Friday, August 31, 2018

Corporate worship: Singing with purpose

While singing is not all there is to corporate worship, it is a vitally important part of our gathering as a church.

Christianity is a singing faith. The Bible -- which governs how we worship -- calls for singing by God's people corporately in both the Old and New Testaments. The following list is not all-encompassing, but it consists of some of the reasons Scripture indicates we should sing as a church:

(1) We should sing to give God glory.

"Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious" (Ps. 66:2). These commands from the psalmist are to all the earth, so it certainly applies to those who belong to God as His redeemed children. We give him glory in song by declaring how glorious He is and by making our praise of Him glorious.

(2) We should sing to declare God's attributes.

The same verse, Ps. 66:2, conveys this message by speaking of "the glory of His name." God's "name" in Scripture refers to who He is -- in other words, what His nature is, what His attributes are. The psalmist says God's people should make His attributes known in their singing.

(3) We should sing to proclaim the atoning death of Christ.

"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Rev. 5:9-10) The apostle John's vision showed those around the throne singing about the blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God and its far-reaching impact. We will sing as one great choir about the cross-work of Jesus one day in Heaven, and we can do it now corporately on earth as the church.

(4) We should sing to instruct and exhort one another.

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:17). Singing, as the apostle Paul explains, has a discipleship function during corporate worship. As we sing, we act as teachers and exhorters to those with whom we are worshiping. We should recognize our singing is for the building up of our fellow saints, and their singing is for our building up.

(5) We should sing to express our heartfelt affection to God.

In this same verse from Col. 3, Paul says Christians in worship should sing "with thankfulness in your hearts to God." In Eph. 5:19, he says believers are to be "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Singing is a means of expressing ourselves to God. As we sing together corporately, we tell Him of our gratitude for what He has accomplished on our behalf and express to Him joyful affection for who He is and what He has done.

(This is a slightly revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Monday, August 27, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I will be presented blameless

The apostle Paul provides a look into your future as a Christian that is both stunning and joyous. One day, Jesus will present you to the Father, and you will be "holy and blameless and beyond reproach."

Paul explains this in his letter to the disciples at Colossae: "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet [Christ] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:21-22). By His reconciling work on the cross, Jesus has transformed your relationship to God from estrangement to harmony, from enmity to peace.

Christ has done this for the purpose of bringing you before His Father in a state that is difficult to fathom. Your Savior will present you "holy," separated unto God and without defilement. Your Redeemer will present you "blameless," without any blemish. Your Lord will present you "beyond reproach," free from any charge of a blemish.

"Holy and blameless and beyond reproach." That is impossible for us to imagine as sinners who will appear before the Holy Judge. Yet, this is the greatness of Jesus and His work on our behalf. You have nothing to offer Him except your sins. You deserve all kinds of charges for your wickedness. But Christ takes you in your fallen state and transforms you so that He might present you to His Father without any charge able to be made against you. What a great, thorough salvation.

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 24, 2018

Corporate worship: More than the music

One of the traps we can fall into when thinking of corporate worship is to equate worship with music. It is not unusual to hear someone talk about how powerful or awesome the worship was in his or her church the previous Sunday. You know that person is essentially referring to the music. Evangelical churches also commonly refer to the primary musician as the worship leader. That person might be the worship leader, if he does more than lead music. Or he might be just the lead musician who is hopefully helping the congregation worship in song.

Congregational singing is vital. It reflects the truth our church has expressed and practiced for the last 20 years -- corporate worship is for participants, not spectators. It is a way we express adoration, confession, thanksgiving, lament, submission and intercession. It is a way we proclaim together the church's ancient faith.

Singing as a church is not, however, all there is to corporate worship. It is an aspect of worship.

We also worship as a church in reading God’s Word aloud in unison or responsively, in listening to the reading of His Word, in declaring praises to God out loud or in the quietness of our hearts and minds, in praying verbally or silently, in reading common confessions of faith together, in paying attention to the prayers of others, in listening to the preaching of the Word, in responding in obedience to the work of the Spirit through the Word, and in encouraging, serving and loving one another.

A biblical understanding of our corporate gathering calls for us to engage in worship in all the ways God intends. May we “sing with the spirit and . . . with the mind,” as I Cor. 14:15 says, but may we also worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

(This is a revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Monday, August 20, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I am reconciled to God

We can grasp the significance of reconciliation to God only if we understand how dire our straits were prior to salvation.

The apostle Paul brings into focus the utter hopelessness of our condition in one of the Bible's greatest passages about the pre-eminince of Christ. Near the close of Colossians 1:16-23, Paul writes, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:21-22).

Paul reminds the Christians at Colossae they were previously "alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds." They were "alienated" from the only God -- estranged from Him. They were "hostile in mind" toward the loving God -- enemies of His. They "engaged in evil deeds" before the holy God -- demonstrating their alienation from and hostility to Him . These traits describe people who have no way of changing their status in any of these areas. Their fate is settled -- unless God acts in a reconciling way.

And He did for these now born-again men and women. Christ "has now reconciled you in His fleshy body through death," Paul writes. That is true for all of us who have flung ourselves on His mercy. The sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for us has transformed our relationship -- or lack of relationship -- to God from estrangement to harmony, from enmity to peace.

You and I are no longer strangers to or enemies of God purely because of His grace and the all-sufficient work of Christ. You can say, "God is for me." You can say, "God is a friend to me." You can do so because you also can say, "I am reconciled to God."

