We should worship God. Very few followers of Jesus would disagree with that statement. The question is: How do we worship God when we gather together? Those who are God’s children should worship him with their whole life – 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Again, very few followers of Jesus would disagree with that statement. However, the question remains: How do we worship God when we gather together? Actions may or may not demonstrate our worship of God, depending upon our heart and our motives. Again, few believers would disagree with that statement. But, once again, this question has not been answered: How do we worship God when we gather together?
A few years ago, when I decided the enter the PhD program, this was the question that was on my mind. When I started this blog a couple of years ago, this was the main question that I wanted to tackle. As I’ve studied this question, I’ve learned that it can be answered in many ways, and, the way someone answers this question usually depends on what they think about the church – that is, the nature and essence of the church. Of course, someone’s understanding of the church also demonstrates their understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – especially the resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs and a person’s response to these beliefs are interconnected.
Today, people argue and fight about “worship”. The church argues about the style of music that should be played when the church meets together – but Scripture says nothing about style of music. The church argues about the style of “preaching” that should occur when the church meets together – but Scripture says nothing about style of preaching. The church argues about whether or not an “invitation” should be extended when the church meets together – but Scripture says nothing about “invitations”.
We spend time and money and resources on worship conferences, and leadership seminars, and revival meetings, and guest speakers, and special music, and prayer conferences, and sound system specialists, and aesthetics, and producers… and even if we scour Scripture we will not find these mentioned.
When we finally do turn to Scripture, we start with our practices, and we defend those practices from Scripture through inference. Meanwhile, what we do and what we say and how we act and why we do it and who does it… these things look so much different than what we read about in Scripture. Of course, we chalk it all up to culture, until we want to defend something that we do.
When it comes to salvation, we take what Scripture says very literally: Repent! ok. Confess that Jesus is Lord! ok. Be baptized! ok.
When it comes to our relationships with one another, we take what Scripture says literally: Love one another! sure. Forgive one another! yes. Serve one another! right away.
But, when it comes to gathering together with other believers, that’s a different story: Do everything for edification! well… Admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs! don’t we sing to God? Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works! that’s only for a small church; we’re too big for that… Exhort one another daily! that’s not my responsibility.
I think the church needs to learn to worship together. We need to learn what Scripture says – that’s right, start with Scripture – about the meeting of the church. We need to adjust our meetings to what we see in Scripture.
We need to come together to build up one another toward maturity – with everyone prepared to take part. We need to think about how God would use us to encourage others towards love and good works. We need to help one another use our gifts to serve each other, thereby bringing glory to God – yes, even the newest believers. The more mature believers (leaders) need to lead by example, not by doing and saying everything – sometimes leading by example means getting out of the way. We need to stop making excuses for why we are not following the teachings of Scripture.
These are excerpts from Charles H. Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Building the Church” (or “Additions to the Church”) concerning Acts 2 which he gave on April 5, 1874.
I want you to notice this, that they were breaking bread from house to house, and ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart. They did not think that religion was meant only for Sundays, and for what men now-a-days call the House of God. Their own houses were houses of God, and their own meals were so mixed and mingled with the Lord’s Supper that to this day the most cautious student of the Bible cannot tell when they stopped eating their common meals, and when they began eating the Supper of the Lord. They elevated their meals into diets for worship: they so consecrated everything with prayer and praise that all around them was holiness to the Lord. I wish our houses were, in this way, dedicated to the Lord, so that we worshipped God all day long, and made our homes temples for the living God…
Does God need a house? He who made the heavens and the earth, does he dwell in temples made with hands? What crass ignorance this is! No house beneath the sky is more holy than the place where a Christian lives, and eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and praises the Lord in all that he does, and there is no worship more heavenly than that which is presented by holy families, devoted to the fear of the Lord.
