Monthly Archives: January 2008

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth

Every model of church, in order to be biblically legitimate, must seek to focus men and women’s hearts on God and His truth as revealed in scripture. The Old Testament, for example, is rich and extremely detailed in describing worship–the worship of God’s people. God’s instructions leave nothing to the imagination–He describes what is proper and worship and He tells us in no uncertain terms how He will be worshiped. As the account of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 shows us, God is deadly serious about proper worship.

The entire Old Testament system of worship established at least five important things (no particular order):

  1. A context in which Christ’s death on the cross would have its intended substitutionary and penal meaning.
  2. The Holiness of God in dealing with sin.
  3. Who God is.
  4. The Law to point out where and how man fails to live up to a Holy God.
  5. A central place of worship where God’s people would go to worship, especially on festival occasions.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews still made their pilgrimages to the Temple for Passover and the other pilgrimage festivals (Pentecost took place during a pilgrimage festival, by the way). But, as we will see, the entire concept of biblical worship was about to change.

In John 4, we see Jesus’ mission to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. While worship is not the main point of this passage, this passage reveals much about New Testament worship.

During the conversation between the woman and Jesus, she asks if it is right to worship on Mt. Gerizim (as the Samaritans did) or is it right to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (as the Jews did). The Samaritans were remnants of the now defunct Northern Kingdom of Israel who had been forced to interbreed with the Assyrians who conquered them in 722 BC. The Samaritan people rejected all of the Old Testament, except for the Pentateuch. So, they tried to keep the Old Testament Law but they worshiped on Mt. Gerizim (which, in fact, broke Old Testament Law because it was not the authorized place). The woman’s question brings a shocking response from Jesus. He answered:

John 4:21-24 (ESV)
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus’ response is a two-pronged answer. Jesus says the Samaritan way of worship is simply wrong. He says they worship what they do not know while the Jews worship what they know. The idea is the Samaritans have been worshiping wrongly because they have not been worshiping in accordance with the entirety of God’s revelation. By holding only to the Pentateuch, the Samaritans rejected the Prophets and by doing so engaged in worship which was not in accord with God’s full (to that point) revelation of Himself.

Secondly, Jesus’ response tells us the forms of worship seen since the inception of the Covenant will soon end. As was mentioned before, Jewish worship included several “pilgrimage feasts” (like Passover) and these feasts required being in Jerusalem for the purpose of performing the acts of worship, just as God had prescribed. Jesus now says that is all going to end—the old order (the forms) will be done away with, in favor of a new order.

Worship in Spirit: We must go to Christ Himself as our place of worship

The idea of worship “in Spirit and Truth” is related to these two developments. To worship in “Spirit” means that there is no physical place or platform in which to worship. The new order will not have a geographical center or specific, required forms. The new order will have a spiritual center and that spiritual center is Christ Himself.

While the John passage does not explicitly state Jesus to be the center of new order worship, we know this is the case from other New Testament passages:

Matthew 12:6, 8 (ESV)
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here…For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath

John 2:19-21 (ESV)
Jesus answered they, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

The passage in Matthew shows Jesus taking the title “Lord of the Sabbath” which suggests He is speaking of Himself when He says, “Something greater than the temple is here.” The John passage is more explicit. In this passage, Jesus unequivocally equates states Himself to be the Temple.

Because Jesus Himself is the new temple we see there is not a geographical location for our worship. We do not need to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem or any other locale to worship. We make our pilgrimage to Christ Himself. Jesus is intentionally turning the meaning of worship away from a central, geographical style and He is showing the true essence of worship to be a matter of the heart—true worship has at its core a personal and spiritual experience with Jesus Himself. No longer is worship performing outward rituals. True worship is now inward.

Worship in Truth: We must constantly and consistently seek to have our concept of God defined by scripture alone.

To worship in truth means that we worship the one, true, and living God. We do not worship a god of our imagination or a partially biblical god. True worship has, at its center, a proper vision and understanding of God—a vision we can only get from the Bible, God’s own self-revelation.

In saying the new order worship must be “in truth,” Jesus shows there is no such thing as compartmentalized worship. True worship is based in a true concept of God as revealed in scripture and the outward acts are null and void if the inward concept of God is wrong. Also, in order to be valid, outward worship must flow from the heart—a heart committed to the God of the Bible and His Christ.