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 17, 2018

Corporate worship: God-centered from the start

The church's worship of God begins with God. He is the only one worthy of worship. He has made our worship of Him possible through His Son. He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. He has told us how we are to worship Him, again in His Word. He has invited us to worship Him.

Therefore, it seems the proper way for the church to worship God is to begin with God. As the gospel of God begins with God, so does the worship of God.

Our belief as Covenant Community Church is that our Sunday gathering calls for us to be quickly confronted with this God we have come to worship. Our worship leader typically begins by reading a passage about this unmatched God, His greatness or His attributes, that reminds all of us whom we have come to worship. It is a gracious blessing in the first hours of wakefulness on the first morning of the first day of a new week for us as a church to recall there is one true God, He is different than us, and He should have all our worship.

In this way, we seek to give God His rightful place at the beginning of corporate worship. Our worship is to be God-centered from the start.

(This is a revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Preach this to yourself: Death is a defeated foe

Death is stalking you.

This is nothing new. Death has been stalking you and me ever since we entered the world. And it will get us if our Redeemer doesn’t came back for us beforehand. For those who have been rescued from sin but won't be rescued from death, there is great news. Death is a defeated foe.

Death is our reality, because sin is our nature. Death came through sin (Rom. 5:12). We all are sinners, so we all will die unless Jesus returns first.

The gospel of Jesus doesn't prevent death. It defeats death, which the Bible describes as "the last enemy that will be abolished" (I Cor. 15:26).

That same chapter in the apostle Paul's letter opens with the gospel. By the end, the apostle Paul declares the verdict on death in light of the gospel -- which has the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at its center: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54b-55).

Those in God's family are not immune to devastating grief in the face of death, whether we are the ones staying or departing. Yet, we can be assured death is not the final victor. The gospel tells us death is defeated and an even more glorious life awaits those of us who are in Christ, the resurrected Lord.

Todd Billings, a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., is living with incurable cancer. He told The Gospel Coalition in an interview last year: "I’m incredibly grateful for life and breath now, but I’m also getting more and more expectant for the age to come — to see Christ face to face, and to be made like him, with the whole church, in ways I can only faintly imagine now."

That is our future as well because of the gospel. Let's address our fear at least in part by preaching this gospel-centric message to ourselves before death comes for us or our loved ones: Death is a defeated foe.

(This is a slightly revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 10, 2018

Corporate worship: Not captive to culture

Corporate worship by a church stands athwart a culture that prizes individualism, promotes niche marketing and pursues the next big thing.

Think about it.

As Christians, we gather each Sunday as a testimony not only to our need of God but to the importance of regularly being with other redeemed sinners. God has ordained this for His people. We are to covenant together as a church family and to spend part of each Lord's Day in a reunion with our brothers and sisters. By coming together, we reject the belief we only need to worship God privately. We refute the notion Internet church is sufficient. Instead, we affirm that gathering with other saints is vital to our lives as followers of Jesus and worshipers of the one true God.

In addition, we meet together as Christians because of our relationship to one person. Our makeup as a church and our corporate worship are not based on our common interests, our common skin color, our common nationality, our common language, our common marriage status, our common schooling choices or anything else apart from our common Savior and the common confession that Jesus is Lord with all that declaration means. Our goal as a church in corporate worship is not to reflect any natural alikeness but the "every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9) of the heavenly gathering.

As followers of Jesus, we also gather to remind ourselves, not to discover something brand new. Our corporate worship is filled with calling to remembrance who God is and what He has done for us. The reading of Scripture, the singing of hymns and songs, the praying of the saints, and the preaching of the Word remind us week by week of what Christ the Lord has done for us and who we are in Him as a result. We need to remind ourselves of the gospel, and corporate worship is designed to help us remember.

May we remember each Sunday we gather not as captives of our culture but as captives of the Lord Jesus and His gospel of grace.

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I am not condemned

It has been nearly three months since I last posted at this blog, and I plan to resume my blogging with a couple of series -- one on preaching the gospel to ourselves and one on corporate worship. I return to blogging today with a slightly and now twice-revised post from the past.

Reminding ourselves of the gospel -- or preaching the gospel to ourselves, as it has been described in recent years -- is one of the most important exercises we as Christians can participate in. Even though we have been rescued by God, we can fail to understand fully -- or we can even neglect -- the message, the meaning and the manifold benefits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Faithfully recognizing the effect of the gospel can make all the difference in how we think and live as Christians.

One of the undeserved benefits of the gospel is described by the apostle Paul: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, NASB).

This means God does not condemn those of us who have trusted in Jesus to save us from our sins. It is not that we will be condemned if we don't embrace the gospel of Christ. It is that we have been rescued from the condemnation we already were experiencing. Paul teaches this truth in his letters, and Jesus testifies to it.

In Rom. 5:18, Paul writes: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Our condemnation was the result of the sin of one man, Adam. As his descendants, we are under condemnation.

In Eph. 2:3, Paul says, "[We] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." God's wrath was upon us just by virtue of being human beings with a sinful nature.

God the Son explains in John 3:17-18 a reason He came to earth as a man -- and points to the condemnation all humanity lives under. He says, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

As sinners by nature, we are condemned; we are under wrath; we are judged. That all changes when God saves us by His grace because of the powerful, gospel work of His Son. Forever, we are no longer under condemnation. Nothing can reverse that verdict, and we are never to contemplate that God's attitude toward us is one of condemnation.

This is the kind of benefit we should regularly remind ourselves of and celebrate.

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash