How to Worship: Me or Us?

I have been on staff at two very different churches. I have also been a member of several different churches as well. These churches have different emphasis that produce a variety of expressions in their worship. I am sure there are others who have experienced similar differences in churches.

Yet, one question that is not often asked is, “Is worship for me or us?” Or, perhaps the more accurate question is, “Is worship only for me?”

This question is pregnant with implications. If worship is individualistic, then my tastes, my desires, my outward expressions serve as the rule for proper and actual worship. So, for example, I am not an outward, emotional individual. I do not raise my hands, nor do I sway from side-to-side (unless I am holding one of my precious children). So, for me, worship excludes the raising of hands. To do otherwise may violate my conscience. My wife, however, often raises her hands. While I would be uncomfortable doing that, she is completely free in her spirit. What does this have to do with us? Much!

Worship is not primarily an individual experience.[1] Worship, in the corporate sense, is about the church, gathering together and expressing praise to the gloriously sovereign God of heaven. Now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with my personal experience in worship?

Again, I say much. One of the marks of our current society is individualism. Individualism, however, finds no place in Sacred Scripture. We are called to be the church (that is, believers). It is us, not me. With regards to public worship, we worship as a congregation.

How does this look, practically speaking? Hart and Muether write, “If, for instance, we close our eyes and lift our hands in a congregation where no one else does this, we are cutting ourselves off from other worshipers in order to pursue a personalized and privatized experience with God.”[2] That is, if a congregation is used to maintaining a somber attitude, without bodily expressions, then an individual should focus on us rather than me. Likewise, if a church is more open to outward expressions, then the individual who feels so disposed should not hesitate in expressing accordingly. At the church I am currently at, we have men and women who do both. The main focus of this post is not how you worship, but how we worship.

Have you ever considered how others in your congregation worship? Have you ever thought about how you worship in connection with how the rest of the church worships? Are they contradictory? Are they conducive?

My hope, with this post, is to help us look at the church as a whole. Paul’s words, though addressing the consumption of meat, has special emphasis here, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decided never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13, ESV)

In worship, brothers and sisters, let us not put a stumbling block in front of one another.

 

 

 

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write, “When we come to worship [referring to corporate worship], we are not engaging in an individual experience.” D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2002), 139.

[2] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 139-140.

 

 

 

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How To Worship Reverently

How do we worship? Does it matter how?

I am slowly working my way through In Reverence and Awe. It has been superb. Every chapter brings me to the truth that God is a glorious, holy God before Whom I should fall in worship and adoration. I am reminded, on almost every page, that I am a wicked sinner deserving at every moment to be cast into hell for eternity. Thankfully, I am also reminded that Jesus bore God’s righteous indignation and saved me forever.

As the name implies, Hart and Muether discuss worship throughout the book. In chapter eight, the two enumerate on the thought “Worship with Godly Fear.” So, according to the authors, how should we worship?

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write,

“The joy we experience in contemplating and worshiping the risen Savior is an emotion that is always tinged with sobriety and humility. It is not the high-fiving ecstasy of fans who have just seen their team win the national championship. Nor is it the celebration of a job promotion. It is a joy that recognizes not only the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but also our own complicity, because our sin, in his pain and death. When we contemplate the suffering of Christ we come in humility, restraining sinful impulses, and we embrace a bleeding Savior as the fountain of our comfort.” (Hart and Muether, 128)

There is a beauty in this type of worship. It is God-honoring, for it does not treat God lightly. Truly He is immanent (or close). However, we must never forget that He is transcendent as well. He is, as Isaiah describes, “One who is high and lifted up, who inhavits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).

We take too causal an approach to the Holy One of Israel. Hart and Muether argue along the same lines as does the author of Hebrews. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV).

How do we worship? With reverence and awe.

 

 

 

 

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Worship: Advice Worship

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Worship: Advice on How to Worship

I am slowly working my way through D. G. Hart and John R. Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.[1] It is a wonderful book! In my reading, I came across the chapter, “Leading and Participating In Worship.” In the chapter, Hart and Muether discuss the different roles individuals (ministers and lay-people) play in worship. This post is not a discussion on that particularly (though the question is of upmost importance), I did want to highlight a few helpful points they offer for engaging in worship.

