God doesn’t need an invitation

 

calling-god-down

There’s a peculiar thing I’ve noticed in some of the songs in popular Christian praise and/or worship music—typically the ones you hear at the beginning of the “set”1 intended to warm everybody up and get everyone excited. It’s this idea that we are somehow summoning God into our presence. Songs about inviting him into our midst, calling him down, telling him to show up in power, and show us his glory, and all this kind of stuff…

Now, depending your congregation’s proclivities, you’re probably going to sing a song like this today. And I’ve gotta say, to me at least, it’s really weird. It’s not that I’m against being aware of God’s presence, nor am I against praying—or singing for that matter—for true, Spirit-wrought revival. But I’m not sure this is what these songs are talking about. Instead, they seem to be putting us in the drivers’ seat, making us the ones in control during the our time of corporate worship.

In a chapter of The Prodigal Church at least 75 percent of worship leaders will skip, Jared Wilson calls our attention to the heart of this peculiar problem:

The danger we face when we worship is coming into the experience assuming we are summoning God. Assuming worship is our initiative. Assuming we are somehow the ones in control, that we are bringing the best of ourselves and our holy desire to worship. But the reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us. (97)

This is the danger of experientialism. It moves us by inches away from the center, from the reality of who God is, of what the purpose of worship is—of who the object of worship is. And if we’re not careful, and the slide continues, our worship songs may wind up more closely resembling the frantic cries of the Baal-worshippers on the mountain than those of Christ’s disciples.

You’re not calling God down this morning. He doesn’t need an invitation. But I have some better news for you: He is already here. The Holy Spirit dwells within all of his people, every moment of every day. He is the one who empowers our worship, who gives us the desire to sing God’s praises. His power has already shown up—and it resides in us. Should we not rejoice and be glad of this?

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s deals from Crossway focus on social issues:

You can also get Get Out: Student Ministry in the Real World by Alvin L Reid for $4.97, The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel for $2.99, and my tiny book, Everyday Theologyfor 99¢.

The Importance of the Pastoral “I Don’t Know”

Jared Wilson:

One of the most valuable sentences in a pastor’s arsenal is “I don’t know.” The pressure to know and be everything everybody expects us to know and be can be pride-puffing. I once worked at a bookstore where we were told never to say “I don’t know” to a customer. We must give them some answer, any answer, even if it was a guess or a likely wrong answer. Customers don’t want to hear “I don’t know” from service people, but even a wrong answer makes them feel helped. I confess the temptation to “satisfy the customer” has persisted through my ministry days, for a variety of reasons. I want people to feel helped. And I also don’t like looking like a rube.

Are You Insulting God in Worship?

Sam Storms:

Little words can mean a lot. They can make the difference between good and evil, between heaven and hell. In this case, a right understanding of a single word is the only thing that prevents an act of worship from degenerating into a colossal insult to God. It’s the word “for.”

What Dodgeball Taught Me About Growth in Christ

Kevin Halloran:

Looking back at where I have come since I left my physical “prime”, I notice that I have grown deeper in my knowledge and love for Christ, my love for others and the desire to see souls saved, my desire to bless His church with the gifts He has given me, and my ability to withstand temptation by the Spirit’s power.

The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships

Tim Keller:

There are a number of other books that take the opposite view, namely that the Bible either allows for or supports same-sex relationships. Over the last year or so I (and other pastors at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) have been regularly asked for responses to their arguments. The two most-read volumes taking this position seem to be those by Matthew Vines and Ken Wilson. The review of these two books will be longer than usual because the topic is so contested today and, while I disagree with the authors’ theses, a too-brief review can’t avoid appearing cursory and dismissive. Hence the length.

I see five basic arguments that these books and others like them make.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get severn of the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series for $2.99 each:

Also on sale is Know Your Bible From A to Z by Jim George ($2.39).

Google And Levi’s Are Teaming Up To Make Computerized Pants

And the “just why?” award goes to…

But today, we got some true futurism: computerized pants.

This morning, Google announced that it is teaming up with Levi’s to make jeans with conductive fabric — which could eventually allow wearers to use their legs as touchscreens — swiping their thigh, say, to accept a phone call.

