Albert Mohler – Expository Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship

Evangelical Christians have been especially attentive to worship in recent years, sparking a renaissance of thought and conversation on what worship really is and how it should be done. Even if this renewed interest has unfortunately resulted in what some have called the “worship wars” in some churches, it seems that what A. W. Tozer once called the “missing jewel” of evangelical worship is being recovered.

Nevertheless, if most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service — songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. In some sense, the image-driven culture of modern evangelicalism is an embrace of the very practices rejected by the Reformers in their quest for true biblical worship.

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Jeremiah Burroughs – The Right Manner of Worship and Drawing Nigh Unto God

jeremiah burroughs

“Then Moses said unto Aaron, It is what the Lord spake saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3O)

These words are the speech of Moses to Aaron, his brother, endeavoring to quiet and comfort his heart, which was (no question) exceedingly troubled by that great and sore affliction that was upon him in the strange death of his two sons, Nadab and Abihu. The story is this: after Aaron’s sons were consecrated to the priestly office, coming to attend their office the very first day after their consecration to offer incense to God, they ventured to offer incense with strange fire, with other fire than God had appointed. Upon that, the fire of God’s wrath broke out upon them and slew them both presently in that very sanctuary before all the people. It was a solemn time, being the begin­ning of the solemn consecration of the priesthood. Upon this, the spirit of Aaron could not but be exceed­ingly troubled to see his two sons thus struck. Now Moses comes to him and says, “This is what the Lord spoke, 7 will be sanctified in them that draw nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified’” And upon this, Aaron held his peace.

We read that once fire came down from heaven in a way of mercy to consume the sacrifices, but now fire comes down from heaven in a way of judgment to consume the sacrificers, Nadab and Abihu. They were Aaron’s sons, the sons of a godly man, the sons of the High-Priest. They were his eldest sons, for Aaron had other sons besides Nadab and Abihu. He also had Eleazer and Ithamar, but these were his eldest sons. They were two young men. They were struck in the very prime of their age. They were two that were newly consecrated in the priests office, for so you find in the 9th chapter. They were two men of renown in the country and before all the people of Israel, two men that God had greatly honored theretofore, as you shall find in the beginning of the 24th chapter of Exodus.

This Nadab and Abihu were men of great reputation and great renown whom God honored in former times. When God called Moses and Aaron to come up to Him with the elders, He singled out Nadab and Abihu among the rest and named them. He said, “Come up unto the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of Israel.” Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu alone are named, and then 70 of the elders in general, but Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, as if these were the four eminent men of renown among all the people of Israel. He named none of the 70 elders but these two, besides Moses and Aaron. Therefore, these two that were consumed by strange fire were renowned men and newly consecrated into their office.

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Christopher Asmus – True Worship Displays, Not Distracts

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As a worship pastor, I’ve heard the concern voiced many times: “I don’t want to raise my hands in worship because I don’t want to draw attention to myself.”

True worshipers want to make much of Christ through congregational singing; they desire that others’ attention be fixed on God (Psalm 115:1), and the thought of people being distracted by our raising of hands, or kneeling down in worship, is cringe-worthy enough to make us give up such freedoms quickly. “If my physical expressions of worship draw the eyes of people standing behind me, I will stand stoically so people can focus on Christ.”

However, a different thread of thought is weaved throughout Scripture. The biblical authors do not seem so skittish about drawing attention to the posture of people in the presence of God.

– In the presence of God, his people fall on their faces in worship (Genesis 17:3; Nehemiah 8:6; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:9–10; 5:8, 14).

– In the presence of God, his people raise their hands in worship (1 Kings 8:22; Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 63:4; 134:2; 141:2).

– In the presence of God, his people bow down in worship (Exodus 34:8; Psalm 5:7; Isaiah 66:23; Zephaniah 2:11).

– In the presence of God, his people even dance in worship (2 Samuel 6:14; Psalm 149:3; 150:4).

