Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hymn based on Luke 5:1-11

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

Crowds Were Pressing In on Jesus

To the tune: STUTTGART ( Meter: 8787. Based on Luke 5:1-11.  Words: William Weber, 2011.

v. 1
Crowds were pressing in on Jesus,
there to hear the Word He taught.
When He finished, called to Simon:
Cast your nets, fish will be caught.

v. 2
Jesus, Lord, controlling nature,
even fish at His command.
Peter saw the Lord’s great glory,
and himself a sinful man.

v. 3
In Christ’s glory shining brightly,
sinners sense the weight of sin;
tempted to run far from Jesus,
when we ought to hide in Him.

v. 4
Lord, receive us, sinners needy,
for You died upon the tree;
shed Your blood for our atonement,
so that we might live with Thee.

v. 5
Show, O Christ, to us Your glory,
open eyes that cannot see.
Show to us Your justice, mercy,
so that we may live near Thee.

Seeing through the Material World

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.
--George Herbert

Herbert's verse points to the problem with secular man and society: men no longer see that the material world is an emblem of the spiritual world, and thus they live for this life alone. When we look through the glass, everything changes. What we value is transformed. Jesus said, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:32-34).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Is the Kingdom of God?

In verse 43, we hear our Lord saying: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus came to bring lost sinners into his kingdom.  In order to do this, he had to suffer and die in their place.  An atonement for sins had to be made.  But if people are not invited into his kingdom, they will not come.  People must hear the good news of the kingdom, so that they might enter into this realm of blessing.

The kingdom of God is good news because of what it is and who rules it.  Every kingdom has a king, a people, a place, a rule and blessings. The kingdom of God is good news and consists of:
  • Our King: He is our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us;
  • His People: Christ’s people were once in a kingdom of darkness, but through faith in the Son, whom the Father sent, we have entered into the kingdom of light;
  • His Place: We live near our resurrected Lord, who is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, by faith now, but when Jesus returns, by sight;
  • His Rule: Our rule for living is the Word of God as it is has been fulfilled by Jesus, and from the Word we learn of the good and wise ways of our Father;
  •  His Blessings: In Christ we have so many benefits and blessings, chief of which are forgiveness and eternal life.

It is important to see that our blessings come to us through judgment.  Every salvific act of God has come about through judgment, from the flood of Noah, to the exodus, to the cross, to Christ’s return.  In order to save us and give us blessings, the Lord must judge his enemies and ours.  On the cross, the Lord himself bore that judgment, in order that we might be free of judgment forever.  But one more judgment remains, which will bring about eternal life in a new heaven and earth.  Jesus, as God the Father’s King, will execute that judgment when he returns, and it will bring blessing for his people, but woe for those who are outside his kingdom and opposed to his rule.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Biblical View of Congregational Singing

One of the problems with Evangelical and some Reformed churches is that they have adopted a false view of the role of congregational singing.  Some, like the church growth movement, have used singing to attract people from our culture.  Some have used singing to create a particular atmosphere that is supposed to allow the worshiper to come near to God, and He to us.  But, Scripturally, congregational singing fits under the category of prayer.  These verses in my devotions from 1 Corinthians 14 the other day show how congregational singing is nearly synonymous with prayer, and belongs in that category:

I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also;
I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit . . . .

These verses are in synonymous parallelism.  Three activities are paralleled: praying, singing praise, and giving thanks.  Interestingly, the context of 1 Corinthians 14 is liturgical or congregational worship.  Singing praise is practically synonymous with prayer and giving thanks.  Singing praise is not to be done to attract people to our church services, nor is it to be used to create an atmosphere.  Instead, singing praise is to be prayer and part of the dialogue of worship between the Lord and his people.

The early church, according to Acts 2:42 was devoted to four things, none of which was singing!  Jesus only sang once in the Gospels with His disciples.

So let us be devoted to the things which the early church was devoted to, namely, the apostles' teaching, the Lord's Supper, prayer and fellowship.  The first three of these, and even the fourth, feature prominently in the worship service.  We should not be devoted to singing, but rather, devoted to prayer, which sometimes we put to music as a way of warming our affections and enhancing our cries of petition and joyful praise to the Lord.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Terry Johnson on the Public Reading of Scripture

"In the reading of God's Word, God speaks most directly to His people. And so, this act of worship, in which the verbal self-revelation of God is addressed unedited to the hearts of His gathered people, ought not to be ignored, skipped, or squeezed out. It is irritating enough to have to endure preachers who say 'I do not have time to read my text today' (as if to say, 'we need to hurry on past God's Word to get to mine!'), but to have whole worship services in which the formal reading of God's Word is absent is a self-imposed famine of the Word." --Terry Johnson

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A New Hymn about the Kingdom: King, People, Place, Rule and Blessing

The kingdom of God is a main theme in the Gospels and it was at the heart of Jesus' preaching and the preaching in the book of Acts.  But what exactly is the kingdom of God? 