  1. Worship is God-centered

    In a previous chapter, Hart and Muether address the importance of remembering what worship is: “Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.”[2] We must always remember that we are worshiping God. That is what worship is all about. It is dangerous to be rash with our mouths because “God is in heaven and [we] are on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV) We are worshiping the Creator of the Universe, the “One who is high and lifted up.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV) We are not nearly as careful as we should be entering into worship. Toward the end of the chapter, Hart and Muether remark, “…if a problem exists with Reformed worship, the difficulty may be inappropriate expectations.”[3]

  2. Worship is active

    Worship is not a passive event. It is one of action. We worship The question may be asked, “How do I worship God?” Here are several ways offered by Hart and Muether:

    1. Hear the Word of God “diligently and prayerfully”
    2. Prepare for reception of Communion (self-examination, meditation on Christ’s body, etc.)
    3. Live in light of your baptism[4]

“Worship really is a verb when it consists of Word, sacraments, and prayer.”[5]

Is this how you view worship? Do you invest in worship? Do you read the Scriptures to be preached? Do you examine yourself prior to observing the Lord’s Supper?

Worship, far from being passive, is an active participation in glorifying the great and everlasting God.

“It is a time when heaven and earth meet; it is a holy conversation between the Creator of heaven and earth and his redeemed creatures.”[6]

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalm 95:6

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You can purchase With Reverence and Awe, and other helpful resources, from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002).

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996), 1.

[3] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 116.

[4] Ibid., 113-114.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid., 116.

“Principles for Lyrics”

I’ve been working my way through The Pastor’s Book, and I am currently in the section addressing music. In the chapter ‘Hymns and Songs,’ Douglas Sean O’Donnell offers four principles for the selection of lyrics. I found them very helpful, and so I am passing them along:

  1. Our lyrics should reflect God’s lyrics
  2. Our lyrics should edify others and exalt God
  3. Our lyrics should raise religious affections, not ridiculous emotionalism
  4. Our lyrics should be theologically comprehensive and balanced

From R Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, published by Crossway.

How Worship Affects Everything

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I recently finished Paul Tripp’s Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. While I hope to provide a more in depth review of the book, today I want to focus our attention on one principle that jumped out to me. With the recent emphasis in the discussion of transgenderism, Teen Vogue’s article on anal sex, and the confusion surrounding human sexuality in general, I was again impressed with the relevancy of Scripture.

In the eleventh chapter, Tripp discusses the principle of ‘false gods.’ (Tripp, 2016) The principle is, ‘You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.’ (Tripp, 2016)

The chapter develops how this principle fleshes out in our children. Tripp touches on a point that has profound implications: worship. He states, ‘Worship is a tricky word for most of us, because when we think of worship we tend to think of formal religion….But worship is not just a religious function; it is a human function. Worship is something everyone does every day.’ (Tripp, 2016)

Applying to our children, this enables us to understand why they do the things they do. Branching out from the focus on children, and this enables us to understand the state in which we find our country.

Think about it: we were made to be and are worshipers. Tripp wisely writes, ‘It’s the fact that we always live in service of something or that we always live in control of something.’ (Tripp, 2016) Why are individuals confused about their gender? (Let me state that there are some genuine issues underlying some instances of gender confusion and identity. I am discussing the willful abandonment of a gender at birth for the opposite gender.) Why are people desiring to be with the same gender, sexually? Why are magazines proving teenagers ages 12-17 how-to guides for anal sex? Because we are worshipers.

Paul, in his masterful work of the book of Romans, captures this truth exquisitely:

 ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.’ (ESV, 2007)

There are several points worth noting.

  • Rather than creation impressing God’s truth upon their hearts, their unrighteous acts suppress the truth.
  • These individuals knew God but rejected Him.
  • Because we are worshiping beings, our need to worship something still exists.
  • Our rejection of the worship of God results in the worship of creation, including humanity.

Our need to worship something does not dissolve with our failure to believe in God. As a result, we worship something or someone. How does this look like in our society?

We are confused about sexuality. We are worshiping ourselves, our good, our pleasure, when we step outside the God-ordained boundaries for sexual gratification. You see, sex is a good thing. God created it for our enjoyment as well as the natural means of increasing the population of the earth (see Genesis 1:28, 31; 2:24; Proverbs 5:15-19; and Hebrews 13:4). However, when we forsake worshiping the one true God, our worship moves to another, and in our society, sexual gratification is near the top.

We have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25, ESV). We have forsaken the worship of our Creator for us, the creature. If I choose to be another sex, then I change it, because my desire overrules even nature itself.

How does this understanding help us? In several ways:

  • It should cause us to have an enormous amount of grace with each other.

