The Called Out

As the church we must always remember that we are God’s summoned people. We are the ekklesia, the called out ones, drawn to the Father through the Son by the Spirit in relationship. As one big family we are brought together each week on the Lord’s Day to be renewed and blessed.

What we do in gathered worship is not like the Kiwanas or any voluntary association where we decided to have a meeting and therefore could decide to cancel it or not show up because we found something better to do. This doesn’t mean God calls us to meet with him against our will; if we are loving him, this becomes refreshing and our greatest joy. This is a weekly day of rest, rejoicing, fellowship, and covenant renewal with our creator and redeemer.

But we want to be disciples in worship, and remember that everything we do here is about God, and not us. We’re not the customer, nor are the unchurched. Everyone is welcomed and in fact also called by God to taste and see that he gracious—but God is the customer. He is the one we are trying to please.    Continue reading

Beholding His Beauty

King David lived a life on the run, fighting for his life. He killed lions as a shepherd, Goliath as a young warrior, he fled from Saul numerous times in fear of his life, he battled the Amalekites as an exile in Philistia after they took the women and children of Ziklag, and after he was established as king in Israel he fled from his own son Absalom who stole the throne. In the midst of all these troubles, what motivated him? What did he long for most during his hectic life? For what did he consistently desire?

In Ps. 27:4 he says, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire at his temple.” David wasn’t hoping for an apartment to live at the tabernacle so he could be there 24/7. He wanted to worship there Sabbath to Sabbath with God’s people, and to do this was to dwell with the Lord and behold his beauty all of his days.

We don’t worship once a week and work the other days because we only need to connect occasionally with God or because work is more important. Beholding the beauty of God with his saints is to bring him into every part of life, which is not to say that every part of life is the same kind of worship. David didn’t long for his small group or early morning prayer time in the same way. He longed for the beauty of the Lord in the called and assembled worship, but seeing this beauty filled all of his days, and he prayed for it always to do so. What if we felt the way David did? What if we beheld God’s beauty in the worship service and that beauty captured us so we desiree to do it our whole life? And what if at the end we could say we dwelt in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives? And what if we did this, and had a such a good time doing it, that it was naturally contagious and received by our kids and grandkids? These gifts are not far away but set in our laps, in the very worship services we attend. The question is whether we see Him.

8 Ways to Make Herding the Cats to Church Easier

In the dictionary worship comes right after worn, worn-out, worry, worrywart, worse and worsen. Sometimes on Sunday mornings worship follows the same sequence. Getting children and young people to the worship place is too often as far as we get in helping our offspring to worship. As the dropout rate of older kids indicates, there has got to be a better way! … Recently I listened to a group of parents share their frustrations with Sunday mornings. These were parents whose lives are given to Christian ministry–parents steeped in Scripture, parents committed to rearing their children in ways that honor the Lord. Even though I understood, my heart just broke as Sunday morning was described as “the worst morning of my week.” One mother confessed, “Sometimes I’m relieved to stay home if one of the kids is sick.” Another shared, “I’m just exhausted by the time I get to church.”           –Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew

Getting the tribe to church can be an exercise in herding cats, but with the added task of getting the cats dressed and fed! Still, this herding is important since the last thing you want your kids to think is that the light yoke of following Jesus is really heavy on Sunday morning. If anything should be joyous, it’s  worshipping the Maker of heaven and earth. Joyous, however, doens’t mean easy. Here are 8 ways to make church, and getting there, better. Continue reading

Idols are Excuses

From a post by Toby Sumpter:

“It occurred to me as I finished my sermon yesterday on the Second Commandment that the reason God prohibits carving other images to bow down to and serve is because they always function as excuses. They are lifeless but they demand our time and energy. You must light candles in front them, burn incense to them, bow down and say your prayers to them or through them, but meanwhile your wife needs help with the dishes or your husband could really use some encouragement or your children would really be blessed by a good wrestle or a book or just attentive conversation.”

Read the whole thing here.

Thoughts on Family Worship

I get asked regularly about what we do for “family worship.” Among Christians who love the faith and their kids, family worship becomes a topic of interest. My initial response is always ambivalent, encouraged on the one hand that someone wants to have a family culture that includes the Bible and devotion in the home, and slightly concerned because the common issues that plague “family worship” are considerable. For those considering implementing some version of family worship, here are some remarks that I hope are helpful.