To sacrifice home worship to public worship is a most evil course of action. Morning and evening devotion in a little home is infinitely more pleasing in the sight of God than all the cathedral pomp which delights the carnal eye and ear. Every truly Christian household is a church, and as such it is competent for the discharge of any function of divine worship, whatever it may be. Are we not all priests? Why do we need to call in others to make devotion a performance? Let every man be a priest in his own house. Are you not all kings if you love the Lord? Then make your houses palaces of joy and temples of holiness. One reason why the early church had such a blessing was because her members had such homes. When we are like them we will have â€œadded to the church those who were being saved.
It sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it? Disciples follow Jesus. Notice this passage in Matthew’s Gospel:
Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. (Matthew 8:18 ESV)
That’s a simple order, isn’t it? “Go to the other side of the sea.” That has to be the most simple and direct command that Jesus gave. What was the response of the crowd?
And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20 ESV)
One man jumped up right away… “Yes Sir, Jesus! I’ll go wherever you want me to go.” I think he probably started humming to himself, “Wherever he leads, I’ll go. Wherever he leads, I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ…”
Jesus warned this enthusiastic fellow to count the cost before agreeing to follow. Discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. Following Jesus is hard work. Jesus says, “Are you sure you are ready to give up everything? Enthusiasm doesn’t count for much when the going gets tough.”
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22 ESV)
Another person jumped up and said, “Yeah, Jesus, I’ll follow you. I’ve thought about it, like you said, and I need to take care of some things first.”
Jesus didn’t cut this guy any slack either. He said, “Either follow me, or go home. All or nothing.”
I imagine there were other responses as well. “Jesus, I’ll follow you as soon as my job is more stable.” “Yes, Jesus, I’ll be right there as soon as I finish school. My education has to be a priority right now.” “Jesus, you know that I want to follow you, but let me raised the kids first. You might lead me to places where I wouldn’t want to take the kids.”
So many responses to Jesus. How will Jesus ever determine who is sincere and who is not? How will we ever recognize the true disciples?
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. (Matthew 8:23 ESV)
Doesn’t that sound simple? Jesus issues a command, and those who are his disciples obey by following him. The ones who speak up first are not necessarily disciples. The ones who delay and are admonished by Jesus are not necessarily disciples, nor are they necessarily NOT disciples.
Are you a disciple? Are you following Jesus? That’s the simple test. Start with Jesus’ most important commandments: Are you following Jesus by loving God and loving other people?
No, this post is not about persecuting pastors nor is it about pastors persecuting others. Instead, I am linking to two very good blog posts: one about pastors and one about persecution.
First, my friend Lew at “The Pursuit” in a post called “The List” lays out the “qualifications” for elders from 1 Timothy 3:2-7. If this truly is a list of “qualifications” then who qualifies? According to Lew, very few of the people from the Old or New Testaments “qualifies”. Everyone that I know would drop off the list from the first words: above reproach. Oh, sure, we can explain that one away, but then what good is it? Perhaps this is not a “qualification” list after all? (I’ve talked about this previously in a post called “Qualifications and examples“.)
Second, Lawrence from “Agonizingly Honest Christianity” asks some very good questions in his post called “Agonizing over church membership/fellowship“. You should read this post. He asks if we would be as picky who we would pray with if we were facing persecution and perhaps imminent execution. Would we care how they prayed, or what they emphasized about salvation, or their views on eschatology? Or, would we only care that the person was a brother or sister in Christ? Why is different when we’re not facing persecution? (HT: Lionel)
Recently, on Sunday mornings, we have been asking people to share how God is using them to serve people – both other believers and also unbelievers. We do this for several reasons, two of which include 1) giving people examples of service to follow and 2) giving people opportunities to serve. Yesterday, it was my family’s turn to share how God has been using us to serve. I haven’t shared all of this on my blog before, so I thought I would share what we have been doing on Saturday mornings.
First, I want to explain a few things that led up to this. Several months ago, we took part in a ministry to children one Saturday morning. Several people from different churches gather together at a community center in a government housing project to play with the children, feed them lunch, and share a Bible story. The people there were building relationships with the children, but they were not finding it as easy to build relationships with their parents.
