Category Archives: Worship

What Is “The Fear of the Lord”?

fear cloud

I continue to find that that the “fear of the Lord” is an oft misunderstood biblical concept. That’s not good because we must understand the fear of the Lord if we are to know and love God and living according to His design.

Ray Ortlund Jr. describes the fear of the Lord in Proverbs 1:7 as the threshold by which Christians are able to embrace true wisdom for living in God’s world. Ortlund writes, “The whole of the book of Proverbs can be distilled into a Proverbs 1:7 drop.” To say it another way, no one can access the wisdom of God and the good it brings without the fear of the Lord. We need a new beginning – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – and we can’t have it without the fear of the Lord.

But what is this fear of the Lord?

Ortlund writes: “It is not a cringing dread before the Lord. It is not a guilty “Oh no, here comes God. I’m in for it now.” The fear of the Lord is openness to Him, eagerness to please Him, humility to be instructed by Him (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of the Lord is willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of the Lord is surrender to His will (Genesis 22:12). The fear of the Lord is one way we love Him (Deuteronomy 6:2, 5). The fear of Christ is meekly fitting in with one another (Ephesians 5:21). The fear of the Lord is when we realize, “I am not the measure of all things. I am measured.” p. 31 – Proverbs; Wisdom That Works

CS Lewis describes the antithesis of the fear of the Lord:

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison-you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. Mere Christianity 

John Piper provides a helpful picture from The Pleasures of God:

Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the storm you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.

At first there was fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope the that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished from your heart. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.

After all, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), and not be hidden the cleft of the Rock that is Christ, who has bore our wrath on the cross.

So the fear of the Lord is not just the dread of God, as thought there was a constant worry that God might smite us. However, if we are not in Christ by repentance toward God and faith in the finished work of Christ, then we have real reason to fear the eternal wrath that awaits us. But if we are safe and secure in Christ, then the fear of the Lord is simply an attitude or disposition that comes from knowing our place in the world as created beings of the Creator. In Christ, we live in awe and reverence toward God, because He is so powerful, wonderful and magnificent to us. Without this fear, we will believe the lie that we are god and the captain of our own ship, doing what we think will bring us the most pleasure a part from God, (Genesis 3:1-6) and we will not see our need to trust and follow Christ, who is wisdom from God for us (1 Corinthians 1:30).

To fear the Lord is to humbly know your place in the universe God created, and by faith to think and act appropriately toward our only hope, Jesus Christ.

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“So Will I (100 Billion X)” The Good and The Questionable

On Sunday we watched the following video as an illustration of the sermon from John 1:1-3:

WHAT IS HELPFUL ABOUT THIS SONG

There is so much to embrace and enjoy about this song. I am edified by this song because of the grand and sweeping Biblical meta-narrative it artistically and emotively proclaims. It begins with creation and prods us to attempt to ponder what it might look like for God to make everything from nothing by the sheer force of His speaking; the movement of His breath. It invites us to to imagine and remember how big God really is. He always has been, and always is, and always will be majestic and grand and mind-boggling. But then it reminds us that this cosmic God is personal and merciful and loving in that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us to live perfectly, and die for the sins of many (John 1:1-3, 14; Mark 10:45). Finally, the song models for us to respond by faith with surrender and worship.

We need more songs like this to stretch our minds to see as much of the fullness of God as we can. We need more songs that biblically provoke awe and wonder.

WHAT IS QUESTIONABLE AND CONCERNING ABOUT THIS SONG

I chose to use this video in our worship gathering with some trepidation, concerned  there might be a few lines that would distract and maybe even mislead. To be clear, I don’t mean to be uncharitable and overly critical. After all, I am a teaching preacher who sometimes says things that don’t roll off the tongue the way I want them to. Having said that, there is something to be said for being as precise and clear as possible about the truth we sing, teach and preach. So I hope my critique of this song models the need for precise and biblical thinking, but with a spirit of humility.

