Category Archives: “Doing” Church

Of Pronouns and Pastors

I once heard a story about a Minister of Music’s “run in” with a Pastor: The Minister of Music was trying to explain to the members of the music ministry that music wasn’t to be done with him, the church, or the pastor in mind. Rather, music was to be done with God in mind. God was our “audience” and the church was His, not our own.

For his exhortations, the Minister of Music was called into the Pastor’s office only to be told by the Pastor: Never forget, this is my church.

Needless to say this kind of sentiment sends cold chills down my back. Where did we get the notion that it is our church?

Pastors have an inherent problem with power.  Most people look at the pastor as “the boss” and they seem, at times, to put their faith in him.  So, even though the pastor is the recipient of many accolades, as unwarranted as many of them may be, he is not to be the object of anyone’s faith!  Sadly, many pastors forget that the people of any particular church are under our care, not our ownership.

Well-meaning pastors have taken to referring to the church they pastor as “my church.”  As with most things, the heart-intent of the pronoun my determines the true meaning and it determines the intent of the pastor’s heart.

IF you say “my church” and are truly referring to the church to which you belong, your heart may be in the right place (although it is not guaranteed).

IF you say “my church” and are truly referring to the church for which you will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment, your heart may be in the right place (but, again, no guarantees).

However, IF you say “my church” and are referring, even unintentionally, to the church which you own, you might be in deep trouble.

We must all try to protect ourselves and our pastors against this false and condemning mistake.  And if you see that I’ve forgotten to practice what I am preaching here, please remind me!  May God grant us His grace to keep this in its proper perspective.

The simple truth of the matter is this: Pastor’s do not “own” churches and, unfortunately, way too many pastors act like they do.  Pastor’s are simply shepherds of the Master’s flock.  We are stewards of the Master’s property.  And, unless you stretched out your arms on a Roman cross and spilled your blood (which you can’t even qualify to do), you simply cannot call it “my” church.

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Offering Our Children to Molech

In the disastrous wake of President Obama’s decision to put the full faith and finances of the Federal Government behind the destruction of human life, I have come to a shocking and bone-jarring conclusion:  As a society, we are engaged in child sacrifice and we are unashamed.

In large measure, this post is not directed at the irreligious, the anti-religious, the atheist.  Rather, this post is meant to be a punch in the gut to the people that call themselves “Christians.”  The irreligious, anti-religious, and atheist are, by nature, sinners.  We should expect them to sin and to call sin “OK.”  All too often, however, those who claim the name of Christ look no different than the irreligious, anti-religious, and atheistic people of the world.

The Problematic Situation

For years, society has been heading in the myopic “I-Me” direction.  This devolution has resulted in an insanely selfish society.  But, again, what else do we expect sinners to do?  The church, though, has followed along with society.

1. Worship Wars abound in churches over the style of the music.  Nowhere in the New Testament is a specific style of music commanded.  Since, in the Old Testament, God decrees the minutiae of worship–down to the very thread in the priestly robes–we might expect the New Testament to decree a style of worship.  It doesn’t.  That’s strange and very telling.

Rather than being a gracious and giving lot, our church folk have turned on each other to devour each other.  Why?  because they want the style of music they are most comfortable with.  Arguments are “invented” to keep the status-quo in place.  This is not New Testament piety; this is worldly selfishness.  This is seeking your satisfaction at the expense of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, I’m not commenting on a particular style of music.  If I had my preference, the church I pastor would do Bach and Handel (after all, I am a classically-trained trumpet player).  What I am commenting against is the selfishness displayed in our churches.  Why not have a variety of musical styles?  Why not rejoice with someone who prefers “contemporary” styles when, on one Sunday, a contemporary ensemble leads the worship service?  Sure it’s not your preference.  But, church is not about you!  Church is about God and God commands us to be gracious to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to rejoice with and for them, and to be a people known for self-sacrifice.  Instead of a Godly “give/give” idea, we are left to see a worldly “take/take” idea.  How sad and how un-Christian.

2. Churches have become outwardly focused to the exclusion of the fellowship of believers.  Do we need to do mission work?  Absolutely!!  However, mission work is not to be done at the expense of building up the members in our churches.  All too often churches are acting like they exist only to do outreach.  Remember, outreach is only one aspect of church life.  The edification (or building up) of the current members (brothers and sisters in Christ) is also required of the church.

Where this becomes a problem is that the builders and the outreachers are usually fighting over which is more important.  How stupid!  That’s like doctors fighting over which organ a patient can live without–a heart or a brain.  Both organs are necessary and both aspects of church–edification and outreach–are necessary as well.

Yet again, we, in our myopic selfishness, do not work with the other “party.”  No, instead we call them names and brand them as “less spiritual.”  Maybe we do this to justify our own selfish desire to be right?  Maybe we do this because we are so spiritually deficient that we need to feel sufficient and rather than looking to Christ–who is Himself the only all-sufficient One–we demonize our brothers and sisters in Christ to exalt ourselves?

If it is true that our actions speak louder than our words, and it is, Christian have much to be ashamed of.  We look too much like the world.  Selfishness is rampant in the church–almost at the same level as the world.  Essentially, we look no different from the world.

Selfishness is Idolatry

All selfishness is, in one way or another, idolatry.  We seek to place our own thoughts and desires over God’s thoughts and desires.  When we seek to justify ourselves at the expense of our brothers and sisters in Christ we commit the sin of idolatry–self-idolatry.

Idolatry is a struggle.  I don’t mean to speak ill of those who are constantly engaged in the struggle.  I do, however, mean to correct those who refuse to even engage in the struggle!

