Discipleship takes determination

Discipleship takes determination

A. W. Tozer

 

Failure and Success: Greatness Has Its Price

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.  -2 Timothy 2:3-4

The laws of success operate also in the higher field of the soul — spiritual greatness has its price. Eminence in the things of the Spirit demands a devotion to these things more complete than most of us are willing to give. But the law cannot be escaped. If we would be holy we know the way; the law of holy living is before us. The prophets of the Old Testament, the apostles of the New and, more than all, the sublime teachings of Christ are there to tell us how to succeed….

The amount of loafing practiced by the average Christian in spiritual things would ruin a concert pianist if he allowed himself to do the same thing in the field of music. The idle puttering around that we see in church circles would end the career of a big league pitcher in one week. No scientist could solve his exacting problem if he took as little interest in it as the rank and file of Christians take in the art of being holy. The nation whose soldiers were as soft and undisciplined as the soldiers of the churches would be conquered by the first enemy that attacked it. Triumphs are not won by men in easy chairs. Success is costly. 

~ AW Tozer, We Travel an Appointed Way, 26.

“This success may be costly, Lord, but surely nothing in the light of the eternal perspective we looked at yesterday. Give me a willingness this morning to pay any cost which You may exact in my service for You. Amen.”

The disciple’s service

Failure and Success: True Service
A. W. Tozer
... not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord ChristColossians 3:22-24

Any serious-minded Christian may at some time find himself wondering whether the service he is giving to God is the best it could be. He may even have times of doubting, and fear that his toil is fruitless and his life empty….

The church has marked out certain work and approved it as service acceptable to God, and for the most part the church has been right. But it should be kept in mind that it is not the kind or quantity of work that makes it true service-it is the quality. 

Before the judgment seat of Christ, very little will be heard of numbers or size; moral quality is about all that will matter then….

It would be a shock to most of us to learn just what God thinks of our breathless activity, and a greater shock to many to find out the true quality of our service as God sees it. For not all religious activity is accepted of God, not even when it appears to produce results and get things done. The Lord seeth not as man seeth….

In Christian service motive is everything, for it is motive that gives to every moral act its final quality.

 

~ AW Tozer, The Next Chapter After the Last, 69-70.

The Central Component of Worship

The Central Component of Worship
From IsaiahXI site

Within the Christian Church there are many examples of liturgically-structured and less-structured types of worship. Most faith traditions include music, prayer, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, Scripture reading and homiletics/preaching. Others add to these forms drama, interpretive movement and visual arts. My point is not to enter into a debate between the regulative and normative principles of worship and whether or not these elements should be included in worship. My aim is to discuss the theological content of these elements if they are included in worship.

A common belief within the Church, especially the evangelical Church, is that the purpose of each form of worship is to prepare the congregation to hear and respond to the sermon delivered by the preacher. When I was growing up, we called the worship service “preaching.” “Mommy, are we going to preaching today?” I have not heard that use of the word in many years, although I have no doubt it is still around. Statements such as this one assume that the sermon is the central and only necessary component of any worship service, that everything else is perfunctory and unintentionally sets the sermon on a level equal to Scripture.

Is the belief that preaching is the central part of any worship service a biblical one? I have not found any scriptural support for such a belief. In fact, the Bible commands us at various points to include other elements in our worship, including singing, prayer and exhortation. Too, the goal of preaching, as I understand it, is to exegete and disseminate the Word of God in such a way that the people of God internalize it and apply it to their lives. Haddon W. Robinson defines the word “preach” in hisBiblical Preaching. “Preach means ‘to cry out, herald, exhort‘” (emphasis in original).(1) In his article “The Preacher and the Text: What Is the Goal of the Message?“ Aaron Menikoff argues well that the ultimate goal in preaching is “to make much of the sovereign, holy, gracious, loving, unchanging Lord.”(2) Preaching, however, is not the only way these goals can be accomplished. In fact, it is imperative that the other forms of worship accomplish these goals as well.

While preaching is an integral part of corporate worship, it is not the central aspect of worship. If there were to be no preaching during any given worship service, God could be glorified by other forms, assuming those forms were grounded in Scripture and worship could still take place. Neither is music the central component of worship; if music were omitted from a worship service, the people of God would still be able to worship. In general, however, both of these forms — and others that might be included from time to time — serve to point the people of God to the Word, written and Living. Their inclusion in worship is to the great benefit of the Kingdom.