My Father Killed My Mother

Joel Lindsey:

When I was 6 years old, my father murdered my mother.… He was convicted of murder in 1981 and sentenced to die in Georgia’s electric chair. His appeal reduced his sentence to life in prison.

In the aftermath, my sisters and I were adopted by my maternal grandparents, and in the face of that great tragedy, we did what any family would do—we circled the wagons, we bonded over our grief. A significant portion of that bonding came through our shared hatred of not just the evil things my dad did, but of my dad himself. So I grew up hating him, and 23 years without contact only increased the distance, fear, and disdain that defined our “relationship.”

Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain

T.J. Raphael:

Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.

“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, “but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.”

Not A Single One Will Fail

Stephen Altrogge:

You may not see all his words fulfilled in your lifetime. You may not see God fulfill his promises to your children in your lifetime. I pray for God to save and bless all my children, grandchildren and every descendant of mine long after I’m gone, until the day Jesus returns.

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

Joe Thorn:

Do you really think that avoiding worship will be the means by which your heart will changed, prepared to engage in worship? Can disconnecting from the means of grace somehow bring about a revival of the heart? No! The means of grace are for those who need them; for those who are not feeling as they ought, to change the heart, realign the will, and draw men and women to Jesus Christ.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Knowing God’s Will Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Habakkuk: A Wrestler with God by Walter Chantry (Paperback)
  • God in Our Midst: The Tabernacle and Our Relationship with God by Daniel Hyde (Hardcover)
  • How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas (ePub)
  • Psalm 51 Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

An Open Letter to Tom Brady

Jared Wilson gets his super-fan on, and I’m glad he did.

The Problem with Good Advice

Christina Fox:

The problem comes when our advice sounds no different from the advice a counselor from another religion or even no religion at all would give. If an atheist would suggest the same child-rearing techniques or a Buddhist the same stress-management strategies as we do, then there is something missing from our counsel. Even though truth is truth no matter who says it, the advice that followers of Christ give ought to point to the source of all truth.

Wanted: A Teaching Church

Daniel Hyde:

The Bible is the Word of God. All Bible-believing evangelical churches affirm this. In historic Protestantism, there is a theology of the Word that not only professes sola Scriptura but also professes the sufficiency of Scripture for all things concerning doctrine, worship, and godliness. What the church of the twenty-first century needs to be is a teaching church that plainly and powerfully proclaims the Word of God. Then the church will be equipped to fulfill its task in the world to worship and to witness to that world.

Beware the Idol of Self-Preservation

Michael Kelley:

Now let’s be clear, here – there are moments, many in fact, when you find yourself (as I do) in an over-committed situation, and for the health of your family and even your soul, you need to release some of those demands. But in those occasions, you are releasing some demands so you can fully give yourself to others. It’s not an escaping; it’s a re-aligning of yourself to make sure you are giving what limited resources you have to the most appropriate places.

Stating the Obvious in Worship

Dustin Rouse:

Pointing out what is plain to see is annoying, yet gospel truth and the worship it inspires is different. Gospel truth is only obvious to believers because the scales have been removed from our eyes. We see what once was obvious in the Garden of Eden – that our God is glorious.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • Parenting by God’s Promises by Joel Beeke (ePub)
  • The Promise Keeper: God of the Covenants Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation by Brandon Withrow (paperback)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

Financial decisions to make in your 20s and 30s

There’s a lot of good advice here.

Clinging to the golden calf

Michelle Lesley:

There are a ton of Jeroboams out there today. Some of you reading this might be following one of them and worshiping the idol their false theology tells you is the God of the Bible. And in the same way that a man of God came along and rebuked Jeroboam for his blasphemy, a man or woman of God might come along and call out the Christian celebrity you’re following, or take you aside -out of love and concern- and let you know that person is a false teacher.

I hope you won’t respond like Jeroboam did. He was so angry, he tried to kill the prophet. But sadly, I have seen this type of response (at least verbally) many times, especially from women, when faced with the fact that their favorite Bible teacher or author is preaching a false gospel.

So, what’s a godly way to respond when someone tells you you’re following a false teacher?