    If God made us to worship Him, and by our nature we avoid Him (see Romans 1:18-25 and 3:10-20), then it is only the incredible grace of Jesus that changes us (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Those who receive grace should be the most gracious, as we know the depths of our sin and the absolute wonders of His grace. That means we should be patient, kind, and loving. 1 Corinthians 13, the ‘love chapter’, details how the grace of Jesus should look in our lives. Are we sharing grace with one another?

  • It should help us understand why people do the things they do.

    I have heard people say, ‘How can they do that? What are they thinking?’ They (and we too) do it because they were meant to worship! They (and we too) were created by a gracious Father to spend our lives in awe and service to Him. By the fall, they (and we too) ignored the truth of creation that should lead us to the Creator and instead place ourselves on the throne of sovereign rule. They (and we too) seek to serve their god, themselves. Whether that means we change our sexual identity, our sexual orientation, or even the ages when we offer advice for sexual acts, we worship something. In our interactions with others, knowing why they do certain things can help us minister from a position of knowledge rather than stupidity.

  • It should help us understand our own false worship.

    Sexual sins are not the only expression of our need to worship. Our jobs, positions, titles, money, rest, people, television, mobiles, and much more are all expressions of our need to worship. The question is not, “Do I worship sex? (or insert any other thing)” The question is, “Do I worship God and God alone (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5)?” It is so easy to see the splinter in our brothers and sisters eyes and completely ignore the telephone pole in our own (see Matthew 7:1-5).

  • It should help us to pray.

    God desires to restore Creation (see Romans 8:18-25 and Revelation 21-22). In fact, it was the motivation for Jesus’ incarnation (see Ephesians 1:3-10 and Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). It is God’s desire to restore everything so that it will once again be ‘very good’ (see Genesis 1:31). We, as recipients of this incredible grace, should pray for others. We, who experienced the bondage of sin and Satan, should zealously pray for those within it and his grasp. Our hearts should ache with a desire to be tools to help place the God who deserves all worship into the hearts of those who are failing to worship their Creator.

It always amazes me, though it should not, just how relevant the Scriptures are. It also amazes me just how depraved we (I am in the list too!) are. Finally, I am overwhelmed at the grace of our Lord, who ‘shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8, ESV)

There are several good resources that are available if you wish to discuss this matter further.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a good article discussing Teen Vogue’s deplorable post.

For a good discussion on the topic of transgender, see Samuel James’ article on the Gospel Coalition.

Finally, check on the Christian Post’s article. You’ll find some helpful discussion there as well.

 

How to Change the Life of Your Family

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Family Worship

What is family worship? Family worship is a family gathering together to read God’s Word, sing His praise, and pray. Jerry Marcellino, author of Recovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship, suggests the easy-to-remember Scripture, supplication, and song.

I want to share with you the biblical necessity of family worship. In the future, we will look at family worship throughout Church history, issues related to family worship, and finally some helpful suggestions toward that end.

I would also like to recommend heartily Donald S. Whitney’s book, Family Worship. This book is concise (it is only 67 pages), but extremely helpful in providing a biblical and historical foundation for family worship. I will review another book in the future involved with family worship. It is Catechizing Our Children by Terry L. Johnson.  It is a short book as well, but the content is priceless.

To begin with, family worship lives in Scripture. In Genesis 18:17-18 we read, “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he had promised him.’”

Did you catch that? “…that he may command his children and household…to keep the way of the LORD.” That is family worship. Alternatively, how about Deuteronomy 6:4-9? We read, “’Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’” Moses, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lists out almost every aspect of family life. The households of the ancient Israelites thrived with family worship.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What does the New Testament have to say about family worship? Paul, the famous apostle and incredible missionary, has much to say on the subject. In Ephesians 5:25-29 Paul connects the role of the husband and wife with the role of Christ and the Church. One aspect that I would like to highlight is in verse 26, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…” with verse 28, “in the same way husbands should love their wives…” The husband, according to Paul, has the privilege and responsibility to provide the spiritual leadership in the home. This aligns perfectly with his exhortation in Ephesians 6:4, where Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The father instructed his children in God’s ways.

Why should we engage in family worship? Because Scripture, which is given for our spiritual well-being, is saturated with it. Don Whitney writes, “…more importantly, God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families.” (Whitney, 14)

For Donald S. Whitney‘s book, check out Crossway.

For Terry L. Johnson‘s book, check out The Banner of Truth.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.