Reflections on Worship (Part 1) – What is worship?

This post will be part 1 of what will be a series of reflections on worship.  Writing helps me process my thoughts, and it is also helpful to hear and receive feedback.  So feel free to critique, question, suggest and agree with any of what follows.

What is worship?

We usually evaluate and critique worship in light of our personal preferences or emotional responses to the stimuli that is worship.  But we rarely if ever consider worship to be a verb – something that we do!  It is more something to be consumed and critiqued than actively engaged with our full participation.

Why?  Where does this come from?

It seems that our worship expressions and expectations are conditioned more by our culture than on Scripture and more influenced by TV and media than truth and tradition.

That’s a loaded word – tradition – but it is a viable aspect of our worship.  No matter where you stand on any spectrum, you come to anything with a “tradition”  – a story that has led you up to this point.

Some people come from a formal church tradition such as Presbyterianism, Methodism, Anglicanism, Catholicism, where worship reflected a strong stand on history, usually at the neglect and expense of innovation.  I would call this “traditionalism” – where everything we do is based on the way we’ve done things in the past, rather than careful reflection on the historic applications in light of contemporary audiences.

There are others of us who come to church and worship with no formal background, yet, we find ourselves shaped by suspicion of any and all authority structures (e.g. “traditionalism”). Our tradition is “skepticism”, and the burden of proof lies on everyone else to convince us that what is being said, taught, instructed or done is really “true” and the way it should be, and that I should do anything about it.

Both ends of this spectrum represent a fallacy to worship.  In both instances, worship is something that is done for me, rather than something that is done for God.

If worship is to be truly biblical, faithful to the tradition of the Bible and rooted in history to Christ’s church, and engaging His church in the world today, then it must be, what one author calls, “a royal ‘waste’ of time,” (Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1999]), where God is both the subject and the object of our worship, where we spend ourselves in the splendor of our great creator and covenant keeping King, and where we delight our selves in, and subject our emotions to, the full-hearted devotion to His Son that His Spirit enables.

Worship then is the engagement of our whole being in faithful service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Does God run interference in your life?

Best book on Acts I've read

Best book on Acts I

Having just finished the “Acts” portion of my Acts and Paul class yesterday (part of the reason why my activity has been minimal on here), I thought I would share a significant quote on the christian life and God’s interaction.  This quote comes from The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption by Dennis Johnson.

Let me just say, if you are personally studying through Acts, or planning on teaching, do not do so until you have gotten and read this book (or at least, read it along your study/teaching schedule).  This is a great book, and it really shed some light on the significant thrust of the book of Acts, instead of offering up random insight into mot of the particular events.  Well worth the money and the time to read The Message of Acts.

Here’s the quote:

“However correct their statements in Bible studies or Sunday school classes may be, in practice many Christians really assume that God’s ‘interference’ in people’s lives pretty much came to a halt sometime in the past – perhaps in the apostles’ time, perhaps at the Reformation or some revival of bygone days, but surely before our time.

Would we say this out loud? Never!  But our meager prayer lives, our anxiety, our dependence on novel techniques in evangelism, our hope in technology to solve spiritual problems, our doubt that loving discipline can restore wandering brothers or sisters to repentance and reconciliation – all these testify to our unspoken assumption that God’s real action is in the past and in the future, but not in the present.”

Fellow brothers and sisters, God is continuing to work in our lives.  Believe that, then go live in light of it.

New Books: Church, Gospel, World, Reforming?

Well, yesterday I came home and had several new books waiting for me.  I thank the folks at Crossway who keep on sending me good and interesting reading material.  I want to highlight a couple of these and tell you all to be on the lookout over the next couple of months for some reviews.

The first book to mention is Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  This book had been previously published only in the UK, but thanks to Crossway and the new publishing banner of Re:Lit, it is now available here.  I have only scanned through the book, but the first chapter is promising.  The gospel is word-centered and mission-centered, so our churches need to be based on the word and on mission – love it!  I actually first about this book from a friend of mine over in South Africa (cheers Stephen!)

