The Call of the Pulpit

“Preaching is the most public of ministries and therefore, the most conspicuous in its failure and the most subjective to the temptation of hypocrisy. It is imperative only that those who undertake it are appropriately gifted by the Holy Spirit. Such ‘gifting’ includes prophecy, evangelism, the consciousness of an unavoidable call, providential endowments, and outward confirmation as evidenced by the Holy Spirit’s making the preaching effort into a new Bethlehem.

There is no special honor in being so gifted–there is only special pain. The pulpit calls them to it as the sea calls its sailors, and, like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest, but always there is the lure of its ‘better and incomparable’ society.

To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you must do it again. Only one certainty sustains the preacher:  That God never denies a man peace except to give him glory.”

– Bruce Thielemann, April, 1977, via http://thecripplegate.com/to-preach-to-really-preach/

Evaluating Movies in Light of Scripture

Great article on discernment at the movies by Randy Alcorn.   http://www.epm.org/blog/2012/Feb/27/evaluating-movies-light-scripture

“On my Facebook page, someone asked: “Randy, you often mention that you and Nanci have been to a movie. I’m curious about what kind and rating of movies you attend. I’m interested in how you regard the type of movie (violence, sexual overtones, etc.). Should Christians knowingly attend such films? This of course also applies to TV programs.”

Good movies are hard to find. I know, we’re supposed to pretend that movies have no influence on us, or our children. That way we can be cool and go with the popular drift of culture and prove that not all Christians are uptight and moralistic.

But sexually explicit—and even suggestive—movies, TV, books, etc. are unacceptable according to Ephesians 4-5. Non-gratuitous violence can be acceptable for adults, I think, as long as it neither tempts us to do violence nor desensitizes us to true violence. Figuring that out will vary from person to person. But certainly our general Christian tolerance for sexual immorality is way too excessive. Remembering that Jesus is always with us, and asking ourselves what He thinks, should make a big difference.

Some Christians might say, “But it’s almost impossible to rent a movie without sex and offensive language.” There are Christian movie-review sites that can help you make good selections for family viewing. (Check out www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies;  www.movieguide.org; o rwww.pluggedin.com.) There are also services which offer edited movies, television adaptors which edit profanity, and DVD software that cuts offensive scenes from movies.

Even then, we need to make sure that we are evaluating what we are watching in light of Scripture. Instead of His Word simply being one more influence on us, God intends it to be authoritative over all other influences. I read it not simply as one more source of input but as the Source and the authoritative standard by which I judge all other input.

I evaluate Seinfeld or Friends in light of Scripture. Then, if I’m discerning, in my opinion, I stop watching Seinfeld or Friends. Why? Because the themes, while amusingly handled, are often (not always, of course) immoral and tempt me to think in those terms. I evaluate Gladiator in light of Scripture and realize that the themes of courage, the quest for human rights and liberty, and standing up with comrades in making principled sacrifice is biblical. I also discern that the movie’s theology of people without Christ going to Heaven and reuniting with unbelieving family members is false. Using biblical discernment, I glean the true things from the movie, while screening out the bad. Only then is my mind protected from the subtle or not-so-subtle undermining of truth.

Bottom line, suppose there were no decent movies—what then? I enjoy good movies, but the Bible never commands us “Watch movies.” It does command us to “Guard your heart.”

-Randy Alcorn, 02-27-2012

8 Ways to Pray in Preparing to Lead Worship

1.    Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of the lyrics we sing and ensure they point to Christ.

2.    Lord, please increase my love for the people I will lead in worship.

3.    Lord, please give me wisdom to apply what I sing first to my own pursuit of truth, and call people to the same end.

4.    Lord, please use these songs to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help our congregation do the same.

5.    Lord, please help me to see how the content of our songs and prayers confront the unbelief of my hearers.

6.    Lord, please help me enter into leading worship having submitted my life to the truths I sing.

7.    Lord, by your Spirit please help me to lead your church in worship with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.

8.    Lord, please use these songs to bring glory to your name, joy to your people, and salvation to the lost.

Matt Boswell, pastor of worship at Providence Church in Frisco, TX and the director of the Doxology & Theology blog. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattboswell. Posted here: http://www.doxologyandtheology.com/2012/02/25/8-ways-to-pray-in-preparing-to-lead-worship/

Is Easy Worship Enough for God?