From other passages, we see the heart is the issue. In see Matthew 15:18-20, we see Jesus telling Peter that it is what comes out of the heart that is, by nature, defiling. Jesus is discussing the fruit of an unregenerate life. One can assume, then, that a regenerate heart will produce good fruit. A heart rightly related to God will produce proper worship. Only a person who has been truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit and saved by the blood of Christ can offer acceptable worship. By definition, true Christian worship is offered only by believers with a proper, biblical concept of God.

We must plan our worship services with God, not man, as our “Audience.”

Today, many pastors and worship leaders commit a grave error in their worship planning by seeking to draw people into their service by their choices of music or the “style” of church. Certainly the Bible allows for all types of music to be used and the Bible allows for different “forms” of worship. However, what the Bible does not allow for is man being the subject of the worship service.

As was stated earlier, every model of church, in order to be biblically legitimate, must seek to focus men and women’s hearts on God and His truth as revealed in scripture. If worshipers and worship leaders fail to see the significance of having our hearts focused on God and having our attitudes right, biblically speaking, we will inevitably commit the same sinful error as the Samaritan woman. We must take great pains to avoid that error so that we do not have irrelevant and invalidated worship.

Note: John Piper has heavily influenced my thoughts on this matter. His writings on the same matters can be found in: John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, 215-230 and John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 3rd ed. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003),
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Heath Ledger–Part II

One of my friends sent me a link to a foxnews.com article saying that the people of Westboro Baptist Church (in Kansas) were planning to picket Heath Ledger’s funeral. The people of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) have become famous for their “God Hates Fags” vitriol. I have visited their site (which I DO NOT recommend) and let me say this: Any church website that has a “Picket Schedule” should be ashamed of themselves. According to the article the WBC crowd is upset because Heath Ledger played a homosexual in Brokeback Mountain.

There are many issues to address, but there are too many to address them all. First a few statements:

  • I do not condone homosexuality. It is a sin which, in the Old Testament, required the death penalty.
  • All of us are sinners. The people of WBC seem to have forgotten that.
  • Except for God’s intervening grace, we would all be destined for an eternity in hell.

Now, to address the WBC issues.

  • Since homosexuality is a sin and speeding on the interstate too is a sin, does WBC picket the funerals of those who died in car accidents?
  • The people of WBC claim their picketing is “Preaching the Gospel.” It sounds to me that their “God Hates Fags” rants are not the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel is that, though we are all sinners justly deserving Hell, Christ offers us salvation.
    • Have the Bible-toting people of WBC conviently forgotten what 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (ESV) says: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    The above passage makes it quite clear that homosexuality in a church is a huge problem and the church must judge the person. However, notice Paul’s unwillingness to “judge outsiders.” Who is it that will render final judgment? It is God and Him alone.

    Now, through the Bible, God has revealed to us what He thinks about certain issues. Homosexuality is called an abomination. But this sin, and it is a sin, is no different than premarital heterosexual sex, adulterous sex, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Sin is sin. Sure there are different levels of sin, but essentially all sin is the same in that sin separates us from God and makes us all deserving of God’s eternal judgment in Hell. And Christians too are sinners. Christians are just forgiven though the death of Christ on the cross.

    If you are a Christian and you are reading this post, this is what you need to understand:

    • God will judge all sin, not just Homosexuality
    • The sin of Homosexuality does not have a place in the Church
    • As Christians, we must demonstrate our love for homosexuals by telling them that their lifestyle is sinful. It would actually demonstrate something other than love if we were silent and left them ignorant in their sin.
    • We must “Speak the truth in love” and saying “God Hates Fags” is not speaking the truth in love.
    • Rather than picketing funerals of homosexuals and U.S. Service Men and Women (who, ironically, by there service allow WBC members to have free speech), true Christians are to go and share the Gospel with all types of people (including homosexuals). It does no good to picket funerals if you have not, first, shared the truth of the Gospel, in love.

    Now, if you are a non-Christian reading this post, please understand this:

    • WBC is not an accurate representation of what it is to be a Christian. Saying that they represent Christianity is like saying The Pope represents what it is to be a Muslim.
    • The WBC people are darkly and deadly wrong about the nature of the Church’s mission.  From reading the blog on their site it is obvious that they revel in so many things a true Christian would not revel in.  A true Christian would weep bitterly about the state of their nation, not lash-out with pseudo-bible-babble which discounts the notion of “Speaking the truth in love.”
    • While WBC is right that Homosexuality is a sin, according to scripture.  But they must understand that they are to clean and purify their own fellowship and leave the “judgment” to God. His judgment is far more severe than any picketing they might do.
    • While WBC does not represent Baptists or Christians, they do represent the worst of humanity and you should not lump true Christians in with their depraved lot.
    • Christians should demonstrate our love for homosexuals by telling them that their lifestyle is sinful. It would actually demonstrate something other than love if we were silent and left them ignorant in their sin.
    • We must “Speak the truth in love” and saying “God Hates Fags” is not speaking the truth in love.

