot of conflicted emotions. Perhaps he was embarrassed and a little disappointed. He may have felt a violation of trust. Yet at the same time he was a compassionate man. As a Jew, he could have surrendered Mary to religious authorities and had her stoned to death in order to save face. But he didn’t. He determined to break the engagement privately and compassionately. We don’t know if Joseph talked to anyone about what happened, or even if he had a confidant available to him. But God came to him in a vision during his sleep and that visitation enabled Joseph to participate in God’s plan. He was able to trust and obey God.

God was the common denominator between Joseph and Mary. He was and is the ultimate unifier. God had providentially brought them together and would go to great lengths to keep them together. We need to remember that when we can’t trust our circumstances, we can always trust God.

We all have problems in our marriages. Some are easily resolved with humor. But what if our problems are bigger or ongoing? Some of our problems are from Satan, who wants to disrupt and destroy our homes (John 10:10). Some problems are permitted by God and are designed to build character and faith, as when Jesus sent the disciples across the lake in a boat knowing a storm was on the horizon (Matthew 14:22-33). We have problems like Mary and Joseph. Unfortunately, we don’t get angelic visitations or visions from God. Yet, we have to exercise trust and obedience. How do we cultivate and develop trust? Tomorrow I’ll offer five suggestions on how couples can cultivate trust in God that will help them weather the storms that come.

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May
14

Love Stories: Boaz and Ruth:: 2

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Yesterday I posted that character leads us to make commitments that are fulfilled in the simple, ordinary acts of everyday faithfulness. Doing little things with no expectation of anything in return, acknowledging each other’s kindnesses, accepting your spouse for who he or she is, and seeking to meet your mate’s needs rather than demanding your own needs be met are some examples of such behavior.

What’s important to note from the story of Ruth is that God used her faithfulness to extraordinary proportions. In preparation for this sermon Lisa observed, “The ordinary becomes extraordinary if you do the day to day things with faithfulness.”

Ruth doesn’t know or have any way of knowing how her story will end or the legacy she will leave. As the story goes, she and Boaz marry and have kids. She would become through that union the great grand mother of King David and serve the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, Ruth is one of five women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:5).

Marriages are not built on great purchases or outstanding vacations. They aren’t developed by purchases or experiences. To say it another way, they aren’t won by the 60 yard touchdown pass. They’re built on the “three yard and a cloud of dust.” Sure, there are times when you’ll catch wind in your sails and feel effortless. But the honest reality is that marital success comes by consistently doing the small things well.

Categories : Marriage
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