  • “With no point of reference” After the worship gathering I was sharing with one theologically astute man some of my hesitations about the song, and he pointed out one possible deficiency that I had not thought of when the song says that God created from nothing when there was “no point of reference.” The truth is that there was a point of reference, namely, the Triune God. To be fair, what I think the song was referencing was that there was no point of reference as it relates to time and space. But there is an important lesson to be learned from the observation that God was there. Just as we often ignore the creator in favor of the creation, so it is always possible to forget or underestimate God. If time and space never came into being, God would still exist as the ultimate point of reference. As a matter of divinely declared truth, He is the only reality that ultimately matters, for in Him are all things and He is in need of nothing (Acts 17:22-31).
  • “Evolving in pursuit of what You said” If you go to YouTube and search “So Do I”, you might see a video titled: “So Will I (100 Billion X) mentions evolution. Should we stop singing it?” My concern is there are those who see the word “evolution” as a sort of anti-Christian word, and therefore, be distracted from the good the song delivers. To begin with, let’s look at the context of the aforementioned line. “As You speak, a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath, evolving in pursuit of what You said.” Now I don’t know what the author(s) believe about Darwinian, macro-evolution. Maybe they see no conflict between the Bible and this scientific theory. But it seems to me in the reading of their lyrics that they might be talking about micro-evolution. I say this because they mention creatures that have already been created and now have the breath of life as given by God. Then they write about those creatures evolving in pursuit of what God has said. I, like most people, believe creatures are capable of adapting to their environment as it changes. This affirms the wisdom of God. Do I believe we are advanced chimps? No. I believe God created mankind in His image, distinct from all other creatures (Genesis 1:26-28). But I do believe in micro-evolution. That is how I interpret the song, and therefore, it is not a problem for me.
  • “A Hundred Billions Failures Disappear” What is wrong with this line? After all, I have most certainly failed. I am the chief of failures. Wait, that isn’t quite right, is it? Paul said, “I am the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But I have failed, along with everyone else, because I have rebelled. I have fallen short of the glory of God because I am a sinner who has willfully sinned (Romans 3:23). It is worth emphasizing that we needed the cross not because we tried for holiness and came up short, as though it were a lack of skill or effort, but because we are rebels in rebellion against a perfect and holy God. We all have shook our fists at the LORD God. I wish the language was biblically stronger about the reason that Jesus lost His life on the Hill that was created through Him.
  • “Like You would again 100 billion times” My good friend, Ryan Smith, said something like, “Why is there always just one line you have to change in the songs that Hillsong writes?” It seems that way in this song too. If I were going to change one line in the whole song, it would be this one. In the final crescendo of the song it declares the passion of God for people as displayed in the gospel and then says, “If You gave your life to love them, so will I.” That’s fantastic. The love of Christ displayed on the cross for us should propel us to love others by sharing with them the good news of Jesus. Amen and Amen! But then we hear these words: “Like You would again 100 Billion Times”. I wish they would have just ended it with the  previous line. Here is my beef. I can’t think of a time in the Bible that it says, or suggests, that God would send Jesus to die again if need be. First of all, the Bible is clear that the work of redemption is complete and perfect. It is finished (John 19:30). It was a once for all endeavor. There is no need be for another try. Second, there is only one Son of God. There is only one Jesus. Yes, I suppose it is a nice sentiment, but it is not like Jesus is “the one” of the Matrix, only to find out there have been six others before him. Isn’t Jesus enough? Isn’t He enough to convince us of God’s love and mercy and grace and justice? Why is there a need to try to improve on God’s incomprehensible love (Ephesians 3:18-19)? If you doubt God’s goodness toward you, there is no need to guess that He might do it again to show His deep love. Just look to the once and for all, “it is finished” work (Romans 8:32). God loved His glory and humans so much that He got it right the first and only time with His One and only Son. Enough said and done. Let’s celebrate and rejoice in what is finished, not what will never be needed.

One final thought. Music is such an important vehicle of truth. The Psalms are proof of that. But so many songs today are wrong, superficial or unclear. If our theology is strong and sound, we can listen to a lot of songs with clear and biblical thinking. More than being nit-picky, I hope I have modeled that with regard to a song that has really helped and challenged me to love Jesus and glorify God more and more. Let’s listen to and sing the song, but let’s think biblically as we do.

 

John Adams: “Rejoice Evermore!”

“Rejoice evermore! I wish that it had always been in my heart and on my tongue. Ah, I am filled with an irresistible impulse to fall on my knees in adoration, right here. If only my knees would bend like they used to.”

These are the words of Paul Giamatti in his portrayal of John Adams in the HBO miniseries, John Adams. Adams is at the end of his life, having accomplished much as a founding father and having held both the office of vice-president and president of the United States. At the age of 90 years, he has also experienced much disappointment and loss. His middle son has been consumed by alcoholism, his daughter lost to breast cancer and his beloved wife and friend has preceded him by death.