The Worldly Parallel

One of my biggest frustrations is shopping carts left in parking spaces in the supermarket.  This really is the height of self-absorption.  This is the idea of “I’m too important to be bothered with taking my cart to the cart return.  Someone else, who is obviously beneath me, can do that for me.”

If I had a dime….never mind.

How in the world does this relate to Molech?

Leviticus 20:1-9 says:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, 5 then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech.

6 “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. 7 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. 8 Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.

Molech was one god of the Canaanites.  Worshiping Molech was on the same level as worshiping Baal.  Baal, being the storm god who brought the rain and made the crops grow, was worshiped so that the people of the land could eat.

Parents would sacrifice their children to satisfy their own appetites.

The Canaanites practiced child sacrifice.  Child sacrifice is the height of wicked selfishness.  What parent would sacrifice their own children so that the parents could benefit?  How many examples of parents sacrificing themselves, selflessly, so that their children could live have we seen in the history of the world?  What about Moses’ parents?  They might have been charged with treason and subsequently put to death had the Pharaoh discovered they disobeyed his order to kill the male children.  What about parents who shield their children from tornadoes–using their own bodies to absorb the debris?

It is natural for parents to sacrifice themselves and their desires for the betterment, survival, and support of their children.

So, how can it be the case that women are having abortions because it is summer and they don’t want to look bad in a bikini?  How can parents give their embryonic children to the scientific butchers to grow new parts and pieces for some type of Owellian chop-shop and garage for human fraility?  Why are parents not yelling to the scientists “Take me and leave my children alone!”

One reason: Selfishness.  A selfishness that seeks your own good and your own comfort over the very life of your child.

Molech in the Church

How does this all come together?  Our churches have raised a generation of people (and I purposely didn’t use the word “believers”) who care only about themselves.

If we truly cared for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we would lovingly (notice: lovingly) correct them when they act outside of God’s will.  If we really cared we’d seek the good of our brothers and sisters before we sought our own comforts.  You do not need to look far to see the demise of proper church discipline.  Usually proper church discipline mutates into one of two un-biblical extremes–people seek to crucify, not restore, the brother or sister in the wrong or people refrain from any discipline whatsoever.  Both extremes are wrong.  Both extremes are born out of and serve perverse selfishness.

Is it any wonder the church is shrinking?  We care more about numbers of baptisms than we do about true Christian discipleship and growth.  We don’t discipline each other because the confrontation will take us out of our comfort zone and trying to discipline someone may make them leave and our numbers will fall.  We concentrate on baptisms and the number of people on our church rolls because it serves our own egos, not the ultimate well-being of our brothers and sisters.  See?  Selfishness, again.

The shrinking church is evidence that God has turned His face away from us (I’m not talking “America;”  I mean that God has turned His face away from the church).

May God forgive us for our rampant selfishness.  May we repent and experience His face shining on us once again as we seek to be properly Godly and properly Biblical in all we say and do, both in public and in private.

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

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The “Great Commission Resurgence” and Expository Education

At the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, there was a call for a “Great Commission Resurgence.” Now, I was not there, but it would seem this call came during the report on Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, given by Dr. Danny Akin.

I love Dr. Akin. I have a strong affinity for him. Before he left Southern Seminary for Southeastern, I made it a point to meet with him, sometimes monthly. In Dr. Akin I found a person who scared the tar out of me and I immediately saw the value in having him be a mentor in my life. While his departure cut-off the whole student-mentor relationship, I still consider myself very fortunate to have met with Dr. Akin on the relatively few occasions I did. So, when Dr. Akin called for the Great Commission Resurgence, my ears perked-up.

Dr. Akin is right, in essence. We do need (desperately need!) a resurgence focused on the Great Commission. However, my excitement for his call is greatly tempered by the reality of how most people will understand what his call actually means. (Read the article from the sebts.wordpress.com site here)

What Is The Great Commission All About?

The Great Commission is not about bringing the gospel to the nations, primarily. The Great Commission is about making disciples. I have written about this before, but it bears repeating. The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20:

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
“[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The “Great Commission” must be the foundation of any missions and evangelism endeavor. The main verb is “Make Disciples.” Therefore, the goal of the Great Commission, whether at home or abroad is to make disciples.

In addition to the main verb “Make Disciples,” Matthew 28:18-20 contains three prominent and helpful participles—“Go,” “Baptizing,” and “Teaching.” These three participles speak volumes to how the Great Commission must be approached and carried out.

The participle translated “Go” is perhaps better translated, “After having gone.” The point of this participle is simple: Discipleship must be intentional, not haphazard. In fulfilling the Great Commission, we do not wait for people to come to us. Rather, we are to deliberately and intentionally go to them to bring the gospel to their country, city, and doorstep.

The second prominent participle, “Baptizing,” is very instructive as to the depth of the disciple-making process. Certainly baptism is a picture-in-action of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. However important baptism is (and it is very important), baptism is not salvific in and of itself. In this context, Jesus’ emphasis on baptizing is probably more closely related to the cost of being a Christian—completely forsaking the former way of life.

