Thinking in Worship

20 07 2012

Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.” – John Piper in Desiring God pg. 82

Think about the songs you sing on Sunday mornings.  Why do you sing them?  Is it just because they are the songs you’ve always sang and they “move” you emotionally? What are the words that you are singing?  Unfortunately, in many churches today, the songs sang are theologically shallow.  This isn’t a “Traditional” vs. “Contemporary” thing either.  There are shallow hymns as well as contemporary songs.

As quoted above, “emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought.”  This is where we are in much of evangelicalism today.  We don’t want to think about what we are singing- we just want to sing, we just want to “feel.” It’s not that emotion is wrong; it’s just that we crave emotion apart from truth because it’s “easy” and we don’t have to think about it, which is kind of like going to the movies isn’t it? We can just “feel” and be entertained but we don’t really have to excercise or discipline our minds for “rigorous thought.” And this kind of mentality in worship is wrong.

I’m in no way trying to reduce worship to just Sunday morning singing.  Worship encompasses much more than that.  However, I am asking God’s people to think when they sing.  When you sing this Sunday think about the words of the song.  Think about how they point you to the greatness of Christ and your need of Him.  Think about how they point you to the Cross and the holiness, love, justice, grace, and mercy of God.  And if the songs you sing don’t point you to those things, it may be time to discuss with your Pastor your church’s understanding of Worship.





Random thoughts on Church Service length

19 07 2012

This post is the conclusion from a series of blogs I wrote last year working on answering the question: How long should a church service be? You can see the whole blog series in .pdf format by clicking HERE. Probably would be helpful to read some of the other blogs in the above .pdf to understand the full context.

1.  How many churches are more concerned about the “time” issue than they are about answering the 3 foundational questions (Who and What are the services for? What elements should be included?)

Sadly, many churches (including leaders and members) are more concerned about their schedule than they are about what goes into a weekly gathering of Believers.  Immediately I think “big” churches come to mind here.  These churches may be televised or have multiple services and/or sites.  These churches are on a strict schedule and plan each segment of their service so that everything flows as smoothly as possible and they can finish on time.  Now, planning is not an evil thing!  I am certainly not advocating laziness in planning.  However, for these type of services how much freedom do we give the Holy Spirit?  It seems we’ve basically “planned” Him out of the way.

I said that “immediately” I think of big churches, but small churches are just as guilty.  The small church mentality  seems to be less planning and more “this is the way we’ve always done our services, why fix it?”  So, the small church has opening song, announcements, more songs, offering, special music, and then preaching. The schedule is not thought about or tweaked because it’s always been done that way.  For some small churches time may seem a non-issue, but mainly because for decades (or longer) it’s always been the same.  There’s no self-examination within the Body to see whether or not the services contain a healthy amount of prayer, scripture reading, singing, preaching, etc.

2. The “seeker sensitive” movement has gotten the church off track in regards to this issue

This too affects all sorts of churches.  We’ve been so concerned about creating an inviting, inoffensive atmosphere that we’ve lost track of who and what the service is for.  I want to put this proposition forward:  If the Word is being faithfully preached, and the people are faithfully receiving the Word, don’t you think the bathrooms are going to look respectable!?  In other words, the answer is not to make sure everything in the church is clean and inviting so that visitors will come back.  The answer is to faithfully PREACH THE WORD!  Heart change will affect our outward actions.  There is so much more I could write about this “seeker sensitive” topic.  Churches have forsaken corrective discipline, membership standards, etc. all for the sake of “reaching more people for Jesus.”  Where’s that got us?

3. The “attention span” argument doesn’t work

The human mind can only endure 15-20 minute sermons.  Or so all the “new research” suggests.  I have several problems with this argument.  1st- we live in a fallen world.  How many true Christians where surveyed in this research?  See, the Holy Spirit is “recreating” us!  We are being restored to the full image of Christ (this is called sanctification).  So, even if fallen man can only endure that much, I would have to think Christians can endure (and desire) more.  2nd-  How many college/university professors do you know cutting down their lectures based on this research?  There may be a few, but I’m saying the majority are not.  3rd-  Practically, this research doesn’t affect our entertainment world.  We’ll endure concerts, movies, sporting events, etc. for hours on end.

