Category Archives: Theology

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Recently I was asked, “What are your suggestions for a Christian to experience meaningful worship?” What a great question! It can be answered in a variety of ways, but here I will limit my response to the weekly worship gathering.

In this post, I would like to summarize a few observations that I have made over the last ten years. These are merely opinions, so feel free to disagree, but I have found that these factors have led me towards more meaningful worship.

* Time. My most meaningful worship experiences often occur after focusing on God for an extended period of time. Time itself is not magical, but we all need time to slow down. We need to ruminate in God’s presence, not merely rush on to the next thing on our agenda.

* Diversity. We all have my musical preferences, but cultural variety in a worship service deepens our vision of the Kingdom of God. Diversity helps us get beyond our self and our selfish preferences.

* Balance. There needs to be balance between theology and emotions, or truth and spirit. Without any content to our worship, we merely express our feelings. Without any emotion, we merely impress ourselves. Meaningful worship occurs when we have both.

* Freedom. As much as we need order in our worship services, we also need freedom. Worship is more meaningful when we go beyond singing to raise a hand, kneel, pray, listen, etc.

* Christian. This may seem obvious, but in practice, many worship songs lack content that is unique to Christianity. As a result, many worship songs could be just as easily sung in a temple, mosque, or synagogue. A worship service needs to be noticeably Christian.

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I am a huge proponent of incorporating technology into the local church. It deserves to be said, however, that when it comes to technology in the local church, we need to think through our options. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.

On a practical level, one instance of this is the recent increase of multiple video screens (usually in larger churches) and the rise of satellite churches (which incorporate sermons via a video feed). After nearly 2000 years of church ministry, only in the past decade or two has this technology been an option. In response to this growing phenomenon, much could be said about the importance of personal contact, proximity, and lifestyle as they relate to preaching. A quick illustration, however, will suffice to show why we need to think through these issues:

At the most recent Presidential inauguration, there were roughly 2 million people in attendance. Some of these people were near President Obama or within eyesight, while others were 2 miles away at the Lincoln Memorial. Those who were far away, of course, depended on video screens in order to see what was happening on stage. They were present in person, but in in a different sense.

That actual event reveals a very simple truth: people within eyesight had a greater sensory experience, while those far away (though enjoying their time) had a much different experience. For those watching a video screen (2 miles away), there was a personal disconnect that could not be fully resolved by technology. At least to a degree, they were removed from the action. They were participating, for sure, but in a more distant sense.

Of course, this directly relates to preaching because a preacher appeals on behalf of God and calls people towards a response. We should want as much “proximity” as possible and not allow technology to get in the way. On the other hand, some may argue that technology increases proximity more often than decreasing it. Maybe the question we ask is, “How does this particular technology change ministry (compared to New Testament times), and how do we overcome any potential weaknesses?”

While technology certainly has a place and can be very helpful — obviously, without technology there would be no internet or printing presses — we also need to be aware of the drawbacks. The point here is that simply adding more technology does not automatically ensure real, inner life change. Rather than simply accepting whatever technology is available to us, we need to be careful and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology in the local church. The solution is not a boycott of technology, but a greater effort to think through how we use technology.

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It is good to ask God, “Where are you?” Some of us are afraid to ask, thinking that our faith or our soul is in jeopardy. But in reality, it is quite the opposite. If we are asking God where He is, it means that we care and that we want to know where God is. In fact, we are better off when asking this question. As Scripture says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Living in New Testament times, we are apt to answer this question too quickly. We dismiss passages like Psalm 22, where David asks, “Why are you so far from me?” Often we flippantly respond that David didn’t know the whole picture. Now that we have the New Testament, we know that God’s Spirit lives inside of us (1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:11), so we no longer need to ask God where He is.

But honestly, that is only part of the picture. In Psalm 22, David is not asking a question about spatial location. He was well aware that God is omnipresent; in other words, there is no place where God is not. (Psalm 139:7-12). Nor was David doubting that God was within earshot. Otherwise He wouldn’t have prayed when He felt distant from God. (Psalm 51:11, Ps. 44)

What did David mean, then, when he asked God, “Why have you forgotten me?” He felt distant from God in terms of God’s relational presence. We do not know whether God was actually distant (because of sin in David’s life) or if He only seemed to be distant (because of David’s feelings). In either case, though, it was good for David to ask.

In the first case, when we sin, we should always ask God where He is. We should reject our sin and turn back to Him. As 1 John 1:9 reminds us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Though we have gone astray (Is. 53:6), God is faithful. When we are willing, we will always be able to find Him.

In the second case, we should also seek God. Our feelings are easily swayed by our circumstances, trials, conflict, chemical imbalances, or even a lack of sleep. Because of this, when we feel distant from God, we should immediately seek God. Just as God can heal our physical body, He can also heal our emotions. (Exodus 15:26) It is so important that we trust God with our entire lives, not excluding our emotions.