    Now, I believe in the 1st amendment, in free speech. I believe they have the right to do what they wish. But true Christians also have the right (and I’d argue the responsibility) to tell the WBC crowd that they are a bunch of idiots, and so does anyone else for that matter. I seriously doubt whether the people of WBC have ever truly trusted in Christ for anything, and as such, they too must be confronted (in love) with the truth of the Gospel. To me, it seems that they hate homosexuals and have used the Bible (which does condemn Homosexuality) to bludgeon people, while conveniently forgetting that we, as Christians, are to be salt and light while sharing the good news of the Gospel that God offers us forgiveness from all our sins, not just Homosexuality.

    Well, that’s what I think….

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    Filed under "Pop Culture", Deadly-wrong Theology

    Heath Ledger

    Ok, so I don’t usually comment on “Pop Culture.” In fact, I will have to add a new category for this post, the afore-mentioned “Pop Culture.” I only knew Heath Ledger through his films, most notably The Patriot. I thought him to be an excellent actor with a great presence on the screen.

    I either read an article or heard somewhere where he and Michelle Williams (of Dawson’s Creek fame) had a daughter together. As a Christian, I must not condone Mr. Ledger’s nor Ms. Williams lifestyle–they were never married and had a daughter. However, today I felt myself feeling sorry for that little girl (having a four-month-old myself), that she would never get to know her dad–except what he looked like, and that on TV. The world is full of father-less children and now it has one more. Psalm 68:5 calls God “A Father to the fatherless.” Well, I hope this little girl will be turned to Him so that God, in Christ, will be her Father.

    The events of today’s news cycle have almost been hijacked by the story of Mr. Ledger’s passing. There are many things to learn from his all-too-short life.

    If you are a Christian and you’re reading this blog, this is what you need to understand:

    1. Not one of us is guaranteed one month, one week, one day, one minute, or one second. Your life (my life too) can end before you finish reading this sentence. God may take our lives or He may grant us decades more. Life is in His hands, not ours and no matter how young and vibrant we seem, it could all end in a heartbeat.
    2. Nothing on this earth is permanent. Mr. Ledger probably had countless millions of dollars in his bank account. I’m sure that money now seems quite worthless. Whether a person has 1 dollar or 100 billion dollars, at death we all become bankrupt.
    3. The blessings of this life must be used to further the Kingdom of God. Everything God has given us by His grace is, ultimately, His and therefore must be used to His glory. God has given to many Christians a decent amount of resources–financial resources, time, talents, etc. Since these resources must be left here, transfer them to Heaven by “Laying treasures up in Heaven”

    If you are a non-Christian and you are reading this blog, you need to understand that at the moment of death you will pass into eternity and that eternity is either with God in Heaven or apart from God in Hell.

    • God is a Holy God and cannot abide sin, which is rebellion against Him and His Law.
    • Rebellion, which we live in a state of, makes God very angry with us and He demands that we pay for our sinful rebellion. Our rebellion makes us slaves to sin.
    • Atonement is the way to pay for our sin. God demands a payment for your sin and no amount of good works will pay the debt our sin has caused. Since God is eternal, the punishment for sinful rebellion is severe–an eternity of punishment in Hell.
    • Christ offered to pay your atonement for you. Through His substitutionary life and death on the cross, you can have your sins paid-in-full so that you won’t have to pay your own atonement in Hell for all eternity. Because of God’s gracious gift of salvation, Christ will take the penalty for your sinful rebellion and will give you all His righteousness He earned during His perfect, sinless, and un-rebellious life and set you free from slavery to sin.
    • Eternity with God (the Lord of the universe) is the destination of all who trust in Christ to be their Savior, their Substitute. Instead of being a servant or a slave, God Himself offers you to be adopted into His family–as a son or a daughter.

    Another way to remember this offer is this: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    As a result of God setting you free from sin, you will serve Him and live your life as an act of worship. And rather than amassing money in your bank account or seeking fame for yourself, you will want to use everything you have and everything you are to worship God and to lay up your treasures in heaven.