(A Look at the Daily Routine of John Adams)

In this scene he is on a walk with his youngest son, Thomas, when he spots a flowering shrub. This causes him to remember that his mother often said to him that he did not delight enough in the mundane.

He pauses in the presence of his son, and declares with the apostle Paul: “Rejoice evermore! Rejoice evermore!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

This is a bitter-sweet and emotional moment. He longs to rejoice, but reflects that he has lost so much time in which he has forsaken it. He wants to bend his knees, but his knees won’t bend in his aged and feeble body.

 

Oh, that we would see the beauty of the world while we may enjoy the creator of it.

Oh, that we would bend our knees while they still may bend.

Oh, that we would rejoice on earth as we will in heaven. For even now, in Christ, have we nothing to rejoice about? In Christ, rejoice in the Lord always!

When It’s Wrong To Raise Your Hands In Worship

worship

Why do people raise their hands when they worship? I don’t know. I suppose you would have to ask each individual what motivates them. And therein lies the most important issue: Why? Why do people raise their hands when they sing? The “Why” most certainly has a lot of bearing on whether an action is right or wrong; whether it is an act of true worship or a vain expression that may look like worship.

In the last two weeks I have been to two gatherings in which all of us were instructed to raise our hands. I did both times. The first time I did so because I wanted my son to see that I could be instructed by someone who was leading me to respond to God through Jesus with songs as a medium for honoring God. Still I wondered, “Why? Why should I raise my hands? And if it is a good thing, why don’t I do it all the time?”

The second time I did it because the guy who was leading us to worship through song actually told us what it might mean to do so. He suggested that raising our hands as we sang was a way to visibly express our need of God – our reaching out to Him for help. “Okay!” I thought. “I can go with that.” And so I raised a hand to express dependence.

Then today in my daily Bible reading I read Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.” 

Now I have read the Psalms (a hymn book of prayers) many times over, but this was the first time this verse stuck out to me. Here I now had a biblical text expressing a Spirit-inspired description (2 Tim. 3:16) of someone raising their hands in a song.

But what is the Psalmist doing when he raises his hands? Just a quick glance at the context reveals that the person writing (likely David) is in a desperate situation. In verse one he is concerned that unless God helps him, he will be like everyone else who goes down to the pit (dies). So he cries out and asks God to hear his prayer for help. He is desperate. He is needy. He needs God in a bad way. And the physical expression of that very pressing reality is the lifting of us hands toward God’s holy sanctuary, which represents the presence of God.

Perhaps a picture will further illuminate what it might mean to lift our hands when we sing to worship. Imagine a child has fallen off their bike. They have crashed and it hurt and they are desperate, and maybe they are embarrassed too. So they see mom or dad in the distance and they cry out and hold their arms up in a way that basically says, “Come help me. Come comfort me. Come rescue me. I have fallen and I need help getting up. I need you.” When we raise our hands in melodious prayer, we should be expressing our need of God who is our Father, and we are desperate for Him to rescue and comfort

Do you know what it means to do something in vain? It means to do it without giving thought to why you are doing it. I suspect many of us do all sorts of things in vain and meaningless ways. If we don’t know why we are raising our hands when we sing, then we are doing it in vain and it can’t be worship because “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

There may be other biblical texts in the Bible that would help us know why we should and can raise our hands when we sing to worship, but now we can worship according to the truth.

 

7 Suggestions For Preparing For Worshiping Together

worship

Why is it so hard to worship with all of our heart when we gather for worship?

In Mark 14:12-16 , the word “prepare” is used three times as Jesus and His disciples prepared to take the Passover.  In order to worship together, there were certain tasks and details that had to be taken care of so that they could remember what God had done to deliver His people. And so it is also true for the disciples of Jesus today that we must prepare to remember and respond to God’s saving news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected, overcoming sin and death.

