Worship is War

rthymns-of-graceThe “worship wars” are never behind us. They are always with us. Just because your church has settled upon what style of music it is going to use come Sunday does not mean that worship has ceased to be a war for you or your church.

A few weeks ago I finished Rhythms of Grace, a book by Mike Cosper. It is an excellent book that would benefit every pastor (especially those who are primarily responsible for the worship order on Sundays). It speaks to the power of the worship service shaped by the biblical story of the gospel. Here is what he has to say about the “worship wars” in particular.

Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one god, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen, and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us. We’re taught to find a sense of hope in a political party, trusting in our duly elected saviors to make the world right once and for all. We’re taught to find our identity in our friend counts on Twitter and Facebook. We’re taught that a victory at work or good news from a doctor or a bathroom scale will satisfy us. We look longingly into the eyes of other human beings and believe that they can affirm us enough and love us well enough to end our sense of loneliness.

We believe these things because we’ve been taught them again and again. Like the ascending pilgrims of Psalm 121, we’re surround[ed] by clamorous mountains advertising happiness, sex, and power, all available for consumption. Our entertainment in television, film, and literature paints the good life this way, and it grips our heartstrings, calling us away to worship at the feet of these idols.

Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home. (pg. 103-104)

Just before this Cosper quotes Jean-Jaques von Allmen:

Christian worship is the strongest denial that can be hurled in the face of the world’s claim to provide men with an effective and sufficient justification for their life. There is no more emphatic protest against the pride and the despair of the world than that implied in Church worship.

These are powerful words. Gathering for church with the body of Christ is a private protest against sin, satan, and all the false hopes and dreams this world offers and which vie for our affection. It is a public rebellion against the false gods of our culture that tempt us to believe satisfaction, joy, and deliverance can be found in anything other than God through Christ. Worship is war.

The following are my favorite books on worship. What are yours and why?

  1. Worship by the Book ed. by D. A. Carson
  2. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross
  3. Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship ed. by Ryken, Thomas, & Duncan
  4. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell
  5. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper
  6. Worship Matters: Leading others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

Leading My First Funeral

Not too long ago I came across a book that I knew would be helpful to me as a young pastor but didn’t buy it because it wasn’t something that I was going to need for a few years yet. One month later I found myself purchasing this same book and selecting the “one day shipping” box on Amazon [thank goodness we are prime members!]. What book was it that I foolishly put off buying? Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton. I was about to lead my first funeral and I was desperate for some  practical and cross-centered wisdom from someone more experienced than I. How did this come about?

I am an Assistant Pastor which means that weddings and funerals are pretty much left in the domain of our lead Pastor (though he has had me assist him in these duties). This has meant that I generally don’t have to worry about all the particularities that come with

leading these events – until last week that is. Last week my pastor left for a ten day trip and then the spouse of one of my coworkers passed away suddenly. Though this coworker was not affiliated with any church and wasn’t a follower of Jesus, she still called and asked if I would conduct her husband’s funeral. I was honored. And I was terrified. What follows are some things I learned in doing my first funeral.

Do: Get resources such as Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton as well as Comfort Those Who Grieve: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss by Paul Tautges. These books really should be read in tandem since they compliment each other so well. Really, if you are a pastor, you should read these books.

Do: Get wise counsel. I spoke with several pastors (including my dad) who have led a number of funerals and found their advi

ce truly helpful. Besides it will help you honor them and them to know that you respect them. I also asked some of my friends who are young in the ministry. I knew that the level of experience wasn’t there but the fact that they were praying for me was encouraging.

Do: Meet quickly with the grieving family. This will help you as well as the family that has experienced the loss. It will help you as a pastor to know them and bond with them on a level that you would not otherwise have. It will also allow you to minister more directly to their hearts since all pretenses are usually gone. It will also help you to get a feel for the person who has passed away. I found this especially helpful since I didn’t know the man at all. In my context the pastor delivers the eulogies so knowing the person who has passed away is especially important. This will also help the family through the grieving process. After a family member has died those

who remain are left to plan and coordinate a thousand little details. Listening to stories and looking at pictures is an important part of the grieving process for many people (at least it seemed to be incredibly helpful for this family). Meeting quickly and listening to these stories will also let the family know that you care about them – not merely about another service that you have to perform. This will allow you greater flexibility to share the gospel both privately and publicly.