Book #2 – Wordliness, by multiple authors, but edited by a pastor’s pastor, C.J. Mahaney.  I wasn’t sure what to think of this book when I first started seeing it pop up on the web, but knowing C.J.’s other books (Humility: True Greatness and Living the Gospel-Centered Life) and pastoral heart (if you need some exposure, go check out his blog), I’m confident that this book will be insightful and helpful in discerning where and how the gospel applies to our world in our cultural situation.

Book #3 – Reforming or Conforming edited by Gary W. Johnson and Ronald D. Gleason.  This book appears to be a collection of various scholars critiquing the emerging church movement.  I haven’t dove in at all, but I will be interested to see if they distinguish between emerging and emergent.  Some of the chapters do seem fascinating (like “It’s Wright, but is it Right? An Assessment and Engagement of the “Emerging” Retreading of the Ministry of Jesus.” Caveat: I find myself being hesitant to read books like this.  I have read some thoughts by some of these guys on the internet and find myself not agreeing with their conclusions.  That being said, I do find myself appreciating the concerns they bring up.  Reading this will hopefully bring the fundamental issues to the front with constructive critique and positive assessments instead of just the reactionary tendencies demonizing those who differ.

Book #4 – Death by Love: Letters From the Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.  This book looks fascinating.  Its written as a series of letters addressing real live situations and people, with the full theological truth of the gospel.  I wasn’t expecting that, and I like it.  I honestly can’t wait to get into reading this one.  It seems to have a lot of potential of to help all pastors and lay leaders alike appreciate the depth of theological reflection, without losing sight of its pastoral implications.  This book also features some helpful answers to FAQ’s concluding each chapter (thank you Dr. Breshears for that!).  This is similar to their previous book, Vintage Jesus.

So, if you haven’t already done so, you should subscribe to my blog (button on the top right) and watch out for these forthcoming reviews.

Blog on Biblical Masculinity and MMA

Scott Knight is blogging over at the Resurgence site, and dedicating his blog posts to the concept of biblical masculinity.  In his first post, he talks about the sin of King David and then goes in to challenge men who have abandoned their responsibility in fulfilling God’s mission. I’ll give you his concluding quote, but you should go check it out and subscribe to it if this is your thing.

This means that most men in the church today need to get off their blessed assurance and follow God into battle! To that end, I will be using this blog in the future to help train men in the biblical fight principles that Paul outlines in his epistles and we will be using real fighters and real fighting to help illustrate these. But first, I want to talk about the young men in this country who are conspicuously absent from our churches and how we can follow God into the battle for these men’s souls.

Tim Keller on Denominational Renewal


It’s actually Tim Keller commenting on Greg Thompson’s talk from the 2008 PCA Denominational Renewal conference, and I think it is well worth the time linking and encouraging you all to read.

Click here for the full article.  Here’s a sampling:

As I read this terrific piece, however, it made me think about how we actually will have to do denominational renewal. The PCA is the great and tense place that it is because it is perhaps the only Presbyterian denomination that hasn’t purged or lost one or two of its historic wings. George Marsden says that Reformed churches have always had what he called ‘doctrinalist’, ‘pietist,’ and ‘cultural-transformationist’ wings. Weirdly, they all grow out of aspects of Reformed theology. Historically, they’ve produced some major splits–Old Side (doctrinalist) from New Side (pietist) in the 18th century, Old School (doctrinalist/pietist) from New School (reformist) in the 19th century. The OPC, though a doctrinalist church, grew and then shed a pietist wing (New Life Churches.) The CRC, though basically a cultural-transformationist denomination, had a doctrinalist split off (the URC.) In God’s providence, the PCA has significant numbers in all three wings.

What is the Gospel? according to Mark Dever

Hey guys,

I know we had some interesting conversations regarding the nature and implications of the gospel.  What do you all think of Dever’s answer to the question, “What is the gospel?”

Click here (JT).

Also, I have found Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism to be a pretty good read and resource.  You can check out a review I did for the book here.

(Video taken from The Gospel Coalition website).