    If, as a non-Christian, you’d like to know more, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll e-mail you and we can talk more.

    Blessings,

    Archangel

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    Reading The Bible and “Getting” the Point.

    This post is going to be about Hermeneutics. I know, you’re thinking, “Didn’t they sing ‘Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter?'” No, that would be the 60’s British invasion band Herman’s Hermits. Hermeneutics can be summarily defined as the science of reading and interpreting the Bible.

    The first issue we address in the interpretation of the Bible is that of genre. The Bible has narrative (like Genesis), poetry (like Psalms), prophecy (like the majority of Isaiah–which includes poetry), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), epistle (like Paul’s letters), and apocalyptic literature (like Revelation and parts of Daniel). The problem is that there are different issues in interpretation for each genre. For instance, proverbs are generally true statements. A proverb, as a genre of literature, is not intended to be always true. Therefore certain statements in Proverbs should not be taken with the same weight that one would give to, say, an epistle of Paul. Why? because the genre, by definition, does not present itself this way.

    Also, apocalyptic literature is very pictorial and uses a large amount of word-pictures. For instance, John, in Revelation, describes Jesus as “Looking as a Lamb slain.” This is obviously picturesque language. We don’t, for a minute, think Jesus is covered in wool and goes “Baaaah!” No, John is painting a picture of Jesus dependent on the rest of the Bible–Jesus is the One who is the Sacrificial Lamb.

    Narrative sections are generally historical accounts of what happened–books like Genesis-Deuteronomy, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, The Gospels, and Acts, to name a few. Epistles are letters generally telling someone or a group of people what to do.

    Our goal in reading the Bible should be to seek what the author’s main point is. Only when we find the author’s main point can we find out what God has intended for us to learn and then we can apply that main point (in different ways) to our lives to make us better Christians.

    Always find the main verb. A knowledge of Greek and Hebrew makes this much easier. In some genres, this is more important. For instance, in the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Go…make disciples…baptizing…teaching…” I’ve heard many sermons about how we are commanded to “Go.” The Great Commission is used as a “Proof Text” to that end. But a careful examination of the passage shows that the main verb is “Make Disciples,” not “Go.” In Greek, the participles (which “Go” is along with baptizing and teaching) generally show how the action of the main verb is to be accomplished.

    There have been many hilarious and some downright wrong interpretations of epistolatory literature because this rule has not been followed. Let me give you an example:

    1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (ESV)
    “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. [13] “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [14] And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. [15] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    How many times have I heard a message on what is “Lawful” contrasted with what is “Beneficial?” That difference is not what Paul is talking about–it is not his main point. His main point is found, actually, in verse 20, “Glorify God in your body.”

    So, then passage should be understood this way:

    Paul’s Proposition: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God

    Paul’s supporting point #1: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God by fleeing sexual immorality

    Other supporting ideas #1: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God because your body is God’s, not yours–He bought you at a price (Christ’s blood).

    Other supporting ideas #2: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God because we will be judged for how we lived.

    Now, if I were preaching this, I’d put it this way (this is York’s applicational model):

    Proposition: We must glorify God in our bodies

    Point 1: Because we are to use our bodies to glorify God, We must flee sexual immorality

    Point 2: We must glorify God in our bodies because He bought us with Christ’s blood

    Point 3: We must always seek to do that which glorifies God because we will be judged for our actions and choices.

    So, then, the main point Paul (and therefore God) has for us is that we are to use our bodies as instruments to glorify God (see also Romans 12:1-2).  And this passage is weird because it seems to be in retrograde–which means the main verb comes at the end of the passage, rather than at the beginning.

    The next challenge in getting the point of the passage is context. This is perhaps the area which most people have the greatest challenge.

    How many times have you heard, “You’ve said wherever two or three are gathered…” when you have five people at your Sunday evening service? The context of this statement is the Church Discipline part of Matthew 18!

    How about this one….”A little child shall lead them?” Warm & Fuzzies abound, group hugs are offered to all, and a chorus of Kum-by-ah threatens to break out. BUT, this is not the context of this statement! This statements is talking about the eternal kingdom where children will lead animals that otherwise would have ripped them to shreds! Like real estate’s rule of location, location, location, Context’s rule is location, location, location.

    Context must be considered in more than one aspect. You have the general context of the passage at hand, the context of the book, and the context of the Bible as a whole. For instance, the Apostle John uses certain words a certain way and Paul uses those words in a slightly different way.

    Also, historical context must be a foremost consideration. I’ve heard many preach, teach, and talk about John 8 (the woman caught in adultery). As the passage is preached, it is inevitably brought out by the preacher that Jesus’ mercy to the woman is a model for all of us. I’ve even heard some say that it is OK to breach the law in an effort to show mercy.

    This passage should be viewed in the context of the Old Testament law. Jesus couldn’t condemn her (which she deserved, by the way) because the “Accusers” had left and there were no longer two or three witnesses to condemn her–a requirement of the Law. In Jesus’ interaction with the Scribes and Pharisees, we find out that they likely set her up (as seen by only bringing her to Jesus and not the man too–again, required by the Law).

    So, to summarize: Always, Always, ALWAYS find the author’s main point. Look for the main verb, and seek to understand the context (passage, book, biblical, and historical). Once this is accomplished, you can apply the truth of scripture to your life accurately and this will help you to live your life as an act of worship to God.

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    Filed under Biblical Theology, Preaching

    Clash of Worldviews in Worship

    The worship of the Church is dismally weak. Worship is fundamental to the Christian life. But do we ever stop to consider what worship is all about? Do we stop to consider that the world views worship one way and God views worship another way? Many Christians do not stop to consider what worship really is.

    The world does worship wrong. Every false religion has, basically, one form of worship–man, the worshiper, tries to act in such a way so that the deity will respond to the worship with his blessing–rain for crops, health, 70 virgins, etc. This format is essentially “Canaanite Worship,” false worship.

    One of my favorite passages of the Old Testament is Elijah’s “duel” with the prophets of Baal as recorded in 1 Kings 18. The main point of this passage is not worship. However, this passage does have much to teach us about the nature of true worship and false worship:

    1 Kings 18:17-40 (ESV)
    When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” [18] And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. [19] Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
    [20] So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. [21] And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. [22] Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. [23] Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. [24] And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” [25] Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” [26] And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. [27] And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” [28] And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. [29] And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
    [30] Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. [31] Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” [32] and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. [33] And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” [34] And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. [35] And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.
    [36] And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. [37] Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” [38] Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. [39] And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” [40] And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.

    It is a bad time in Israel. The king, Ahab, has married himself a Sidonian woman named Jezebel who brought Baal worship with her and now has made it the “State Religion” of Israel. Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh–the One, True, and Living God, the God of Israel–challenges the prophets of Baal to a duel of sorts. The prophets of Baal and the prophet of Yahweh will prepare identical offerings and will wait to see which God answers by fire.

    Here is where we see false worship. Look at what the prophets of Baal do–there are two statements. The prophets of Baal call to their god from morning until noon crying for Baal to answer them. It is said they limp around the altar as they are crying out to Baal.

    Who was Baal–he was the Canaanite storm god. Among other things Baal was the one who was supposed to provide rain–which is why it is particularly interesting that Israel was in the midst of a three-year drought, a direct slap in the face to Baal.

    Elijah can’t resist some taunting. He chides that Baal is on a journey, or he is asleep and can be aroused by louder crying. Perhaps the funniest charge against Baal is that he is not answering because he is taking care of his business in the bathroom!

    Make no mistake, this is not idle taunting. The implication of Elijah’s taunting is clear–Yahweh is everywhere so He never needs to “journey” (Yahweh is not “territorial,” as the false gods were said to be. The whole world is Yahweh’s territory); Yahweh never sleeps and therefore never needs to be woken up; and Yahweh is never unavailable because He is tending to his “physical” needs, like going to the bathroom.

    How do the prophets of Baal respond? Their “worship” becomes more frenzied. Now, in addition to their afore mentioned actions, they add cutting themselves until their blood gushed out. From the text we see that self-mutilation was a common practice in their worship. Their “worship” has no effect and the refrain of the text is the same “There was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” Baal was shown to be a fraud.

    Notice, though, the practice of the prophets of Baal. They acted in such a way so as to entice Baal to answer. It is almost as if they were thinking, “If I can only inflict enough pain on myself, Baal will see how much I care and he’ll have to respond, he’ll have to!” This reminds me of Linus’ vigil in the pumpkin patch in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Linus thinks his sincerity will draw the Great Pumpkin. Linus’ sincerity, and the sincerity of the prophets of Baal, simply doesn’t matter–the object of their “worship” was a figment of their imagination. Yet they still try do act in such a way so as to provoke the “deity” to respond. This is the epitome of false worship. From ancient times until now false worship still looks the same.