4.  Let’s remember Sunday is the Lord’s Day

Or it used to be.  Then it got knocked down to the Lord’s “Morning and Evening”.  Then it was moved back to the Lord’s “Morning”.  Now it’s just the Lord’s “1-hour or less”.  Yes, you should have time with your family on Sunday.  Yes, you should have time to rest on Sunday.  But the corporate gathering of believers is priority number one.  It is the ONE day that we set aside to gather with our church family.

Conclusion:

I know this post has been somewhat random in it’s ordering, so let me conclude with this.  The question “How long should a church service be?” should be irrelevant to mature believers.  There are certain priorities, and elements, the Bible commands us to pay attention to in our weekly gatherings- that is what should concern us, NOT the time.  How can the Body of Christ, with a straight face, spend hours every week in front of the television, sporting events, and other recreational activities, but complain about the extra 15 minutes at church?  Can we really faithfully fit all the elements we’ve discussed with the right priorities into a pre-packaged 1-hour service?

Let me conclude with 3 thoughts for church leaders:

1.  Do everything you can to NOT waste time during a service.  If your service is going long just because people aren’t prepared, and things are messing up with sound, media, etc. this is not good.  Cut out the time wasters.

2.  Don’t forget the Holy Spirit.  Yes, it’s good to plan, plan, plan.  Be disciplined in your preparation for Sunday mornings.  But don’t be so rigid that there is no room to adjust during the service.

3. Repent.  Let us repent and lead our people to repent of our concern for our own time.  May we be a people who will truly worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.





Why preach through entire books of the Bible?

16 07 2012

Just some Monday afternoon thoughts on why Pastors should preach through books of the Bible:

1. It’s how we operate with all forms of communication.  You don’t get a letter from someone and just read the middle paragraph and think you have a good grasp on the letter. Yes we are in the “digital” age where we just like to consume bits and pieces of communication at a time but we also are unable to communicate properly without context.  It would be odd to pick up a book, randomly go to page 142 and read a sentence and actually believe you could understand all that was behind that particular sentence.

2. It’s how the Bible was meant to be read.  Let’s say you disagree with #1 and you say “Well, I grab books and only read the important sections and then toss ’em.”  I would say to you, fine, but the Biblical authors wrote with the intention of having their work read in its entirety.  (example, Col. 4:16)  Moses did not write in hopes that someone would read 5 chapters from the Pentateuch.  He wrote with the intention that all 5 books would be read and studied.  If this is how the Bible is meant to be read, then why not teach your people this by modeling it through your sermons?

3. It’s a testimony to belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.  Is Scripture sufficient? Does it contain everything we need for salvation, knowing God, obedience to Him, understanding His will?  If it is sufficient, then we want to know all of it, not just the parts that we believe are important and skip out on the rest.  Does man live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God or not (Deut. 8:3)?  Scripture interprets Scripture.  Therefore, we need to let the Bible itself speak on what it is that we need to know about God and man.

4. It allows you to cover the whole counsel of God’s Word.  Related to the above point, preaching through books allows you (andforcesyou!) to cover all that the Bible says; even things that are controversial.  You can’t dance around Jesus’ teaching on divorce, or repentance, or conversion for example if you are preaching verse by verse through Matthew.  It also keeps the Pastor from just hounding away on his favorite topics or soap boxes.

5.  It’s what your people want need.  I have heard and do hear complaints from time to time from lay persons about Pastors preaching through books of the Bible. But, if the above points are true, then if you’re a pastor, this is what your people need.  And I believe this is what mature Christians want.  Why? Because our desire as Christians is more of Christ.  What better way to give your people more of Christ than preaching His own very Word in its fullness?