A great new article on worship that is both convicting and inspiring. Check it out at: http://www.stonewritten.com/?p=1718. A great question, am I willing to die at the altar of God; am I willing to fully surrender myself to Him everyday?

“One of my favorite definitions of worship comes from the famous Hasidic Jewish Rabbi, philosopher, and mystic, Abraham Joshua Heschel. He defined it this way:

‘Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.’

I come from a faith tradition that places a lot of emphasis on outward, passionate expressions of worship. And so naturally I have learned to love it when I can sense God’s presence in powerful ways in the context of corporate worship. However, the other side of the coin is that I have too often approached worship based on my feelings. The truth is that worship has a little to do with feelings, but it has a lot more to do with perspective.

Here is some perspective. It can be an awful thing to approach the altar of God. Altars are where things die. And if God is calling you to the altar he is indeed calling you, at least in some way, to die. Perhaps death sounds a little melodramatic. But we will always lose something at God’s altar. And we hate losing. We hate losing things we are holding onto because possessing something, even something trivial, gives us a sense of control. And we hate to lose our sense of control because our illusion of control is often what gives us a sense of life. And of course all of us hate to lose our life.

The paradox is that the altar that will take my life is also the threshold that will give me new life. Jesus said it this way, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matt 10:39 NLT). This is not just true in salvation, it is true of every altar that God puts before me. There are many stories in the bible in which this is illustrated. I am going to use the Exodus.

We all know the story. God used signs and wonders to miraculously deliver the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Not only did the Israelites escape, they escaped with serious loot. Once they got out of town God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to change (again), so that he would be determined to pursue them. Of course, God told Moses that he was doing all of this so that he could deliver them in even more spectacular fashion. One would think that after all the Israelites had witnessed this would be an exciting proposition. But remember what we said about our fear of altars? Of losing possessions? Of losing control? Of losing our lives? Sure enough the Israelites did not enjoy approaching this altar anymore than the rest of us. Here was there response in Exodus 14:10-12:

‘As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”’

I would take the time to poke a little fun at the Israelites if it were not for the fact that I have uttered similar cries so many times. Moses appears to be the righteous one at first when he responds in 14:13-14 this way:

‘Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”’

However, that was evidently not the response that God was looking for, and presumably the inward prayers of Moses took on a different character than his brave exhortation to the Israelites.  For God immediately responded to Moses with this in 14:15:

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”’

It is all kind of humorous as a detached observer. The Israelites screaming that they are going to die. Moses trying to scream over them to be brave and be still, while inwardly crying out to God for help. And God snapping at Moses and telling him to stop crying and start moving. It must have been chaotic. I know the feeling, because it is the feeling of the storm of resistance that hits us as we approach the altar of God.

But herein lies the point. When these types of thoughts and feelings are swirling about us we tend to check out of worship. Yet, it is for those very moments that worship was made. Certainly there is a type of worship that is happy, carefree, and light. But the kind of worship that is preceded by threats and fears, confusion and darkness–that type of worship is what I call altar-ing worship. It has the appearance of death in front of the threshold, but it has the surprise gift of life on the other side. We are afraid of the threat of the altar going in, but surprised to find ourselves altered coming out. When we have been altered by the altar we have experienced altar-ing worship.

Did Moses and the Israelites “see the world in the light of God” on the other side of their altar? When they reached the other side they immediately burst into song and dance. Miriam the prophet grabbed a timbrel and led all of the women in song and dance. Their perspective had changed. Their feelings had changed, too. They were lavishing in altar-ing worship. Take another few minutes to meditate on their song. But before you do, consider that thing that you are holding onto. Perhaps this is the day that you lay it down at the altar, and pick up your timbrel on the other side.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.
 

The LORD is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, LORD,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, LORD,
shattered the enemy.
 

In the greatness of your majesty
you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
and my hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
Who among the gods
is like you, LORD?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
 

You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, LORD,
until the people you bought pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
 

The LORD reigns
for ever and ever.”