    True worship is a response to God, not God’s response to us. Look at what Elijah does–he does everything in terms of keeping the Law, the covenant of Yahweh. Elijah asks Yahweh to respond but he asks Him to respond because (in the covenant) He had revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and He claimed for Himself the title “God of Israel.” So, Elijah is praying and acting in response to something Yahweh has already revealed. Even the subsequent slaughter of the false prophets (and, yes, it was a righteous act for Elijah to do this) was in response to God’s revelation–the Old Testament Law commands all false prophets to be put to death.

    Look at the order: God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, telling them who He was and what He expected of them. It was then incumbent upon Israel to respond to God in worship. Thus the biblical order of worship, and all true worship, is shown: God acts–He is the initiator, we respond because we are the responders.

    (Interesting Side Note: The prophets of Baal shed their blood to get their false god to respond. God shed His blood for us to make a way for us to respond to Him. Interesting, isn’t it?)

    Adjusting your “Worship Worldview” will have a profound effect on your Christian walk. Here are some outcomes of holding to the true order of worship:

    1. You will view your life as an act of worship in response to God’s gracious work of salvation through Christ. The hymn I’ll Live for Him who Died for Me comes to mind. You will not live the Christian life to “get” things from God. Rather, you will live our life in repentance and faith because God has already given you so much. (see Romans 12:1-2)
    2. Corporate worship services will become a time for the covenant community to respond to God. People will sing more heartily, the arguments over worship style will be greatly reduced (if they don’t disappear all together), and everything done in the service will have one goal–to worship God alone, our “Audience of One.” (Note: I believe every aspect of the worship service must be preceded by the reading of scripture. So if your going to sing the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, the referent passage from Isaiah or Revelation should precede the congregational singing. This preserves the biblical order of worship and reinforces that the congregation is responding, not initiating.)
    3. The people of our churches will want to live God-centered lives and do the work of the church (missions, personal evangelism, etc.) as an act of obedience to the clear command of God as revealed in scripture.

    I have a friend who, after I shared my faith with him, answered “You can’t clean up a turd and I’m a turd.” His unfortunate statement shows a worldly attitude–I have to do something to bring myself into a position so that God will accept me or reward my self-help work. In other words, I need to act in this way or that way so that God will respond favorably to me. I think we all expect that attitude from the world. But that attitude has invaded the church too.

    Churches design services “To bring people in.” That is idolatry; it is placing the pleasing of man above a proper response to God. Churches seem to do things–like extra emotional, “God-is-my-girlfriend” songs–to create an emotional response in the people of the congregation so that God is impressed with the crying, etc. and will come into the congregation’s presence. That is pagan worship, right in the middle of our churches!

    Our worship must operate under one umbrella: We are to worship (corporately and individually) in response to God. We do not worship to get, we worship because we have been given. Changing the way we think about worship will change the way we live our corporate lives and our personal lives and will have a lasting effect on our world as we lay our treasures up in heaven.

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    Our Pain, Our Gain

    My wife and I took our daughter to the doctor today (well, now it’s yesterday). It was time for her four-month checkup. We did not know (although we should have) that our little munchkin would be getting four shots–again. Oh how she cried! I don’t like to hear her cry, no father would. But then I stated thinking (and that means trouble).

    The shots hurt our little girl, but that pain was only for a short time. In fact, this short-term pain is designed to eliminate the possibility of the long-term pain of diseases like polio. What’s my point? Sometimes God does this to us. The author to the Hebrews addresses this when he writes:

    Hebrews 12:1-11 (ESV)
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
    [3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
    “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
    [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

    [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    Sometimes God hurts us and we need Him to do so. Sometimes He wants to further sanctify us and sometimes we have fallen into sin and must be disciplined. The biblical examples are many; here are a few:

    Israel. God promised Abraham that Israel would be his chosen nation, that was the good news. The bad news was they would be strangers (and slaves) in a land that was not their own. The Israelites languished in Egypt for 4oo-odd years waiting for the fulfillment of this promise–and they waited amid the pain of a torturous slavery.

    Why did God do it this way? Why didn’t He give them the land of Canaan right then? It was His plan to have His chosen nation endure the bitter pain of slavery so that the Israelites would be able to appreciate what God had given them. Without the centuries of bitter slavery, the miracles God performed to show His supreme power in the Exodus would not have had the impact that they ultimately did.