The point of baptizing people as part of the Great Commission is to eliminate so-called “easy believeism.” There is no such thing as a private conversion or a false dichotomy between public and private behavior. When true disciples are made by a good missions and evangelism effort, the converts will show fruit of true faith. Baptism seeks to insure (from the church’s perspective and the person’s perspective) a true conversion has happened so that in whatever happens, Jesus’ name and the name of the church is not dragged through the mud. Jesus’ inclusion of baptism in the Great Commission shows we are to have a deep commitment to the converts made so that they become fruit-bearing disciples and it helps to insure the person being baptized is serious about living a life wholly devoted to Christ

The third prominent participle is “Teaching.” Jesus’ point is this: All He taught the disciples must be passed on to new converts. Jesus’ emphasis on passing on His teaching further emphasizes that we are not called to make “Converts.” Rather, we are called to make disciples. When a person is converted to Christ, the battle is not over—it has just begun. When Jesus’ teaching is passed on to all new disciples, inevitably, those disciples will be “Romans 12:1-2” Christians—Christians who worship God in every aspect of their lives and who are continually seeking to have their minds renewed so that their lives are acceptable to God.

I have great fear that Dr. Akin’s call for a Great Commission Resurgence will be grossly misunderstood. Unfortunately, most Southern Baptists will see the call for a Great Commission Resurgence as only a call for a renewed emphasis on overseas or North American mission. This gross misunderstanding will put us in great peril as we focus on one “how to” rather than the main point. Certainly we must “go.” But the entirety of the Great Commission revolves around one simple command: Make Disciples. Going, baptizing, and teaching are how we are to accomplish the command to make disciples.

The Danger of Misunderstanding the Great Commission Imperative to Make Disciples

You do not have to look far to find a church that is getting the Great Commission wrong. Perhaps you’ve even seen one of these churches: A pastor committed to calling for people to “go” into mission; a pastor who calls for people to “go” and do personal evangelism; a pastor who is eager to “baptize” anyone who comes forward or makes a profession of faith.

Do you see the problem? The most important “how to” of the Great Commission is missing–Teaching. A not-so-careful examination of most Southern Baptist churches will show that we fail miserably when it comes to the “teaching” part of the Great Commission.

Churches are very concerned with the money given to missions (through the cooperative program; the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings, etc.) and they should be, giving to missions is very important and a non-negotiable. Churches are very concerned with baptizing and they should be. However, most churches are in a rush to baptize (as if salvation depended on it, which it doesn’t) and they never stop to consider whether the person should be baptized; they never consider if the person has shown himself or herself to actually be a true Christian. Teaching and education are almost never emphasized.

There is a good reason the early church had a trial period (the catacumen period) when you were taught and watched for three years (!) after your profession of faith. A catacumen was not baptized until the church body was satisfied the person was actually a Christian. A catacumen’s life was examined to see if there were the fruits of true repentance and true faith. The church did not want to bring shame on themselves or on Christ for the failings of one of their members. This is precisely why a program of education and observation preceded baptism and church membership.

The early church understood what we seem to have forgotten: Without proper education, only a “congregation” will be built, never a “church.”

Is there any surprise the churches of Southern Baptist Convention are in decline?

Education in the church should be a wonderful, all-encompassing endeavor that teaches people to read, understand, and live the Bible. Most often, however, it is not. Church education programs are little more than efforts to pass the time of Sunday school before going into the worship service. Complicating matters further, pastors rarely if ever “teach” from the pulpit. All too often, pastors give messages which are information dumps at best and worldly psycho-babble at worst. Almost never is there good application–the teaching of why and how we are to do what the Bible says.

Now, I’m afraid, we have had many generations of Christians who have a theological acumen akin to the song “Noah built an arky arky”–simple, infantile, superficial. Why?

For decades the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have not taken seriously the imperative charge of the Great Commission to “Make Disciples.” We have been focused on numbers–Numbers of baptisms, numbers of people added to the rolls, number of missionaries sent or supported, number of dollars given to missions, etc. These are all good things, but we rarely focus on the best thing–the number of our people who are growing, spiritually, into the kind of well-discipled Christian the Bible calls them to be.

Fixing the Problem

The book Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger has some very helpful suggestions. The most helpful suggestion is this: every ministry of the church must pursue the same goal (my paraphrase). The concept here is that all the proverbial horses must pull in the same direction.

Since we are commanded to “Make Disciples,” every ministry of the church must seek to make disciples. Everything the church does is to have this one goal in mind. Of course in making disciples we are commanded to go, baptize, and teach. So, what should we be teaching about going, baptizing, and teaching? Here are some suggestions:

Going

Going is a requirement. Where you go is up to God. Evangelism is not optional. We often think of the “going” as going overseas. While going overseas is important, it is not the only place to go. Whether we go across the world, across the nation, or across the street we must all be equipped for and take part in the work of evangelism.

The intentional equipping of people for evangelism is, in itself, discipling. People practicing intentional evangelism (whether they are vocational missionaries or not) is, in itself, showing yourself to be a disciple.

Baptizing

That churches practice the biblical model of baptism is a non-negotiable. Baptism must be a believer’s baptism and it must be done by immersion. But, before any baptism is performed, the one to be baptized must be taught and examined. Now, I don’t think a three year catacumen period is necessary. However, a time of instruction and examination by the church is absolutely necessary if we are to insure, as far as humanly possible, that the person being baptized is a true Christian.

Educating and observing potential candidates for baptism is, in itself, discipling.

Teaching

Of course we have already discussed teaching because teaching is required (or should be) for baptism and evangelism. But, the teaching doesn’t stop there.

The teaching ministry of the church must be absolutely intentional and expository. Teaching makes disciples. I think of everything the church does as far as teaching as “Expository Education.”

In going, baptizing, and teaching, to make disciples, all the proverbial horses pull in the same direction. The church is focused and reading from the same sheet of music. By engaging in “Expository Education” the church can come together under one absolutely biblical banner–the effort to make disciples. So, what is Expository Education?