This is wonderful news for anyone who believes in Jesus Christ! God provides a perfect balance for us. On one hand, we are not called to a fake happiness or to smile all of the time. As it says in Eccelesiates 8:6, “there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.” There is a time to face reality and mourn. (Ecc. 3:4)

At the same time, we do not need to needlessly struggle with depression or downheartedness. We can rejoice and experience inexpresible joy in our life — not because of who we are, but because of our hope in Jesus Christ. Our hope is a living and secure hope because it focuses on God who, unlike our circumstances, does not change. It does not spoil, fade, perish, or ruin. 1 Peter 1:3-9 helps us remember the hope that we have in Christ.

In closing, hear the word of the Spirit, who is able to encourage us whenever we feel like David:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:3-9)

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For Christians, the “good life” is not something reserved for an exclusive few. It is not hidden, or kept for those who have an ecstatic vision or some kind of secret experience. It is not monopolized by a particular class of people. Christianity is unique in that life is accessible to everyone, regardless of who you are.

In 1 John, we are told that this life was “made manifest.” In other words, God fully disclosed His plan, so that all could see. It was a revelation that could be “heard,” “seen,” and “touched.” It is difficult to imagine what it would have been like to see Jesus, but the mere thought that God was visible is incredible. In terms that humans could understand, God’s love was fully disclosed.

Unfortunately, there are many religions and sects that keep secrets. Because deception needs to be hidden, they need to keep certain aspects of their religion from being known. But shouldn’t it seem suspicious if some things are reserved for a small few?

As a follower of Christ, there is always a deeper life (when a person can know God better), but this is not a hidden experience. Rather, all of the details are visible in Christ. No other revelation is needed. Jesus Christ, who performed miracles and rose from the dead, was seen by hundreds of people — not just one or two. The totality of the gospel is accessible to all.

Interestingly, the realization that “Christianity is public” leads us to evangelism. Because God made His incredible life manifest to all, we should echo that by sharing life with others. As John writes in his first letter, “that which we have seen and heard, we proclaim also to you.” (1:3) If the nature of the message is public, we distort it if we keep it to ourselves. We should be drawn towards fellowship with one another.

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Spiritual revival, or the renewal of our relationship with God, does not merely happen by chance, nor does it descend from heaven without our awareness. Both Scripture and history attest to the fact that certain conditions need to be met before we are spiritually resuscitated. We do not slip and “fall” into revival, but we prepare for it.

Thankfully, revival never feels very systematic, but if we were to analyze it, there are certain factors that are absolutely necessary for revival. By that I mean that true, long-lasting revival cannot occur without these factors being present. I have identified several of these, along with quotations from famous revivalists.

1. Passion for God’s Word. Our faith grows when we hear God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), and it is essential for spiritual renewal. George Whitefield, one of the great preachers during the Great Awakening, explained that “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.” Often this passion begins with the preacher’s heart, but it must eventually make its way to the listener. We cannot claim to seek after God if we do not listen to His voice. (Jn. 10:27)

2. Desperation for God. If we are content with life as usual, there is little reason to search for anything else. John Wesley observed this danger and said, “I fear that wherever riches have increased the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion… for religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality.” Often we need to lose our “riches” (or what we hold dear) before we recognize how desperately we need a Savior. In a sense, we need to be dissatisfied with our current spiritual condition.

3. Communication with God. As with any healthy relationship, there must be dialogue, an expectation to hear and be heard. Unless there is an effort to communicate with God, renewal is impossible. As Edwin Orr notes, “History is silent about revivals that did not begin with prayer.” In other words, we cannot change ourselves by merely talking to each other.

4. Rejection of Godlessness. It is impossible to seek God and not-God at the same time. Men and women who experience revival decide to give up their old life and follow after God with their entire self. “Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God,” observed Charles Finney. “It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.” Our lives either move toward God or away from Him.

These factors are usually interconnected, but it is helpful to distinguish them, so that we can see where we may be missing the mark. We can prepare ourselves for spiritual renewal when we desire God’s Word, seek God with desperation, dialogue with Him, and reject what is the opposing to Him.

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It is easy to become short-sighted in our worship of God. Some seek self-fulfillment in worship, which often includes songs about ourselves and our desires. Others see worship as having only one purpose and only one purpose, neglecting the fact that the act of worship can have a variety of purposes. Still others miss the fact that worship should be the most joyous part of life!

Psalm 108 begins with six wonderful verses that instruct us about worship, concluding with the truth that praise can deliver us! Since this post will only make sense after reading the passage, you will probably want to open a Bible or read the passage online. Much could be said and written about these verses, and I hope to preach on that passage someday, but here are a few concise comments:

Verse 1: In order for worship to be meaningful, a worshiper needs a healthy relationship with God; this relationship then spills over into singing and making music “with all my being.”
Verse 2: Worship should be the first priority of our day. We dedicate buildings and celebrate inauguration day, but few of us start our day with recognition of God.
Verse 3: Others need to hear our worship — not just our friends, but everyone. Worship is meant to be heard.
Verse 4: Lest we forget, we have more than enough reasons to worship, including God’s steadfast love and His eternal faithfulness.
Verse 5: Our desire should be to see God exalted above all else — not that He is lacking glory, but that we need to fully recognize who He is.
Verse 6: One result of worship is deliverance! According to God’s Word, we are not saved through self-help programs, but when we truly recognize how great and powerful God is.

