The Pastor and the Glory War

These are necessary and challenging words for every pastor from Paul Tripp.  I needed this.  Here are two snippets from the article.

I am very concerned about acceptable Sunday morning mediocrity, and I am persuaded that it is not primary a schedule or laziness problem. I am convinced it is a theological problem. The standards you set for yourself and your ministry are directly related to your view of God. If you are feeding your soul every day on the grace and glory of God, if you are in worshipful awe of his wisdom and power, if you are spiritually stunned by his faithfulness and love, and if you are daily motivated by his presence and promises, then you want to do everything you can to capture and display that glory to the people God has placed in your care. It is your job as a pastor to pass this glory down to another generation, and it is impossible for you to do that if you are not being awe-stricken by God’s glory yourself . . .

. . . Pastor, has familiarity caused you to settle for a mediocrity that keeps you from putting God’s shining glory before the glory-blind week after week after week? To these beaten-down ones, you have been called as an ambassador of glory. You have been called to rescue those who are awe-discouraged and awe-confused. You are called to represent the One who is glory to people who by means of suffering and disappointment have become glory cynics.

Take a moment to read the entire article, “Ambassadors of Glory for a Beaten-Down Church,” at the Gospel Coalition.  It will be several minutes well-spent.

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Technology and the Lord’s Day

The Lord’s Day has become the Lord’s morning for many believers.  There are many reasons for this and not many of them are particularly good or healthy.  Marva Dawn points to how technology has impacted our approach to the Lord’s Day in 1995—you know, in the dark ages before Facebook and Twitter.  So what she said has only been exacerbated.  While we might quibble with some of her terminology, don’t miss her larger point.

Above all, the technological society’s push for efficiency has robbed most congregations of the Sabbath rhythm, the setting apart of one day in every seven for ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting, a whole day set apart for God and for each other, a day of delight and healing.  Consequently, Christians mimic the frantic lifestyle of the world around them and have no understanding that God has designed a wonderful rhythm of rest and work, of refreshment and then response.  In that rhythm, we don’t have to rush out of the worship service at precisely noon, since there is no work to do on Sunday.  The day is set apart for worship, for relationships, for growing in our sense of who God is and who we are as individuals desiring to become like Jesus and as a community of his people displaying his character to the world (Marva Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, 43).

Mother’s Day Thoughts and a Prayer

I shared this during our worship service today.  We didn’t make Mother’s Day the focus of the entire service but we did take some time to recognize mothers and pray for them.

Today is Mother’s Day so we celebrate mothers!  And mothers are worth celebrating!  Motherhood has been a topic of discussion recently because of Time magazine’s cover for the May 21, 2012 edition.

Motherhood is a high and sacred calling!  It is noble and glorious.  But any mother here will tell that the level of glory will vary from one day to the next.  Can I get an “amen,” mothers!  For instance, one mother said that some of her days are entirely taken up with the grand exercise of wiping: wiping faces, wiping noses, wiping bottoms, wiping the table, wiping the counter, and anything else that needs wiping.  Motherhood is not for those who need immediate results.  Dorothy Patterson wrote in a chapter titled, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, “Motherhood is both a demanding and a rewarding profession.  Unfortunately, the reward often comes much later in life, but a prime characteristic of the good mother is unselfishness; she can wait for the final realization of her rewards.  No one—not teacher, preacher, or psychologist—has the same opportunity to mold minds, nurture bodies, and develop potential usefulness like a mother” (Dorothy Patterson, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 370).

I recognize that there are also women in the shadows today; today is an especially hard day.  Mother’s Day “is simply a reminder of unfulfilled longings, longings that are good” for some women.  There are women who, like Hannah in the Old Testament, experience brokenhearted barrenness but unlike Hannah, have yet to experience the extraordinary privilege of maternity (1 Samuel 1-2; cf. Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 369).  If this is you this morning, know this: God has not abandoned you.  We pray that God will grant you the experience of maternity according to His will.

Mothers are perhaps the single most influential people in the world.  Still, they are not women of steel.  Mothers physically struggle with exhaustion as they try to juggle the demands of motherhood and life; they struggle emotionally with sorrow, anxiety, guilt, discouragement, and feelings of being a failure in their grand task.  Mothers, I want to remind you today that God uses you, even as you struggle and stumble along the way, in ways that you can never fathom.  You do not cease to amaze us!  You will leave a lasting imprint in your children.  “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:28).

If you’re a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, please stand.  Our ushers are going to give you a gift, Nancy Leigh Demoss’s booklet, Biblical Portrait of Womanhood.  Nancy Leigh Demoss is a trusted advocate for Biblical femininity.  Biblical femininity undergirds Biblical motherhood.  This booklet will guide you through a series of questions that ask whether you are building up and tearing down those around you.  We hope that this gift will strengthen you in your journey as you pursue Biblical femininity and Biblical motherhood.  The generations that come after you are in your debt.