Teach Children the Bible Is Not About Them

Here’s a great article from Sally Lloyd-Jones looking at how we should teach our children about God through how we teach the Bible.  Check it out at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/02/21/teach-children-the-bible-is-not-about-them/

 “When I go into churches and speak to children I ask them two questions:

First, How many people here sometimes think you have to be good for God to love you?They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them.

And second, How many people here sometimes think that if you aren’t good, God will stop loving you? They look around and again raise their hands.

These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible stories and probably all the right answers, and yet they have somehow missed the most important thing of all.

They have missed what the Bible is all about.

They are children like I once was.

As a child, even though I was a Christian, I grew up thinking the Bible was filled with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and with heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you).

I tried to be good. I really did. I was quite good at being good. But however hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the rules all the times so I knew God must not be pleased with me.

And I certainly couldn’t ever be as brave as Daniel. I remember being tormented by that Sunday school chorus “Dare to Be a Daniel” because, hard as I tried to imagine myself daring to be a Daniel, being thrown to lions and not minding . . . who was I kidding? I knew I’d be terrified out of my skull.

How could God ever love me?

I was sure he couldn’t because I wasn’t doing it right.

Breaking Spells

One Sunday, not long ago, I was reading the story of “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover” from The Jesus Storybook Bible to some 6-year-olds during a Sunday school lesson. One little girl in particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap. Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated. She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.

At the end of the story there were no other teachers around, and I panicked and went into automatic pilot and heard myself—to my horror—asking, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”

And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl. Like I broke some spell. She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head. I will never forget it.

It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done!

When we tie up the story in a nice neat little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.

And that’s why I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible. So children could know what I didn’t:

1. That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

2. That the Bible is most of all a story—the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

3. That—in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him—God won’t ever stop loving his children . . . with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

4. That the Bible, in short, is a Story—not a Rule Book—and there is only one Hero in the Story.

I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible so children could meet the Hero in its pages. And become part of His Magnificent Story.

Because rules don’t change you.

But a Story—God’s Story—can.

**********

Editors’ Note: The new Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Sam Shammas contains 44 lessons revealing how Jesus is the center of each Bible story and how every story whispers his name. It includes activities, notes for teachers based on material from Timothy Keller, memory verses, handouts for children, a hardcover copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, and three audio CDs containing David Suchet’s reading.”

11 Ways to Improve Worship Leading

Some very helpful tips from: http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/2012/02/11tips/

1.  Memorize the lyrics.
The confidence monitor has become the worship leaders worst enemy.
People want to see your eyes during a song.

2.  Change up your schtick.
If I say “Do You BELIEVE?!!!” more than once in a set, I’m being lazy.
That’s my go to lazy worship leader line.

3.  Stop asking if they are happy to be there this morning.
Most of them aren’t.

4.  Trim the prayer fat.
I pray Father God, that Father God You show us Father God how amazing you are Father God in our Father God lives.

5.  Stop praying the chorus or the title to the next song in the prayer before that song.
“Show us You are Mighty To Save in this song God”
I mean I don’t tell you what I’m about to tell you before I tell you in real conversation.

6.  Smile.
Everyone likes your smiling face better than your emo face.

7.  Remember that probably less than 50% people in that room connect to God through music.
We exist in a culture where we place a large emphasis in our gatherings on music.
I think that is fine.
But always remember not everyone is gonna be with you.  So don’t get mad.

8.  Just because you wrote it and your friends love it, doesn’t mean you should sing it.
Ask a friend of a friend to listen.  Probably 10 of them.
They won’t lie to you.
Because even the friends who say they will be honest, their lying.

There are fantastic songs out there that work already.
Only bring the ones that can hang.

9.  Open your eyes.
See #1

10.  Keep It Simple.
You aren’t on American Idol.
Your job isn’t to sing TO the people and have them go “WOW”.
You’re job is to get the people to SING with you to God.

11.  Have fun.
Laugh, dance, and sing.
If you aren’t having fun, neither are they.

-Carlos Whittaker

An Open Letter to Praise Bands

Great article by James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2012/02/open-letter-to-praise-bands.html

Dear Praise Band,

I so appreciate your willingness and desire to offer up your gifts to God in worship. I appreciate your devotion and celebrate your faithfulness–schlepping to church early, Sunday after Sunday, making time for practice mid-week, learning and writing new songs, and so much more. Like those skilled artists and artisans that God used to create the tabernacle (Exodus 36), you are willing to put your artistic gifts in service to the Triune God.