Though we are to be worshiping with all of our lives (Romans 12:1-2), Sunday is still an important time we gather to worship. It is a time we set aside to ascribe worth and honor to God for who He is, what He has done and what He will do. Therefore, a Christian is not just someone who goes to worship, but is a perpetual worshiper who gathers with others to continue worshiping. How then do we prepare to worship to maximize our time together?  Here are 7 ways to prepare to worship:

  • Know WHY we gather for worship. We worship together because it is prescribed and described in the scriptures (Acts 2:42-47 and Hebrews 10:19-25). The Bible tells us to gather, and that should be good enough. But additionally when we gather together to remember what unites us, namely the gospel of Jesus, (Eph. 2:11-22) and that we are not just a saved individual with a personal relationship with God, but we each are a part of a redeemed people, we remember and see that we are the gospel on display (John 13:34-35). Gathering together for worship is important because it keeps us focused on the gospel, teaches us to value His body and keeps us from becoming self-centered.
  • Plan to read the Sunday Morning Preaching Passage in advance and pray through it. We should saturate our minds and hearts with the word that will be preached so we are prepared to interact with it and receive it. We should also pray that God would open wide the eyes of our heart, that we might see wonderful things in His word (Ps. 119:18). Our prayers should be shaped by God’s word.
  • Plan to rest adequately. Maybe the worship gathering isn’t as boring as you are sleepy. A spiritual discipline is something we do to enjoy God and obey Him. Having a full night sleep might help you to better honor God and love His people.
  • Plan not to be a distraction and determine not to be distracted. From my elevated perch, I have the vantage point of watching distractions unfold. Some are understandable and some are preventable. Going to the bathroom and teaching our children and youth to do likewise, usually makes leaving preventable. I can’t argue with the orphan Annie when she said, “Mister, when you got to go, you got to go!” But every Sunday? When the bathroom becomes necessary and someone does leave, you are not bound to observe their every step as though you are seeing something incredible. Walking is a normal human function. So determine to stay focused for your own good, the good of others and God’s glory. You can’t control others, but you can control what you see and for how long.
  • Plan to follow along in God’s word and take notes. I have personally found that taking notes helps me track with the preacher and stay on task so I can worship through listening.
  • Plan to sit up and lean forward. I complemented one of our members the other day, saying he was easy to preach to and that he encouraged me by the way he listened. There really is an art to the discipline of listening. He said he intentionally leaned forward to help his listening but also to be an encouragement to those who were speaking. Listening is worship and it is easier to listen when we intentionally posture ourselves to receive.
  • Plan to respond. The preacher may not always be right, but the Spirit-inspired text always is. If the preacher is following God’s word and attempting to be faithful to the authorial intent, you can be sure God is speaking, and when God speaks, we must respond by asking: “What attitude or action do I need to change to follow Christ and glorify God?”

Did You Know Eagle Heights Is Liturgical?

Did you? Apparently every church is a liturgical church to some degree, depending on how the word liturgical is defined.

The staff and I have been reading through a book by Mike Cosper: Rhythms of Grace; How the Churches Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel It has been very helpful toward helping me more fully understand and think about what we are trying to accomplish when we gather together. We want to engage in processes and practices that facilitate gospel shaping.

But back to liturgy. Cosper writes in chapter eight that though liturgy can be confusing, “often conjuring up images of ‘smells and bells,’ vestment-wearing pastors and priests, burning incense, and ancient chants. The word itself (liturgy) comes from two Greek words meaning “public work,” or (as it’s often described) ‘the word of the people.’ To talk about liturgy in its most basic sense is to talk about what the congregation is gathering to do. In this sense, every church has a liturgy; we all gather with work to do… As we plan and order our services, discerning the content to include, we shape beliefs and devotional life of our church members. It’s a crazy pastoral opportunity, if you think about it. When else do you have the opportunity to put words in the people’s mouths?”

All churches should be intentionally liturgical churches because every church ought to be thinking about gathering in such a way that they help people remember and proclaim the gospel so that they can be shaped by it for God’s glory among the nations.

So a couple of summary thoughts about why this is worth the time of a writing a blog. First, Cosper’s book is worth the read for those who want to think in-depth about worship gatherings. Second, it is good to know what words mean, not just what we think they mean based on cultural conditioning. Third, our worship gatherings should be evaluated by whether the work we are doing is helping us be shaped by the good news of Jesus Christ. It should not be judged primarily on entertainment value or for other lesser reasons. Fourth, the Eagle Heights faith family is trying to be intentional about all we do. Some areas still need a lot of work, but we aren’t just gathering for the sake of gathering.

Worship and Idolatry; Thoughts and Diagnostic

We were created worship (Genesis 1:26-28) and so we will worship. This truth is self-evident.

apple idolatryWe inevitably assign ultimate value to something and this is worship.

