Sunday, September 30, 2007

What does Worship look like?

After the service last Sunday someone grabbed a member of the worship team and launched into a diatribe about how amplified worship music is a disgrace to the Lord Jesus and, somehow, less than biblical. This often happens at our church- because our worship is contemporary in style, expressive in character, and lengthy. Usually these kind of ignorant comments are meant to provoke an argument. I am proud to say that this worship leader responded in grace. People often equate their likes and dislikes with those things that God likes. This sort of "creating God in our own image" is an idolatry that is crafty and clever but is sinful nevertheless.

Now I grew up in a church with organ music, choirs, and hymnals. (By the way the organ has a built in amplifier!)I appreciate the worship from times of old. When William Booth took bar songs and put Christian lyrics to them he did so with the idea that he was making the deep truths of God relevant to sinners. Some have attributed the saying "Why should the devil have all the good music" to him. Few people quibble over Send The Fire or other hymns that he wrote, these days. Music is both an expression to God of the soul and the making relevant and accessible the truths of God to those who need reminding of his character and nature.

But what does worship look like?
1) Well- to the chagrin of this poor unenlightened congregant- Worship is Loud! While there are some who prefer their admiration of God to be quiet and mannerly, the Bible records powerful, loud worship as being the kind of worship that God inhabits. Praise, by its nature involves shouting at times. Indeed, one of the Hebrew words for worship is "Shout" (Josh 6.16; Ps 66.1) and believers are supposed to get loud in their worship- at least occasionally. Of course, it doesn't have to be deafening but there is a reason why they had choirs with many voices... volume!
But worship is more than volume.

2) Worship is biblical. I don't think we need an example here of the poverty of some theological impressions from the hymns, do we? Okay- read through Rise Up Oh Men of God (verses 2 and 3); or how about Near the Cross...
The point is our worship needs to reflect biblical truth. While there are great hymns there are also wonderful expressions of worship in contemporary music. Any one who says otherwise hasn't plumbed the depths of a song like Glory in the Highest
by Chris Tomlin

You are the first
You go before
You are the last
Lord, You're the encore
Your name's in lights for all to see
The starry host declare Your glory

Glory in the highest
Glory in the highest
Glory in the highest

Apart from You there is no god
Light of the world
The Bright and Morning Star
Your name will shine for all to see
You are the one
You are my glory

And no one else could ever compare
To You, Lord
All the earth together declares ...
Glory in the highest ... to You, Lord

All the earth will sing Your praise
The moon and stars, the sun and rain
Every nation will proclaim
That You are God and You will ransom

Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory to You, Lord
Glory, glory hallelujah

I think in John 4 Jesus called it "worshipping in spirit and in truth". A generation died in the desert because their worship was impure in character. It might be incumbant upon us to pay less attention to musical style and more to the condition of the heart.

3) Worship is genuine. If flows from the heart and the form is less important than the function. I question whether someone who is bound and determined to dislike the worship of God has a real relationship with God. Worship is what we will spend the rest of eternity doing. I think some folks may be terribly uncomfortable in Heaven!
It also strikes me as a terrible hypocrisy to judge what only God can know- the intents of a fellow worshippers heart while the same is worshipping your Lord alongside you. Really- which one of these worshippers is responding with their heart? The offended pew sitter or the fully engaged demonstrative and boisterous charismaniac?

The desire of a man or woman after God is powerful stimulus to holiness. Many offer the simplistic worship of a submitted heart. They do it in many ways- bowing before God, hands lifted to heaven, dancing in joy, singing with all their hearts, yielding to will of God, tearful reflection and repentance, jumping and shouting, in English or in a prayer language- they genuinely desire to please God. Naysayers seem to forget that all those are biblical expressions of praise to God.

4) Worship is a subjective, spiritual, and experiential endeavor. God moved in the Scriptures as men of old prayed, sang in worship, and humbled themselves. In my home church there was a fella who played for the Vikings on most Sundays. He was so big I couldn't see around him when he stood to sing. But there is something powerfully humiliating and encouraging in seeing a pro defensive tackle humble himself before a mighty God. It is a metaphor for the rest of us. It is in worship- imperfect in all its variables- that God meets us. It was the primary requirement of the sons of Adam. It was the expression of worship that brought blessing and cursing upon Able and Cain. God was experienced in the context of altars of worship and prayer throughout the patriarchs lives. And in the NT the promise of re establishing the Davidic Tabernacle of praise (Act 15.15) reminds us that God is bringing the gentiles in to experience his manifest presence.