All kingdoms have a king (leaders in democratic republics), a people, a place, a rule of law, and blessings.  Jesus' kingdom is no different.  The king is our crucified  and risen Lord.  The people are those who trust in him and call upon him for salvation.  The place is with him in heaven already by faith and later by sight at the resurrection.  The rule for  believers is the Word of God that finds its fulfillment in Jesus.  The blessings of living in God's kingdom are chiefly forgiveness, eternal life, and the joy, peace and love that come from knowing the Father through the Son in the fellowship of the Spirit.

I wrote these lyrics to teach Christians about this simple way of remembering what it means to be a member of Jesus Christ's kingdom.

The Kingdom that Our Lord Proclaims

Suggested tune: DUNDEE.  Based on Luke 4:43.  Words: William Weber, 2013.

v. 1
The kingdom that our Lord proclaims
is gracious news indeed.
He bids us enter to be saved,
and own Him as our King.

v. 2
How blessed the people of the King,
for they are justified.
With sins forgiven do they sing
of Him who for them died.

v. 3
How blessed the place where Christians live,
for they are raised with Christ.
He is the Fount that ever gives
His people grace and life.

v. 4
How blessed are those who hear Christ’s Word,
His Word their rule, their way.
For He is King, the risen Lord,
His Word must all obey.

v. 5
How blessed are those who are in Christ,
for blessings He imparts.
For only Jesus satisfies
our barren, restless hearts.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What We Lose When We Neglect the Public Reading of the Scriptures

"The continued reading of the scriptures in church keeps the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of the biblical revelation before the people." –Geoffrey Wainwright

Of course, this was written in 1980 by Wainwright, before contemporary Christian music became the vocabulary, grammar and syntax in the church!  What we need are leaders in the Christian church who will once again take the command of 1 Timothy 4:13 seriously, namely, to devote ourselves to the public reading of the Scriptures.  If we no longer put the words of the Old Testament, Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles before Christ's people, we won't learn our own language, and we will replace it with a new language.  This is what is happening in our churches.  We are losing the ability to discern the voice of our Shepherd by not obeying Christ's command through his apostle to read the Scriptures publicly.

What we need is a public plan for the reading of Scripture in our churches, similar to the private plans we have for devotions, so that a worshiper who goes to church can hear the Bible read in the course of ten years or at least the Gospels and Psalms in say a five year period and the Old Testament in a 20 year period.  As it is now, in most Evangelical and Reformed churches, one would not hear even a fourth of the Bible read publicly in church in a lifetime.

Particularly grievous is our neglect of the Psalms, which can teach us what our God is like, and the Gospels, which are the heart of the Bible, the climax of the redemptive story that makes sense of it all the Scriptures, and gives us the sublime words of God himself in human flesh. 

Obviously, there are some parts of Scripture that have to be handled wisely. Maybe reading only one chapter in the long lists of genealogies that begin the book of 1 Chronicles, before moving on to the narrative, but we need a lectionary free from the faults of the current ones, so that we might start obeying the apostolic command of 1 Timothy 4:13.  Otherwise, the people will not know the vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and even, the voice of the Lord.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Worship at an Acts 29 Church

Today I visited Coram Deo Church, which I believe is part of the Acts 29 network of churches. The liturgy had some some strengths and some weaknesses.  First, the strengths:

  1. The lyrics of some of the songs were very good (biblical).  Discernment in the lyrics we sing is much needed in our churches, and at least the first three songs at this particular church were excellent.

  2. The young man who led the service said some excellent things.  He was obviously theologically astute, which was refreshing to see in such a young person, and some of his comments helped us to enter into the worship of our Lord.

  3. I was impressed with the prayer that was used for the confession of sins.  It was borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer, and it allowed us to confess our sins to the Lord in a meaningful way.

  4. Apparently they recite a creed or confession each Sunday, which is a helpful practice.  The young man who led the service did a wonderful job of introducing the creed as an act of commissive language that some should probably not recite.  Although the one read on this particular Sunday was not a historic creed, nevertheless, the words were apostolic.

  5. The sermon was good and biblical.

  6. They gave the Lord's Supper.
Second, the weaknesses:

    1. Like so many churches these days, Coram Deo's service had a bit of a performance feel.  A number of factors play into this, but at this particular church, these factors played into the performance feel:

      ---keeping the lights dimmed in the auditorium except for the "stage," making it almost impossible to read the Bible I brought to worship;

      ---using a countdown before the service;

      ---singing some songs that were difficult for a congregation to sing and that had a commercial feel, though they gave the band an opportunity to show off its ability.

    2. There was little Scripture reading.  Five verses were read total.  There was no Old Testament, Psalms, or Gospel readings.  How can we say that we are "devoted to the public reading of Scripture," when we read such a paltry amount of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)?  Interestingly, in the sermon the pastor acknowledged that his congregation was not biblically literate, but offered as a solution private Bible reading. But if worship is to be spiritually formative, shouldn't the church model the reading of Scripture herself in obedience to the apostolic command?