6. It allows the Pastor and the people to know what’s coming.  You don’t have to scramble Monday mornings to find what to preach on.  Your people can read, reflect, meditate, pray about, and discuss with family members the next set of verses that are going to be covered.  This will help congregations master certain books of the Bible which will only help them to master other Books of the Bible when studying on their own.  If done properly and consistently it teaches sound hermeneutics without ever having to say the word “hermeneutics” from the pulpit!

7. The benefits far outweigh the “cons.”  Yes, you must be disciplined in preaching through books because each sermon must be in context while at the same time able to stand on its own.  Also, you should be flexible because there may be local or global events that occur (good things, bad things, ugly things) that your people must hear a Word from God on and it may not match up well with your specific text (although sometimes it may).  However, I believe God will bless Pastors who are resolved to preach expository sermons through books of the Bible as the main dose of their preaching simply because this is how God’s Word was meant to be preached to His people (see above statements!).





What makes a church a church?

14 07 2012

I’ve been reading RetroChristianity lately by Michael J. Svigel, and wanted to share some helpful things he said about what makes a local church an actual church.  There has been some heavy emphasis lately in the evangelical world on the fact that the church is “not a building.”  While this is certainly true, it only identifies what the church is not, and doesn’t help us define biblically what the church is.  Just because you sound the mantra “We aren’t a building, we’re a people!” doesn’t necessarily mean the group of people you gather with constitutes a true church.

Svigel says “An authentic local church is supported by two pillars: the essential marks and the essential works.”

The marks of the church are as follows:

  • Orthodoxy– “Orthodox believers are those who hold to the essential truths of the Christian faith – those fundamentals of the faith that have been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”
  • Order– The local church has to have leadership.  “Order emphasizes the necessity of properly trained, trusted, and tested pastors, teachers and leaders of the church, to whom the orthodox faith has been entrusted to pass on to the next generation.”
  • Ordinances– These ordinances are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Svigel rightly states that the ordinances “are closely associated with the growth, discipline, and purity of the church’s members.”

The 2nd pillar of the church is its “works.”  Of course it doesn’t mean the church “works” to be saved, but rather a true church will bear fruit, and this is what that looks like:

  • Exaltation– “The purpose, goal, and focus of the church- to glorify God the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Another good term would be “worship” but that was taken by Rick Warren 🙂 and it doesn’t fit with Svigel’s alliteration.
  • Edification– The church is to be “building up believers in love and good works.”  Edification is not focused on the outside, i.e. the world. Rather, it is focused on Believers, discipling them, growing them, teaching them… “in edification, the disciple-maker’s role is to teach and model.  The disciples role is to learn and follow.”
  • Evangelism– This “focuses on the unsaved world, balancing both local and global missions.”  The church is to go and tell!  We must communicate the Gospel in our local context and to the ends of the earth.

A church, is more than just you and your buddies hanging out on the golf course.  It’s more than just “fellowshipping” with some friends at the lake.  The church is a people but these people are organized with a common purpose and common goals, having the glory of Christ as their highest aim.  I still like this definition from Vintage Church:

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

So, is your church a church?





Assurance of Salvation

12 07 2012

Biblical assurance of salvation is a beautiful thing and something God wants His children to have (1 Jn 5:12-13). Here are four things that can give us confidence that we belong to God:

1. Faith in Christ today: It’s not  did you put your faith in Christ some time in the past- Rather, are you trusting Him right now? If you did put your faith in Christ some time in the past, then you will be trusting Him now.

2. The Presence of God’s Spirit: Believer’s are indwelled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit prompts us to believe the right things about God and to produce fruit.

3. Obedience to God’s Word: Do you delight to obey God?

4. A Pattern of Growth Over Time: It’s not about the snapshots in your life where you mess up, but is the overall “movie” of your life one that is depicting you maturing more and more into the image of Christ?

*The above were taking from Mike McKinley’s book Am I really a Christian?





Dead Man Walking?

11 07 2012


“When a man’s heart is cold and unconcerned about religion, when his hands are never employed in doing God’s work, when his feet are not familiar with God’s ways, when his tongue is seldom or never used in prayer and praise, when his ears are deaf to the voice of Christ in the Gospel, when his eyes are blind to the beauty of the kingdom of heaven, when his mind is full of the world, and has no room for spiritual things- when these marks are to be found in a man, the right word to use about him is the word ‘Dead.’