Don’t: Correct every theologically incorrect statement. If something a family member says bugs you because it isn’t right – get over it. You can deal with stuff like this later privately in the grieving process if it is appropriate. This goes for the funeral service as well. It is not our duty to correct every false statement made during the time when family and friends speak.

Don’t: Give false hope or certain judgment regarding the eternal state of the deceased when it is unclear. Just be faithful to the gospel
Do: Meet with the funeral home director. I am so thankful I met with the director of this funeral. He has been responsible for over 7,000 funerals and his experience and care were encouraging. As a pastor, your role in the funeral is important. But so is the Funeral Director’s. Don’t sideline him or attempt to undermine him. Instead try to develop a relationship with him for the sake of future funerals and saying something like “only those who submit in faith to the Lord Jesus will be granted eternal life to enjoy God’s presence forever.”

Do: Get resources such as Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil A. Newton as well as Comfort Those Who Grieve: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Loss by Paul Tautges. These books really should be read in tandem since they compliment each other so well. Really, if you are a pastor, you should read these books. Wait, I said this one already….oh well. Get these books!

Here is a quote from the book by Brian Croft and Phil Newton to whet your appetite.

Faithfulness to the gospel in funerals is obscured in the pastor’s words of comfort about heaven when how heaven is received is not made clear. The gospel is distorted when the pastor preaches the deceased into eternal glory when there has been no credible evidence of gospel transformation in that person’s life. The gospel is likewise contradicted when the man entrusted to facilitate and conduct the funeral service is unloving, impatient, and uninterested in the soul’s of the family that remain. . . . Therefore, gospel-centeredness is when the gospel of Jesus Christ is the primary purpose and the focus of the funeral. It is making sure that the foundation of any hope experienced is rooted in a holy God’s merciful plan to redeem sinners through crushing His own Son on the cross in our place. (p. 18)

Possible Redemption = No Redemption

If we concentrate on the thought of redemption, we shall be able to sense more readily the impossibility of universalizing the atonement. What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption. This is the triumphant note of the New Testament whenever it plays on the redemptive chord. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). “He gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people. We have the same result when we properly analyse the meaning of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. Christ did not come to make sins expiable. He came to expiate sins – “when he made purification of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ did not come to make God reconcilable. He reconciled us to God by his own blood.

The very nature of Christ’s mission and accomplishment is involved in this question. Did Christ come to make the salvation of all men possible, to remove obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and merely to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? Did he come to put all men in a salvable state? Or did he come to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life? Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem? The doctrine of atonement must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as to those who are the heirs of eternal life. In that event we shall have to dilute the grand categories in terms of which the Scripture defines the atonement and deprive them of their most precious import and glory. This we cannot do….We do well to ponder the words of our Lord himself: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that of everything which he hath given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day” (John 6:38, 39). Security inheres in Christ’s redemptive accomplishment. And this means that, in respect of the persons contemplated, design and accomplishment and final realization have all the same extent.

…The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, pg. 63- 65. This book resembles one of those expensive deserts at a fancy restaurant: small but rich and extremely satisfying.

The King’s Crown

There is its significance for a lost world. Christ came to be the Saviour of the world and that meant enduring the cross with all its shame and suffering. That crown of thorns was placed there by God as well as by man. The cross was God’s cross as well as man’s.

If we are to receive the crown of life, Christ must receive the crown of thorns. He cannot be our Saviour any other way….It is in his diadem of thorns that he stoops low in humiliation and shame and sorrow to seek and to save sinners. It is only by the sharp thorn of his suffering that the poisonous thorn of our sin is drawn. In other words, apart from the cross God cannot forgive sin.