    3. A representational view of the bread (and the gluten-free bread) and the wine (and the grape juice) was present in the administration of the Supper.  Besides the fact that we are unwilling to stick with Jesus' command of bread and wine, but must include grape juice and now gluten-free bread as options!, by eating and drinking the bread and wine, we participate in the life of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17).  We eat his body and drink his blood spiritually by faith, and so he gives us himself in these elements.  I get the feeling that Coram Deo may have the Supper each Sunday, which is good, but I don't see how this good trend can continue without a deepening understanding of how Christ pours his forgiveness and resurrected life into us by these means.

    4. A faulty view of the role of singing.  In order to get away from the performance/entertainment feel of so many worship services these days, which tend to make them feel fake, we need a better understanding of the relationship between singing and the dialogue of worship.  Each song we sing should fit into the dialogue between the Lord and his people.  Songs can be petitions, praise, lament, confession, and thanks offered to the Lord by his people. Songs can also be the Lord's Word, proclamation or teaching to his people.  Songs can also contain our encouragement or exhortation to one another as his people.  Songs may contain a combination of these things.  But until we see how each song relates to the dialogue, singing will continue to dominate our services to the point of squeezing out things commanded like prayer, the reading of God's Word, and the Supper.  We will continue to equate worship with singing, and our worship will, more than likely, continue to have a performance/entertainment feel.  In our culture, singing feels like worship, but Scripture reading, prayer and the Supper do not, and so we will continue to be led by what feels right to us, and not by what Scripture commands.

Jesus is our pattern for worship.  His self-offering on the cross was the apex and pattern for our worship.  His petitions, praise and self-offering love came in response to the Word of God on which he lived by faith.  He learned that Word, at least partly, in the synagogue worship which was filled with a systematic reading of the Law, Prophets, and Psalms.  He also learned to pray, at least partly, from the prayers that came in response to those Scripture readings, which the modern church in our day has eliminated, even though the church has had Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament readings throughout its entire history until the start of the twentieth century.  Part of the reason why we have eliminated them is that we equate singing with worship, but not reading Scripture with worship, nor taking a meal with worship, nor even praying with worship.  

May the Lord give our pastors and elders (not musicians who should not be making liturgical decisions) wisdom as they design and lead worship, for worship is spiritually formative, and was formative even for Jesus, who is our pattern for worship.  Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Penitential Prayer from Starck's Prayer Book

"Merciful God, lover of mankind, how great is Your loving-kindness toward us!  You patiently bear with our many faults and weaknesses.  You do not punish us as our sins deserve.  You have opened my eyes by Your Word, so that I now know myself and sadly have seen how depraved my heart really is.  I feel the world both inside me and outside me.  I find the world inside me: the evil desires of my heart, my sinful inclinations and promptings to evil.  I find the world outside me: evil people who would entice and mislead me by their sinful examples and temptations.  O Lord, my heart, which is evil by nature, takes greater delight and pleasure in these things than in Your Holy Word.  Woe is me, that I have for such a long time, so often, and to such a degree allow myself to be enticed and drawn away by this age!  I am ashamed to lift up my eyes to Your presence when I think of the follies of my youthful years.  Alas! I have served the world better than You, O my God!  I have tried more to please the world than You.  I have clung to the world more than to You. With these things I have offended You, have wounded my conscience, and aroused Your anger.

"Behold, my God, I return and repent in dust and ashes.  O my God, remove the love of the world from me so that You and You alone may possess and rule my heart.  Let Your Holy Spirit sanctify me completely and drive all worldliness from me.  Make me consider the sad end of the children of this age so that I cling to You and not to the world, that I obey You and not the world.  Draw me back when I am about to run and sin with the world again.  Keep me always in Your fear, and remind me constantly that You have created me for Your service, and that I should daily put on the new self created in God's likeness in true righteousness and holiness.  Cause the world to become more and more distasteful to me.  Let me with ever-growing relish strive after holiness, the fear of God, and the joys of heaven.  Grant that I may constantly despise the lust of the world, which passes away.  Grant me to run from the lusts and joys of this world, because after one has drained them, there follows nothing but anxiety, unrest, an evil conscience, and the destruction of the soul.  Pluck from my heart whatever is still remaining in it of the world, and plant Your holy fear within me, so that I may carefully avoid all that is evil our of love for You."  --from Starck's Prayer Book

Sunday, August 11, 2013

If this statement is true, then something is very wrong with our theology in the Reformed and Evangelical world. Our best scholars and most discerning Christians believe that Evangelical and Reformed worship has never been more shallow, more cut off from its historical roots, and more driven by the culture and/or a false theology.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Zombies in the Bible!

She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. (1 Tim. 5:5-6)

To me, these are some of the scariest words that the Lord has ever spoken.  The person (for surely this has an application beyond widows!) who is self-indulgent is like a dead man walking---I guess that makes one a zombie!  The self-indulgent person is dead to God, and if you are dead to the triune God, you have missed life's purpose, which is fellowship with the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit.  To have true life is to live life like the widow described above.  It is to know the Father and the Son and to live in fellowship with God, making continual prayers and supplications, and depending on him for life and security, not on the passing, vain pleasures of this present evil age.

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