This is the true explanation of sin not felt, and sermons not believed, and good advice not followed, and the Gospel not embraced, and the world not forsake, and the cross not taken up, and self -will not mortified, and evil habits not laid aside, and the Bible seldom read, and the knees never bent in prayer.  Why is all this on every side? The answer is simple- Men are dead.”

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) in Alive or Dead?





Salvation an Umbrella Term?

11 07 2012

A post from my friend and brother in Christ, Nathan Nalley (@NathanNalley on twitter)…

Soteriology is a big word for the study of salvation. Within soteriology we find everything related to the salvation of our souls: Redemption, Atonement, Adoption, Conversion, Regeneration and so on. Growing up, I thought being saved, being converted, being born again, being adopted into God’s family and being justified were all synonyms. I thought they all meant the same thing!

It came as a shock when I found out that these terms each spoke about a different aspect of salvation. “Being Saved” was the most common term, but people said it to mean that they “got saved” in the past whether it was last night or 30 years ago. Or they would say to their friends/family, you need to “get saved”, meaning that whoever they were talking to needed to become a Christian. I don’t expect to be exhaustive in my treatment of salvation in a blog post, but hopefully I can be helpful to our church.

I want to speak of Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. There are many simple ways to say what they mean, but here is a table to explain them.

Justification Sanctification Glorification
Being declared “Righteous” Being made Righteous Being Righteous
Happens in a moment Happens in a lifetime Happens upon death
Past event for Christians Present life of a Christian Life after death for a Christian
Romans 3:20-28 Romans 6:11-19,  Phil. 1:6, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:9 1 Cor. 15:51-52

Justification happens when we are converted. When we turn from our sins and trust Christ as our only claim to God. At that moment we are declared righteous (even though we are not actually righteous!) and have Christ as our advocate in heaven. No matter what happens from this point on I am accepted by God solely on the basis of the finished work of Christ. If I were to commit the grossest sin imaginable I would still be right with God because He is not looking at my actions anyway. He is looking at the finished work of Christ. NOTHING ELSE!!! We do not have to lift a finger to get to heaven because God has given us the perfection of the Son. This gives understanding to several difficult Bible passages like Matthew 5:20 and 5:48.

Sanctification happens throughout the Christian life after conversion. Justification was all of God but in sanctification we cooperate with God. We are striving to please Him. Does our salvation depend on our sanctification? Kind of, here’s what I mean. Sanctification is the guaranteed next step of salvation. It will follow justification 99.9% of the time. The only time it doesn’t is like the case of the thief on the cross where the person dies right after they were justified. If a man continues to live after he is “saved” then the next part of salvation WILL occur. So does our salvation depend on it? Your sanctification does not earn heaven. However, your sanctification proves that you were justified. Like we said, at the point of justification, God stops looking at your righteousness and looks at Christ. But, if there is no evidence of sanctification in your life, there is no proof that justification ever took place. Salvation is not earned, but it can be proved through sanctification. In a clear short statement: If you are justified, you are being sanctified. If you are not being sanctified, you were never justified.

The problem is, many church attenders claim that they are justified based on an experience that they had and not based on the sanctification that is currently going on within them. The Bible never tells us that we can know we are Christians based on a personal experience we had in the past. What does it say? You will know them by their fruits; Your life is marked by godliness instead of sin (Matthew 7, 1 John 3:9).

Glorification does not occur until this life is over and we pass into God’s heavenly kingdom. It is when sin is finally and completely finished. This is when we become righteous. This will be the final proof of justification. Without a justification and a sanctification, glorification won’t happen. Heaven will not be a reality to anyone who has not believed in Christ as their only source of righteousness and has crowned Him King of their life in an effort to live under His authority.

I hope I was able to give a little bit of clarity with these words and [hope churches will] embrace this biblical view of salvation.

– Nathan Nalley