Friday, September 29, 2006
Much has been written about the "worship wars" which continue to be fought in churches today. These battles are normally drawn along the lines of "traditional" versus "contemporary" music. In many cases, these battles are mere battles of personal preference. One group in the church prefers traditional music. "Traditional" normally refers to hymns or gospel songs accompanied by piano, organ, and perhaps an orchestra. "Contemporary" normally refers to modern worship songs or choruses accompanied by keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. These firefights are often touched off over differences of musical style.
It seems to me that there is a much more important question when it comes to worship music. It is not a question of style but content. When it comes to evaluating the kind of music we will sing in our worship gatherings, we ought to focus first on content. We need to be asking ourselves about the theological value of the lyrics we sing. What do the lyrics tell us about God and His saving work through Jesus Christ? Are the lyrics God-centered and Christ-honoring? Are the lyrics biblically sound? Does the text of the song employ biblical language and concepts to focus our thoughts on God and His mighty deeds? Does the text of the song lift us God-ward?
The truth is that old does not mean bad and new does not mean good when it comes to music. The reverse is also true. New is not necessarily good and old necessarily bad. Todays new will be tomorrows old. It is historically arrogant to suggest that the hymns of Watts and Wesley no longer have value to the church in the 21st century. It is also impoverishing to the church today to ignore some of the contemporary compositions of people like Chris Tomlin, Stewart Townsend, and others. I realize there are many other issues surrounding music and worship. I realize there are questions of what styles are appropriate for a worship service. Those are legitimate questions that deserve to be debated and discussed by serious Christians.
However, let's keep the main thing in focus here. Church leaders must put our energy into selecting music which has excellent content set in a musical style appropriate to our context. All of us need to practice an ethic of humility and service when it comes to church music. We are tempted to think it would be great to attend a church where they sing all the music I like and none of the music I don't like. Chances are such a church would be made up of people just like me. I'm certain that would not be a good thing. The Bible teaches us to prefer one another in humility and love (Rom. 12:10; Phlp. 2:3). Next time you open the bulletin and see a song you don't like, remind yourself that there is someone in the congregation whose soul is comforted or encouraged or enlivened by the truth in that song. Serve them by allowing the theological value of the lyrics to reach your heart though you may not prefer the style in which it is presented.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
When one considers the testimony of Scripture, it is clear that God's people are to be a singing people. Of course, the music of God's people takes many forms. Some of it is choral, some is congregational, some is instrumental. Often it is a combination of the above elements. In the pages of Scripture, God's people are exhorted to sing over and over again. For example, consider Psalm 98:
O sing to the LORD a new song, For He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea roar and all it contains, The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands, Let the mountains sing together for joy
Before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness And the peoples with equity.
Here the people of God are encouraged to lift up their voices and their instruments in praise to the Lord because He alone is Redeemer, King, and Judge. God's people are called to sing. All those in the earth are called to sing. Finally, the creation itself is pictured as singing for joy to the Lord.
Music is an essential part of biblical worship. Music doesn't set the table for worship (preaching). It is worship. I would be the first in line to insist that preaching is a non-negotiable element in worship. Yet, we must not allow the primacy of preaching to cause us to undervalue the importance of music in worship. In Ephesians 5:19 we are told that the Spirit-filled church is to "speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." When we look into heaven what do we see? We find the church singing a new song extolling the worthiness of the Lamb who purchased them with His blood (Revelation 5:9).
Martin Luther said, "Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not change what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart." I believe Dr. Luther was right.
So, let the church sing. God has given us the gift of music as a vehicle to express our joy in Him. It is a medium through which the people of God may declare His glorious works. It is pleasing to Him when we sing about Him and to Him for His glory.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
A great place to start learning more about the Emerging Church is Nine Marks Ministries. There are several articles related to the Emerging Church which would be quite helpful to those who want a brief and faithful overview of the movement. These articles are written by people who have studied the writings of well-known Emerging Church leaders. Their perspectives will assist you to understand the diversity of this movement, as well as provide some necessary cautions regarding the pitfalls associated with Emerging Church thought.
Follow this link to the Nine Marks web site and enjoy!
Friday, September 22, 2006
Paul speaks about this phenomenon in Philippians 3:1-11. He tells about how his life was once characterized by "confidence in the flesh." He speaks about his impressive resume of religious heritage, zeal, and legalistic righteousness. If anyone could feel good about their glorious actions, it was Paul. Yet, when confronted by Christ, he finally realized the all the things he once considered credits to his spiritual account were, in actuality, severe debits. This change in perspective about his glorious actions is communicated clearly in verse 7 where Paul states, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ." He calls those things which he once thought gain "rubbish" in verse 8. This is a delicate translation which renders a word that literally means "excrement."