1. Family Worship Isn’t Required by the Bible This might seem impious, but it’s really only impietistic. We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted. They would read and discuss the Bible at meal and other times for particular seasons, sing and pray before going to bed etc, but these things were not done primarily in one sitting, not in what we would typically call family worship. I know there are lazy parents, particularly fathers, who don’t make time to regularly read and teach the Bible to their kids, and I know my point here will be used by them to justify and continue their laziness. This is what gracious biblical standards always do, and in response legalists try to curb sin by adding rules. So no excuses for lazy people, and no excuse for pietists combating laziness with legalism. Continue reading

Get Ready for a 13lb Baby

The first birth I saw was not live but via that infamous high school biology video, the one where someone in the audience inevitably passes out. One girl did that year. This is always funnier than sad due to the fact that everyone just watched a person push another person, smaller but not reasonably small enough, out of her body. The woman groans, works and writhes until a new life breaches. It’s astonishing the mother is alive afterwards–something far more common in the past century–and even more astonishing that now she now cries not because of the agony that is finally over, but for overwhelming joy of what just came of that agony.

The Apostle Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). Salvation is not simply occurring in the hearts of individuals while the rest of the earth waits around to be destroyed. Rather, all the earth (and beyond) is doing something in anticipation of final redemption, and that something is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22). The creation has hips, and those hips are for birthing.

But isn’t Paul simply talking about believers eagerly looking forward to the conversion of others? No. We do this also, but it’s bigger than us. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of  the   Spirit,  groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Don’t feel left out. You are included and your body will be redeemed along with “creation itself [which] will be set free from its bondage to decay” (8:21).

The girl who hit the linoleum floor in biology class can’t be blamed. She had a weak stomach and no eyes for blood. We, however, don’t go to the nurse’s office so sympathetically. Paul is clearly saying that the world is pregnant, and as the saying goes, not a little bit. What is happening? According to some, the world is one giant miscarriage. God tried. He gave Adam and Eve everything they needed to succeed but they flubbed it. He wanted the human race fruitful and multiplied, loving and enjoying him and cultivating the earth. But that tubed. And now what we really need is a little more trauma in the Middle East for the rapture to begin so we can get out of the Hell here. This is easier than getting the Hell out, easier than enduring another contraction. Those hurt. There’s conflict. And fluids spill.

According to another view, what does pregnancy have to do with birth? What does the reign of King Jesus have to do with his kingdom here? I know, let’s multiply kingdoms (but leave out mention of other kings). Let’s give Jesus dominion over spiritual things in the church but that’s it. The word of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover that one puddle in my otherwise bone dry backyard. There’s the already, the not yet, and never shall there be any historical progression between the two. The baby might be further developed in week 26, but it might not. This view ignores the fact of maturity, the miraculous development of a fetus, the sure spread of the kingdom of God, the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

In God’s world, pregnancy has everything to do with birth. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). The creation isn’t laboring in vain, but preparing for a glorious birthday. Preparing for a successful birth is different than insisting on a painless one. Since the fall, pain in childbirth is multiplied (Gen. 3:16). Unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Tertullian was right to say the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. If this is true, and it is, and there were more Christian martyrs in the last hundred years than in the rest of the church’s history combined, then we have much to be encouraged by. But don’t be fooled. Braxton Hicks hurt, but they’re not the end. There is still much growing to do, far more knitting in the womb before the canal. This is going to be a big baby.

Song in the Early Church

“The song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and the elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints. This passed immediately, with the psalms of the Old Testament, those inexhaustible treasures of spiritual experience, edification, and comfort, from the temple and the synagogue into the Christian church. The Lord himself inaugurated psalmody into the new covenant at the institution of the holy Supper, and Paul expressly enjoined the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as  means of social edification. But to this precious inheritance from the past, whose full value was now for the first time understood in light of the New Testament revelation, the church, in the enthusiasm of her first love, added original, specifically Christian psalms, hymns, doxologies, and benedictions, which afforded the richest material for sacred poetry and music in succeeding centuries; the song of the heavenly hosts, for example, at the birth of the Saviour; the “Nunc dimittis” of Simeon; the “Magnificat” of the Virgin Mary; the “Benedictus” of Zacharias; the thanksgiving of Peter at his miraculous deliverance; the speaking with tongues in the apostolic churches, which, whether song or prayer, was always in the elevated language of enthusiasm; the fragments of hymns scattered through the Epistles; and the lyrical and liturgical passages, the doxologies and antiphonies of the Apocalypse.”  Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 463-4.

Private into New Life

As we have said, the division in principle between “corporate” and “private” worship must be discarded. The purpose of worship is to constitute the Church, precisely to bring what is “private” into the new life, to transform it into what belongs to the Church, i.e. shared with all of Christ. In addition its purpose is always to express the Church as the unity of the body whose Head is Christ. And, finally its purpose is that we should always “with one mouth and one heart” serve God, since it was only such worship which God commanded the Church to offer.

–Alexander Schemmman, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p. 24