Every Sunday I remind myself that God has planned to inhabit these praises and that his glorious presence will be there from the first note on. Some say that they can praise God in "other ways" but God is no fan of 'strange fire'(Num 3.4). The Biblical pattern for praise and worship is best.

We dedicate about 1/2 of our service to this highest calling of man. Giving God the praise due his name is of equal or greater value than the Word of God. Andrew Murray wrote, "To worship is man's highest glory. He was created for fellowship with God: of that fellowship worship is the sublimest expression." No sermon can change a man with out the invited presence of God's spirit into the situation. Worship is more than a way of life- it is life; it creates life; it welcomes life; it changes lives.

A. W. Tozer lamented the lack of real worship in churches in his day. It has been a determined effort, with many confrontations with persons who would settle for a less than biblical experience in the church, but we continue to desire to follow God's express and clearly articulated will regarding worship. If that is not what someone is looking for in a church- if they want to dumb down worship- manage the Holy Spirit's presence- stifle the gifts of the Holy Spirit- or hinder the worship of others, then I invite them to leave our church. But if they have a teachable spirit and are submitted to Christ above all- then I invite them to enter in and experience the live altering presence of God in worship. They won't be sorry. I'm not.


Of Acorns and Oaks

I have become increasingly amazed at the power of parenting. Perhaps it is because as a a pastor I see this displayed over and again. Or maybe it is because I see my own children duplicate the traits and characteristics that their own parent displayed before them. (ouch)Whatever the reason, I am deeply convinced that we hold unimaginable sway upon the lives of our children. We create a future for them whether we understand that we are doing it or not.

That fact alone is enough to scare the pants off of most of us. We want things to be genetically engineered. Recent illicit attempts in the media to blame basic character issues on genetics have come up dry and been found wanting. There have been attempts to find a "faith" gene, a "gay" gene, and a "fat" gene. People are fat because they eat too much and exercise too little. People are homosexual because they choose that lifestyle (often due to childhood trauma) and they have faith because they choose to exercise it spiritually. As much as we would like to be a nation of victims we aren't predetermined in that way.

We react to the lives our parents lived before us- either positively or negatively. The littlest things in this fragile society send people spinning out of control. previous generations were a little thick skinned compared to our current fragility. These were pioneers. But alas, this generation is reacting to what it sees in its leaders and parents.

So What? Well it becomes increasingly clear that we need to live our lives in such a way that the Lord is glorified and the watching generations are not caused to stumble. Jesus was pretty hard on those who cause little ones to stumble. (Mt 18.6) For some reason we don't preach that verse to parents- but we should. Then maybe the parents would stop exaggerating, or living double lives in front of their children, or trying to manipulate these little lives instead of educate and motivate them. It might end childhood sexual traumas and abuse. It might create strong believers in all age groups because one thing is for sure- the acorn doesn't fall far from the oak tree.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The God Who Blesses with Wealth and Health!

I just finished reading Gordon Fee's little book "The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel". Fee is a renown exegete and scholar whom I respect highly. His years of expertise have given him a hearing in the scholastic word and his writings have proved to be informative for many in pastoral ministry. The fact that he has Pentecostal roots is an added plus. That is why it pains me to say that here Fee drops the ball- big time. The book turns out to be a critique of what I would call the hyper faith movement and their misuse of Scripture to preach a anthropocentric (man centered) gospel. Fee makes a number of statements that the reader will recognize as untrue in an effort to make his point. (Please understand that I am not in league with the hyper-faith movement here, but a critical examination of their texts cannot be accomplished by sloppy exegetical work on our part. The Biblical position is clear, if unwelcome in the academic world, and those of use who have given their lives to study the Word should hold steady on the doctrine of the Apostles- rather than to accommodate the lastest theological stream.)

The first is his insistence that The New Testament nowhere makes the blessings of God conditional. First of all, this is the kind of nonsense that you would expect to rise from the ivory towered institutions that seek to remove the reality of God from his people. Fee steps into this unbiblical position too smoothly, as if his opinion is more informed by the company he has kept these last years than the Word of God. The Scripture is clear- much blessing is conditional upon the acts of faith of the believer. We need only to look at a passage that Fee curiously avoids.