Paul came to realize that the things he thought would put in him good standing with God were really working against him. Why? Because they were done in a self-righteous effort to earn the favor of God by human merit. In verse 9 Paul says, "...and may be found in Him (Christ), not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." You see, every act we do in an attitude of self-effort to gain favor with God is the worst kind of insult to His grace. Every act of self-righteousness is an affront to the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Paul refers to those who think they can earn God's favor by self-effort as "enemies of the cross" (Phlp. 3:18).
We need a righteousness which is not our own. It is an "alien righteousness" that is credited to us by faith in Jesus Christ. Our righteousness is just a compilation of glorious sins. We need the righteousness of Christ. May we never be guilty of promoting a theology that allows people to have confidence in their glorious sins. Rather, let us point them to the cross of Christ where those sins were credited to Jesus Christ so that all who trust in Him may have His righteousness credited to them (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
In all seriousness, preachers do need booster shots from time to time. They need spiritual booster shots of inspiration, challenge, and motivation. I received such a booster shot over the last couple of days. I just returned from a pastors conference in Dallas called Exponential 06. It was sponsored by Crown Financial Ministries and Generous Giving. The focus of this conference was creating a culture of generosity in the church. It was a very good conference with great teaching from Randy Alcorn and Joe Stowell. My soul was both fed and challenged.
I am very appreciative of a church family that provides budgeted funds for me to attend such conferences. Pastors spend most weeks focused on preparation and preaching to others, along with all the other pastoral duties for which they are responsible. It is refreshing for pastors to go somewhere and be in the pew instead of the pulpit for a change. It is an opportunity for pastors to focus on listening to the Word of God. These are replenishing times for men who can sometimes get spiritually depleted. These are encouraging times for men who can often be discouraged.
Of course, such conferences are not meant to be substitutes for a pastors private spiritual life of Scripture, prayer, and reflection. Yet, they can be important "booster shots" of inspiration and learning which keep the spiritual senses of the pastor sharp and alert. If at all possible, churches should provide funds for their pastors, staff, and leadership to go for such times of spiritual refreshment, learning, and challenge. Thanks church family for sending me to get my booster shot.
Friday, September 15, 2006
I think Steve Sjogren has missed something very important. Preaching involves more than the skillful delivery of a well-organized biblical message. A huge part of preaching is what God does in the heart of the preacher as he wrestles with the text of Scripture. It is this element of preparation that makes the sermon authentic and forceful. After all, it is difficult to preach with conviction truth which has not gripped your own heart.
Sjogren's advice compounds an already serious problem in the church today. Too many churches are getting the equivalent of a happy meal on Sunday morning when they really need solid, home-cooked fare. Do pastors really need less time wrestling with the Word of God in preparation to feed God's flock? Is plagiarizing the sermons of famous pastors really the antidote for anemic pulpits? From my perspective, the opposite is true. The church needs more pastors who will take time to study, pray, prepare, and preach messages which provide strong biblical nourishment to their people (2 Timothy 2:15; 4:1-5).
Pastors must remember that their first and most important audience is God Himself. We pastors need to ask ourselves, "Is God pleased with my preparation and my preaching?" We do not preach to impress people but to please God. When Ornan offered David his oxen, his grain, and the wood from his implements for a sacrifice, David replied, "I will not take what is yours for the Lord or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing (1 Chronicles 21:24)." When pastors plagiarize the sermons of other preachers, regardless of the reason, they offer to the Lord something that costs them nothing. Such an approach to preaching harms both the preacher and the people.
Consider how different this is in comparison to the current situation among evangelicals. The early Christians had no political power but greatly influenced their culture through the spiritual power of the gospel. Modern evangelicals have great political power but, by comparison, are making little impact on the culture because we have marginalized the spiritual power of the gospel. When Paul stood before Governor Felix, Luke tells us that Felix became frightened. What was it that frightened Felix? Was it the threat of being ousted from office by the religious right? No. It was when Paul pressed home the gospel issues of righteousnes, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:24-25).
It seems that the only time early Christians had the ear of the governing officials was when they had been arrested by them. When these believers stood before the governing officials, they consistently presented the claims of the gospel. These early Christians understood that their ultimate mission was to penetrate their culture with the gospel. When Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel, he asked the Ephesian believers to pray that God would give him the proper boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19-20).