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How can we honor God in our worship?

Although Exodus 20:22-26 is not frequently quoted in the context of worship, it provides some direction for us. In speaking to Moses, God gives the Israelites four instructions. They are simple and helpful, even for us today:

1. Do not worship anyone else beside me. (v.23)
2. It is absolutely necessary to worship me. (v.24)
3. Where I am worshiped, I will bless. (v.24b)
4. I deserve to be worshiped reverently. (v.26)

These instructions may seem familiar, but they serve as a helpful corrective for us. Does the worship in our lives meet those standards? If not, we should reconsider how we are worshiping God.

Taking this further, this passage also contains another kernel of truth that can set us free from egocentric worship. In these words to Moses, God expresses that He is the one who causes His name to be honored. As He says, “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (v.24b) Incredible!

What is so striking is that this is the opposite attitude of many of us today. We often think that we are the cause of worship — whether it be a talented worship leader, a great hymn that was written, a moving instrumental song, or a passionately singing congregation. Speaking on behalf of worship leaders, it is fair to say that we often feel a burden to “help” worship along. Even if we meet the 4 instructions listed above, this is one area where we often miss the mark — ironically, in the process of worshiping, taking credit for ourselves.

While there is truth in the fact that leaders need to lead, it would be wrong to overlook the powerful truth of this passage. Ultimately, it is not us who cause worship. Rather, it is God who causes His name to be honored. He is the first cause.

In other words, God is glorified for who He is, not because of what we bring. He is the one who inspires worship, and in that sense, our responsibility pales in comparison. Instead of causing, we should think of our responsibility as responding to His glory.

When we worship in a God honoring way, God will come near and bless us. Ultimately, because He is the one who inspires worship, He ends up blessing us because of who He is. What an amazing promise!

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Colossians 3:23 was intended for all aspects of life. In that verse, Paul reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” Our work should be defined by maximum effort and the right motives.

Unfortunately, most of miss the mark in one way or the other. Some people become accustomed to what is common and slow down in their efforts. They may have good reasons, such as fatigue or a low salary, but they forget the ultimate purpose of their work. Other people work hard, not wanting to fail, but they work for the wrong reasons. They work to please men instead of the Lord, and in so doing, get distracted from the ultimate goal.

A.W. Tozer’s insights in Of God and Men are helpful. Tozer rightly pointed out that people often act out of fear. We often choose the easy route (fearing hard labor) or the popular route (fearing human opposition). Of course, in reality, the best choices in life are usually difficult and unpopular.

Two stories are inspiring in this regard. First, think of Moses. When Moses was called to the incredible task of returning to Egypt, he was full of fear. He did not know what to do, what to say, or how to respond to criticism. (Does that ever sound like you?)

God’s response is wonderfully encouraging. In speaking to Moses, God asked, ““Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” God reminded Moses that fear is irrational. God is in control, and He is always present to help his servants.

Even more significant is Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Jesus, we have the perfect illustration of Colossians 3:23. He gave everything and never lost sight of His father. He is the perfect example of working for God with all effort.

The key to living a productive and courageous life is to remember Jesus. After all, if Jesus physically suffered, even unto to death on a cross, then we can certainly try harder in our daily efforts. In Jesus, we also find courage to face opposition. Fear has no power over us. Even death itself cannot conquer us.

Now my brothers and sisters, whatever you do, work with all your heart.

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Recently I was asked about my view of the arts in local church. I thought I’d post my brief response, in case it is helpful to anyone.

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When it comes to the creative arts, I believe that art is a wonderful part of the Christian life. Various passages of Scripture reveal that God loves creativity, He enjoys various expressions of art, and He desires to be glorified through the arts.

In the local church, creativity’s primary purpose is to glorify God. A theme verse of mine has been Psalm 115:1, though there are many to support this. In no particular order, secondary purposes of the creative arts include: (1) delighting in creation, (2) expressing ourselves to God, (3) soothing/reviving our spirit, (4) edifying the church with sound doctrine, and (5) testifying to non-believers.

Worship is important to God and to His people. Although the creative arts should be enjoyable — very enjoyable — it is far more than being a form of entertainment. As I see it, the arts serve as the intersection between theology and expression. In biblical terms, this means worshiping in “spirit and truth.” We get into trouble when we neglect one or the other.

Finally, worship extends far beyond music and the other arts. It includes all of our actions. 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes it clear that we can even glorify God in our common, everyday activities, which extends far beyond a few hours on Sunday. (And based upon Amos, it is fair to say that this “daily worship” is much more important than the music on Sunday morning.) In a sense, creative arts are not an end in themselves, but a means towards greater service, sacrifice, love, etc. Worship beyond Sunday morning is the real test for the Church, and which ultimately determines the validity of its corporate worship.

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Very rarely do I post links to other websites, but this one is so beneficial, I couldn’t resist.

If you are interested in worship or lead worship at your church, Sovereign Grace has graciously posted 37 audio sessions on their website at:
http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Events/WorshipConference.aspx

Worship conferences usually cost several hundred dollars, so this is a blessing for those of us without such resources. Although I did not attend the conference, these audio sessions are the next best thing.