There is also the significance of the crown of thorns for the church, for God’s redeemed people. It reminds us that C hrist is a king and that he is victorious even when he seems defeated. However abased Christ may appear to men he is still a king. He accomplishes a regal task at Calvary and gains for us a royal pardon. He ascends a throne as he goes to be crucified, a throne of grace. In this apparent weakness he is the mighty conqueror of Satan and sin and death, the overcomer of this world. The cross appears as foolishness to the world, but to God’s redeemed people that cross is victory, salvation, the power of God.

The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer by Frederick S. Leahy. This is a small book with short chapters and lots of stuff to meditate on. A good book for every Christian.

As D. A. Carson has said it: “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience. In the darkest night of the soul Christians have something to hold onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”(Rom. 8:32) … When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith? Yes, if our attention is focused more on the cross, and on the God of the cross, than on the suffering itself.”

Strengthened to Suffer

Meditation on Luke 22:43 “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”

Although the entreaties of Christ in the garden met with oppressive silence, it does not follow that the Father was indifferent to the Son’s anguish or that his prayer was unheeded. Christ’s sufferings were an essential part of his satisfaction of divine justice, and the Father was actively involved even when he deprived the Son of the sense of his presence. Finlayson puts it movingly when he says that ‘the finger of the Father was upon the pulse of the lonely Sufferer in Gethsemane, and when the heart-beats of the One in conflict seemed to weaken, Heaven concerned itself about Him, and an angel was commissioned to hasten to His physical aid’. There was an outstretched hand, his Father’s hand – even in the darkness – and Christ knew it….

For one fleeting moment immense joy must have leaped within Christ’s soul as the Father’s hand touched him. This was a message from home. Heaven was behind him. He was forsaken, but not disowned. His Father was there, somewhere in the darkness. His loud cries and tears had not been unnoticed.

Whatever comfort the angel brought the Saviour was transient. The angel’s mission was not to bring relieif to Christ, but to strengthen him for further and even greater anguish – anguish quite beyond human endurance. It was then that our Lord ‘being in an agony . . . prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground’ (Luke 22:44). The angel’s presence served to aggravate his suffering. It was in order that the suffering might not only be maintained, but also that it might be intensified that the angel was sent. The battle must go on. It was too soon to say ‘Finished’. The Lamb of God must have the strength of a lion in this struggle.

The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer by Frederick S. Leahy, p. 18-20 (2007)

How Deep by Stephen Altrogge seems to be an appropriate song to reflect on in light of this meditation.

You were broken that I might be healed
You were cast off that I might draw near
You were thirsty that I might come drink
Cried out in anguish that I might sing

How deep is Your love
How high and how wide is Your mercy
How deep is Your grace
Our hearts overflow with praise
To You

You knew darkness that I might know light
Wept great tears that mine might be dried
Stripped of glory that I might be clothed
Crushed by Your Father to call me Your own

And He Began to Be Sorrowful…

In answering the question “what was the cause of the suffering of Christ in Gethsemane?” Frederick S. Leahy answers:

Gethsemane means ‘the oil press’. David could say, ‘I am like a green olive tree in the house of God’ (Psa. 52:8). Israel in her long history could say the same. But the suffering Saviour could say it best of all, for there in Gethsemane – the oil press – he was crushed and bruised without mercy. But how and why? How is the sudden and dramatic change of atmosphere between the upper room and Gethsemane to be explained, even in a measure? Christ knew all along the death that awaited him. He had grappled with Satan and his legions more than once. He had repeatedly spoken of his death to his disciples, telling them what that death would accomplish. He had prayed with the utmost confidence in his high priestly prayer (John 17). Why, then, is there this sudden plunge into such awful agony, why this shuddering horror? Why is this fruit of the olive tree so severely crushed? Why does the divine record say that in Gethsemane our Lord BEGAN to be sorrowful, sorrowful in a new and terrible way? Was it not because God began forsaking him then? How else is this sorrow unto death to be understood?

‘Jesus wept’, but never like this. No previous sorrow of his could match this. At the time of his arrest he declared, ‘Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11). That cup was constantly in view as he prayed in Gethsemane. What cup? ‘THIS CUP’ – not some future cup. The cup that was symbolized in the feast (Matt. 26:27, 28) was now actual: God was placing it in the Saviour’s hands and it carried the stench of hell.

