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

The Transient World and the Eternal Word

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

One of the things that I continually must recall to mind is what to ground my life upon. Neither the fleeting opinions of talking heads, the superficial platitudes that clutter the social networks, nor the empty promises of advertisements are capable of sustaining soul-satisfying, life-giving joy and security that only the word of God is able to provide. The problem is that I (and so many of us) are too easily distracted. We are too often like a bunch of 3 year olds with extreme cases of ADD and ADHD. And the world excels at offering up distractions.

That is why I so need and enjoy the reminder that songs like God’s Word Shall Stand Forever by Martin Luther and arranged and adapted by Faye Lopez have for us. Read and remember.

God’s Word shall stand forever,
The Bible shall prevail;
God’s Word shall stand forever,
His truth can never, never fail.
For feelings coms and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing.
Tho’ all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.
I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
‘Til soul and body sever;
For tho’ all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever.

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)

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).

Christ Stands For Me!

Where does [Christ] stand? He stands pro me. He stands there in my place, where I should stand, but cannot. He stands on the boundary of my existence, beyond my existence, yet for me. That brings out clearly that I am separated from my ‘I’, which I should be, by a boundary which I am unable to cross. The boundary lies between me and me, the old and the new ‘I’. It is in the encounter with this boundary that I shall be judged. At this place, I cannot stand alone. At this place stands Christ, between me and me, the old and the new existence. Thus Christ is at one and the same time, my boundary and my rediscovered centre. He is the centre, between ‘I’ and ‘I’, and between ‘I’ and God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center

The Gas Pedal is on the Right!

If you have been driving long you know that there are people who don’t belong behind the wheel of a car. Driving bus for school has given me a yellow-coated perch from which to observe these pretenders on the road. I would suppose they don’t know they are bad drivers (just as you and I may be bad drivers but don’t know it either). But I wish there was a way to tell them – a kind way, not the unhelpful hand gesture – that would explain to them exactly what they could do to improve as drivers. One such comment would be to simply inform them that the gas pedal is on the right. Too often I get behind drivers (in a bus mind you) doing well below the speed limit. They just coast along without a care in the world – especially not caring about the long line of vehicles gathering in their rear view mirror. And while they lead their own little parade I wish their GPS would kindly tell them in that wonderful British accent (just admit it – you use the voice of the woman with the British accent as well) that their gas pedal is on the right and that now would be the appropriate time to push it.

But I have found that same truth applies in my spiritual life as well. Sometimes I need (and I imagine us all) need to be reminded from time to time to press our spiritual gas pedals. It is too easy to coast through the easy times (or after perceived spiritual success) and begin to just get comfortable. In times like this I turn to the wise words of Jerry Bridges from The Discipline of Grace.

My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a “cruise-control” approach to obedience. Many cars today have a convenient feature called cruise control. When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal. Some mechanism attached to the engine will then maintain your desired speed, and you can ease back and relax a little. You don’t have to watch your speedometer to make sure you’re not going to get a ticket for speeding, and you no longer have to experience the fatigue that comes with constant foot pressure on the accelerator. It’s very convenient and relatively relaxing. It’s a great feature on cars.

However we tend to obey God in the same way. To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.

Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.”

Because of the supremacy of Christ in all things (Col. 1:15-24) push the envelope on your obedience (Col. 3) keeping our eyes on Christ who is above in whom we have life through his death (Col. 3:1-4). And as we race we must watch out for the pitfalls that would seem wise and spiritual but leave us disconnected from the Supreme Christ (Col. 2).

Pursue Christ.