The Difficulty of Receiving

Mason King:

Receiving is difficult. Being given something affects us differently than being the giver. Receiving something is harder than earning it, especially for driven people. It’s an insult to our pride and to our ingrained desire to be self-reliant. It picks at our identity of being self-sovereign and self-sustaining, so we try to reconcile the tension by repaying the debt or promising to give an equal (or better) gift, rather than trusting the goodness of the gift and the giver. Receiving is difficult for us because it requires trust, humility and imagination.

8 Reasons People are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-Denominational Churches

Thom Rainer shares a few interesting findings from some data published by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research.

God Owes Me Nothing

Darryl Dash:

If we’re not careful, we will think that God is stingy and ungrateful. That’s not true at all. God is anything but stingy, and he repeatedly promises rewards for those who serve him.

“I Couldn’t Worship a God Like That”

Jared Wilson:

It is one of God’s eternal blessings that he is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a beautiful God. And we ought to worship him for these attributes and more. But we also ought to worship him because he is God, and we are not.

This imperative is no time more crucial than when God reveals himself in ways inscrutable and uncomfortable, when God is being seeker-insensitive.

 

The answer to our worship problem

worship-problem

One of the inescapable realities of human existence is we are all worshippers. We are always putting someone or something in the place of “ultimate” in our lives. And there’s no where where this is more easily seen in western culture than with celebrities.

We look at certain individuals, and we are in awe. We admire their talent; we enjoy the movies or TV shows or music in which they perform. We kind of wish we had their gifts (or at least their looks—remember “the Rachel”?). They promise to rescue us from the hell of our boredom with the ordinariness and obscurity of our own lives. We want to be known and important—and because that’s not going to happen for most of us, we are (somewhat) content to live vicariously through them. We read blogs or news sites that talk about new projects they’re involved with. But as time goes on, the boredom creeps back in. So the stories change from their work to their lives. And, voyeurism aside, we are enthralled, and our boredom is sent back into exile. But then it happens again: we start getting bored with the happy narrative. Soon, the tone of the reporting begins to change. We no longer have a happy picture of their lives:

  • We’re confronted with their revolving door relationships.
  • Then the ugly divorce.
  • Then the debilitating drug habit.

Before long, this person we so admired becomes a punch line. We mock and jeer as our would-be savior from our boredom is crucified. And once the spear has entered their side, we go off in search of our next savior.

This, in a nutshell, is what the Bible calls idolatry. It’s to take someone or something that isn’t God and worship him, her or it, despite these idols always over promising and under delivering. They simply cannot do what we ask of them. In idolizing celebrities, in treating them as being “more” than human, we are making them less. We dehumanize them, turning them into puppets and pawns to make us happy (or at least, help us forget about what’s going on in our own lives). And while they have power over our affections, they don’t control over our destiny. That’s the greatest lure of idolatry. We want to be the masters of our domain, and there is no fate but what we make. Ultimately, in worshipping people and things, we are kind of worshipping ourselves. Idolatry is all about us being in control of our own destinies. About being our own gods. All of us—every single person on the face of the earth, every person who has ever lived—are prone to doing this. And there isn’t a single person who is excluded from it.

This is where the message that the Bible contains is so important. It tells us of the problem of humanity—we worship the wrong things and we fail to worship the only one worth worshipping. And it shows us the lengths to which this God who created everything has gone to fix the problem. It tells us of how we were lured away from true worship by the promise of being like God in a way that we were never meant to (and could never actually be). It tells of how this world became the mess that it is even to this very day, as humanity pursued its own desires. As it chased after its sad substitutes for the fulfillment that only comes through our relationship with our Creator. And it tells us of how God, from the very beginning, perfectly planned the events of history to bring humanity back into relationship with him. And this plan all centered on a man named Jesus—a man who was also, somehow, God.