The early Christians were not depending on "getting the right man in Rome" to effect change in the culture. They knew that the gospel changed hearts. Evangelicals need to focus on "gospelizing" our culture instead of moralizing it. The power to live right does not come from law. It comes from having a new heart under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
There is no question that politicians see the church as an important voting block that could swing the outcome of elections. But is that how many churches are beginning to view themselves? Are the energies and resources of churches really well spent on using the political process to shape the morality of the culture through legislation? Or does the real purpose for the existence of the church lie elsewhere?
In my opinion, some churches are coming dangerously close to portraying a moralistic answer to the problems of our culture rather than a gospel answer. Moralism is the idea that we need to make everyone moral. It is the sentiment that if we could just pass the right laws and get society to conform to the right moral code, God would smile on us and all would be well. So, many churches have jumped headlong into the realm of politics to moralize America. The pastors of these churches preach politically charged sermons on moral issues. They try to mobilize their people to write letters, demonstrate, vote, and pass referendums on moral issues. A great deal of time, money, and effort is focused on these issues.
"So what is the problem with that," someone will ask. "Don't you care about morality?" Of course I do. I inform myself about issues and vote very conservatively. Any person who loves God would choose morality over immorality and righteousness over unrighteousness. But I do not believe for one moment that moralism is the answer for society's problems. Let's say we pass all the laws and referendums that favor our moral positions. Will we have eradicated immorality? Absolutely not. Sin is a radical problem that requires more than a moral makeover. This is why the church must never be known for moralism.
The church has something much more powerful than referendums and legal codes. It has the gospel. Only the gospel has the power to change people from the inside out. Laws may have a deterrent effect on sinners to curb their actions. The gospel has the power to change their desires. Laws can makes sinners more aware of their sins and articulate proper punishment for those sins. But laws cannot deliver people from the power of sin. Only the gospel can do that. The church must never contribute to helping sinners trust in their "morality" as they whistle down the path to eternal destruction.
Many in the conservative camp (my camp) would charge the mainline liberal churches with abandoning the gospel to pursue social causes like alleviating hunger, poverty, disease, etc. But are not many of our conservative brethren in danger of abandoning the gospel in favor of pursuing conservative social causes? We must not allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to be eclipsed by a political agenda of any stripe - liberal or conservative. For the church to cry down the social evils of our culture without seeking to bring the gospel to that culture is like a doctor telling you that you have cancer but withholding treatment.
I'll have more to say about this in a later post.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The real problem lies with the infatuation that evangelicals seem to have with "cookie cutter" ministry models and their unwillingness to evaluate such models biblically. Many evangelical pastors and church leaders are dissatisfied with the "growth" of their churches and are clamoring for something to get results. In comes the guy who has cleverly packaged something that worked for him at XYZ Community Church. This seems like a magic bullet to fix all the problems and generate some "growth." So, we buy it, we use it indiscriminately, and we are surprised when it doesn't create the results that Pastor Big got in his church.
We evangelicals need an immunization against the pragmatism that feeds this approach to ministry. Our question used to be "is it biblical?" Now our question is "does it work?" Unfortunately what works isn't always biblical. There are a number of fringe preachers and false teachers who are building huge followings with distortions or outright heresies. Joel Osteen has a huge following but I wouldn't exactly call his message biblical or gospel-centered.
Because of their market-driven mentality, cookie cutter ministry models are usually characterized by two things. First, they leave out things they should have left in. If the market won't bear sin, repentance, hell, Lordship of Christ, and such "hard things," just leave it out. Secondly, they bring in things they should have left out. When we start building ministries based on what we think people want, we are bound to bring in worldly attitudes and unsaved "church members." I am not talking about worship styles or whether your preacher wears a golf shirt or a suit. I'm talking about the purity of gospel and pursuit of holiness. The market doesn't normally want to hear the things they most need to hear when it comes to spiritual matters.
The antidote for cookie cutter ministry syndrome is to get back to being God-centered, gospel-driven, Scripture-saturated churches. I once heard Dr. Al Mohler say, "There is a difference between a crowd and a church." The pastors and church leaders who are buying into the cookie cutter approach are learning the truth of that statement the hard way.