2 Cor 9.6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

This passage is written concerning the blessing of God on the finances of the believers and Paul is challenging them to dig deep. He specifically links their future blessing with their action. To say that there is "never" any "New Testament"
link of "God's blessing to our action" is untrue. Further, we are told in Hebrews 11 that real faith is defined as believing in that God who "exists" and "rewards those who diligently seek him". Of course the New Testament links some future blessing with our contemporary actions! And Specifically, the financial blessings of God are promised to those who "sow" sacrificially in giving to the needs of others. To define it otherwise is to deny the "plain meaning" that Fee has taught me to heed.

Again-Fee directs us to the passage in 3 John 2 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. Here he says that this is a greeting without much literal import. he says that at best "our prayers" for one another can be informed by this passage but it cannot be used to define the will of God for all believers. Hmmm.. so the inference that Fee would have us derive from this passage is that we should pray for things that are not God's will???? This is illogical. Clearly God does will for all to be healed... because in the place where his will is always done (heaven), there is no sickness, crying, tears, pain, death, etc. Therefore we may desire it for our friends (as expressed in this greeting in 3 John) or we may pray for it for our brothers and sisters. Inadequate interpretation of scripture doesn't make for a strong position- even if you are on the right side of the argument!

Finally, this idea that God is neutral with regard to material possessions is simply false. God judges the misuse of such possessions throughout the prophets in the OT. God uses material blessings in both the OT and NT to affirm and bless the believer. How can he be neutral? It is true that he is not impressed by the material possessions we have amassed. And the church is not suposed to be a place where the rich are favored, either. Fee says that "material possessions are a zero to God", but this is an extra-biblical assertion. It isn't found in the Bible! God cannot be unconcerned about something that he is holding us accountable for AND using as incentive in our lives.

Is the current fascination with health and wealth new? No, certainly not. God must be seen as a God who blesses. Specifically, he does so so that we may be a blessing to others (see 2 Cor 9.8 above). But he also wills our best, and that includes both healing and prosperity. Does this mean that God wants everyone to be rich? NO. Does this demean the NT warnings about those who want to get rich (1 Tim 6.9)? NO. But it does speak to every person in every situation. God does not want your poverty and oppression; he is not interested in working holiness in your life by bringing diseases upon you; he wants to craft in you the best you that can be crafted. Our submission to the will of God and his word demands that we respect him as the one who blesses us- who rewards us- who causes us to reap where we have sowed- who returns to those that give to the poor. This is our God- the God who blesses. He is anything but neutral!

What is my response to God's blessings? To hoard it? NO rather we should use both our wealth and our health to honor God in the lives of others. Giving Sacrificially, supporting the work of the gospel here and abroad, and living a simplistic lifestyle that commands respect among unbelievers. We must be careful to make sure that the flesh doesn't corrupt the blessings of God. This takes spiritual maturity and purposeful living in the Spirit. I am sure that Dr. Fee would agree.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What is the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus mentions a sin that is unforgivable in Matt. 12:31-32 and calls it blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. But what exactly is this unforgivable sin?

Matt. 12:22-32 says, "Then there was brought to Him a demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb, and He healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. 23And all the multitudes were amazed, and began to say, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebub the ruler of the demons." 25And knowing their thoughts He said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. 26"And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? 27"And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. 28"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29"Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30"He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32"And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come," (All Scripture quotes are from the NASB).

Jesus did His miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (rather than out of his divinity) who had come upon Him at His baptism and had lead him into and out of the wilderness temptings. The Pharisees were a prominent group of religious leaders who held strong political influence in the Jewish community of the first century. The knew that Jesus' miracles validated His teaching and ministry (see John 11:45-48) and they were attempting to discredit Jesus' ministry (and thereby his role as Messiah) by saying that His works were by the devil and not by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, they were blaspheming (slandering) the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus performed His miracles. This is unforgivable because they knowingly sought to slander what God was doing in order to protect their own influence. In so doing, they were alienating further those who so desperately needed salvation.