Jesus came into the world, born as we are (well, sort of) and lived as we do. Except not. See, the Bible makes some extraordinary claims about Jesus. It tells us that from before time began, he existed. It calls him the Word who was with God and was God. It tells us that this same Jesus’ mother became pregnant through a miracle (hence the “sort of” with being born as we are). He became hungry and tired. He probably got sick from time to time. But one thing we have no record of is Jesus ever doing or thinking anything wrong. Ever. Not even once. He never lied, stole, or dishonored his parents. He never mocked people behind their backs. He never once behaved hypocritically. When he looked at people, he always gave them the appreciation and respect they were due—never thinking too highly or too lowly of anyone. He taught thousands of men, women and children, and showed extraordinary compassion to them. He frustrated the religious leaders of his day, because he kept calling them hypocrites and liars. Despite being a celebrity, with an entourage numbering in the tens of thousands, he wasn’t interested in status and making a name for himself. He was a servant of all. The writers of the Bible tell us he performed incredible miracles—including healing the sick and raising the dead! He said things like believing in him was the only way anyone could have a relationship with God. More than that, he even claimed to be God. And for this, he was arrested, beaten and brutally murdered. But even the grave wasn’t enough to stop him, for it’s said that he rose from death just a few short days later and appeared to hundreds of people, as many as 500 at once!

In all he did and all he taught, Jesus showed us was what a life of true worship looks like, one that is devoted to the God who created us. A life that consistently denies our selfish desires to put us at the center of the universe, and instead forces much needed perspective back into our lives. And that perspective really comes when we figure out what to do with Jesus, because he is the answer to our worship problem. And because he is the answer to our worship problem, we have to do something with him.

This is why so many people want to dismiss or discredit him. This is why some people pretend he never existed at all, and claim the story of Jesus was cobbled together from competing mythologies. This is why some try to say that the earliest writings of Christians didn’t include all of this Jesus is God talk; that this was something that was added later (what we might call the purple-monkey-dishwasher effect). This is why others still try to add him to a pantheon of little gods and goddesses, of spiritual teachers from whom they can pick and choose what they like and ignore the jagged bits. But I’ve got to be honest, having tried all of those, I can safely say they’re unsatisfying answers.

They don’t work.

There’s really only one honest answer to the question of what to do about Jesus, and that is to worship him as God. This is what Christians do, however much we falter: we worship Jesus because Jesus is the way God fixed our worship problem.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

14 Pop Culture Events from 2014 You Already Forgot

Aaron Earls shares 14 events “that took over social media for a few days only to be forgotten the next week.”

Erwin Lutzer announces to transition to Pastor Emeritus

Big changes coming to The Moody Church in Chicago:

On Sunday January 4, 2014, Pastor Lutzer announced an upcoming change in the leadership of The Moody Church. Speaking with his wife Rebecca by his side, he informed the congregation that a search would begin for a new Senior Pastor.

The Lutzers have given this transition much thought and prayer, and have concluded that God is leading them to take this step at this time. They, along with the Elders, have agreed that Dr. Lutzer will remain in the role of Senior Pastor until a new Pastor is found. When that transition occurs, Pastor Lutzer will step into a new role of ministry, that of Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church.

Essential Texting Acronyms Parents Must Know

If you’ve got kids with a cellphone, you’re going to want to know these.

What would Jesus say to someone like Leelah Alcorn?

Garret Kell:

It is heart-wrenching to know that a young person was so overwhelmed with pain that their only response was to stop living. That should mean something. Whether you’re LBGT, Christian, liberal, conservative, religious or otherwise—we are humans and a tragedy like this should lead us to stop, weep, pray, and take notice.

7 Truths We Have Forgotten

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Every generation has not just its blind spots, but its amnesiac moments—truths once held, even honored, that the rising generation let go of. One might call these things “Slipping Off the Shoulders of Giants.” Here are seven truths our fathers in the faith grasped that we have forgotten.

Location in Worship

Check out this new poem by John Piper.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian

Guillaume Bignon:

If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself.

How to Succeed in Evangelical Twitterland

Jared Oliphant:

Not every pithy saying I conjure up needs to be shared publicly, and almost all of them serve the church only minimally, if at all. The textbook definition of aphorism is “a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea.” Evangelicals could use a hefty dose of truth and wisdom to go along with our publicly posted ideas. Whether that translates into a large following, a bunch of retweets, or any other form of human praise should pale in comparison to quality and faithfulness of content, whatever its form.

Mothering in the Internet Age

Betsy Childs:

Between websites and message boards and Facebook groups, women have access to more parenting data and advice than ever before. Mothers can keep up with the latest safety standards and nutrition trends. They chat with women across the country whose children have the same ailments. They can even connect with other mothers online during a midnight feeding!