The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer by Frederick S. Leahy, p. 4-5 (2007)

Some Great Resources on the Cheap!

I keep my eye out for good deals. Here are a couple that I have stumbled upon recently.

Westminster bookstore is selling their What Did You Expect? DVD study series for couples for only $15.00! To put it in perspective Amazon is selling the same resource for $53.99. That is an incredible savings and one that I have already taken advantage of.

Westminster is also selling What Did You Expect? (paperback) by Paul David Tripp for only $10.00. Again less than Amazon.

The deals listed above will end very soon.

If you have an e-reader you will want to take advantage of another offer, this time through Amazon. True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism is a new book that is meant as a response to the New Atheism that is gaining traction in our world today. Amazon is selling it for only $2.99. Here is a short review and summary.

These are just a few of the resources that I have been able to take advantage of recently. I hope you are able to profit from these as well!

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Unobstructed Jesus

I have recently begun a Bible study through the Gospel of John. I have entitled this series The Unobstructed Jesus because at the heart of all that John seeks to show us is who Jesus is. Indeed, John is workmanlike in his removal of the obstructions that so easily cloud our sight of the true Christ. John labors to peel back the thin veneer of cheap ideas that would prevent us from knowing who Jesus really is and falling on our knees  with Thomas to cry out “My Lord and my God!”

While this might seem obvious, I have come across many sermons, talks, and articles on John’s gospel that have fallen far short of this. So much so that while many see Christ as the main character, he exists merely to illuminate us  or at least about some steps to a better version of us. Our preoccupation with ourselves is stifling indeed.

But listen to how D. A. Carson speaks about the heart of this blessed Gospel in his commentary The Gospel According to John.

John’s presentation of who Jesus is lies at the heart of all that is distinctive in this Gospel. It is not just a question of some titles being ascribed to Jesus that are not found outside the Johannine corpus (e.g. ‘Lamb of God’, ‘Word’, ‘I am’). Rather, fundamental to all else that is said of him, Jesus is peculiarly the Son of God, or simply the Son. Although ‘Son of God’ can serve as a rough synonym for ‘Messiah’, it is enriched by the unique manner in which Jesus as God’s Son relates to his Father. He is functionally subordinate to him, and does only those things that the Father gives him to say and do, but he does everything that the Father does, since the Father shows him everything that he himself does. The perfection of Jesus’ obedience and the unqualified nature of his dependence thereby become the loci in which Jesus discloses nothing less than the words and deeds of God. Although ‘Son of God’ could be used in extraordinarily diverse ways in the ancient world, this distinctive emphasis in John casts back its glow on many of the other Christological titles. ‘Son of God’, as we have seen, can be parallel to ‘Messiah’; but so powerfully is it constrained by this relation between the Father and the Son that ‘Messiah’ itself becomes not merely a prophetic category bound up with the line of David and the expectation of the prophets, but also a title that connotes the profoundly revelatory work of God’s promised servant.
Similarly, although ‘Son of Man’ can bear something of the shadings it enjoys in the Synoptics, where it characteristically falls into one of three categories (the Son of Man ministering on earth, suffering in humiliation and death, and coming in apocalyptic glory to inaugurate the consummated kingdom), the configuration of sayings in John is quite independent. Typically, the Son of Man is ‘lifted up’ in death, glorified through death, so that those who believe in him will have eternal life. But this title, too, has overtones of revelation: only the Son of Man has been to heaven, and therefore can speak what no other human being knows; only he is the link between heaven and earth (1:51; 3:11–13).
Small wonder, then, that John’s summarizing title for Jesus is the ‘Word’. It is a brilliant choice. In the beginning was the Word; in the beginning God expressed himself, if you will. And that Self-Expression, God’s own Word, identified with God yet distinguishable from him, has now become flesh, the culmination of the prophetic hope. (p. 95-96)

Carson’s Commentary on The Gospel According to John in The Pillar New Testament Commentary series is by far my favorite of the commentaries that I am using. Here are some others that I have enjoyed using so far in my study:

  • The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris in The New International Commentary on the New Testament series.
  • John by Andreas J. Kostenberger in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.
  • The Message of John by Bruce Milne in the Bible Speaks Today series. While not really a “great commentary,” Milne helpfully synthesizes much of the text. This would probably be a great resource for churches to provide lay leaders with for a study through John’s Gospel. One severe limitation of this commentary is the size of the chapters (chapter 2 covers 2:1-12:19 – more than a hundred pages of material!).