Expository Education

Expository Education is an all-encompassing system of education that is biblically based and serves every aspect of church life from preaching, to the musical texts used in the corporate worship service, to the Sunday school material. Expository Education has one over-riding goal: to make disciples.

Expository

The “Expository” in Expository Education refers to the manner in which the education will take place. I unashamedly borrow my definition of “expository” directly from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Dever defines expository as taking the main point of a passage and making it the main point of the message. Dever uses this definition in describing preaching. This excellent definition is greatly applicable to everything the church does.

In order to make disciples, the preaching must focus on the biblical authors’ main point. This is big-picture preaching and it is preaching that teaches the whole story of the Bible. Now, this approach does not remove so-called doctrinal preaching. Rather, expository preaching is, by definition, doctrinal because the Bible itself is doctrinal.

Education

The “Education” in Expository Education refers to the intentional instruction interwoven into every aspect of the church–the texts set to music and used in the corporate service, the Sunday school material, the practice of church discipline, teaching how to rightly interpret scripture, etc.

In order to make disciples, everything the church does must be educational. It is not enough to encourage people to believe something without telling them why they should believe it.

Worship Texts

The music we use in our worship services must have deep and rich theological texts. An effective worship service must seek to build up the church. In Colossians 3:16, the Apostle Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” An effective worship service must contain elements that allow the individual members of the covenant community to learn and apply what the Bible says to their lives. Certainly, this is done through the preaching, but it is also accomplished through the texts of the songs that are sung.

Far too many people today just sit (or stand) during the singing in a worship service and become observers, not participants. An edifying and God-honoring worship service requires that the covenant community (and the assembled congregation) are active participants in the worship service. An effective worship service is a service that the people of the church can participate in with little or no difficulty. Because congregational singing is the primary way for the people to participate in worship, care must be given to the music selected for the worship service. Every effort must be made to ensure the congregation is familiar with the selected music so that they do not become observers, merely, but true participants.

Sunday School Material

Lifeway Sunday School material has not been helpful in “expository education.” Sunday School material should engage the people and teach and instruct them in some of the deeper points of Christianity. In the course of the Sunday School experience, there should be education on the importance of Systematic Theology, Biblical Hermeneutics, etc. Using Biblical Hermeneutics as an example, we can see how the curriculum can and should instruct people on the basics of Biblical interpretation. That way, we won’t have people misunderstanding passages like “judge not…” and “…cast the first stone.”

There is nothing to be feared from educating our people in the deep things of the faith. In fact, there is much to be gained. A well-discipled believer will, by definition, be a believer committed to every aspect of the Great Commission.

Service

Many preachers and teachers try to guilt people into service. This is manipulative and counter productive. If you encourage people to become deep-thinking Christians, inevitably these people will want, on their own, to become missionaries–because of the call of God.

Missionaries who have been guilted onto the mission field will, most likely, fail. On the other hand, the missionaries who are deep-thinking will understand that going to the mission field is not primarily for the purpose of the people. The foremost purpose for a deep-thinking Christian to go to the mission field is to be faithful to the calling that God has placed on his or her life.

So, when the going gets tough–when the people you want to minister kill your family–you won’t leave! Deep-thinking Christians understand that being faithful to God means staying on the field in the face of overwhelming odds and crushing personal tragedy. These are not superficial people; they are people who are deeply committed to God and will go to great and deadly lengths to fulfill the calling on their lives.

The Great Irony

Ironically, the churches that are most concerned about numbers of members, numbers of baptisms, and numbers of dollars given to missions usually are the churches that have a superficial and anemic discipleship program.

However, the churches that spend their time and energy in building an all-encompassing and deep-thinking discipleship program will produce Christians who are committed, baptized members of the local church who give their fortunes and lives to missions, both national and international.

The challenge here is to focus on the main thing–making disciples. If that focus is kept paramount, the going, baptizing, and teaching will happen. However, if you focus only on the peripheral matters of going and baptizing with an anemic and superficial teaching ministry, making true disciples will not happen to the degree it is supposed to.

Unfortunately, this statement proves to be true more often than not: Disciples will be evangelists. Not all evangelists will be disciple-makers.

Keep the main thing paramount–making disciples. If we do our job in this area, God will call people to “go.” That is His job. We must not confuse the two.

Many Blessings,

The Archangel

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Jonathan: The Man Who Would Have Been King

I had a delightful opportunity to have lunch with one of my favorite Seminary professors. We had a great discussion over many topics. One side-topic that came up was Jonathan, the son of King Saul. In the sovereign providence of God, the Sunday School material I have been using with my men’s Sunday School class covered Jonathan and David the very week before!

My professor-friend said something quite profound. He said, “Nobody wants to be a Jonathan, but everybody wants to be a David.” This statement got us talking and, subsequently, had me thinking.

My professor friend is exactly right. You do not have to look very far today to see how much people are into themselves. It is as if everyone today (Christians included) live in such a way so as to expect the world to revolve around them.

Here is a tangible example: When was the last time you went to the grocery store? You drive through the crowded parking lot looking for a parking space. Then you notice a good spot close to the front door of the store and you go to park in that spot, until, that is, you notice a discarded shopping cart (or carts!) littering your parking spot. What makes this worse is when the cart return is just one spot over!!!!

The “I-Me” self-absorption of people today is shockingly bad. It seems that no one cares about anyone else. It is as if everyone is screaming “Serve Me, serve me–meet my wants.” It is sad to say that most people today choose churches on the basis of what they can get rather than what we can give.

