What’s at Stake

Pastors and ministry leaders in the local church have an enormous stewardship in shepherding the lives of the people who attend services each week. People in the pews hand over sixty minutes of their week to be led in meaningful corporate worship. Sometimes I fear that worship leaders forget to ask themselves the “what’s at stake” question, unwittingly prompting a congregation to respond to them – the worship leader- rather than the One worthy of worship.

The following statement by A. W. Tozer solidified in my mind the stakes on Sunday mornings:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

What’s at stake on Sunday mornings? People’s view of God. Worldviews diametrically opposed to the gospel barrage our people weekly; corporate worship should help people recalibrate their hearts and minds towards God. If Tozer is right that the most important thing about a person is their view of God, then every aspect of a worship service–the songs’ texts, the spoken transitions, the prayers and even the announcements–should point people to a clearer, more focused and biblically-informed understanding of who God is.

Bryan Chapell writes in his book, Christ-Centered Worship: “This is more than a matter of choosing music that is properly respectful or adequately relevant. Our worship should show the face of Jesus to those who have gathered and to those who need to gather to worship Him.”

–Dr. Joseph Crider (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville) (from a blog post at doxologyandtheology.com)

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True Greatness

“Greatness is equated [by the world, and by us too often] with doing something large, in a notable way, as fast as you can. That mindset is burning a lot of us out. But when we come to the gospel of Jesus, it’s almost like He is saying, ‘Follow Me, and learn to do small things, slowly, over a long period of time.'”

“We are taught to sprint . . . but most things that matter to us in life are marathons (marriage, relationships, vocation, skills).”

“We’re trying to approach sacred things that take a long cultivation—we’re trying to approach them with haste, speed—and it’s not working for us.”

“Words like ‘haste’ are associated with folly in Scripture; the words associated with wisdom are like ‘waiting, patience.'”

–Zack Eswine

Christ in Our Place

In His person and in His name we all enter the sanctuary fearlessly. And because He enters the Holy of Holies “in our name,” our worship “in the name of Jesus” also reaches the same place. His name bears us, sanctifies our being, hallows our lips which are otherwise defiled to sing hymns of praise, and leads our worship to heaven. We cannot invocate God and glorify His name except through Christ the Mediatory alone, who performs the priestly office by standing before God in our name. Through identifying completely with our humanity in order to act in our place, on our behalf, He not only ministers to us the things of God, but the things of us to God. As object, Christ is the one whom we worship as Lord and Head of creation and humanity; as subject, He is the one who, as Lord and Head, is the leader of our worship. As Calvin said, “Christ heeds our praises, and is the chief conductor of our hymns. ” (See footnote #90, p.157) As the chief worshipper, Christ proclaims the praises of God amid His people (Heb. 2:12). In John Thompson’s words: “Christ is the One who as the God-man comes as God, reveals himself, but is also representative man, being and doing in our place what we cannot be and do for ourselves.” True worship therefore consists chiefly not in what we do in our power, but rather in what Christ has done, and continues to do “in our name” as our great High Priest, the one true Leitourgos of the sanctuary (Heb. 8:2). In “the name of Christ” we are given a true participation in His communion with God which is understood as worship; and our being and earthly sacrifices have access to the heavenly sanctuary. The prime emphasis is not our response, but Christ’s response imputed to us.

–Dennis Ngien, Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of our Responsive Worship, 157.

Next Sunday is Pentecost

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as he empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And he does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about. . . . The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of his presence with them as their Sayiour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening:

 First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

 Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for him and for others.

 Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence—in a word, assurance—blossom in believers’ hearts.

 By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

–J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47,49

TODAY is Ascension Day

This Sunday the event will be celebrated in many churches, but today is the day! (40 days after Easter) Too often we rush past Easter and neglect this crucial, climactic, culminating event in the earthly ministry of Jesus (and transition to His continuing ministry).

The ascension of Jesus is His going back to the Father to prepare a place for us. It is His being enthroned as King of kings at the Father’s right hand. The ascension is Jesus’ exaltation above every name that is named. The ascension is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as our eternal High Priest and mediator. The ascension is Jesus’ mandatory leaving so He can send a Comforter. The ascension is Jesus’ real absence so that he can be with us to the end of the age. It is paradoxical, it is mind-blowing, it is huge.

–Jay Wright

This is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, His nativity would have come to nothing… and His passion would have borne no fruit for us, and His most holy Resurrection would have been useless.

–Augustine

 Completely prodigal in His love for us, the Son spent all He had. He faced complete humiliation and the dereliction of being cut off even from the sense of his Father’s presence on the cross. Then, in the ascension, He returned home, ragged from His sojourn with us. The Father embraced Him with joyful relief and acceptance, enfolding the Son’s humanity into the robes of His presence.

–Gerritt Dawson

The Gospel

This story is the good news (evangelion).  In worship we signify it (leiturgia); in evangelism we proclaim it (kerygma); in fellowship we experience it (koinonia); in our ministry to each other and in our service to others we live it  (deaconia). It is the very heartbeat of who we are.

–Robin Parry, Worshiping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, 20