As we read those texts, are we at risk of being distracted by the people’s physical expressions of worship? Shouldn’t we just try to focus on what’s really important — God and his glory alone?

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Joseph Franks – High Law … High Grace … High Worship

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The Law comes from our good God.

The Law comes as a good gift from our good God.

The Law is a good presentation of God’s standard of goodness. It tell us that which is really good in the sight of God.

The Law is a good magnifier of our non-goodness. It does a very good job of showing us the thousands of ways we fall short of God’s expectations regarding our conduct and character.

Yes, the Law is good, but it is not good at everything. The Law is not good at inspiring and transforming our souls. It can scare us to death. It can promise damnation, punishment, discipline, and poor consequences. The result can be short-lived conformity out of a sense of self-preservation, love of reputation, and self-worship. Yes, the Law can result in external conformity and obedience, but it cannot change our insides. The Law cannot adjust our heart; it cannot transform our character. And any serious student of God’s Law understands that perfect, lawful, acceptable obedience requires both the right external action with the the right internal character. Consequently, when we realize the Law is not boosting our spiritual ego but exposing our sin, we find ourselves continually tempted to deny God’s Law in its entirety or minimize it by cutting it down to size. Therefore, in denying God’s Law, we sin further. The same is true when we minimize God’s Law and lower the bar, in order to reach the bar, in order to view ourselves as Law-keepers. Yes, the Law is good, but it cannot perform good work within our chests.

So, is there any rescue from God’s good Law that persistently exposes our non-good being and behavior? Thanks be to God for the Gospel!

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Joe Holland – The Ultimate

3.5"x4" Post Card Template I love playing ultimate frisbee. I’m pretty sure my GPA in college would have been a few points higher had I not spent so much time tossing a plastic disc around with friends. When people ask me why I love ultimate frisbee so much my recurring response is, “Come on! How many other sports do you know that are named by a superlative adjective?” At some point in time, people decided to make up a sport involving a frisbee and to give it a name. The result? They called it, “ultimate!”

Hopefully you will find this to be a helpful illustration of how the human heart works. Man lives his ordinary life. There is so much that doesn’t rise to the level of any adjective (much less any superlatives). I’ve never met someone who said, “Brushing my teeth this morning was fantastic!” But everyday life is always punctuated by declarations of the ultimate. Brushing our teeth may be boring but a candle lit date with a spouse is amazing. The sunset is stunning. And sometimes, a new frisbee game can be considered “ultimate.” Humans can’t help placing great and ultimate value on people, objects, and events that pass through their lives.

Everyone Worships

Worship is the word we use to describe this “ascription of the ultimate”–Something that everyone does by virtue of being made in the image of God. Even though I’ve met a few agnostics and atheists who take umbrage at that statement, it remains true. A man may not “worship” in traditionally religious categories, but what he gives his time, energy, affection and strength to is still worship. It is the declaration of ultimacy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said,

The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.

The Bible describes this principle in the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve weren’t created with the option to worship. They were made to worship. Adam was created in a worshiper-worshiped relationship with God just as he and God shared a creature-Creator relationship. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin skewed the direction of human worship but did not erase the need for humans to worship (Romans 1:24-25).

The Heart Throne

So far we’ve seen that every human makes declarations of ultimacy and we call this “worship.” And though we don’t have time to illustrate it in this post, it’s easy to see that though the action of worship is ubiquitous for humans, the objects that they worship are diverse. One person may worship a sports tean; we call him fanatical. Another person may worship his family; we call him a committed family man. One person may worship an illegal substance and be labeled an addict. Another person may worship their body image; we call them fit. With such diversity of practice is there any way to get to the heart of what we worship? There is, because the heart of worship is the heart.

We can summarize humanity’s diverse worship practices with a simple illustration. Imagine the human heart as a throne. That throne has a seating capacity for only one king. And it is the worship of the individual that enthrones his own heart’s king. Every heart-throne is full and no heart-throne has more than one king.