When we turn to the Bible, we see a bright, shining example of what it is to put other people first. Jonathan, son of King Saul of Israel, is a great example of how we, as Christians, are to live to serve.

Israel, King Saul, and King David

Saul was Israel’s first king. The first time we see Saul is in 1 Samuel 9. Saul’s family, we are told, was wealthy and Saul, it is said, was a very handsome and tall man. Interestingly, the first time we see Saul doing something he is chasing his father’s donkeys, which had escaped.

Saul stands in sharp contrast to Israel’s second king–David. The first time we see David, he is a young shepherd and is simply overlooked by the family when the Prophet Samuel comes to visit. Samuel is looking to anoint the next king of Israel and all of Jesse’s sons, except David, pass before him, but no suitable king is found. David is the youngest (or smallest) of Jesse’s sons and he is off faithfully tending his father’s sheep. Samuel sends for and subsequently anoints David to be Israel’s next king.

Even though David is said to be ruddy and handsome, it is clear that Saul possesses all physical characteristics people look for in a king. Unfortunately, Saul possess none of the intangible qualities that God thinks are important. David possess the intangible qualities–qualities important to God.

Saul Rejected

Unfortunately, Saul’s reign is marked by failure and willful disobedience. 1 Samuel 13 and 1 Samuel 15 show Saul’s most notable failures. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive to perform a sacrifice. Instead, Saul takes it upon himself to make the sacrifice. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul does not completely destroy the Amalekites as he was commanded to do. For these instances of willful disobedience, we are told by Samuel, God will not allow Saul or his children to remain on the throne of Israel. In other words, the throne will be given to another family.

Jonathan: The Would-Be King

Jonathan was the prince of Israel. At the demise of Saul, Jonathan would have become king, had God not removed Saul. Unlike his father, Jonathan is a man of strong character and a man of unwavering devotion to God and to His will.

Jonathan the Warrior

Jonathan was known for being a warrior and he was pro-active in defeating the enemies of Israel. More importantly, however, was his attitude in battle. At one point Jonathan says, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

Note that Jonathan puts his fate in God’s hands. It seems as if he is willing to do whatever God will have him do and it seems that God is foremost in Jonathan’s mind. Jonathan’s attitude is similar to David’s attitude in the face of fighting Goliath. It is obvious that Jonathan is not Saul–he is much more concerned with the things of God.

Jonathan the Friend

Jonathan, being the son of Saul, would not be allowed to be the so-called “Crowned Prince.” Instead the “Crowned Prince” would be David. This is what makes the relationship between Jonathan and David seem so odd to us. Jonathan is best of friends with David–the man who would be on the throne of Israel in his place.

It is likely that Jonathan, being the oldest son of Saul, was privy to the goings on of Israel. It is likely he knew that his father (and therefore himself) was disallowed from the throne and it is likely he knew David was the new “prince,” having been anointed by Samuel.

1 Samuel 18 shows a remarkable friendship between Jonathan and David:

1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

When we read 1 Samuel 18 several things become shockingly apparent: (1) Jonathan gives David all the outward, physical symbols of being the crowned prince of Israel. It is one thing to have the presumptive new king to be a friend, it is another thing entirely to give him the symbols (your symbols!) that show him, not you, to be the crowned prince of Israel. (2) Jonathan seems to embody a phrase coined by a good friend of mine–Saul may be my father, but David is my king. (thanks Chris for this wonderful assessment!) (3) Jonathan knows his future does not include the throne of Israel and rather than try to kill David (as Saul tried to do), Jonathan seeks to protect David with his very own life.

Jonathan the Yahweh Worshiper

It is clear from Jonathan’s life that he held God and the things of God in much higher esteem than his father Saul did. Saul is the proverbial poster child for a life lived in superficial obedience or outright rebellion to God and His commands. Jonathan, on the other hand, is the perfect model of a life rightly submitted to God and His will–even if His will causes disappointment or trauma. Jonathan embodies the idea “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Living a “Jonathan” life

(1) We must be God-worshipers, not self-worshipers.

Saul’s life has one stunning, overriding component: Self worship. Saul gave superficial, lip-service obedience to God and His commands. Many of us do the same thing. We are more worried about what people think of us and how they see us rather than working to live right, biblically-based, and Christ-like lives.

The Broadway show Wicked is the back story to the Wizard of Oz. In this show, there is a song that Galinda (who would become Glinda the “good” witch) sings to Elphaba (who would become the wicked witch of the west)–it is called “Popular.”

Popular! You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper poise
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
Ooh! I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really counts

To be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start ’cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go

…It’s all about popular!
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed

So it’s very shrewd to be
Very very popular like me!

(Source; emphasis mine)

You can see the superficial mindset in this song. As Christians, we are not to be superficial. Knowing the right people, hanging with the right people or fixing your hair is not what we are supposed to be. For the Christian, we are to measure our lives by our Christ-likeness and our “fruits” of repentance and faith. The Christian life is not a popularity contest. In fact, if you live your Christian life to be popular, you are seeking man’s approval over and against God’s approval. A true Christian simply seeks to please God by actively conforming their lives and their persons to His will and His commands, regardless of what man thinks.

(2) We must be good friends to our fellow Christians.

Many of us see friends get the “good” jobs or the better paying jobs or a job at the “perfect” church and we instantly become resentful and bitter. It is so easy for us to forget that God is sovereign, we are not. He is directing things for His purposes. So, when we see something good happen to our friends (especially if we were competing against them for a job) we should rejoice for them. We should rejoice that God’s will has been revealed and done.