There is no biblical support for a believer committing this sin. If you are worried that you may have committed the sin and can’t be forgiven, then don’t be concerned. If you are worried about it, then that is a sign that you have not committed it. If you had, you probably wouldn’t be concerned about it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why Spirit Baptism is Distinct from Salvation

What doctrine of the church is more divisive than this one? People get mighty freaked out when you start talking about Spirit Baptism. I thought that I would address a few of the questions people have. Especially, those that I hav eencountered from friends in theological circles.

Many well meaning folks hold to this doctrine quite strongly. I will leave it to God to discern their motivations for doing so. My comments will be made upon the Biblical texts.

My first evidence of this secondary work of grace is that it comes to the disciples long after they believe. In John 1.12 we are told that all who "received him, to those who belived in his name, he gave the right to become children of God". But it is not until John 20.21-22 that we see Jesus reminding them of the need to receive the Holy Ghost. I don't believe that there can be salvation without the work of the HS and yet Jesus told his Disciples that they were clean (Jn 15) because of the word they had received.

The second evidence of the Baptism into the Holy Spirit is that Luke records the words of Jesus as strongly holding back the disciples from going into ministry because of the necessity of this experience. Luke records the promise after their minds and been opened to the Scriptures (24.45-49). It would seem unlikely that the Disciples that healed the sick, and cast out demons in the name of Jesus had not come to salvation by the faith they placed in him. Yet again in Acts 1.8 the, now resurrected Christ, tells them to wait for the HS on pentecost.

Thirdly, the oft confused Baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor 12.13) is the work of the Holy Spirit putting the believer into the body of Christ. In that passage the Spirit is the "baptizer", the body is the "element" whereas in the "element" in Matthew 3.11 is the Holy Spirit and the "baptizer" is Jesus. In Matthew 3 John the Baptist is prophecying the immersion of the believer into the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul's concern in 1 Cor 12 was simply to show that there was unity initiated by the Spirit's work.

In Acts 8 we are told that the Samarian Christians believed and saw miracles (v12) but that the Holy Spirit hadn't come upon any of them (v16). Taken at its face value this text seems to be insurmoutable for those who claim Spirit baptism is simultaneous with salvation. A similar issue is with the Ephesian Disciples in Acts 19.

We might also offer as evidence the lack of the manifestation gifts present in the churches whose theological underpinnings have limited Spirit Baptism to the salvation experience. While I might agree that all of us believers have been baptized BY the Holy Spirit- only some of us are Baptized INTO the Holy Spirit.

This would also explain why the apostle would ask the Corinthians to "seek" and "desire" the gifts of the Holy Spirit and encourage that "tongues not be forbidden". In Rom 8 we are told that the Spirit empowers the believer to pray God's will perfectly. Thus there is a necessity to pray in the Holy Spirit routinely. I have often found relief and blessing as I have prayed in the blessed Holy Spirit given language that he affords me. Too many neglect this crucial gift at their own spiritual peril. Pray in the Spirit is the command of the apostle to the Ephesian church- "With all kinds of prayers", he admonishes.

If you are not Baptized into the Holy Spirit, immersed by the Lord into the realm of the Spirits power, then Seek it, Desire the good gifts of God! If you are Baptized already then practice your prayer language every day. Build up your faith in the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What is Church About?

Sometimes people tell me that they purposely come late to church services because they just want to hear the sermon. Let's talk about this mindset.

First- it is thoroughly unbiblical. Worship is a priority for believers. It is, of course, an attitude of thankfulness, gratitude, and giving praise to God. But it is demonstrated in acts of worship. Giving, singing, Clapping hands, raising hands, dancing, etc. These are all perfectly worshipful and bilbical expressions. Perhaps we need to examine our own hearts to see if there is an unbiblical understanding of worship. Standing piously, reflectively, etc. Can be worshipful but are not necessarily expereincing the full gamot of worship.

Second- it is selfish. Church is about receiving teaching in the Word of God- this is true. But it is also about giving. Giving out of your expereince and wisdom to others who are gathered and in need; using spiritual gifts; praying for one another; loving the lost and lonely, etc. The Selfish mindset that says "I just want to hear the message" displays that the speaker hasn't understood the idea of community OR his/her obligation to worship. SAD.

In our services we try to balance worship and teaching. Worship is a balance of our experiencing Gods dynamic presence and being taught from the Word of God. Each is given roughly 40 minutes in our services. Submitting our lives to the Spiritual Discipline of Worship is crucial to our development as a believer. It makes us balanced in our faith.