Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Keeping Worship "Corporate"

Each Lord's Day, as we come together to worship the Lord, we are seeking to do something that is unnatural to us. But if we don't do it, we will miss the purpose and the joy that the Lord has for this kind of gathering.

We want to come with our hands and hearts held out to be filled...and they can be.

We want to learn from God's Word...and we should.

We want to hear music that turns our thoughts heavenward...and it can.

We want to praise and thank the Lord for his goodness...and we do.

But beyond all of this, we are coming to be a part of something more--specifically something more than any one of us represents. We are coming to be a part of the Body of Christ seeking all of these things together. We are not to be the collection of hundreds of individual worshipers, but rather the people of God in worship. 

You may wonder what the difference is. Let me see if I can help.

Everything that I listed above that we want to do, we could do on our own, or perhaps on our own with Spotify or Pandora readily available for the music part. But something changes when we all come together to do the same thing as one people. Actually a number of things change.

When we seek to be filled, it is not just my needs but the needs of the Body--individually and as a group--that should fill our thoughts and petitions. We need power corporately to love each other well, to meet each others' needs, to serve together well, and to seek God's direction for us as we serve our community and our world in his name.

When we sing, it isn't just to enjoy a song, or even to sing these praises to God, but to sing them to God together, and in so doing often to remind each other that we are not alone in the endeavor of praise. Sometimes when we sing, especially if you may not favor a particular song, you might want to realize that your singing is an example and an encouragement to those around you and even to the musicians leading us from the front. It says, "yes, we are with you in this praise and testimony." 

When someone leads us in prayer, it is meant to be the prayer of all of us, for all of us. We aren't supposed to be silently waiting for a finish so we can sit down or move on. We are to be affirming from our own hearts the petitions being asked, the praised being offered, the thanks being given, and the confessions being made. 

When we read God's Word out loud, we are saying it for ourselves, but also for those around us--we need to be saying it and we need to be hearing it--interestingly, the public reading of the Scriptures is one of the few elements we are commanded to have in corporate worship. God already knows what the passage says--he had it written for us, after all. But we need to be reminded of it.

And when the preaching is going on, we are to hear it as God's instruction (however imperfectly given by the messenger) to us, together. We shouldn't listen and say, "I'm already doing that" or "my neighbor really needs that." Instead, we should all be saying, "this is important for us; teach us how to do this better, or avoid this more fully, Lord," (depending on whether it's an instruction or warning). 

Something you might not expect takes place when we worship this way. Our hearts are not only drawn toward God, but toward each other. The Spirit uses such worship to remind us of our belonging to one another, and our need for each other. It keeps us from becoming music critics and sermon analyzers--instead, it helps us focus on what the Body is, hopefully, gaining through our time together before the Lord. 

As we worship, we are often told there is an Audience of One. That is true in one sense, because our focus is the triune God. However, our worship is a testimony to angels and demons. To angels there is the amazing truth that these fallen humans, redeemed by grace, have come to know the God they serve night and day because of his mercy, and they marvel. Demons likewise must marvel, and shudder, as they see all of their schemes coming apart and coming to nothing. A watching world also learns about us--not just those who might come as guests, but even the testimony that we gather before our Lord together every week. One of the best parts of that is when we, who are different in many ways, demonstrate a unity that is only explainable by the gospel.

Personal worship is a privilege, and we should engage whenever we can. But we need corporate worship to fulfill our true calling as God's people. And according to Hebrews 10:24-25, the closer the end of this age gets, the more we will need such times together. Let's not miss a moment of shared glory in his presence that we don't have to!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Are You Listening To?

For a long time now, I have found great benefit in good listening when I am able to do so while also doing something else--driving, exercising, walking, or mowing the lawn. That last one has taken a bit of a hit because I recently got a faster mower and the one downside is I've lost time to listen! Every once in a while, some of you run into me while I have my earphones on, and ask me what I am listening to (yes, I know that this is not grammatically correct, but you don't say, "to what are you listening," and neither do I). So let me tell you some of the ways I try to redeem my listening time and make it worthwhile.