It seems that it is much easier to cry with someone who is hurting. We are to do that, but we must also rejoice with those who are rejoicing, even if that rejoicing comes at our disappointment.

(3) We must be warriors for the things of God.

We find it easy to point out moral decay in our society and in other people, yet we rarely if ever see these things in our own lives. Why? We become warriors for the things of us, not the things of God. We must place our own lives and our own agendas aside and take up the banner of God and His agenda.

Part of advancing God’s agenda is making ourselves over in His image. We are to order our lives in such a way that we grow to be more Christ-like and we need to call others to do the same.

We cannot spend our time and efforts fighting each other over our own agendas. We must take up the banner of the Lord and advance His kingdom, not our own.

Be a “Jonathan”

Far too many of us want the limelight that David was given. Certainly, if God wills, that limelight is not necessarily wrong. Life, though, is not about limelight; life is about obedience to God and His will. Put other people first and ask yourself this question, “What can I give?” and quit asking “What can I get?” Even if God calls you to be a David, adopt Jonathan’s attitude and, as a Jonathan, be the best David you can be.

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Intentional Mediocrity

It is interesting and quite sad to see how the church parallels the world. Of course, the church should not look like the world, but in many ways we do–to our shame. One such way we look like the world is our “education” system.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in education and I see many problems (and that’s putting it lightly) in the American education system. While I may not comment on all the problems, these are, in my estimation, the biggest ones and they also can be found in our churches.

(1) Indoctrination, not education.

The American education system gave up on true education decades ago. True education involves development of the processes related to thinking and self-education. The goal of true education is to be able to think–to know what you know, to know what you believe and to know why you know it and why you believe it.

The American education system is now fully dedicated to indoctrination. Take, for example, the recent squabbles over teaching intelligent design along with evolutionary theory. Now, in a system truly dedicated to education, the teaching of these two points of view would not be a problem. A system dedicated to education would be happy to juxtapose these two systems of thought in order to think through all the issues related to the question of creation vs. evolution. When this happens, the students are the big winners–they are taught to think and, ultimately, they will know why they believe what they believe.

It is incomprehensible and unconscionable for an educational system to willfully and systematically keep their students ignorant–depriving students of the opportunity to know of alternate points of view and alternate world views. To do so instills a one-viewpoint set of information, which is indoctrination. For the American education system to pursue this as a its practice of “education” is nothing less than chasing mediocrity.

(2) Students are not taught how to think.

This is closely related to point number one. When I was a kid, I hated the “just because” answer. I always wanted a reason. Today, most students cannot give a reason for anything they believe because they are told what to think, not taught how to think.

Thinking takes time and effort and it is dangerous–someone with the same set of facts can come to a different and disagreeable conclusion. Thinking is based on the evaluation of one or many truth claims and an evaluation of the claim (or claims) in light of all available evidence to see which truth claim is correct.

Of course this is hampered by the bent of postmodernism to eliminate all truth claims as false and oppressive. Modern education has bought into this lock-stock-and-barrel.

I have seen a bumper-sticker that has become one of my favorites, it says: “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Teaching someone to think is the same thing. If you teach someone to think you will equip them for a lifetime. To intentionally neglect teaching the process of thinking is to court mediocrity.

(3) Competition is not allowed.

You may have seen this for yourself. You go to a high school graduation and listed under “Valedictorian” are some ten names. Now, I’m not all that old, but I remember when there was one valedictorian–the one with the best grade point average (of course, in the case of a tie in GPA, there could and should be multiple winners). Second place was for the “Salutatorian.” At typical graduations these days, there is a cadre of valedictorians and salutatorians. The two have become many.

Why is this a problem? Without competition, the vast majority of students see no need to push themselves in order to better themselves. In this system there is no need to take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof, to better your mind. If there are only winners, you cannot lose–no matter how stupid you actually are (Note: Stupid here means willingly throwing away a golden opportunity to learn or better one’s self).

Also, the education system seeks to spare the student the pain of losing, so competition is dumbed-down or eliminated altogether. This, of course, bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.

If one of the purposes of an educational system is to prepare its students for life in the real world (and it is), there must be winners and losers. Learning how to lose is as important as learning how to win and learning how to lose with dignity is as important as learning how to win with honor. Also, it is important to learn how to be tenacious in the face of overwhelming odds when a loss is all but guaranteed.

Here’s an example: When I was doing my student teaching, I was partnered with an amazing teacher who used the high school football team as an example. The football team was terrible. In fact, there were not enough people on the team to field an offense and a defense. There were only enough players to have the kids play both ways–offense and defense. I don’t think they won a game, but they never gave up. Their tenacity was phenomenal. As my cooperating teacher said (this is a paraphrase), “These kids are learning far more about life by getting their butts kicked week after week and still getting up, dusting themselves off and trying to make themselves better and win a game.”

Not quitting in the face of impossible odds is a virtue and it is one our schools have jettisoned by making competition a joke. A world without competition is, by definition, mediocre.

So, then, what does all of this have to do with the church? Plenty!

(1) Churches must educate their people in the knowledge and ways of God from the Bible

Like the world, the church spends its time indoctrinating people. If you look closely at much of what is called preaching and much of what passes as Sunday school material, it is easy to see that there is not much, if any, application. Sure, there may be a lot of information, but the preacher or the Sunday school lesson seldom tells us what to do with that information.

Biblical information without application leads to the false and deadly “internal versus external” dichotomy. Many people think (because of poor preaching and discipleship programs) that it doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters what you believe. Nothing could be further from the truth! Believing the right thing, the Bible, must show up in our actions. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James’ statement means that the connection between faith and the outworking of that faith is a non-negotiable. If we claim to be followers of Christ we must live our lives according to the Bible, not according to the world.