Second, a friend of ours noticed that many groups bring left over food – old food from grocery stores and old cakes and cookies – to some of the poorer sections of our town. After talking with one of the residents, my friend found out that these groups rarely interact with the people; they simply left the food. And, unfortunately, the food was rarely healthy.
Taking these two events into account, we decided that we wanted to serve in a way that we could provide healthy food for people, and in a way that we could begin to build relationships with both adults and children. So, on Saturday mornings, we stop by a local farmers market and buy some fresh fruit and vegetables. We don’t spend alot of money. As a matter of fact, our family has set aside $25 per week. This allows us to buy enough produce for 5 small bags. When other people join us, if they decide to buy some produce as well, we put more in the bags and/or we prepare more bags. We usually buy beans, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peaches, grapes, apples, oranges, or plums. Occasionally, a friend of ours has baked fresh bread for us to take as well.
We then take these bags of produce to the neighborhood where one of our friends lives. This is very important. Since the people know her, and since she often introduces us, we’ve found that we can get to know people better. We offer the bags of produce to her neighbors with no strings attached. We tell them that we have some fresh fruits and vegetables, and ask if they would like a bag. We don’t announce ourselves as part of any church or group, we are simply Alan, Margaret, Jeremy, and Miranda wanting to serve our friend’s neighbors.
We have only been doing this for a couple of months, and already we have begun to build relationships with many of the adults in the neighborhood. Often they invite us into their homes where we sit and talk for a few minutes. Once we get to know them, we talk about spiritual issues. For those who are believers, we try to help one another grow in maturity in Christ, and we pray for one another.
We have talked about addiction, sickness, loneliness, work situations, education, reading and understanding Scripture, surgery, children and child care, death, friendship, and church. In other words, the people are already opening up to us as they see that we are not trying to get anything out of them. Instead, we come by because we care about them.
As a side benefit, we have also started building a relationship with the lady who runs the farmers market stand. She asked us why we buy so much produce, and we’ve explained what we’re doing. There is always the possibility that we could get a better price or a better selection at another stand, but now I feel like I would be neglecting another opportunity that God has given me.
We’ve been able to touch about eight or ten houses in this neighborhood. This is probably only about one third of the houses. However, God does not call us to do everything. Instead, he calls us to use what he’s given us. Right now, this is what he’s given us. It would be very easy to start organizing and become more efficient and forget the reason that we’re there. I never want to lose the one on one contact with the people.
I am not sharing this with you to brag about what we’re doing. Instead, I’m sharing this in order to encourage those who may not know how to serve others. Perhaps you don’t know how to reach out to “the least” in your community. If you live near Wake Forest, NC, send me an email and I’ll be glad to help you get started.
I am also sharing this for those who are serving but who may sometimes feel that they are the only ones who care. Be encouraged! There are others who are serving alongside of you. God is at work in many, many ways in our communities.
Finally, I’m sharing this for the many seminary students who read my blog. Attending seminary is not a ministry. If you are not serving people, then you may need to check your priorities. You do not demonstrate God’s love by reading books and writing papers. It may be time for you to start getting your hands dirty.
How is God using you to serve people?
On Saturday, July 26 at 2:44 pm, Dave Black posted a picture of the start of the final chapter of the book that he’s been writing. I couldn’t help but sneak a peak…
It’s time to summarize and conclude. Are you in a mainstream congregation? In an emergent church? In a home meeting? It doesn’t really matter. The paramount question to ask is this: Are you willing to wash the feet of others? Are you willing to use your gifts to enrich the Body of Christ? Are you willing to forgo pyramids of power? Are you willing to surrender what is rightfully “yours”? In the end, it doesn’t matter what denomination or church we belong to. What matters is that we faithfully pursue the downward path of Jesus regardless of the religious structures around us. What matters is that we work from the bottom up. “Don’t be arrogant,” writes Paul, “but be friendly to humble people” (Rom. 12:16). “Excel in showing respect for one another” (Rom. 12:10). And we are to do this whether or not we agree with our brother and sister in every area.