    Job. Job is, perhaps, my favorite book of the Bible–it depends on the day. In the book of Job we see a man of impeccable faith who even goes so far as saying: Though He [God] slay me; I will hope in Him (Job 13:15). That’s faith! Job was willing to accept God’s sovereign inflicting of pain because he had an absolute trust in God, even to the point of death.

    Poor Job, we say. No. Job suffered greatly at the hand of God. Job wanted answers and God never gave them. Job lost everything. But read Job 38 through the end of the book. For all his pain, Job got an unparalleled vision of God Himself. For his faithfulness, Job (who never did anything wrong, by the way), received double of what he lost. But the most valuable thing he got was that vision of God.

    Well then, what about the other case–when we do something wrong? That is where church discipline comes into play.

    Church discipline is virtually absent in the Baptist church today. There is a politeness which says, “That’s between that person and God; who am I to judge.” Let me state this bluntly: If you, as a church, are not engaging in biblical church discipline, you are not a church–you are merely a congregation–and you are proving that you do not love your brothers and sisters in Christ (see the Hebrews passage above).

    What is the difference? A church is a covenant community of true believers who covenant together to live Christ-like lives and to help the other members of the community do the same. A congregation is a group of people who like to sit in church and have their ears tickled by the pastor while he holds their hands on the way to hell (wow, that’s blunt! and an over-statement, but I think it makes my point).

    Christians today have a fruit problem (no, I’m not talking about homosexuality). Christians are called to bear the fruit of repentance–the fruit of being true Christians. Jesus said:

    Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18] A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

    We are to guard the purity of the church by examining the fruit of the people in the church. This should begin before baptism and/or membership is granted. I believe there should be an interview process where the pastor, the elders, etc. interview the candidates to make sure, as far as can be known, these candidates are true Christians and should be recommended for baptism and/or membership. Also, there should be a time where the general membership of the church, along with the leadership, observes the candidate to see if he or she is bearing the fruit that a Christian should bear. That is a form of church discipline. But what happens when a Church member sins?

    Ultimately, when a believer sins, he or she is bearing the fruit of the world. And the church cannot have the fruit of the world in its midst. Church discipline must be performed–with the purpose of restoration.

    As a covenant community, it should be our goal to restore the fallen brother or sister. We should not want to crucify them and kick them out–if that is your desire you have a problem! Restoration is the goal. The community should want the church member to repent, return, and continue to bear the fruit of a Christian life–a life lived in repentance and faith.

    We know that not everyone in our church is a Christian. Jesus said:

    Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    That there are and will continue to be self-deluded non-believers in our churches is a problem, but it is a problem we will never completely solve. It is our job to inspect the fruit of our fellow brothers and sisters and help them as they help us to live like Christians.

    When church discipline needs to be done, it will be painful–but the long-term gain is far more important than this short-term pain. If I were performing church discipline on someone I would do the following:

    1. Work through the steps of Matthew 18:15-20–deal with the brother or sister in private and, if necessary, bring to them a group of people to corroborate their error.
    2. Work in private or semi-private (with the group–deacons, elders, etc.) for an extended period of time (perhaps six months to a year) with the goal of having the offending member repent.
    3. As a last resort (when the offending person is absolutely unrepentant), bring the matter before the church, the covenant community.
    4. Affirm that we are all sinners and we all are liable to the discipline of the church.
    5. Affirm that we are not imposing our opinions about right living. Rather, we are pointing out where the offending person has broken clear, scriptural commands.
    6. Pray for the offending person to repent and pray that the discipliners do not fall into a “holier-than-thou” attitude (repeat this step often and then repeat it again).
    7. As the final resort, remove (by vote of the congregation) the person from membership in the covenant community–disallowing them to vote, hold office, or partake in the Lord’s Supper.

    For the person removed, this will be a painful experience. Honestly, if it is not a painful experience for the church too, something is not being done correctly. Also, the covenant community, as a whole, must continue to pray for the member to repent and be restored to membership and they must go out of their way to work and minister to that end.

    Just like my little girl getting shots at the doctor’s office, church discipline is painful, but the long-term benefits for the church (purity) and the one disciplined (no false sense of assurance and hopefully true repentance and faith) is well worth the pain.

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    Calvinism Gets a Bad Rap-Part II

    I missed commenting on this, somehow, in my previous posting. The Baptist Press article has more matters of frustration for me. Now, I don’t know his theological leanings, but some of the comments made by Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, TN, illustrate several problems with today’s Church and Christianity in general.

