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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The "Worship War" We Should Be Waging...

I just came home from our monthly music practice and read some emails that contained feedback about the music in our church (which I had asked for). So church music is on my mind right now, as are the intense and emotional responses that it often illicits, and I wanted to point out that while most "worship wars" and unnecessary and destructive to a church, there is one kind of worship battle that we should all be fighting... the battle we fight in prayer! (See Eph. 6:18) If we talked to the Lord more about the music in our churches, we probably would be less critical and less disappointed/frustrated when it's not what we like.

So toward that end, here are the prayer requests I put together awhile back as a part of our Vision/Prayer project for Faith Church. It starts out with our "core value" of God-Centered Worship, a brief explanation of what that means, and then the requests, which also reflect a lot of the philosophy behind what we do in our Sunday services (so you may find it helpful in that regard).

God-Centered Worship
Sunday services that enable us to see the greatness of God in all His attributes, bringing joy to His heart and to ours through singing, praying, confessing, learning, and communing.

Pray that all the believers who gather to worship at Faith Church on Sundays would be there primarily to please God, and their hearts will be focused on what honors Him much more than on their own enjoyment. Pray that those who plan and lead worship would also be thinking this way, and would constantly find ways to remind and encourage people to focus on the Lord rather than on themselves.

Pray that our Sunday worship would represent God accurately and reflect His Divine attributes in a balanced way, so that the members of the body and anyone who joins us would see Him in all His glory. Pray that our worship would communicate both His transcendance and His immanence, the fact that He is both a God of the ages and a God of today, and the balance of formal order and informal spontaneity that is revealed in His creation. (This is why elements of our worship are both “traditional” and “contemporary”—why we sing both old and new songs, for example, and offer some prayers that are scripted and some that are spontaneous.)

Pray that we will always follow a thoughtfully planned, theologically-informed order of worship (Praise, Renewal, Commitment, and Communion), so that people will develop good habits in worship, and that we will always include the scriptural elements of singing, praying, confessing, learning, and communing. But pray that we will also have variety in the way we practice the order and elements, so that we might reflect both the order and variety in God’s character and creation.

Pray that our worship music would always be biblical in its content, and that those who lead and accompany the singing would always plan and practice their ministry in a way that encourages participation from the congregation, rather than performance from the people up front. Pray that the style of the music will have variety, for the same reason mentioned above, but that it also will “flow” with enough uniformity that the variety will not be a distraction to the worshippers.

Pray that the pastor would at least be involved in the planning of the Sunday worship, if not leading some himself, but that through him God would also raise up others who can participate in this ministry, and carry it on “in stride” if the pastor is not there.

Pray that we will make use of all the musical talents of the people who attend the church and who are led by God to serve in this way.

Pray that our worship would serve as a model to other churches, and that God would give us opportunities to encourage and train others in this God-centered, biblically balanced approach.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Good Fight, Henry V Style! (Plus...What if Hamlet had been Reformed?)

As usual, I didn't have time this morning in my Sunday message to share everything I had prepared, and as usual what had to go were some of the illustrations, which are the "fun" part! (It's somewhat of a Catch 22 for me as a teacher...either break it up more with less biblical content or go deeper and be more "boring." I usually end up "erring" on the side of Bible content...How can that be wrong, right?)

So that's one reason I have this blog... I can have my cake and eat it too! And here is the illustration I wanted to share of how to "fight the good fight," as Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18. While I thought about the spiritual warfare we face, Shakespeare's words in Henry V kept coming to mind... "Once more unto the breach!" Here's that part of the play, with King Henry leading his troops at the battle of Harfleur:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger!

Then later, at the battle of Agincourt, in the famous "St. Crispian's Day" speech, notice especially the different ways that Henry motivates his troops, and imagine that God is using these ideas to engage you in the real ongoing battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil...