One of the most important aspects of walking with Jesus is learning this lesson of serving different parts of the Body in times of special need, even if that means sailing against the prevailing winds.
That is all that I can read from his photo. I realize that this book will still go through an editing process, but this passage alone speaks volumes to me. This passage may not make it into the book in this form, but God is already using this words to affect me.
If the church can learn this simple lesson of humility and service, it will change the world as we know it. I don’t mean the kind of “humility and service” that causes us to stand up in front of a room of people and tell them what we know. I’m talking about the kind of “humility and service” that causes us to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty by washing dirty feet.
This lesson is simple, but very profound and completely impossible in human nature. And, we love to do things in our human nature. We even mimic social research that tells us how people like to do things in their human nature. Its time to “sail against the prevailing winds” and catch a new wind – the wind of the Spirit, who blows where he desires, not where we desire.
Jesus touched lepers, and the demon possessed, and women with fevers, and dead bodies, and the lame and blind and the deaf, and prostitutes, and heretics (Samaritans), and Gentiles, and tax collectors, and sinners. He got his hands dirty, and the religious people of his day noticed and did not like it. They accused him of every sin given by God and a few they made up on their own. And, Jesus ignored the religious professionals – except to point out that they had replaced God with a god of their own making – and he continued to touch those in need.
The religious professionals attempted to sway the crowds – telling the people that Jesus was dangerous. But, all the people could see was that Jesus loved them, and he showed that by touching them, hugging them, going to them, caring for them, providing for them. As he was doing so, he told them that God loved them so much that he came to them. He told the people about the kingdom of God – and that the kingdom was near to them. The people refused to listen to the religious leaders because they saw that Jesus cared.
Next, the religious leaders decided to kill Jesus. They insinuated that they would also kill anyone who sided with Jesus. The people gave in – even Jesus’ closest friends. But what did Jesus do? He continued to touch as many as he could, including a soldier who came to arrest him. He continued to care for as many as he could, including the thief beside him who was casting insults at him previously. He continued to love them, even his “followers” who had run away, calling on John to take care of his mother.
After Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, he “re-instated” Peter by asking Peter to care for Jesus’ flock the way that Jesus did. Peter asked about John, and Jesus said, “What does that matter to you? You follow me.”
Jesus is still calling us to follow him. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor does, or what your friend does, or what your pastor does, or what your teacher does, or what your parent does. You follow Jesus. And, Jesus is continue to lead us to touch, and care, and love, and serve. Jesus is continue to lead us to wash dirty feet. Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty?
Disciples are not recognized by the claims to following Jesus. Disciples are recognized by actually following Jesus. It is time to “sail against the prevailing winds” and follow Jesus.
Wow… I’m already on the twelfth installment of “Scripture… As We Live It“. I’ll be able to publish my own Bible version soon. (Of course, this Bible version will be different than all the others, because people will both read and do what this one says.)
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions - well, I’m only talking about unimportant opinions here. I’m certainly not talking about important opinions that you hold very dearly. By all means, quarrel about those. Nothing brings God pleasure and glory more than seeing his children quarreling and dividing. (Romans 14:1 re-mix)
Yesterday, Friday, July 25, I took my fourteen year old son, Jeremy, to his first real concert. It wasn’t just any concert though. I took him to an all day music festival in Raleigh called Projekt Revolution. Projekt Revolution is hosted by Linkin Park and includes other groups on the main stage such as Chris Cornell, The Bravery, and Ashes Divide.
Linkin Park was excellent! I was very surprised at how good they were live. They performed most of the songs from the latest CD, Minutes to Midnight, as well as some of the more popular songs from their previous CD’s.