So please receive this little missive in the spirit it is meant: as an encouragement to reflect on the practice of “leading worship.” It seems to me that you are often simply co-opted into a practice without being encouraged to reflect on its rationale, its “reason why.” In other words, it seems to me that you are often recruited to “lead worship” without much opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of “worship” and what it would mean to “lead.”

In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

So let me offer just a few brief axioms with the hope of encouraging new reflection on the practice of “leading worship”:

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.

Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.

In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And whileyou may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

Please consider these points carefully and recognize what I am not saying. This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.

Much, much more could be said. But let me stop here, and please receive this as the encouragement it’s meant to be. I would love to see you continue to offer your artistic gifts in worship to the Triune God who is teaching us a new song.

Most sincerely,

Jamie

5 Traps for Young Men

1. Pride

“Young men, do not be too confident in your own judgment. Stop being so sure that you are always right, and others wrong. Don’t trust your own opinion, when you find it contrary to that of older men, and especially to that of your own parents. Age gives experience, and therefore deserves respect.”

2. Love of Pleasure

“Youth is the time when our passions are strongest—and like unruly children, cry most loudly for indulgence. Youth is the time when we have generally our most health and strength: death seems far away, and to enjoy ourselves in this life seems to be everything. ‘I serve lusts and pleasures’, that is the true answer many a young man should give if asked, ‘Whose servant are you?’”

3. Thoughtlessness

“Not thinking is one simple reason why thousands of souls are thrown away forever into theLakeofFire. Men will not consider, will not look ahead, will not look around them, will not reflect on the end of their present course, and the sure consequences of their present days, and wake up to find they are damned for a lack of thinking. Young men, none are in more danger of this than yourselves. You know little of the perils around you, and so you are careless how you walk. You hate the trouble of serious, quiet thinking, and so you make wrong decisions and bring upon yourselves much sorrow.”

4. Contempt of Religion

“This also is one of your special dangers. I always observe that none pay so little outward respect to Christianity as young men. None take so little part in our services, when they are present at them—use Bibles so little—sing so little—listen to preaching so little. None are so generally absent at prayer meetings, Bible Studies, and all other weekday helps to the soul. Young men seem to think they do not need these things—they may be good for women and old men, but not for them. They appear ashamed of seeming to care about their souls: one would almost fancy they considered it a disgrace to go to heaven at all.”

5. Fear of Man’s Opinion

“It is terrible to observe the power which the fear of man has over most minds, and especially over the minds of the young. Few seem to have any opinions of their own, or to think for themselves. Like dead fish, they go with the stream and tide. What others think is right, they think is right; and what others call wrong, they call wrong too. There are not many original thinkers in the world. Most men are like sheep, they follow a leader. If it was the fashion of the day to be Roman Catholics, they would be Roman Catholics, if it was to be Islamic, they would be Islamic. They dread the idea of going against the current of the times. In a word, the opinion of the day becomes their religion, their creed, their Bible, and their God.”

-J.C. Ryle, Thoughts For Young Men, [Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishing, 2002], 18-31. http://jcrylequotes.com/2010/11/15/5-dangers-for-young-men/

An Instrument of Painful Death & Horrid Torture

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to darkCalvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Holy God, we praise Thy Name;
Lord of all, we bow before Thee!
All on earth Thy scepter claim,
All in Heaven above adore Thee;
Infinite Thy vast domain,
Everlasting is Thy reign.

Hark! the loud celestial hymn
Angel choirs above are raising,
Cherubim and seraphim,
In unceasing chorus praising;
Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord.

Lo! the apostolic train
Join the sacred Name to hallow;
Prophets swell the loud refrain,
And the white robed martyrs follow;
And from morn to set of sun,
Through the Church the song goes on.

Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
While in essence only One,
Undivided God we claim Thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the mystery.

-Attributed to Ignaz Franz, based on “Te Deum” (4th Century), Trans. by Clarence Walworth; 1858