    Poe comments about the resurgence of Calvinism:

    “In a broad sense, it’s happening on Christian college campuses too, as Calvinism appeals to young people who are wanting a more intellectual approach to Christianity,”

    What is the problem with this? We should all want a more intellectual approach to Christianity, shouldn’t we? After all, doesn’t the “Greatest Commandment” include loving God with our minds?

    Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV)

    “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” [37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment.

    The scripture is clear—Christianity is to involve the mind. We are to know what the Bible says, we are to know what we believe, and we are to know why we believe what we believe. The Apostle Peter makes this point:

    1 Peter 3:13-17 (ESV)

    Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? [14]But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, [15] but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, [16] having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [17] For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

    Not every Christian is going to look like a seminary-trained minister. Certainly there are and will continue to be various levels of learning, ability, and commitment within the Church as a whole. But, some pastors, I fear, do not even attempt to properly train the Christians under their care. Poe’s further comments show my fears are not just fears—they are reality:

    “Southern Baptists neglected serious Christian education from the early 1960s, and that’s when all the trouble started. From discipleship training we went to the amorphous youth groups, whose only real good was to keep kids happy until they graduated from high school and graduated from church. Now, you have a generation [of college students] who have come along and want something deeper and they have latched onto Calvinism.”

    We, as a denomination (the SBC) and a Church have made a mess of things in this area.Poe is right—for years we have failed to engage the minds of the people under our spiritual care. We have been far more concerned with people coming to church and with how many baptisms we have rather than being concerned with how mature our people are. I say this to our shame.

    Certainly we should be concerned with people being in church and baptisms are important. But, these things are not the most important things. The “Great Commission” does not tell us to “Go and bring people into church” or “Go and baptize all nations.” The verb in the passage is clear: Make Disciples. The church is commissioned by Christ Himself to make disciples. The “Go,” the “Baptizing,” and the “Teaching” are important aspects to making disciples, in fact disciples cannot be made without going, baptizing, and teaching.

    The main thing is to make disciples—and we have lost sight of that. We have built our proverbial houses on two superficial things: 1. The amount of people on our membership roles—even if they haven’t darkened the door of our churches in decades; and 2. The number of baptisms we have in any given year—even if we are baptizing worldly, unregenerate people. Almost never do we seek to measure the spiritual progress or spiritual maturity of our people. No, we brag about our membership numbers and our baptism numbers—how superficial are we? No wonder our people look every bit like the people of the world and no wonder our people, youth specifically, are leaving the church—superficiality stinks and everyone, particularly youth, knows it! So people leave for a man-made system that will lead them straight to hell, because we have not engaged their minds and we have not taught them like we should. May God forgive us.

    For those who do not leave the faith but want to have a far deeper experience of faith than they found in their churches, Calvinism offers that deeper experience—an experience that engages the mind and the heart. Poe notes:

    “Calvinism has an appeal because it tends to have an answer for everything -– you can explain everything [by saying] that God predestined it.”

    There is a reason people like to answer everything in terms of God’s sovereign control—it is a deeply biblical answer. Paul wrote:

    Romans 8:28 (ESV)

    And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.

    There is deep comfort in this verse. This verse means that, for the Christian, God is working His purposes together for His glory and our benefit. Many people who have a superficial Christianity are taught to trust or delight in the things that God can give—health, financial stability or security, and deliverance from hell. Superficial Christianity gives the impression that God exists to give you these things. While God does delight to give good gifts to His children, that is not His ultimate purpose or His ultimate gift. His ultimate purpose is to glorify Himself and His ultimate gift is Himself.

    Calvinistic Christianity (and deep-water Christianity in general) seeks to glorify God for His giving us Himself. People who regard God Himself as their ultimate treasure are far more likely to trust in His sovereignty because they know God holds the past, present, and future is his more-than-capable Hand and, in the end, He has our good in mind—this is why so many Calvinists echo the words of Job in all areas and situations of life:

    Job 13:15 (ESV)

    Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

    Furthermore, Calvinist churches are growing, some slowly, but they are growing the right way. These churches do not give out baptisms and church memberships like they were balloons at a church picnic. No, these churches seek to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that the ones being baptized and the ones accepted into membership are, in fact, true believers who will want to grow deeply in their faith. So, the numbers of church members may be less and the number of annual baptisms may be small, but these Calvinist churches, by in large, are much more concerned with the spiritual maturity and spiritual depth of their members, not superficial and misleading numbers and this is to their credit.

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