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Richard Rohlin – The Worshipful Man

In Living Like a King, Richard Rohlin will be examining the kings of Israel and Judah during the Divided Kingdom period. He’ll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and from them we’ll learn together what kind of men we ought – or ought not – to be.

We’ve already spent several posts looking at the damaging consequences of masculinity out of control. What I’d like to do in today’s post is focus on the other side – the opposite. If masculinity out of control is all about self-exaltation and self-importance, then as men we need to be focused on developing the opposite traits. The Biblical example is carefully spelled out for us in Psalm 15, where David gives us a list of the characteristics of the Worshipful Man. Specifically, is the kind of man who is able to stand before God in service and worship.

I think it’s important to note that a godly man is not necessarily a man who possesses great self-control. While that is certainly a by-product of maturity (since it is one of the fruits of the spirit), there are many self-controlled, self-possessed men who do not lead godly, god-honoring lives. At the root of every human dysfunction – at the heart of all of our problems as a species – is the sin, the crime, of selfishness and self-worship.

So by definition, the opposite – the model toward which we must work – is that of cultivating a worshipful spirit. It is an attitude that is concerned with pleasing and focusing on Jesus Christ. Psalm 15 spells it out for us:

A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. – (Psa 15:1-5)

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G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim – Worship as the Goal of Mission: Multiplying Images of God

God Dwells Among Us

In worship, we represent God’s image more and more clearly, not only to subdue forces of evil but also to multiply these images of God to fill the earth:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that moves on the earth. (Gen 1:28)

The command to “fill the earth” implies that the earth is not yet filled with images that reflect God’s glory. While the boundaries of the Garden are clearly delineated (Gen 2:10-14), the call to multiply images of God would expand the boundaries of that Garden sanctuary until it filled the whole earth. Our mission is to be used in God’s hand to bring about more worshipers in the image of God who might multiply and fill the earth with even more worshipers.

Outside of the Garden-sanctuary of Eden lay a chaotic inhospitable area. God calls Adam not only to “work and to keep” the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:15) but also to expand that Garden and “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Bible scholar John Walton notes that “people were gradually supposed to extend the Garden as they went about subduing and ruling” in order to “extend the food supply as well as extend sacred space (since that is what the Garden represented).” God wanted to expand that sacred space and dwelling place from the limited confines of the Garden-temple of Eden to fill the entire earth. As Adam multiplied children in his image, then they would expand God’s dwelling place of his presence into the chaos outside of Eden until it filled the earth, and the whole earth reflected God’s order and his glorious presence.

We are created to fill the whole earth with God’s glory. God formed the earth and made it . . .[and] did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited! (Is 45:18; see Ps 115:16)

God’s ultimate goal in creation was to magnify his glory throughout the earth by means of his faithful image bearers. Psalm 8 begins and ends with the goal of glorifying God:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps 8:1, 9)

This majesty of the Lord is his “glory” (Ps 8:1), a glory reflected in humanity who is “crowned . . . with glory and honor” and given “dominion over the works of your hands” (Ps 8:5-6). God’s glory is to be spread “in all the earth” through humanity crowned “with glory and honor” and properly expressing their dominion in creation. We are created to glorify God by filling the earth with image bearers crowned with that glory.

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Gerrit Scott Dawson – Theology and Doxology

Angelic beings approach the throne of the triune God. They arrive in His immediate presence because they need no mediator. No sin prevents them from entering, and God gave these creatures the capacity to draw near without being incinerated by His glory. Is it safe to say these angels know better than we do? But what do these knowledgeable ones do in God’s presence? According to Revelation 4:10, they fall down, cast their crowns, and sing. In short, they worship God with their whole beings.

I read a lot of theology books. That’s my job—and my passion. But every time I pick one up, I raise a silent challenge: “Make me sing.” I go to a lot of worship services. That also is my job—and my passion. My challenge is, “Take me deeper.” The knowledge of God and the praise of God, theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the fulfillment of our chief end: to glorify and enjoy God forever.

Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable the sermon. Praising God properly means deepening our knowledge of this God we adore. Our hearts should be set aflame when we really explore how the Father sent His Son into the world to save us, and then joined us to that Savior by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. Great theology stirs the heart. Excellent worship grows our knowledge.

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Ron Man – The Primacy of the Word in Worship

The Word of God is of supreme importance in the life of the Christian, containing as it does God’s revelation of his Person, his will and his ways. The Word needs to be pored over, ingested into one’s mind and heart, meditated on, and acted upon. It is a unique and precious repository of spiritual truth and guidance and encouragement. There is no aspect of the life of the church or of the individual believer that should not be tied to a scriptural mooring and infused with biblical substance (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible is indeed 
”a lamp unto my feet, and a light 
unto my path” (Ps 119:105).

When Christians gather for
 corporate worship, it is logical that 
the Word of God should play a 
central and dominant role. For 
since worship involves focusing our
 thoughts and hearts and voices on 
the praise of God, in response to
 his self-revelation and his gracious
 saving initiative, we of course need
 that view of God which the Word gives us if our worship is to be “in truth” (John 4:23-24). Our worship can only duly honor God if it accurately reflects what he reveals about himself in his Word.

The Word Neglected

That said, the astounding observation has been made as to how little use is made of Scripture in the worship services of most evangelical churches. The irony of course is that those who claim most strongly to stand on the Bible have so little of it in their worship. While the sermon of course takes a prominent role in our services, even preaching consists mostly of talking about the Scriptures (often after reading just a very few verses). It must be said that liturgical groups (whether on the more liberal or the more conservative end of the spectrum theologically) have probably ten times as much actual Scripture in their services (because it is built into their liturgies) as most evangelical free churches!

In too many of our churches the entire first part of the service consists just of music, and no Scripture is read at all. This author has experienced this often in both traditional and contemporary services: the problem is pervasive. It would seem crucially important for people in a service, believers and unbelievers, to hear (and/or see printed in a bulletin or flashed on a screen) verses of Scripture chosen to give a clear signal that: “We have come to worship God. The Word is how we know about God, and therefore it is the foundation for all that we do here and for our understanding of why we have come together.” Without hearing such a declaration, worshipers make the faulty assumption (consciously or unconsciously) that we invite ourselves into God’s presence, when in actuality it is only by virtue of his invitation (and his opening the way through the work of Christ) that we may come before him at all.

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Tim Challies – Idolatry

“For what is idolatry if not this: to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself?” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36)

Calvin summarizes well what it means to commit idolatry. Idolatry may well be in full view in the days to come as so many of us make our New Year’s resolutions. Do we make these resolutions because we want to honor God? Or are we resolving to do things that make us feel better about the idols we worship? Losing weight may be a noble goal, but not if we want to lose weight for all the wrong reasons.

The clearest places we see idolatry defined in Scripture are in two similar passages from Paul’s epistles:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

In both of these passages, idolatry is used synonymously with covetousness. The Greek word behind covetousness (pleonexia) is defined as “the state of desiring to have more than one’s due,” which is to say that a covetous person is not content with what they’ve been alloted by God—including God himself—and so they are constantly looking elsewhere for their satisfaction. Does that sound at all familiar?

This means that idolatry is the same as covetousness in the sense that, as people remain (or become) discontent with who God is and what he has done for them, they look elsewhere for satisfaction. They divert their eyes from the Giver and look to his gifts for their fulfillment. This can include all sorts of physical pleasures, none of which is inherently bad—food, sex, exercise—as well as intangible things like ambition, productivity, learning, and social acceptance. As Tim Keller has taught us, anything can be, and everything has been, an idol.

The lesson for us in these, the final days of an old year, is to choose our New Year’s resolutions carefully and biblically.

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