Each form of worship mentioned above falls into one of two categories: the Pure Word and the Interpreted Word.

The reading of scripture is a deliverance of the Word of God in the purest form available to us (the issues of translation not withstanding). There is no interpretation to it. There is no alteration. It is Scripture, plain and simple.

Prayer is an interactive conversation with God Himself and, like the reading of Scripture, is a pure form of communication with God. The concepts behind the two ordinances, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, are observances of biblical events. One recalls the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and the other recalls the baptism of Jesus Christ and is a public symbol of obedience to Him. Regardless of the methods used to reenact these ordinances—whether passing containers of crackers and individual cups of grape juice or intinction for the Lord’s Supper, or immersion or sprinkling for baptism (these are altogether separately debatable issues) — the concept of each of these forms is a reenactment of the Word, without repackaging or reframing.

The other forms, however — music, drama, visual arts, interpretive movement and preaching — are all ways of reframing the Word of God; each is someone’s interpretation, extrapolation or explanation of the Scriptures.Some of these forms are inherently affective; others are more intellectual. Nevertheless, each of them takes the Word and repackages it for (hopefully) better understanding, internalization and application. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that any of these forms of worship is more important than another.

At the root of all of these forms, whether they consist of the Pure Word or the Interpreted Word, is the Word. The Word of God, not the ways we package the Word, is central to worship. This has tremendous ramifications for those who plan corporate worship. We must ensure that everything we include in a service is founded on solid, biblically-based theology. If any element is theologically weak, it is better left out of the service altogether.

Beginning around the 1960s and 1970s (these dates are admittedly arguable), Christian music began to abdicate its role as a conduit of biblical theology. Songs began to espouse shallow and often inaccurate images of God. Following this trend closely was the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement which sought to provide Christian-based music in an entertainment setting as an alternative to other worldly forms of entertainment. While CCM has filled a niche in modern Christianity, those who plan worship began to use music produced by CCM artists as material for worship, a role it was never intended to play and for which it was and is inadequate. Within the last decade, however, a few song-writers have recognized this error and have begun to write theologically-rich material, often using as their lyrics direct quotations from or faithful adaptations of Scripture.

Doctrinally-rich music in the twenty-first century includes music by Sovereign Grace Ministries, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, each of whom has resisted the temptation to which their predecessors so easily succumbed (and to which many of their contemporaries are guilty of falling), namely writing music that has little to no theological content and is written more for affective expression than intellectual understanding. While Sovereign Grace, Getty and Townend are not the only sources of well-written music, their music is consistently Christ-centered and worthy of consideration for use in corporate worship.

Leaders of worship, both pastors and musicians, have been called to a glorious but weighty task: to point the people of God to the Son of God, through Whom we have unfettered access to the Holy of Holies. The material we include in corporate worship is crucial to the success of our goal. If the material does not point to Christ, we will have failed in our calling. Therefore, we must always carefully examine the material we include in corporate worship to ensure it is theologically rich and accurate. In other words, if any component of worship does not “preach” it does not belong in worship.

Let me make a few disclaimers now:
1) I am NOT directing the content of this post to any individual or group of individuals. I have not had a recent disagreement with anyone on this topic, so this isn’t an attempt to get the last word in a passive-aggressive way.

2) I am NOT saying in this post that preaching is unimportant and/or unnecessary. On the contrary, I am attemtping to set preaching and all other aspects of worship in their proper place, that is as a servant to the Word. To say that I advocate removing preaching from corporate worship services is inaccurate. To say that I am elevating music or any other form of worship above preaching is also a misrepresentation of what I have tried to put forth in this article.

3) I AM saying that whatever is included in corporate worship, whether it is music or drama or preaching, must be grounded in Scripture.
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1 Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 18.

2 Aaron Menikoff, “The Preacher and the Text: What Is the Goal of the Message?” [introduction], ( 9Marks, 2006).

A call to worship

A call to worship

Many church services begin with a “call to worship.”

Here are the comments of a worship leader on this topic.