Please join me in a word of prayer.

Our Heavenly Father,

A mother’s heart is so accessible to many of us that You used it as an analogy for the comfort of Your people in Isaiah 66:13, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.”

This morning we set aside an all too brief period of time to recognize and pray for mothers. They are divinely ordained heart-nurturers and life-shapers of the next generation.  This is a task that requires much of these women.  In fact, it requires more than they possess in themselves.  We pray for a rich bestowal of your grace upon these women.  Your grace is sufficient for them in their weakness.  May they be women after your heart.

We pray for aspiring mothers.  We intercede on their behalf, that, according to your will, You would affirmatively answer their heart-felt and heart-broken to be fruitful.  May they one day have the testimony of Psalm 113:9, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.”

Father, grant these mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers perseverance in this high calling of motherhood.  As they spend themselves for their children may they look to You as their portion; may they run to Christ for their identity and sufficiency on the many days when they are beside themselves and bear the crushing weight of insufficiency.  May they commit themselves afresh and anew to this sacred vocation of motherhood in the strength and grace that You richly bestow upon your people.

This we pray, our Father, in your Son’s name.  Amen.

Critical of Musical Criticism

We must think rightly about music, especially the music we use to shape our affections and to worship God, publicly and privately.  At the same time, I grow weary of what seems to be unending criticism on the kind of music we use in corporate worship.  An “anything goes” approach is simply not wise when it comes to church music.  But a “nothing but what my conscience dictates” approach is no better–primarily in a corporate worship setting.  Tim Challies included a good citation in today’s a la carte section, A La Carte (12/20).  The citation is good in principle,

I am coming to the understanding that nit-picking at music and especially music that encourages us to offer praise and thanksgiving to God and reflect on his greatness can actually discourage the praise we are commended to offer. This motivates me to ask a few questions with regard to why we find it necessary to be over-critical of worship music, to the extent that it can appear to have no redeeming value.

I went over to the full post.  The author, Lisa Robinson, continues,

The last question I’d have to ask is if worship music criticism does not point to a deeper issue and that of being critical in general.  While I can’t speak for individual motives behind each rendering of criticism, I have found with my own self it stems from a prideful arrogance that somehow my standard should set the precedent for how we worship God.  Yes, I stated correctly – pride and arrogance.  Not only that, we can come off as people without hope who find no beauty in the simplest of creation.  We should not be this way.

One can legitimately quibble with the author but her main point is worth chewing on . . .

So my critique is this – stop being so critical.  Worship God with music that honors Him with whatever lyrics are consistent with His character, from the simplest to the most compact.  Allow others to worship Him as well.  Don’t ruin someone else’s worship experience because you don’t think the song has value.  If it directs us to the Lord, that is all the value we truly need.

Rejoice in God’s Steadfast Love!

I mined a nice little gem from my sermon preparation last week. I’m preaching a six-week sermon series from Exodus 34:6-7 titled “The Autobiography of God.” Jehovah reveals Himself as merciful and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness in v. 6. This is significant when you consider that this self-disclosure follows on the heels of the Golden Calf event in Exodus 32, one of the many occasions that nation sinned and broke faith with God. By the way, this is an early indicator of an important theme that runs through the Bible, namely, our inability to satisfy God’s righteous demands.

I spent a few moments developing “steadfast love”. The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” (ESV) is hesed. It is an important word in the Hebrew Old Testament. The New Testament equivalent is “grace”. Hesed is found 244 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Of these 244 uses, over half of them are in the Psalms (about 126 times).

So here’s the little gem. The steadfast love of God is a significant theme in Israel’s hymnal. It seems to me that if the steadfast love of God is a prevailing theme in Israel’s hymnal it should be a theme that dominates our singing as well.  This is rich gospel content for us to sing about!  The more fully we recognize that we are unable to satisfy God’s righteous demands but that He has dealt with us according to His steadfast love/grace in Jesus Christ, it will fuel a robust, heart-felt, rejoicing in God’s gracious disposition to us.  The steadfast love of God will also generate the kind of corporate singing that is not manufactured but genuine overflow from grateful and humble hearts!

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22, ESV)

Is Tepid Worship of Christ Warm Enough?

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), an English non-conformist minister, said this in his commentary on Christ’s triumphal entry from Luke 19:28-40.  I appreciate the well-stated and pointed challenge to us; worth pondering.     

High-wrought emotion is a poor substitute for steady conviction. But cool, unemotional recognition of Christ as King is as unnatural. If our hearts do not glow with loyal love, nor leap up to welcome Him; if the contemplation of His work and its issues on earth and in heaven does not make our dumb tongues sing—we have need to ask ourselves if we believe at all that He is the King and Saviour of all and of us. There were cool observers there, and they make the foil to the glad enthusiasm. Note that these Pharisees, mingling in the crowd, have no title for Jesus but ‘Teacher.’ He is no king to them. To those who regard Jesus but as a human teacher, the acclamations of those to whom He is King and Lord always sound exaggerated.