The Leadership Dynamic – A Review

The Purpose

Harry Reeder, III writes as a seasoned pastor, who has both planted new churches and re-vitalized established churches.  This passion has led to his ministry Embers to a Flame, with annual conferences and ongoing consultation services.  This book, The Leadership Dynamic is birthed out of Reeder’s conviction that the church’s mission is best served and not complete until we reclaim the position of being a leadership manufacturing plant – a place that defines, develops and then deploys leaders out into the world.

For Harry, this is more than abstraction, it is also the answer to the question of what he would do in ministry differently if he were to go do it all over again – develop leaders out of a biblical model and framework, rather than the usual models of business, or more specifically “contemporary capitalism” with an emphasis on pragmatism and consumption of wealth, rather than the creation of it in order to do good (”traditional capitalism”). Harry writes “The church must escape the swamp of greed-driven leadership prevalent in contemporary corporate America and ascend the high ground of gospel-driven leadership described in God’s Word,” (15).

The Highlights

Harry Reeder does a very good job outlining the current state of the church and its leadership crisis.  He likens our situation today to dealing with the “cultural steroids” the church has for years injected into its various leadership programs, paradigms and structures.  He writes:

“In fear of rejection and with an incessant need for popular affirmation [the church today has] injected the church with cultural steroids to make it ‘relevant and acceptable,’ hoping that somehow the result will be that people will then ‘accept’ Jesus and the church will become bigger and stronger and therefore more influential,” (25).

The danger is that just as in athletics, steroids only produce an “immediate embellishment[s] of size and acclaim] (25), while paving the way for eventual disease and death.  Harry is not denying the need for effectively communicating to the culture around us; just the infusion of worldly principles governing the church and the church’s leadership development over those that Scripture teaches.  “Eventually, thoughtless accommodation to the world becomes capitulation to the world – and our witness for the Lord is rendered useless,” (29).  And Harry rails just as hard against the opposite danger of traditionalism as he does this cultural accommodation.

But he writes from a hopeful perspective, that “The Christian church must become a leadership factory and distribution center for the world, and by the grace of God, it can – if we return to both the biblical definition of leadership and the biblical method of producing leaders for the church and the world,” (15).

The rest of the book launches from this point and explains what Reeder calls “3 D Leadership” – what it means to define leadership the way Jesus does, develop them according to Scriptures model, and then deploy them into the world to further the church’s mission – to glorify God and bring His creation into joyful submission to Him.  Each chapter expounds these three main points, with helpful lists of principles, insightful applications and general traps to be aware of and avoid.

The Good

This book is clear and compelling.  It makes a strong case for the kairos (appointed time) moment the church finds itself in, and offers sensible and Scriptural applications for this season.  As well, reading (and listening to) Harry’s thoughts is an engaging, challenging and thought provoking experience.  Plus, he tells great stories.

The Bad

I honestly could not think of anything to critique in this book.  For a contemporary book on leadership and the church, The Leadership Dynamic excels at laying out the current need and Biblical paradigm for addressing that need appropriately.

The Audience

This book is for anyone who feels compelled to lead in any setting as a Christian.Whether you are a Senior Pastor, or CEO; a freshman in college or a community group leader, I suggest you get this book, read, apply and refer to it often.

My Take Away & Recommendation

Read and apply this book both personally and corporately in your immediate leadership context.  It will be worth your time and Christ’s church will be better served for it.

FYI – Be looking for a future post with an interview I was able to conduct with Dr. Reeder coming up here sometime in the next couple of weeks.  [If you haven’t already subscribed to my feed, now would be a good time!]

Thoughts on Thursday: Let Us Suffer Him

Let us not then be disturbed, neither dismayed, when trials befall us. For if the gold refiner sees how long he ought to leave the piece of gold in the furnace, and when he ought to draw it out, and does not allow it to remain in the fire until it is destroyed and burnt up: much more does God understand this, and when He sees that we have become more pure, He releases us from our trials so that we may not be overthrown and cast down by the multiplication of our evils. Let us then not be repining, or faint-hearted, when some unexpected thing befalls us; but let us suffer Him who knows these things accurately, to prove our hearts by fire as long as He pleases: for He does this for a useful purpose and with a view to the profit of those who are tried.

— from “Homily on the Paralytic Let Down Through the Roof,” by Chrysostom (c.347–407)

[Quote taken from CCEL website].