In one sense, we’re telling people to focus all their energies on declaring, magnifying, and savoring the riches of God in Christ through song, prayer, and the Word. But Harold Best makes this insightful observation, in his book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith:

There can only be one call to worship, and this comes at conversion, when in complete repentance we admit to worshiping falsely, trapped by the inversion and enslaved to false gods before whom we have been dying sacrifices. This call to true worship comes but once, not every Sunday, in spite of the repeated calls to worship that begin most liturgies and orders of worship. These should not be labeled calls to worship but calls to continuation of worship. We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on privately, [as families], or even corporately all week long. (p.147)

My goal as a worship leader is not simply to magnify God at the moment, but to inspire worshipers to spread the sweet aroma of the Savior’s glory in the church and beyond through their everyday words, actions, and choices.

So how do we help people see that worship is more than a meeting? One way is to reference ways other than singing that we can bring praise to God. Serving, giving, and evangelizing, to name a few, are all acts of worship that take place outside a Sunday gathering. Often, at the end of a time of singing, I’ll ask God to help us remember every day the realities we’ve been proclaiming. We might also draw attention to the fact that God doesn’t change when we’re in the midst of challenging times. While acknowledging the struggles, problems, and weaknesses we all deal with, we must remind ourselves that God is a very present help in time of trouble. (Ps. 46:1) God is just as worthy of worship when our car breaks down as He is when we meet on Sunday morning.

We can also choose songs that talk about the moment-by-moment worship in daily life to which God calls us. The hymn “Take My Life” is one example that comes to mind. Finally, those who lead on Sundays can refer to other parts of the meeting as worship. “Let’s continue our worship through our tithes and offerings.” “Let’s prepare our hearts to worship God as we hear His Word proclaimed.” Comments like these help people realize that every act can be done for the glory of God. David Peterson comments:

Church meetings should not be regarded simply as a means to an end — a preparation for worship and witness in everyday life — but as “the focus-point of that whole wider worship which is the continually repeated self-surrender of the Christian in obedience of life.” Engaging with God, p.220

Sundays are not an escape from the world, but an affirmation of our faith and an encouragement to maintain our confidence in Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world. For God is worthy of worship not only when we gather, but at every moment of time, by every creature in creation, for all eternity. That mindset should be the goal not only of our corporate worship leading, but of our entire lives.

The gift of prayer

Isaac Watts defines the gift of prayer as:

An ability to suit our thoughts to all the various parts and designs of this duty, and a readiness to express those thoughts before God in the fittest manner to profit our own souls as well as the souls of others that join with us. (p. 34-35)

Basically, he’s saying that prayer is a skill that we can develop and become more fruitful in. While it’s true that God can hear the stumbling words of a new believer, there’s no reason to think that we need to remain immature or ignorant in our prayers.

Watts first addresses whether prayers should be written or spontaneous. He comes down strongly on the side of heart-felt spontaneous praying, without ruling out the use of written prayers. I find his approach fresh, biblical, and very helpful.

He starts by giving some occasions when pre-conceived prayers are useful: for young Christians, for those who lack confidence in public, and for believers who are physically or mentally weak. Then he gives six reasons why confining ourselves exclusively to written forms can be unwise. It can hinder the expression of our hearts and affections to God, lead us into the danger of hypocrisy, and can keep us from knowing the state of our hearts. Formal prayers are also general in nature, and can’t help us express specific needs, concerns, or affections to God.

The gift of prayer is much better than any form, just as a general skill in the work of preaching is to be preferred to any pre-composed sermons. (p. 41)

He encourages us to prepare for prayer, rather than depend entirely on spontaneous stirrings.