Given the wealth of information, do younger women still need older women when it comes to mothering? I’ve seen the research-oriented culture of modern mothering drive a wedge between young women and older women. Older women mock young mothers for being so safety-conscious. Younger women dismiss older women because they don’t know the latest car seat safety standards, or they suggest that the baby would sleep better on his stomach.

Give Me the Doubly Offensive Jesus, Please

Trevin Wax:

Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. The church is offended that Jesus’ call is for sinners. The world is offended that He calls for repentance.

That’s why the world minimizes His exclusive claims until Jesus is reduced to a social justice warrior who affirms people as they are. And that’s why the church minimizes His inclusive call until Jesus is reduced to a badge of honor for church folks who think their obedience makes them right with God.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Marshall Segal:

What does Sunday morning sound like at your church?

More specifically, what do you hear when your church worships God in song? What is the defining sound? For some, it will be the old, massive, beautiful organ — a full, enduring, and familiar tone. Others would say it’s the energy of an electric guitar and the deep pounding of a bass drum. Maybe you have one or two vocalists you love. They could sing the encyclopedia on Sunday morning and bring you to God.

I enjoy and appreciate all of the above — I really do — but I believe the defining sound on Sunday morning should be the singing voices of God’s people. It’s been taught and lived out at our church, and I love it. And I don’t think that my love is a matter of personal preference. I wouldn’t have chosen this style of worship for myself six years ago, and the music I listen to Monday–Saturday rarely sounds like Sunday morning at Bethlehem.

No, I believe there are principles for corporate worship that transcend cultural and personal preferences and fill music with unusual meaning.

 A Romantic View of Ministry

Nick Batzig:

…there is a danger for men who are pursuing ministry to fall into what some have called “a romantic view of ministry.” Recognizing the high call of the pastorate, and knowing that God is doing His greatest work in the world through His ministers in the church (Eph. 3:10), many have come to embrace faulty views of the ministry. During the early days in seminary, I had foolishly developed something of “a romantic view of ministry.” I had a burning desire to preach and longed to have a Spurgeon-esque type ministry to multitudes who needed the unadulterated preaching of the word and Gospel. During the first year of my studies, one of my professors said to the students in our class, “Get every wrong view of ministry out of your head. Get rid of every romantic view of ministry.” What I didn’t want to hear then, I now tell every man at New Covenant who express interest in pursuing a call to ministry. While the ministry is a most glorious calling, it is anything but romantic. Here are five things that foster “a romantic view of ministry.”

Holy relics: the acoustic guitar

I love this article by Martyn Wendell Jones a lot:

Novices and masters alike find that God will establish the work of their hands when they are holding a guitar. Three or four chords can get an apprentice praise leader through a basic repertoire, and God will be glorified in her getting through. The same praise leader might learn in following years the key to a meandering style of finger plucking, and she will thereby become able to produce the soft cascade of sounds that carry the words of a pastor’s closing altar call. So might she move from glory to glory.

15 Right Responses to Our Christian Celebrities

Tony Reinke asks Thomas Kidd and Karen Swallow Prior how we should respond to Christian celebrities.

The Unbelievable, Incomprehensible, Mind-Blowing Power Available To Us

Mark Altrogge:

My first year as a Christian I didn’t know the truth in Romans 6 that believers are no longer under the dominion of sin. I didn’t realize that I had the power of the Holy Spirit to put my evil desires to death. My ignorance of the power available to me resulted in much needless misery. Paul wants his readers to know about this awesome power they can access so he prays that God would enlighten their hearts to know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward them.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Is it My Fault? 

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s excellent book, Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence is on sale for the Kindle for $3.99. Do not let this deal pass you by.

Age of Ultron, Heaven and Previews that Oversell or Undersell

Joey Cochran:

I’m not gonna Jesus Juke a punchline at the end of this article. I’m going to show you my cards right here. The reality is movie previews are similar and dissimilar to Sunday Worship. Movie trailers preview movies and they often oversell; Sunday worship previews heaven and it cannot oversell.