In a proper education program, churches will seek to instruct people in the doctrines of Christianity and how those doctrines are derived from the Bible. Equally important to this doctrinal instruction is the why–why we believe the doctrines. Doctrines alone do not define us because any true doctrine is, ultimately, biblical so the Bible is what defines doctrine and, therefore, the Bible ultimately defines us and our actions.

In this way, the church will instruct her people how to read, understand, and live the Bible.

(2) Churches must teach their people to think for themselves.

In high school, I had an amazing teacher for my British Literature class. He introduced us to the concept that a proper educational program will, by necessity, if the program does its job properly, eliminate the need for a teacher. The idea here is that a properly-educated person will be able to teach him or herself. Is that not the goal of teaching students to read? So they can read books and, thereby, educate themselves?

The goal of a church’s discipleship program must be about teaching the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. This involves much effort to help people “Rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A wide-spread, far-reaching, and well-educating education system is not optional. We are commanded (by inference) by God to love Him with our minds. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Matthew 22:37, which is Matthew’s exposition of the Deuteronomy passage)

The church must equip her people to do these things if we are to fulfill the Great Commission mandate to “Make Disciples.” Anything less is a sin.

(3) Churches must teach their people to better themselves by intentionally becoming more Christlike.

Suffering is not popular today. Whether it be the world trying to protect students from the suffering of losing or the church trying to preach and teach a suffering-free health and wealth gospel, suffering is off the table. So, it should not surprise us that at the first hint of suffering, church people head for the door.

If we take the life of Job and see what is being played out there we can learn that there is great potential in suffering. In his book of poetry on Job, John Piper rightly suggests Job, through his suffering, was given a great gift–to see God as He really is, in all of His magnificence. The title of Piper’s final chapter is “Unkindly you have kindly shown me God.” Job suffered greatly (at the hands of God, I might add) and he benefited greatly from his suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. We only need look at Hebrews 12 to see that we are to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This means that we are not to quit–even in the face of tremendous and life-threatening opposition.

Furthermore, the church must teach her people to struggle to become more and more Christlike as they seek to live a rightly-discipled life. Paul writes of his struggle:

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

As Paul struggled and pressed on, so we must struggle and press on. We must struggle and discipline ourselves to be more Christlike today than we were yesterday. We must live the Bible more today than yesterday.

We should not be surprised when people quit coming to church or leave our churches or when high school students completely reject the Christian faith when they get to college. We have not been diligent in equipping our people, and the statistics of decline and our living like the world show that.

Similarly, we should not be surprised when our churches or The Southern Baptist Convention struggles with certain issues like worship style, alcohol, and spiritual gifts. The main fight is between the Indoctrinated and the Educated. The educated are offending the indoctrinated with their biblical arguments and the indoctrinated offend the educated with their often-superficial proof-texting.

If we look at the history of higher education, we quickly and easily see the church led the way in education. After all, Harvard and Yale were originally chartered as schools to train ministers of the Gospel. The church once led the way and it must do so again. If we are to fulfill the imperative of the Great Commission to “make disciples,” we must be about the business of educating our church people, so that they become an army of lay-person scholars able to “rightly divide the word of truth”, enabling them to believe the right thing and live the right way–according to the scriptures.

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The Reports of Our Demise are…….?

In a recent Associated Baptist Press article, the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Frank Page, warned up to half of our SBC churches could be gone in the next 25 years. From the article:

Page said the problem “resided in the churches” that refuse to change to stop their inevitable demise. He said the SBC downturn is not the denomination’s fault – because of poor programming or lack of emphasis on the denominational level…

“Many Southern Baptist churches are small groups of white people who are holding on [until] the end,” he said. “Not only have we not reached out to younger generations, but we have failed to reach out to other ethnic minorities who are all around us.”

Rather than embracing a “whatever it takes” mentality to change and restore a local church to health, Page said, many pastors and churches have “chosen to die rather than change, and they are doing it.”

Interesting words from Dr. Page. The question is, however, is he right?

Certainly, there is truth in Page’s statements. There is no doubt there are issues in our churches and those issues are neither small or nor insignificant. The important question Page is asking is this: Will our churches change? That is an excellent question and it is the crux of the issue, but not in the way you think. I’ll explain:

SBC churches resist change like the French resistance resisting the Nazis. No SBC church takes to change easily and the most commonly heard refrain in our churches is not “Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves,” rather it is “We’ve never done it like that before.” Have our churches missed out because of stodgy attitudes and a reluctance to change? Absolutely. But the change that Page suggests–reaching out to minorities and younger generations–grossly misses the mark.

Absolutely, the church (especially! SBC churches) needs to reach to minorities and to younger generations. However, I think the form of that reaching out is far more important than just “reaching out.” For instance, most people seem to think that it is necessary to use contemporary music in a worship service in order that the younger generation is reached. This is deadly theology. Any time you structure a church-wide service for the express purpose of reaching a person or people you are neglecting God and committing idolatry. God is and must always be our audience of one. Everything in the corporate worship service must have Him as its beginning and end.

This illustrates an important point: It is more important to focus on the “what” of what we are doing than the “how.” Unfortunately, most SBC churches are concerned with reaching minorities and younger folks–and that is not bad–but the question persists: with what will they reach them? Will pastors preach and teach the Bible? Will they go the extra-mile and delve into the Greek and Hebrew to make sure they are preaching and teaching God’s thoughts? Or, like so many times before, will the church fail to examine the most important things–the Gospel and the Scriptures–just to repackage the same old anemic, lifeless, pseudo-gospel in which the Scripture is stunningly absent?