Monday, September 11, 2006
One of the clarion voices of our time which helps us to think in a thoroughly biblical way about tragedy and suffering is John Piper. Here is a link to the message he preached to his congregation after those events five years ago. It will feed your soul.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
As Paul brings his defense to a close in this text, he offers four insights on the distinguishing marks of an authentic ministry. Not only do these apply to authenticity in ministry specifically, but to the life of following Jesus generally. If we want to be the "real deal" as followers of Christ who minister in His name, we need to pay heed to these words from Paul.
- Authentic ministry is marked by the humble expression of spiritual gifts (vv. 11-12). Paul's ministry was characterized by apostolic signs and wonders. These divine "workings of power" validated him as a true apostle and certified the gospel he preached. However, Paul exercised these gifts with the understanding that he was a "nobody" (v. 11). In addition, he uses the passive voice to indicate that the supernatural works did not originate with him but with God. It was God working in him to draw attention to Jesus, not Paul wowing the crowd with his spectacular abilities. Though we don't have these apostolic gifts, we do have spiritual gifts given by God to be used for ministry. We must take care that we exercise these gifts with humility for Christ's glory.
- Authentic ministry is marked by sacrifice on behalf of others (vv. 13-15). Paul expressed his commitment to "spend and be spent" for the spiritual welfare of the Corinthians. He did not desire their possessions but them. Here we find the example of true ministry which gives for the benefit of others rather than taking for self-centered gain.
- Authentic ministry is marked by personal integrity (vv. 16-18). Paul's opponents said that he was trying to come in the backdoor and take the money of the Corinthians under the guise of an "offering" for the Jerusalem church. Thus, some in Corinth viewed him as crafty and duplicitous in his dealings with them. Nothing was further from the truth. Both Paul and his representatives acted in complete integrity and honesty toward the Corinthians. True followers of Christ do not exploit others through deceit for personal gain.
- Authentic ministry is marked by a deep sense of accountability (vv. 19-21). Paul was not blowing his horn to impress the Corinthians. In reality, he was speaking in Christ in the sight of God. He understood his life as open before the face of God. He was accountable to God for his life and ministry. This vertical dimension of accountability was the foundation of the horizontal dimension between himself and the church in Corinth. He expressed his fears that he would have to hold some accountable who were unrepentant. True ministry embraces both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of accountability.
God help us to live and minister in such a way that we are the "real deal."
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Much has been written about plural eldership. Some excellent resources are available from fellow Southern Baptists on this issue (Elders in Congregational Life by Phil Newton; By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life by Mark Dever). My purpose in this post is not to argue the correctness of eldership versus other models of church leadership. Rather, I want to offer some personal reflections on how eldership has benefitted my ministry. Not only do I believe that plural eldership is correct based on biblical exegesis, my experience has taught me the benefits of it as well.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that plural eldership is always easy. Sometimes it is agonizing. Anytime you put several strong leaders together, there is the potential for sparks. But sparks are a normal by-product of iron sharpening iron. Sometimes we plod and plough through the deliberation of difficult decisions that will impact the people of God. Notwithstanding all of the difficulties, the benefits are far greater. So, I offer here my list of Why I Love Elders Meetings.
- Shared accountability. Multiple leaders making decisions together, praying together, discussing Scripture together, and agonizing together provides a context for accountability. Our words and actions are tested in the crucible of plural leadership.
- Multiple gifts. All leaders (all Christians for that matter) are gifted. However, all leaders do not possess the same gifts. In the context of plural leadership, we each benefit from the others gifts and skills. Another leader's strengths may offset my weaknesses.
- Decisions are generally stronger. If I make a decision about some issue of church life by myself, the strength of that decision is based on the limitations of my knowledge, my experience, and my perspective. When the same issue is considered in an elders meeting, the knowledge, experiences, and perspectives of other godly men strengthen the final decision.
- Shared burdens. One of the great benefits of plural eldership is the sharing of the burdens of church leadership with other men who love Christ and His church.
- Multiplied encouragement. There is an atmosphere of support and encouragement among men who share the privilege and responsibility of church leadership. As we pray for each other and encourage each other, we are mutually strengthened.
I thank God for the men whom He has called and gifted to lead our church in this capacity. I know that my ministry is enhanced and encouraged in this environment. I look forward to meeting with them tomorrow afternoon!
Friday, September 08, 2006
Every time one of the kids celebrates a birthday, it reinforces two things in my life. First, it reminds of the knee-knocking responsibility of being a Dad. God has charged fathers with the task of not exasperating our kids but raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). It is a daunting task fraught with many challenges and difficulties. But it is a task that fathers dare not abdicate lest we contribute to the ruin of our sons and daughters.
The second thing the kids' birthdays do for me is remind me to rejoice over them. They are truly gifts from God. I cannot begin to count the number of ways my life has been enriched by them. Through both the positive and negative experiences of parenthood I have learned many spiritual lessons.
I recently heard Voddie Baucham expound Ephesians 6:1-4. He unpacked that text in a way that really hit home with me. He talked about how the home is the primary place in which discipleship should occur. I have seen that dynamic over and over again in my experience with my kids. I pray that they have been discipled (and continue to be) by me. I know that I have benefitted spiritually in the process of raising/discipling them. As a pastor, I feel this challenge acutely. Pastors kids don't "turn out right" just because they live with pastors. When it comes to discipling kids, I agree with the person who said, "An ounce of parent is worth a pound of pastor." The church is no substitute for a godly Dad (and Mom) who take seriously their charge to raise children who know and love Christ.
I thank God for the privilege of being an earthly father to Jacob, Jared, Blake, and Sydnie. It has been an experience that has driven me time and time again to my Heavenly Father to give Him thanks, to ask His forgiveness, and to seek His wisdom to handle well the responsibility and joy of parenthood.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
In 2 Corinthians 12:11-18, Paul is bringing the defense of his apostleship to a close. In this text, he reiterates some important marks of authenticity in his ministry. One of those marks was his willingness to give himself on behalf of the Corinthians. He says, "...I do not seek what is yours but you (v. 14)." He continues, "I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls (v. 15)." What a powerful statement in relation to pastoral ministry! To spend and be spent for the souls God has entrusted to our care.
This is a description of pastoral ministry not often heard in the present climate of ministry professionalization. Who wants to sign up for a lifestyle of spending and being spent for the spiritual welfare of others? Yet, this is the heart and soul of pastoral ministry as Paul understood it. He saw the ministry not as a life of taking from others to benefit himself, but as a life of giving himself to benefit others. Matthew Henry described it as a candle which burns itself out to give light to those around it.
Lord, help me to resist the temptation to use ministry as a platform for self-congratulatory and self-seeking activities. Free me from the desire to make my exaltation the focus of ministry. Instead, let me spend and be spent in the name of Jesus for the eternal welfare of souls.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
As I reflect on this time in God's Word with other believers I am filled with joy. There is something wonderful about Christians coming together with Bibles open before them to tackle deep and difficult subjects with the intent of submitting our thoughts to the truth of God. The discussion was lively and engaging. The power of God's Word was evident as we looked at passage after passage which declared God's sovereignty in human events.
There is no substitute for studying the Scriptures in solitude for one's personal edification and instruction. I treasure such time. It is critical to spiritual growth. Yet, there is also great spiritual benefit from gathering for study with others who desire to bring their lives under the authority of Scripture. There is opportunity for discussion, clarification, and feedback which normally doesn't occur in a worship service where a sermon is delivered.
I thank God for the Wednesday night study group. I encourage all believers to be involved in such a group. It is just one more benefit of life in community with other followers of Jesus.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Even if I were not a pastor, I would love the church because Jesus Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). It is the only entity on earth which Jesus Christ purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28).
Just so you know the perspective from which I will post about the church and things related to the church, I will give a couple of points of clarification.
- The church is the company of the redeemed who have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not confined to any particular denomination but includes all those who are genuine believers. This aspect of the church is sometimes called the universal or invisible church.
- The Bible also refers to the local church. This use of the term church refers to local assemblies of baptized believers who gather for worship, instruction, ordinances, ministry, and mission.
Much more could be said about the church, but these brief points give you an idea of where I am coming from.
I suppose one of my pet peeves is people who say they are Christians but have no interest in or regard for the church. Those who claim to belong to the first group (universal) should also belong to the second group (local). All who love Jesus should be ecclesiophilists - they should love the church. Jesus Christ is the head of the church which is His body (Colossians 1:18). If you love the Head, you should also love His body.
The truth is that we cannot really think ourselves biblical Christians without the church. The biblical pattern is that all who are saved are added to the church (Acts 2:47). In context, this refers to the local assembly of believers gathered for community life in Christ. God designed the Christian life to be lived in connection with other believers.
Now, I do not entertain any naive idea that the church on earth is perfect (though it is in the process of being perfected). I try not to allow my love for the church to cloud my discernment or critical evaluation of her faith and practice. Sometimes my posts will be critical of certain aspects of church life. But, all that said, I do love the church. I am an incurable ecclesiophile. I hope you are as well.