Therefore, we will worship God or will worship the creature/creation. The worship of God is true worship and the worship of anything else that God has created is idolatry.

We can see this in Bible narrative from the very beginning and therefore make several propositional (truth) statments about worship and idolatry.

  1. In the beginning the Holy and Triune God Created (Genesis 1:1) the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
  2. He created the creation to display and reveal His glory and the creation was good (Genesis Ch. 1).
  3. He also created man as a distinct part of that creation to worship God by faith (Genesis Ch. 1 and 2) and enjoy the creation by honoring God and giving thanks (Romans 1:21).
  4. Therefore, when God is worshiped, mankind enjoys creation righteously.
  5. But when the creation and creature are worshiped, the created design is suppressed (Romans 1:18), and man worships the creation because mankind was created to worship. 
  6. Idolatry is self-worship (Isaiah 44:9-20). Bottom line: We trust God or ourselves. Though we may assign value to another object or idea, we are ultimately valuing and trusting ourselves because we have decided what is worthy of worship. This is a paradox of sorts because it looks as if the idol is the object of our worship. But who decided it was of ultimate value when God has told us that He is the most valuable being in the creation?
  7. The Fall-Out: Moral Chaos (Romans 1:24-30). With each person deciding their own moral standard by which they make decisions about what is ultimately valuable, moral chaos ensues. We should not be surprised when we see the chaos. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth acting as their own god, we get a lot of moral standards instead of one.

A Idolatry Diagnostic: FAD 

If we don’t carefully define worship and idolatry then we might conclude that we are not idolaters since most of us are probably not housing any little wooden or stone idols. Idolatry is making a good thing a god-thing. Idolatry is assigning ultimate value to anything that is not God. How then do we identify idols? FAD.

  • Fear. What do you fear? What controls or paralyzes you because you are afraid of losing it or not having it? “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life because we are dependent on that object.” Tim Keller
  • Anger. Anger can be a Godly response when exercised in a Godly way for Godly reasons. But if there is something that easily offends you, or sets you off regularly, then that thing or person is probably controlling you in an idolatrous way. People tend to get angry about things that they value, but don’t get angry about what they don’t value. Is that thing you get angry about more valuable than God says it is? 
  • Dear. What do we spend the most time and money on? What is it that we can’t live without? Football, clothes, a big home, a new car, hunting, reputation, food,  control, or a pet? Any object or idea/dream? If we hold anything more dear than God and His glory, then it is probably an idol. For instance, Americans spent billions of dollars last year on Christmas presents for their cats. We spent over $40 billion on our pets – more than movies, video games and music combined. 

Solution 

  • Acknowledge that you, like the rest of us, are an idolater and then turn to Christ by grace through faith. Repent and believe in Christ alone. Trust God and not yourself.
  • If you are a Christian who has an idol, start by praising God (Romans 1:25c). Don’t just admit the problem, do the right thing immediately. Value God with your thoughts and actions.
  • Guard yourself from going back to an idol with regular self-examination. Use the FAD diagnostic and ask others to speak into your life. We are always in danger of going back to the very thing Jesus saved us from. Trust in Jesus and He will put everything in its proper place.

Bella’s Pinkie Fingers in a Dangerous Universe

I am fascinated with Bella’s pinkie fingers. They are so small, fragile, intricate and perfect. Meet little Bella.

I was dwelling on this early this morning and somehow made the thought jump to the universe and the little I know about it. It too is fascinatingly intricate and stunning, but it is also dangerous.

Supernova

The fact that Bella Faith, barely a week out of the womb, can live in a universe with black holes, supernovas, massive solar flares, asteroids flying all around our little planet and all sorts of other known and unknown, awe-inspiring dangers is mind-numbing.

It begs the question(s): Why are we still here? Why does God allow the massive known and unknown danger in the universe that is completely beyond our control?

For me the answer was awe and worship at the sovereign mercy of the only Creator God.

Pure majestic and all-powerful mercy reminds us that God has to be in control and that He is in control (Ps. 19; Isa. 40:25-26; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2-3). Otherwise, we can’t exist and know the joy of little pinkie fingers that belong to the most fragile beings in the universe.

Stop, ponder and worship the God of the universe, who crafts pinkie fingers and controls the dangerous universe.