If we utterly neglect preparation, we shall be ready to fall into many difficulties. Sometimes we shall be constrained to make long and indecent stops in prayer, not knowing what to say next. And sometimes when the mind is not regularly equipped, we run into a confused, incoherent and impertinent rhapsody of words, by which both God may be dishonored, and the edification of ourselves and others spoiled.  (p. 46)

He then goes on to discuss the content, method, expression, voice, and gestures of prayer. His thoughts are specific without becoming laborious or legalistic. While covering topics including the length of prayers, the choice of words, and the flow of thought, he reminds us:

Sometimes, even in the beginning of a prayer, when we are insisting on one of the first parts of it, we receive a divine hint from the spirit of God that carries away our thoughts and our whole souls with warm devotion into another part that is of a very different kind and perhaps usually comes in near the conclusion. And when the Spirit of God thus leads us, and our souls are in a very devout frame, we are not to quench the Spirit of God in order to tie ourselves to any set rules of prescribed method. (p. 67-68)

Though the limiting ourselves to a constant set form of words is justly disapproved, serious, pious and well-composed patterns of prayer may yet be greatly used in order to form our expressions and furnish us with proper praying language. And I wish the assistances that might be borrowed from these were not as superstitiously abandoned by some persons as they are idolized by others. (p. 71)

In other words, use means that will enable a thoughtful, heart-felt, biblical response to God, without despising or idolizing the means themselves.

He gives this simple observation :

For the most part, if all other circumstances are equal, it will be found a general truth that he that prays most prays best. (p. 108)

Evangelism — are we Chameleons?

Evangelism — are we Chameleons?

I came across this challenging review:

Dick Keyes Chameleon Christianity
by: Matthew Hundley

Reflections on Dick Keyes, Chameleon Christianity

At first blush the Dick Keyes’ book Chameleon Christianity had me doing a lot of head nodding as he presented the descriptions of the Chameleon and Tribal church models. Then as he moved into further descriptions of people who represent “saltless salt” and “hidden light” I found myself going, “Wait! I’m a bit like that.” The book really pulled me in as Keyes treaded into defining what a church community should look like, something that has been a hot topic at many “let’s meet for coffee,” conversations I’ve had with people lately.

For me apologetics has always been something I’ve seen falling outside of church walls: reserved for debating Christ at the local coffeehouse or in the student unions at our local colleges and universities. Keyes presents a compelling case for putting apologetics, theology, and history at the center of our church teaching. He stresses the importance of “making truth known” both in our churches and as we witness to the unbelievers in public settings.

“How are we doing reaching unbelievers?” I ask myself thinking of our present church community. The word “community” is actually in the name of our present church, but we still have a ways to go before we model the Christ-centered community that Keyes describes. We fall short in a number of key areas, and while the salt and light model is central to our church mission, we often fumble into “saltless salt” mode. Our teaching staff recognizes this and certainly desires to build deeper Christians, but they err on the side of caution when presenting Sunday sermons often leaving out the bedrock of faith — the Gospel message — opting instead for more humanistic themes.

I ponder how these challenges will impact my own future ministry. How will I avoid the pitfalls of my someday church ascribing to chameleon Christianity; how will I make sure we do not fall into the musk oxen model? I love the idea of preaching and teaching using the model of Paul and opening up the channels for dialogue, questioning and discourse each Sunday morning. While our congregations do not need to be seminary trained; I do think they need to understand the central teachings that lie at the foundation of our faith.

Our faith is being challenged by academics, politicians, media and the non-theistic minority. It is important that we understand where this wave of thought is coming from. It is important that we understand the fallacies and mistruths that emerge from not just the moderns and post-moderns; but, also in many left-leaning churches. We hear way too often of the improper use of some of the terminologies presented in Keyes’ book: modernism, relativism, pluralism, postmodern, tolerance and so on. It is important that Christians educate themselves on key social and philosophical themes that are prevalent in the culture of the day. It is important that we strive to be salty salt and strongly glowing lights.

Bible memorization

Bible memorization

It seems that “real” disciples memorize the words and teaching of the one they are following and wish to please. In Judaism and Islam we read of those who memorize incredible portions of their scriptures. Other religions often have the true disciples doing the same thing.

One of the interesting, but sad, realities of most of us Christians, we are too lazy (or busy, or…) to work at memorization — even though the Bible commends it. Is it because we are too uninterested? Enough of the guilt trip.

Do you want to memorize Scripture?

There are lots of helps and ways. One can start writing out verses on cards and carry them with them. There are packets of verses already made up. Lots of ways.

Now that we are in the age of the internet, how about using it to memorize? Great idea! But how? Well, here is one site that will really help anyone who has the interest. Check it out.

http://biblememory.us/