People with no depth of religious life hate religious emotion, and are always seeking to repress it. A very tepid worship is warm enough for them. Formalists detest genuine feeling. Propriety is their ideal. No doubt, too, these croakers feared that this tumult might come to formidable size, and bring down Pilate’s heavy hand on them (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Luke, 323).

Ramblings on Sola Scriptura and Church Music

I’ve read some material recently that critiques the apparent disconnect between the affirmation of Sola Scriptura and its sufficiency for Christian living on the one hand and the dependency of extra biblical material when it comes to the formation and application of one’s philosophy of music on the other hand. 

The topic of church music has been on my mind over the last several weeks which is why these pieces caught my attention.  Discussions about church music are ubiquitous.  Frankly, I’m not usually all that interested in following them.  These discussions tend to generate more heat than light; very little sharpening takes place.  I think it comes down to this.  If you read church music philosophies from one conservative evangelical church to another there will be very few, if any, major differences.  The difference from one congregation to another is how the philosophy is applied.  A music philosophy is like a fence within which certain music may run freely.  However, the particular music that is welcomed into the fold is really what comprises the difference(s).   

Some time ago I was discussing this issue with my former pastor, a man for whom I have great respect and admiration.  He mentioned the importance of an exegetically driven music philosophy.  Some may think this is extraordinarily difficult because of the dearth of information about music in the Bible (though music itself is found throughout the Bible).  One of the articles I read recently was written by Chris Anderson.  He argues that in fact we do have a very helpful music guide in the divinely inspired hymnal, the Psalms.  Moreover, he also addresses the problem I initially mentioned: the relationship between Sola Scriptura and church music.  Chris observes,

However, we who champion the centrality of the Scripture in Christian worship are, I fear, a bit careless about actually making them our “only rule of our faith and practice” when it comes to music discussions. I think we get a bit squishy in our commitment to “Sola Scriptura” when we address worship. Even respected expositors are noticeably less exegetical when addressing music than when addressing other issues.

Chris then footnotes a quote from John Frame who similarly contends,

These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That, too, in my judgment, violates the principle of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 237–38).

Scott Aniol posted a review of his book Worship in Song (WiS) on his Religious Affections blog yesterday.  The review was written by Ken Brown and published in the Detroit Baptist Theological Journal.  Brown appears to fairly assess the book’s strengths and weaknesses (I have not read WiS myself).  The pertinent weakness Brown mentions is the tension between the sufficiency of Scripture and extra-biblical data.  Brown says,

WiS does have some weaknesses as well. While Aniol clearly wants to help us make God-honoring choices for music and worship based on biblical sufficiency and authority, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, for him, our choices in this area are not only informed by extra biblical data, but they are sometimes dependent on such data. In the chapter on “Beauty and Glory,” Aniol says, “This leads us back to the important question, ‘How can we discern what is beautiful?’ I think Mortimer Adler’s answer is biblically acceptable, ‘The judgment about the beauty of an object in terms of its admirability for intrinsic excellence or perfection is the judgment of an expert, with special knowledge and skill in judging specimens of a certain kind’” (p. 119). And, following a presentation of much very helpful information that stimulates thinking in these areas, it nevertheless appears that what we need to know is out of our reach: “It would be nice if music were a black and white issue with a clear line distinguishing bad music from good music. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. We must affirm, however, that this is the case in the mind of God.  In His mind there is a line” (p. 138). Although the preceding chapters contain much profitable material regarding biblical sufficiency and authority, and many direct citations of Scripture, yet at the crucial point of practical application many will still be left to wonder how the quotations above (and others like them) can be squared with these words from the very first page: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture…contains all the words of God we need…for obeying him perfectly.”

Another observation from Brown’s analysis is Aniol’s approving citation of Adler,

The judgment about the beauty of an object in terms of its admirability for intrinsic excellence or perfection is the judgment of an expert, with special knowledge and skill in judging specimens of a certain kind (emphasis mine). 

The average reader is left with the impression that one cannot judge the acceptability of music without extensive training in the realm of aesthetics.  Incidentally, employing a citation like this is why the label “elitist” (wrongly or rightly) is applied to those who embrace this approach to judging church music.     

My question basically boils down to this: Is the Bible truly sufficient for all matters, including judging church music?  If it is, do we undermine our claims of being “biblical” when we look to aesthetic and historic disciplines to assess church music?  It seems problematic to me to claim that Scripture is sufficient to evaluate church music with one side of our mouth and then cite extra-biblical support with the other.