I was also very impressed with Chris Cornell. I’ve heard him before (as I’ll explain below). My favorite songs – and it seems the favorites of the crowd as well – were some of his older songs, including “Hunger Strike” from Temple of the Dog, and “Black Hole Sun” from Soundgarden.
Besides the main stage, there was also a side stage where other bands played earlier in the day. I was very impressed with a band from Knoxville called 10 Years. (Jeremy wanted me to say that the younger people – like him – liked a band called Atreyu better.)
This was not my first all day music festival. Sixteen years ago – in 1992 - when I was only 25 – I attended Lollapalooza with my brother-in-law and some friends. That concert included many big names from the alternative music scene of the early 90’s: Pearl Jam (my favorite), Soundgarden (which is where I heard Chris Cornell before), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Lush. On the side stage at Lolapalooza, I saw less-known (then) bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, Porno for Pyros, Cypress Hill, and many others.
In comparing the two music festivals, I have to say that Lolapalooza was better musically, for two reasons. First, I knew more of the bands that were playing at Lollapalooza, while I really only knew Linkin Park and Chris Cornell at Projekt Revolution. Second, there were more bands and more diversity in the music at Lollapalooza. However, I think that Linkin Park put on an awesome show – as good as, if not better than, most of the groups at Lollapalooza.
Otherwise, besides the music, I think that Projekt Revolution was a better overall experience. First, I was suprised at the age range at Projekt Revolution. When I went to Lollapalooza as a 25 year old who was not really into the counter culture scene, I felt old and out of place. As a 41 year old who is still not into the counter culture scene, I did not feel old or out of place. There were many, many people there older than me. Most of the people looked like normal people – young or old.
While I know some were smoking marijuana at Projekt Revolution (sniff sniff), it was not as prevalent as at Lollapalooza. At Projekt Revolution and Lollapalooza, there was plenty of beer drinking, and plenty of people getting drunk. However, at Lollapalooza I saw many more people who were passed-out drunk, sneaking in bottles of liquor, and getting sick from drinking too much.
There was much less fighting at Projekt Revolution. In fact, we only witnessed one near fight, and it was started by an older man who was drunk. At Lollapalooza, teens were fighting all the time.
I’m glad that we went to Projekt Revolution. Perhaps, over the next few days, I may share some of the song lyrics that I’ve really enjoyed – especially from Linkin Park. Too many times, the music of today’s generation is dismissed for being loud, screaming, ranting, etc. If you are a parent, listen to the music that today’s generation is listening to. You may find legitimate critiques of your own generation and the world in general. You may also learn something about the struggles that young people are facing today.
I few weeks ago, in a post called “Missional without the label“, I wrote about some friends of our who have been going to a nursing home every week for the past year or so. They meet with these dear men and women on Monday mornings. While class is in session, I cannot meet with them. But, since its summer, and classes are not in session, I’ve been able to take an early lunch hour and get to know some of the residents. My family has joined us as well.
During these times of meeting with the nursing home residents, we’ve met one person in particular. Her name is Jenny (see my post “Faces, Names, Lives” where I mention Jenny along with a few other people that God has placed in our lives). We’ve visited Jenny a few times on Saturdays (we’ll probably visit her the day this is published).
I’ve learned so much from talking to Jenny. She grew up in New York City – quite different from rural Alabama where I grew up. She was not introduced to God at an early age the way that I was – although she says that she was never an atheist. She does not know much about the Bible, and has only recently started reading it. She lost both of her sons when they were in their early twenties. She’s now living in a nursing home – in a wheelchair. She recently hurt both of her legs in an accident. Very few people come to visit her. The staff of the nursing home take her out to dinner once a month, and they take her shopping once a month.
So, what does Jenny say about all this? What does she say about her life? What does she say about living in a nursing home and rarely leaving?