So then…what changes need to be made? Here are a few suggestions:

(1) Churches must seek to fulfill the Great Commission

The Problem: Many churches seem to operate under the assumption that getting someone “saved” is the point of the great commission. You know the scenario–someone prays the “sinner’s prayer” and they walk the aisle at the end of a morning service, bathed in the sound of “Just As I Am.” They make their profession of faith and one of the old stalwarts of the church exclaims a motion–“I move we accept _________ for membership.” A hearty “aye” ensues and voila!, a new church member is minted…pending baptism, of course.

The Solution: Churches must realize the Great Commission is about making disciples. Once someone gets saved, the battle has not ended–it has just begun! Every potential church member must be introduced to the church and the faith through a vibrant discipleship program.

First, every potential member must go through a new member’s class–before they are even considered for membership.

Second, a potential member must meet with the pastor so that the pastor, in private, can ask the important questions–tell me about your conversion, explain the gospel to me, tell me about your last church, etc.

Third, on the recommendation of the pastor, the potential members must be interviewed by a membership committee (for churches without elders). Obviously, the best strategy is for the elders to interview the potential member.

Fourth, after completing the new member’s class and upon a successful recommendation by the pastor and the elders (or membership committee) they can be brought to the congregation for a proper introduction and a vote for membership.

Fifth, the new member now must be instructed in the scriptures through a discipleship program which seeks, intentionally, to get into the deep things of the faith.

(2) Churches must practice biblical church discipline.

The Problem: I’m sure many of us know someone who is not living in accordance with the scripture. Yet, we say nothing. You know the thought-process–“Who am I to say anything…?” “Well, they’re so nice, I don’t want to upset them.” “I love them too much to say anything.”

Unfortunately, scripture requires restorative church discipline. The lack thereof shows a complete breakdown in the understanding of what a church should be–a covenant community of believers committed to helping one another walk a proper Christian walk.

The Solution: Churches simply have to do discipline. Now, I’m not suggesting crucifixions of offending members–and scripture doesn’t suggest that either! Rather, restorative church discipline is lovingly pointing out a brother or sister’s error according to scripture.

Scripture, not our personal tastes, must govern what is considered grounds for discipline. In this way we hold ourselves and the offending party to scripture. This avoids all hypocrisies since both parties are under the same scripture.

Restorative church discipline seeks to set someone straight so that they can regain the joy of their salvation, avoid a false assurance of salvation, and keep the Bride of Christ pure.

(3) Church members must demonstrate their love to each other.

The Problem: Churches are clique-ish. There are groups in the church, perhaps your Sunday school class or other small group, with which you feel quite comfortable. So, for the people in these groups, you will do anything. But for someone outside of your clique-circle, you wouldn’t lift a finger. This is simply not biblical!

The Solution: All members of the covenant community must demonstrate love to each other. It is not enough to say you have love for your fellow church members, you must show it. Love is a verb; it requires action. Talk is cheap. Let your actions do your talking.

We must go out of our way to discover and meet the needs of our fellow church members.

This all comes down to a matter of discipleship. The necessary changes revolve around discipleship. Again, from the article:

“I see no more courageous call for any pastor than to lead their people to leave behind unbiblical methods of ministry and embrace news ways of accomplishing biblical goals,” said Rick Hughes, the state convention’s senior consultant for discipleship. “We must face the fact that much of the American church is declining for a very biblical reason: We have failed to be and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In a recent questionnaire, I was asked to describe the ideal church. Here’s my answer:

I would describe an “ideal church” as a Romans 12:1-2 church. In Romans, Paul says: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

I believe the ideal church would be a covenant community of believers who, intentionally, on a daily basis, offer the entirety of themselves to God as a “living sacrifice.” True Christianity has no room for the Sunday-only Christian. The Christian life involves a daily re-commitment to be a follower of Christ (not that salvation is lost) so that you daily remind yourself that you are to live His way, not our way—that we are to seek, demonstrate, and proclaim His glory, not our own. The ideal church has members who daily seek to worship God with every part of themselves and in every aspect of their lives.

The ideal church will have members, then, who think it more important to glorify God than to steal from their jobs or cheat on their wives or be absentee fathers to their children. As Romans shows, this is not done in our own strength; this is done by and through the mercies of God. The members of the ideal church will seek to do everything by the mercies of God—presenting their bodies to him as a living sacrifice of worship—so that they do not look like the world. The ideal church should look different from the world; the church must look different and be different from the world.

In the ideal church, there is no room for superficiality. In the ideal church, church members will seek to help each other by sharing burdens, bearing burdens, and sharing and partaking in each other’s joys and sorrows. Also, the ideal church members will care enough about their fellow church members to encourage them to live in the manner worthy of a Christian, even engaging in restorative church discipline (using the Matthew 18 model) when someone stumbles in their walk.

Ultimately, the members of the ideal church will seek to serve and worship God with the entirety of their heart, mind, soul, body, and strength and they will seek out ways to serve each other as an act of worship to God, even if that service is difficult or heartbreaking (in the case of restorative discipline).

If the church gets this one thing right (which is a big and difficult task), the church will not have any problems with its tithes and offerings, giving to missions, going on missions (short-term and long-term), sharing the gospel with our neighbors, or maintaining the unity of the Body. Romans 12:1-2 is the umbrella under which all these other important and necessary items fall.

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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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