Of course, there is listening that I do for pleasure. In fact, Kathy and I always have a line-up of audiobooks that we find to listen to on car trips. We download them to our phones, but you can also get them on discs from bookstores and online sources. Some audiobooks have been purchased through sites like, which has a free book offer with membership (we take advantage of their daily email offering a low-cost book--the email is free, the book may or may not be one we like, but occasionally we buy one).
Another great source is, and a bonus there is that they offer a free audiobook every month, in addition to many titles on sale. There are also audiobooks available at our local public library to check out or using online services that they provide. Two we use are Overdrive and Hoopla. You must have a library card for these, but they allow you to borrow all sorts of audiobooks, as well as e-books, and Hoopla has movies as well. All of the above have apps for your phone, and so it becomes a rather easy process to download and listen. In addition to novels, histories, and biographies, we have listened to some very good Christian non-fiction. I have Knowing God by J.I. Packer, and listen to it every year. I just finished listening to Paul Little's Know Why You Believe, as well as Matt Chandler's The Mingling of Souls and Taking God at His Word, by Kevin De Young. I'd actually read all of these in print--some a long time back, but listening was an enriching experience.

Of course, shorter listening times can be very well used, too, through podcasts. Don't tell me you don't like podcasts--there are so many different kinds, this would be like saying I don't like words. I listen to lots of different kinds of podcasts. Let me suggest some, all of which I have found and subscribed to on iTunes.

News and current events
 I have two "must listen" items that I don't want to miss. I cannot enjoy watching broadcast or cable news and want clear summaries, preferably from the worldview I share. The first is "The World and Everything in It" by World Magazine. This thirty-minute summary feels a bit like NPR but from a Christian worldview. You start with a summary of the day's news, then a more in-depth analysis of a story or two, then a feature story of various kinds, and a commentary. This fills me in on what's happening without shrill tones or reporting that doesn't tell a story from both sides. They also have a daily e-mail news summary. Sign up for any of their resources at the link above.

The second is "The Briefing" with Dr. Al Mohler (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville). This is analysis of major news stories from a Christian perspective, and I don't know of any better analyst of events today. This is a great resource, and when he takes a month off in July I miss it!

Culture and cultural issues
"Signposts" is a weekly podcast by Russell Moore, from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and he talks about a wide range of issues--often answering questions he receives from listeners.

"The Breakpoint Podcast" continues the ministry of Charles Colson. The Colson Center provides an every weekday commentary of about 4 minutes, a more in depth 30-minute program on Fridays, and on Mondays and Wednesdays longer interviews or addresses by important Christian voices on various issues. Listen to the short commentaries, or the longer offerings, or both.

"Cultivated" is a new podcast my son told me about, where Mike Cosper interviews people who are making significant contributions to Christian life and thought, including some people you may not have heard of but who are seeking to make a difference.

"Levar Burton Reads" is a podcast Kathy learned about and we've listened to together. It is short stories from various sources, and we've enjoyed most of the ones we've listened to. 

"The Classic Tales Podcast" some great works (and some not so great) read in one-hour portions and downloadable in weekly episodes. 

There is no shortage of sermon podcasts (including ours here at Grace!). But here are some I regularly go to.

"Truth for Life"--Alistair Begg. Sermons from Parkside Church. Bible exposition with a Scottish accent, which makes it even more true (OK, it makes us think so).

"Let My People Think" on Zacharias. These are often focused on apologetics, with lots of good stories and illustrations.

"The Village Church"--Matt Chandler (they also download sermons from other campuses, which I sometimes listen to--you have to start the podcast to know who is speaking. Solid preaching in a unique style that resonates.
"Grace to You"--John MacArthur. For decades, his sermons have taken thousands through books of the Bible, and they continue to do so.

The Bible
I put this last, but it really is the one I won't miss. As a part of my own time in the Word I choose a listening plan on The Bible App from YouVersion. Right now, it's 40 days through the New Testament. Before that is was the Ten Lists by Dr. Grant Horner. Listening to the Scriptures as I exercise builds up my spirit even as I'm also trying to build up (or at least slow the break down of) my body. You can choose the version you want to hear as well as the program.

Sometimes I may not be able to focus totally on what I'm hearing when I listen to things. Yet even then what you hear gets into your head, and it helps to shape my mental environment. I encourage you to consider doing some profitable listening.