And speaking of Age of Ultron

I’m pretty sure this doesn’t oversell the movie:

Four Kinds of Church Leaders Who Won’t Lead Revitalization

Thom Rainer:

So why aren’t more church leaders being intentional in leading church revitalization? As I have conversed with church leaders, I have found four types of church leaders who are resistant to leading church revitalization.

A Day in the Life of Stock Photos

Aaron Earls:

Stock photos serve a purpose, but very rarely is that purpose to show what real life actually is. While your life is full of ups and downs, stock photos pretty much just establish an impossible to meet standard of every day life.

So what would it be like to live a day in stock photo life? Nothing like your life or mine.

It’s a Genesis-to-Revelation Issue

This is a really good interview with Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger about their new book, God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few by Gary Thomas ($2.99 each):

Also on sale is Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology for $2.99 and John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken for 99¢.

Adventures of a church introvert

Yep.

Theological Revolutionaries and their Potty Talk

Erik Raymond:

The only thing more difficult than understanding this moral confusion is keeping up with it; a new story seems to come out daily.

When you think through what is being said there is a common theme. These headlines have just as much to do with theology as they do anthropology. At every turn, the moral revolutionaries are asserting their claim to divinity, or at least to their ability to act like they are.

Resources on domestic abuse

Moody has put together a helpful collection of resources based on Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book, Is it My Fault? (reviewed here). Bookmark this (pastors and counsellors, especially).

5 Bad Substitutes for Discipline

Tim Challies:

There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes. In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Three Reasons to Attend Corporate Worship

Matthew Westerholm:

“Why do we have to go to church again?”

Children ask this question on a semi-regular basis. I know my three boys have given me many opportunities to answer it. As a worship pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I have found myself facing another service and asking the same question: Why again? Did we fail last week, or do it wrong? Was last week’s service not enough?

I have not always had good answers at hand, beyond a biblical command not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), but over time I’ve drawn encouragement from a broader view of Scripture and godly Christian authors. Having faced the challenge to frame those encouragements in ways that kids can understand, and my own heart will accept, allow me to pass on my best three answers:

So why should we attend corporate worship?

God Wants Us To Want

Darryl Dash:

I used to think that God was happy with our grudging obedience. Do the right thing, grit your teeth, and everything is good with God. I’ve been increasingly learning that God doesn’t want us to do the right thing so much as he wants us to want to do the right thing. Big difference.

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Until October 12, Crossway is giving away a digital edition of Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. To get it, all you’ve got to do is fill out a quick survey. Charis by Preston Sprinkle is free until the end of the day today from all the major resellers. Here’s where to find it on Amazon and iTunes. Also on sale:

And in case you missed these yesterday:

Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court: what now for the Church?

Russell Moore:

The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

I love the church and that’s why I resigned

Big news from Jared Wilson:

I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts toplant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”

The Lost Virtue of Modesty

Kevin DeYoung:

It is one of the marks of the confusion of our age that so many teenagers and young adults are more ashamed to dress with modest reserve than to very nearly undress entirely. Even after we give full throat to the necessary caveats–being pretty (or handsome) is not a sin, working to improve your appearance does not have to be vanity, the line between modest and immodest is not always black and white–we are still left with the undeniable biblical fact that God considers modesty a virtue and its opposite a vice.

Here are five biblical reasons Christians should embrace modesty as a God-designed, God-desired good thing.

Husbands, Hold Your Wife’s Hand

R.C. Sproul Jr:

That is likely my deepest regret, that I did not hold her hand more.

It’s not, of course, that I never held her hand. It is likely, however, that I didn’t as often as she would have liked. Holding her hand communicates to her in a simple yet profound way that we are connected. Taking her hand tells her, “I am grateful that we are one flesh.” Taking her hand tells me, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance to see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one. It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, “We’re going to go through this together. I will not let go.”

Is your church worship more pagan than Christian?

Todd Pruitt:

There is a great misunderstanding in churches of the purpose of music in Christian worship. Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” Even a flyer for a recent conference for worship leaders boasted:

“Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.”

The problem with the flyer and with many church ads is that these kinds of promises reveal a significant theological error. Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.

Which comes first: the text or the theme?

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book, Preaching and Preachers, which is simply one of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, even while affirming Warren Wiersbe’s encouragement to read it “at least twice: once to disagree and once to be helped.”1 Lloyd-Jones stresses that the text should almost always come before a theme, for a simple reason: the theme should come from the text, lest a theme be forced upon it.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this. Too often, especially when we play Bible roulette, we come up to a verse or a passage and attach personal significance that has little or nothing to do with the text’s actual meaning. When you see Jeremiah 29:11 used as a verse on a coffee cup, or on a beautiful landscape painting, this is what I mean. You also see it in most—nearly all—uses of Isaiah 58 in poverty alleviation circles, overlooking the context of the rebuke.

I was talking over this very thing with a good friend last night, since I’m preparing to once again to preach to a small congregation a few hours from where I live. And as I pray and think on the needs of this congregation, I keep coming back to a key theme, rather than being drawn to a specific text.

But during our conversation, as my friend and I talked through this, it was easy to see where the theme aligned with Scripture, with texts where it is clearly visible.

This was just a helpful reminder for me that there isn’t always a hard and fast rule about such things. Sometimes you’ll have a clear idea for a text—you’ll want to preach Obadiah, and then you’ll realize you’re preaching on (among other things) eschatology. Sometimes you’ll feel compelled to speak on contentment in sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and you’ll easily find yourself in Philippians.

Which comes first: the theme or the text?

The short answer? Yes.


Photo credit: A.D. Wheeler Photography via photopin cc

Links I like

Jesus, Eunuchs, and the (Almost) 30-Year-Old Virgin

Chelsea Kingston:

In a world where hedonism and gross individualism hold sway, the prominence of what a friend and pastor calls “the sexual fulfillment myth” is no big surprise, really. And so, in a way that our culture finds almost impossible to comprehend, celibacy in singleness demonstrates a most visible sign of authentic Christian witness. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke so strongly on the subject.

7 Signs We May Be Worshipping Our Family

Jason Helopoulos:

I am thankful for the growing emphasis upon the Christian family in evangelical circles. Our two children are home schooled, so I am in no way opposed to homeschooling. We attempt to practice family worship each night of the week, so I am not opposed to family worship. For goodness sakes, I wrote on a book on the subject. I am passionate about it. We have attempted to have our children in corporate worship with us since they were babies. I am working on a book on that subject as well, so I am not opposed to children in worship. However, there does seem to be a tendency with the home school/family worship/children in worship emphasis that can turn this good thing upon its head. If we aren’t careful, instead of encouraging worshipping families, we become family worshippers. The following are possible signs that we have begun worshipping the family rather than encouraging our family to be worshippers.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today only, you can get Thom Rainer’s excellent book, I am a Church Member for 99¢.

Get The New Birth in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Steven Lawson’s The New Birth teaching series (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Sola Scriptura by various authors (ePub & Mobi)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • Twelve Challenges Churches Face by Mark Dever (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Coming (Back) to America: Coming Back to Commercials

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Here’s the first thing I notice about living in the States again: commercials. Well, truthfully, I didn’t notice them. My seven year old son Titus noticed them. All of them!

Here’s the thing: In Cayman we never had cable or watched network television. We relied on DVDs, Netflix, or something on Apple TV. This meant commercials never interrupted our programming–not even during the annual commercial feast called the Super Bowl. Since Titus was born in Cayman, his entire seven years of life have been lived in our commercial-free Siberia.

But coming back to America means he has a Saturday full of commercials! He’s exposed constantly to product pitches and appeals.

Should We Stop Using the Language of “Personal Relationship” in Evangelism?

Leon Brown:

As far back as I can recall, Christians have utilized the phrase, “personal relationship” in evangelism. It is oft-times used as a synonym for “salvation.” Perhaps pressing the phrase to its unlikely meaning, we might suggest that the phrase, “personal relationship” includes one’s union with Christ, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, and eventual glorification. At a minimum, if the former is meant by the phrase, it seems like an acceptable set of words to utilize in evangelistic outreach.
The problem I have with the phrase, however, is not which theological categories it includes but which categories it obviously does not. I can only base my observations on personal experience, but I have yet to hear testimony, whether while witnessing or some other published work/blog/Facebook post/Tweet, that the “personal relationship” language epidemic includes both the wrath of God and the Church.