There are other commentaries and resources that I have and am utilizing but these are the ones I thought most helpful.

What are some resources on this Gospel that have proven helpful to you?

The Shifting Sands of Tolerance

In his new book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D. A. Carson rightly suggests that we “begin with dictionaries” to help us understand this shift that has occurred. As he looks at the computer-based dictionary Encarta Carson notices a slight shift from “ACCEPT EXISTENCE OF DIFFERENT VIEWS” to “ACCEPTANCE OF DIFFERENT VIEWS.” Then Carson observes the following:

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position  means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new. (p. 2-3)

And later…

In other words, the older view of tolerance held either that truth is objective and can be known, and that the best way to uncover it is bold tolerance of those who disagree, since sooner or later the truth will probably win out; or that while truth can be known in some domains, it probably cannot be known in other domains, and that the wisest and least malignant course in such cases is benign tolerance grounded in the superior knowledge that recognizes our limitations. By contrast, the new tolerance argues that there is no view that is exclusively true. Strong opinions are nothing more than strong preferences for a particular version of reality, each version equally true….We must be tolerant, not because we cannot distinguish the right path from the wrong path, but because all paths are equally right.

If you begin with this new tolerance, and then elevate this view to the supreme position in the hierarchy of moral virtues, the supreme sin is intolerance. The trouble is that such intolerance, like the new tolerance, also takes on a new definition. Intolerance is no longer a refusal to allow contrary opinions to say their piece in public, but must be understood to be any questioning or contradicting the view that all opinions are equal in value, that all worldviews have equal worth, that all stances are equally valid. To question such postmodern axioms is by definition intolerant. (p. 11-12)

Then Carson wonders aloud:

If, however, the new tolerance evaluates all values and beliefs as positions worthy of respect, one may reasonably ask if this includes Nazism, Stalinism, and child sacrifice – or, for that matter, the respective stances of the Ku Klux Klan and other assorted ethnic supremacist groups….For the moment, it is enough to observe that under the aegis of this new tolerance, no absolutism is permitted, except for the absolute prohibition of absolutism. Tolerance rules, except that there must be no tolerance for those who disagree with this particular definition of tolerance. (p. 13)

The entire book is full of incredibly insightful material and is something you are going to want to put on your shelf. Though it isn’t long (only 175 pages) it is fairly dense and will possibly require reading sections repeatedly before one understand what the argument is all about. But gold is worth mining form. You can purchase it inexpensively here or peruse it a little more at Andy Naselli’s blog (Carson’s assistant who helped in the publication of this book).

Get Jerry Bridges New Book For Free!

Jerry Bridges is an author whose books have touched the minds and hearts of millions – including my own. His writing is theologically grounded, practical and realistic. His writings could not be confused with “feel-good religion” that simply maintains a thin veneer of Christianity. He is a deeply thoughtful man whose writings have led me (and many others) to think and drink more deeply about how the gospel ought to change everything in my life and yours. And I look forward to being brought back once again to the cross as my reference point to all of life in Jerry Bridges’ new book The Transforming Power of the Gospel.

And Amazon has now (for a limited time) made this book available for FREE for Kindle! Remember that you don’t need to actually own a kindle to read this book. You may read this book on your computer or on your iphone or other apple devices.

Click here for the Amazon link.

Click here to read a little of the book itself.

If you prefer to buy the physical book then you may find an inexpensive copy here.

This book is worth it (especially at this price) so please take advantage of this offer!

[Thanks to Matthew Hoskinson for the info!]