Jenny says, “I’m blessed”. She crocheted butterflies for the children who meet with her and the other residents on Monday mornings as a way of saying, “Thank you”. She makes blankets for children with cancer and sends them to a local hospital. Jenny doesn’t know alot about God, but she recognizes that God is doing something in her life, and she is responding to God and demonstrating the love of God – even in her situation.
Jenny says, “I’m blessed”. Yes, she is blessed. And, my family is blessed to know her, and I’m looking forward to learning more from her. Yes, a young (relatively) man who grew up “in church”, graduated from a seminary, and is studying for a PhD in biblical theology can learn about God from Mrs. Jenny.
Who are learning about God from?
Just over a year ago, I wrote a post called “But I have perfect attendance“. It remains one of my favorite posts, and it demonstrates why I am planning to write my PhD dissertation on the topic of the purpose of the church meeting.
I believe there are many people who feel that they are worshiping God because they are attending a church meeting (“worship service”), they are singing songs, they are giving money, and they are listening to a sermon. I believe these activities can be beneficial, but the activities themselves have a purpose behind them. Do we know why we do these things? In many cases, from talking to people and reading books, I would say, “No, for the most part, we don’t know why we do these things.”
Anyway, here is my post called “But I have perfect attendance“.
I’ve read several blog posts lately that have stated that believers are commanded to assemble with one another. Usually, these posts reference Hebrews 10:25 as proof that Scripture commands believers to assemble with one another:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
I’ve discussed this passage in detail previously (see the post “Not forsaking, but encouraging…“); however, I thought it would be beneficial to look into this again. Specifically, what are believers required to do according to this verse?
The command in this passage (actually, an imperatival use of the subjunctive) is “let us consider”. The purpose of “considering one another” is to stir up love and good works. Thus, the author of Hebrews expects believers who have the freedom to enter the presence of God (Heb 10:19) and who have Jesus as their high priest (Heb 10:21) to demonstrate that by thinking of ways to exhort others toward love and good works in their lives. This is the command, not “assembling”.
So, what part does “assembling” play in this passage. It plays a secondary role. The author of Hebrews recognizes that we cannot exhort one another towards love and good works if we never meet with one another. Similarly, we cannot stir up one another towards love and good works if we do not encourage one another. The two participles (“not forsaking” and “encouraging”) play an important, but secondary, role in the requirement of considering one another in order to provoke love and good works in each other’s lives.
So what? We’re still supposed to assemble together, right? Yes, in fact, according to Scripture, believers will want to meet together with other believers. Assembling together is not required in Scripture, but it is expected. However, attendance alone does not meet any scriptural requirements. It is possible to meet together with other believers and never fulfill the purpose of thinking about how to spur one another on towards love and good works, and then exhorting them towards that goal. A “perfect attendance” award means nothing to a believer.
If we meet together in a way that precludes us from encouraging one another toward love and good works, then we are not meeting in a way that Scripture prescribes or describes. Similarly, if we require attendance, but do not allow believers opportunities to exhort one another toward maturity, then we are not helping people to follow the teachings of Scripture.
Instead of someone saying, “I don’t think I’ve seen you around here in the last few weeks”, what if they said, “I noticed that you haven’t encouraged anyone around here in the last few weeks”.
Yes, I know. It is much easier to count noses. It makes us feel better to have a “full house”. But, attendance means nothing if people are not exhorting one another toward maturity in Christ.
Yes, I know. In our mega-gatherings we cannot possibly know whether or not people are encouraging or being encouraged. But, is the answer to the situation to change the scriptural responsibilities of believers?
Yes, I know. Some will suggest that we have “small groups” in order to encourage one another. The only problem with this answer is that Scripture only gives one reason for believers to gather together, whether there are a large number of people or a small number of people: edification.
So let’s continue meeting together – whether in large or small scheduled weekly meetings or in large or small spontaneous meetings. But, let’s come together for the right reason: not to count noses and record attendance, but to consider one another in order to stir up one another towards love and good works.