Oh, and yes, I listen to music, too, but that's for another time!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Hurricane Theology"

What storms can teach us

One hurricane worse than ever, one that was less than expected, and two more out at sea: the Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 is monumental in its devastating potential. Those who preach global warming climate change say, “Aha! We told you so” and insist that such record-breaking storms are proof that humanity has destroyed the planet’s ecosystem. Others cite all sorts of data to “prove” that nothing has changed. I haven’t heard too much chatter from those who would identify God’s judgments unfolding in the storms, although there may be some out there (I did, however, receive an email about the potential prophetic significance of the recent solar eclipse, and the message was, “the end is coming.” I think I already knew that).
Why do seasons and storms like this come along and disrupt life so dramatically? After Hurricane Harvey’s “once in a thousand years” rainfall in Houston, and Irma’s 180+ m.p.h. winds in the Caribbean and Florida Kesy leave one in awe of such storms. Those with an axe to grind will point to these kinds of occurrences and challenge us, “How can you believe in a god who would do this?”
Should we read specific divine retribution into this? You might think that God is mad at the USA, except that the Caribbean got pounded harder by Irma. God’s specific judgments on nations, if this was one, can be pinpointed better than that. In fact, the storm has caused the postponement of Awana Lifeline’s sponsored event with leaders of law enforcement and prisons from various Caribbean nations. The path of Hurricane Irma impacted lots of believers in God, and the headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneers, Ethnos 360 (the former New Tribes Mission), and CRU (the former Campus Crusade)—all in Orlando. Various believers, churches, and ministries suffered damage and will be inundated with needs to be met. Certainly God could spare those doing such good work from such potential danger!
We who sat in relative safety struggled to deal with watching thousands of families trying to recover from the deluge in Texas, and the tens of thousands fleeing from south Florida. I watched with both dread and fascination as pictures from NASA show this new, massive storm on its way to bring destruction to so many. And I wonder, “who deserves this?”
The answer to such a question is multi-faceted, but can be found where God speaks about all things we need for life—the Bible. Here are a few threads we can pull together.
As part of the human race that lives in daily rebellion toward the holy and just Creator of all things, we must affirm that we all deserve this and much worse for our rebellion. God is under no obligation to keep his creation tame enough for us to enjoy—his only limitation being his own word not to flood the entire earth again (the rainbow tells us that). Given the history of God’s people’s suffering right along with the rest of humanity in a kind of reversal of common grace (God causes his hurricanes to sweep away the just and the unjust), we know that such tribulations are to be expected—it is our ability to look beyond them that must be different. We see the chaos of today, but we know that this is not how it was created to be (Genesis 1-2), nor is it the way it will be when Christ comes to rule the earth, and it is certainly not the way it will be in the time of new heavens and earth (Revelation 21-22).
The storms and terrors of this world are real, powerful reminders of the consequences of Adam’s traitorous surrender of his righteous authority in this world to Satan, and in his role as prince of this world, destruction is the devil’s business—even when done under God’s ultimate sovereignty (see God’s control of calamity in Isaiah 45:7). We should see this as a sobering warning of what’s worse and is coming to those who do not repent. That is what Jesus said about some people who suffered the disaster of having a tower collapse on them—no one should assume that such things make anyone a “worse” sinner than anyone else. The warning is much more specific—worse things await those who do not repent of their sin (Luke 13:3-5). A storm may rise that sweeps away everything you own, and may drown your neighbors, but as frightening as that is, hell will be much, much worse. We should look at the terrors of the storm and thank God that such events can preach repentance, if we will hear.
But cataclysmic storms can also reveal the power of our God. It was from the whirlwind that God spoke to Job—as if his words were not already powerful enough! And it was his power over the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee that caused Jesus’ disciples to redirect their fear from the storm to their Savior—“who then is this, that he commands the winds and the water and they obey him? (Luke 8:24-25)” The creator of the storm has made them yet another revelation of his power and thus a source of praise and awe.
Finally, these storms should (and did) ignite our compassion toward all those in danger. I think about God’s rebuke of Jonah when the prophet was mourning over a dead plant, but upset with God’s heart of concern for the population of Nineveh, a city in danger of judgment. On a more positive note, the arrival of a famine that Agabus had prophesied led the church in Antioch to sacrificial compassion toward the affected church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28-30). There will be many continuing needs to be met in Texas and now the Caribbean, Florida, and perhaps other places. Such moments provide an opportunity for the grace of God to shine through his people.
Let’s be praying for those facing very difficult days ahead, and let’s pray that God gives all of us—his people—the hearts and opportunities to help. And let’s be sure to be thankful that the God who created this storm showed mercy on many and caused it to turn westward into the Gulf of Mexico and thus spared many who were in its original path.