O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland?
No, my fair cousin.
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires;
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart. His passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispian's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

As you read that, did you notice all the different ways that Henry motivated his men? (If not, go back and see if you can identify's fun!). He did so by the promise of reward, the shame of cowardice, personal satisfaction for the present and the future, leaving a legacy to the next generation, friendship and community with others, redemption from past sins, and a sense of great accomplishment. I love all those aspects of the speech because they all reflect biblical motivations that the Scriptures provide for us as well! That's why you should "fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience," as Paul told Timothy.

Speaking of Shakespeare and the Reformation, by the way, the two are more related than a cursory observer might think. I would love to write a paper/article on that issue sometime, if I ever become disabled or otherwise end up with the time I would need to write everything I want to! But I'll give you a little taste here...

The Bard lived in a post-Reformation England, of course, and although he dabbled in Roman Catholicism (a "rebel heart" manifesting itself?), he no doubt was influenced by the brighter lights of the Protestant movement (and perhaps inspired to some of his biting satire by the darker parts). One of the most interesting examples of this, that almost no one is aware of, is in the beginning scenes of Hamlet, where he makes the point at least twice (it might be three times, I can't remember right now) that the young prince of Denmark was headed to school in Wittenburg--yes, the same German city where Luther had taught--before his evil uncle talked him into staying at the castle. The implication, to me at least, is that if Hamlet would have gone to Wittenburg, he would have learned about the grace of the cross and all the tragedies in this tragedy would have been avoided! In case you think that's too much of a stretch, I would add that Horatio, who represents the moral compass of the play (notice he's the only character who remains pure), was already enrolled in the Reformed school at Wittenburg and had spent the previous year there. It's all in the play...check it out some time if you don't believe me!

Great Movie! One Night with the King!!

Some of my kids are sick, so for our Sunday night family worship we are watching One Night with the King, a terrific movie that recreates the story of Esther from the Old Testament book. It is very faithful to the biblical story, with just a few minor exceptions, and sometimes even the "embellishments" are a blessing, like the subplot of Xerxes' and Esther's marital problems, which illustrates the consequences of wrongful judging (1 Cor. 4:5-6) and bad communication (Prov. 18:13, 17).

To me the very best part of the movie is the scene in the marketplace where Naaman demands that Mordecai bow to him... what a great example of standing for the truth (literally!), and some great comic relief thrown in too.

I highly recommended this movie for any age, though you may have to talk to the youngest childern about some of the adult themes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Grand Demonstration -- God's Sovereignty and Evil

The passage we studied in church this Sunday (1 Timothy 1:12-17) speaks of the “Grand Demonstration,” as Jay Adams calls it in his great book by that name (one of my favorites listed in my profile on this blog). Paul says that even though he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor, he received the mercy of apostleship because he “acted ignorantly in unbelief,” which highlights God’s providence in allowing him to go far away from God, but only so far. See Galatians 1:15 where he says he was set apart from his mother’s womb to be an apostle…obviously God knew he would do those awful things and let him do them until the time was right for him to be saved and called into service. And 1 Timothy 1:16 says God did all this to “demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”

This is the Grand Demonstration Paul speaks of (using the same Greek word endeiknumi) in Romans 9, verses 17 and 22, and in Ephesians 2:7. And in the following verse in 1 Timothy 1:17, it leads Paul to eulogize God in the famous “immortal, invisible” verse that ends with “honor and glory forever and ever” to the only God. So as the verses in Romans and Ephesians also clearly state, God allows evil and causes salvation, all as a part of His divine plan, so that He will receive glory! And (thankfully!) one of the ways He brings glory to Himself, in addition to demonstrating His wrath and power in judging and destroying those who oppose Him, is through causing it all to work for good in the lives of His people, as Romans 8:28 says.

Along those lines, I read this section from my book Decisions, Decisions:

“Realizing that God is in control of your life is one of the biggest answers to the emotional problems that plague so many Christians. After the apostle Paul delivered the Bible's most frank and thorough explanation of God's sovereignty in Romans 9-11, he did not crawl into a corner and sink into deep depression, complaining that this doctrine makes us all into ‘puppets,’ makes our efforts pointless, and causes division between Christians. No, as Paul reflected on his revelation of the sovereignty of God, he broke into a paeon of joyful praise:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

“Why did the truth of God's sovereign control bring so much joy to Paul? I think it was because he had learned to practice what I call ‘the spectator principle.’ Once we understand that God has a plan for this world and for our individual lives, we can begin to see some of what He is doing in the world and in our lives. You cannot know God's sovereign will before you make a decision, and even afterwards you won't be able to understand all of what He has planned and why, but sometimes (many times even, if you look hard) you will be able to see what He is doing and some of the reasons He is doing it. And nothing can bring more holy delight than watching the Master Artist weave the tapestry of history, observing the Conductor of the universe orchestrate all things together for our good, and discovering the perfect storyline that has been plotted by the Divine Director for His own glory.”

Finally, I shared a real-life example of the “spectator principle” that blessed many of those who heard it, so I want to reproduce it here. I’ve been counseling a dear sister whose husband left her and their three children to pursue an adulterous relationship. I addition to memorizing Romans 8:28 and reading Jerry Bridges book Trusting God (also on my list of favorite books), I gave her an assignment to write out a list of all the ways she can think of that God might bring good out of this trial in her life. Here is her list, with some comments from me in brackets:

…Learning to trust God more
…Learning to keep Him first in my life [when the other “gods” we worship are stripped away from us]
…Learning to rely on Him for all my needs [when the other things we rely on are gone]
…Learning to be a better wife, mother, person
…Realizing all I have to be thankful for [when you lose a lot, the things remaining are sweeter]
…Refocusing our family and drawing us close to God and each other
…Gaining assurance that I am a chosen child of God (Hebrews 12:3-11, Romans 8:17 and the rest of the chapter)
…Looking forward to heaven [we should do this, and trials tend to wean us from this world]
…Seeking God’s will and kingdom purposes, rather than mine
…Developing true friendships
…Learning to love my enemies, and pray for those who mistreat me (Matt. 5:43)
…Producing steadfastness, endurance (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:5)
…Giving others the opportunity to minister to me
…Giving me the opportunity to witness to others [we always end up talking about our trials to others, even non-Christians…we can talk with them about our faith!]
…Giving me the ability to help others in similar circumstances (2 Corinthians 1:3‑7)
…Giving me joy as a “spectator” watching God at work in my life
…Learning to live one day at a time
…Becoming more financial responsible, and a better steward of God’s money
…The children learning to rely on God as their Father [because their earthly father has been unreliable…maybe this is exactly what God will use to bring them to true salvation and service for Him]
…Allowing me to warn others not to grow “comfortable” in their relationship with God, spouse, even friends. Don’t take these relationships for granted—always work on them—love and appreciate others!

She has already seen God work in many of the ways she listed, and when she begins to feel depressed, anxious, fearful, angry or frustrated because of her situation, I told her to pull out the list, read over it, and thank God for what He is doing through the situation, and what He will do in the future. This is one great way of fulfilling the principle of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I hope you will consider doing that same “assignment” when you are going through hard times… I know it will make a difference for you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Only One Way to Heaven

(Published in original form in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, August 2005)

Many of you will not like what I say here. In fact, the title alone may have caused you to bristle with irritation. But I feel compelled to address this topic precisely because so many will disagree with it.

Martin Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely the point that the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages is where the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

So I must follow the orders I have been given by my divine Commander in Chief, and tell you that there is only one way to heaven. All roads do not lead to God. All religions are not equally valid. This is an essential part of the message that Jesus Christ proclaimed to the world, which He told all His followers to pass along.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one can come to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter added, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And Paul agrees: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Then the Scriptures go on to say clearly that people from other religions cannot be saved unless someone tells them about Jesus, and they turn to Him (verses 11-16). “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (verse 17).

Not only do these historical, well-attested sources reveal that Jesus and His appointed messengers believed in only one way to heaven, but it is simply the most reasonable and logical conclusion when we consider how the world works.

Imagine if you arrived at a door with a full key chain in your hand, and someone told you, “It doesn’t matter which key you use—any one will work in the door.”

Or you and your friends have 20 minutes to make it from Malvern to a movie in King of Prussia, and the driver of the car decides to go through downtown Philadelphia on the way. “That’s not the best way to get to King of Prussia,” you tell him. “But it’s the best way for me,” he insists. “And who are you to say that I’m wrong?!”

What if they told you at the hospital, “You don’t need the surgeon to do your appendectomy, the receptionist will do just fine?” You ask them what kind of drugs they’ve inhaled, but they insist that the receptionist is equally qualified, “in her own way.”

How would you like it if a family visited your home, and the parents told their children, “It doesn’t matter where you go to the bathroom—it doesn’t have to be in the toilet.” Then they accuse you of being “narrow-minded” and “bigoted” when you object.

A couple insists that feeding their newborn baby ice cream at every meal is just as valid as any other nutritional approach. And I could go on…

But the point is, of course, that in this world there is knowledge and there is ignorance, there is truth and there are lies, there is right and there is wrong. This is the way things are, so the real issue is, What do we need to know, What is the truth, and What is right? So I want to encourage you to learn more about the One who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. Open up a Bible and read about Him, or find a church that believes and teaches all of His Word, including His clear word that there is only one way to heaven.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

False Teachers in 1 Timothy

Here's an email follow-up to my Sunday message that I sent to the Faith Church family:

I've been thinking about doing this for a long time, but have never gotten around to it... following up my Sunday messages with further thoughts/application/information for you. I always have good stuff that I can't include for time's sake, because I'm trying not to add to the "Church Bored" by going too long! So here is the passage again, and a quote from William Hendriksen's commentary on 1 Timothy that I thought was really interesting. Let me know if you think these type of email additions would be helpful, or I should say if you would actually read them, so I know whether to do it again. Also see the additional note at the bottom...

1 Timothy 1:3-4 -- As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

Hendriksen comments:

It is a known fact that from early times the rabbis would "spin their yarns"--and endless yarns they were!--on the basis of what they considered some "hint" supplied by the Old Testament. They would take a name from a list of pedigrees (for example, from Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah), and expand it into a nice story. Such interminable embroideries on the inspired record were part of the regular bill of fare in the synagogue, and were subsequently deposited in written form in that portion of The Talmud which is known as Haggadah.
The Book of Jubilees (also called The Little Genesis) offers another striking example of what Paul had in mind. It is a kind of haggadic commentary on the canonical Genesis; that is, it is an exposition interspersed with an abundant supply of illustrative anecdotes. The book was probably written toward the close of the second or at the beginning of the first century B.C. It covers the entire era from the creation until the entrance into Canaan. This long stretch is divided into fifty jubilee-periods of forty-nine (7x7) years each. In fact, the entire chronology is based on the number 7, and heavenly authority is claimed for the arrangement. Thus not only does the week have 7 days, the month 4x7 days, but even the year has 52x7=364 days, the year-week has 7 years, and the jubilee has 7x7=49 years. The separate events regarding the patriarchs, etc., are pin-pointed in accordance with this scheme. The sacred narrative of our canonical book of Genesis is embellished, at times almost beyond recognition. Thus, we now learn that the sabbath was observed already by the arch-angels, that the angels also practiced circumcision, that Jacob never tricked anybody, etc.
In every age there are people who love to indulge in such strange mixtures of truth and error. They even treat these adulterations as being the all-important thing. They carry on lengthy debates about dates and definitions. Instead of brushing aside all such syncretistic rubbish, they discover fine distinctions and engage in hairsplitting disputes. They pile myth upon myth, fable upon fable, and the end is never in sight. Thus the law of God is made void by human tradition (cf. Matt. 15:6), and the picture drawn in the sacred original becomes grossly distorted.

(Was he thinking of Harold Camping when he wrote that, I wonder?!)

My other girlfriends...

My daughter saw my new blog and said, "What about your other girlfriends?"... So I thought I would test out the picture option, and see how it works:

My other girlfriends are in this picture:

I am now a blogger!

I'm with it now! I'm hip (finally)!! Or at least I'm not a dinosaur anymore...