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Sunday, November 6, 2016

What does it mean to glorify God and how do we do it?

Kathy and I have been listening to an audio version of Joni Earechson Tada’s book,"A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty,” in which she, herself is the reader. It has become one of my “must have” books and I highly recommend it, especially for those that are going through difficulty and hardship.  I lift a quote from Joni's book that has really cause me to stop and think:

"And what does it even mean to “give God glory,” anyway? In the Old Testament the principle word for glory seems to indicate “weight” or “heaviness.” Its primary uses convey the idea of some external, physical manifestation of dignity, preeminence, or majesty. The principle New Testament word makes reference to “brightness, brilliance, and splendor.”  There are plenty of textbook definitions out there, and I could give you one of those, but you could look it up just as easily yourself. Just for a moment, allow me to combine the Old and New Testament concepts of glory to make a simple observation. When we glorify the name of our God, He gives us the opportunity of adding weight or significance—including adulation, respect, and honor—to His reputation. He allows us the unspeakable privilege of showcasing the brightness and splendor of His great name in our dark world."

What does it mean to glorify God?  When we glorify the name of our God, He gives us the opportunity of adding weight or significance—including adulation, respect, and honor—to His reputation. He allows us the unspeakable privilege of showcasing the brightness and splendor of His great name in our dark world."

How could I possibly add significance and honor to God’s reputation? How could I showcase the splendor of His great name in the world?

First, let’s look at some biblical examples. The following is not an exhaustive listing, but will help us as we attempt to answer the question of how we might glorify God, and how God is glorified:

By our praise and thanksgiving: 
Psalm 69:30 I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 86:12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.

Recognition of God’s power and sovereignty 
1 Samuel 6:5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.

God’s deliverance over enemies
1 Chronicles 16:35 Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.”
Psalm 106:47 Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
Isaiah 24:15 Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea.

Fulfillment of Prophecy
Isaiah 35:2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Repentance and acknowledgment that God’s ways are right 
Jeremiah 13:16 Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. You hope for light, but he will turn it to utter darkness and change it to deep gloom.

Telling the truth and so reflecting God’s nature and character:
Joshua 7:19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
John 9:24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

Bearing fruit as a result of our obedience and discipleship:
John 15:8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Miracles and healings
John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Christ’s obedience to go to the cross
John 13:31  When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.
John 13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Recognition of Christ as Divine
2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

By recognizing what God has done:
Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

By our obedience to what He ha called us to do:
John 21:19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Living in unity with other believers:
Romans 15:6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For His mercy in offering salvation to all that would come to Him:
Romans 15:9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”

When we go through suffering
1 Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

When those that do not know Christ recognize what God is doing in your life:
1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.


If there is an overall pattern in these passages, it seems to be
[1] a recognition of God’s rightful authority and power,
[2] a recognition of God’s work and moving among us, and
[3] our responding in gratitude, obedience, and in ways that reflect His nature and character.

So if we are to truly “give glory to God” then we must recognize that God is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present; that from His infinite love, mercy, and grace Christ became one like us, lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice so that we might have a restored relationship with our Creator. We must realize that God has not abandoned us, that He is actively working in the world today, that His Holy Spirit is in us, drawing us to Himself, longing to remold our lives to reflect His nature and character and our thoughts and minds toward His own. We must respond in obedience to all that God has commanded us with grateful hearts for all that He has done, is doing, and will do, even in difficult times.

As we pray that “God would be glorified” in a worship service, or in an activity, then there must be that recognition of God’s supreme authority, His working, and a complete surrender to all that He desires. It is much more than a “catch phrase” that we use in prayer that sounds great, but means little. I pray that as we pray that God would be glorified, that He truly would be and that we aren’t living and working in ways that are a contradiction to all that it means.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How do we guard ourselves as leaders from the entertainment mindset, and how do we teach our congregations to do the same?


I would like to take this and answer a question asked on the blog yesterday:

I greatly appreciate your article, [worship and entertainment]  especially the attention you gave to the tendency we have to begin focusing on the benefits of worship as opposed to the obedience of worship. We say things like, "Man, God really showed up in worship today," but how often do we simply say this because of the emotions provoked within us by the sermon or the music, and is our assumption at that point that God has not "shown up" at other gatherings where our emotions weren't tickled? How do we guard ourselves as leaders from that mindset, and how do we teach our congregations to do the same?
Tyler

I would like to thank Tyler for his sensitivity to the situation in which we find ourselves. I believe we could spend a book on that questions alone, but let me try to propose a few things:

1. We must really learn and practice biblical worship ourselves: we don't invite people to where we have not been ourselves. It is easy to talk about, but not consistently practice. We must honestly evaluate what we do on Sunday or whenever to see if we are worshiping. One of the most difficult things I do as a Worship Leader is worship because I get too involved in everything else that has to happen in the service, sound, instruments, etc. I literally find myself having to stop and re-focus. It is not a simple thing for me, perhaps for most as well, to maintain an awareness of what needs to be done and at the same time that awareness of God’s presence in the service.

2. We must teach biblical worship to the congregation, perhaps in bits and pieces, but it must be repeated and reinforced. Hearing something one time is not enough; we must repeat it week after week and aid them by showing and explaining how it all fits together. For example, just as a small beginning: Rather than saying, "We know worship is all about Jesus, so we're just going to stop thinking about everything else and think about Him," is about as effective as telling someone not to think about pink elephants--that's all they will think about. It would be better to just lead in prayer directed to Christ, not trying to preach through the prayer, but focused prayer and adoration to the Son of God. We never stop teaching and we never stop learning.

3. Knowing that the Spirit of God lives in us is fact enough to know that the Spirit is in a service; I believe the bigger issue is that because of our distracted nature, we are not aware or paying attention to the fact that He is there in us and among us. God speaks; the issue is not that God is not speaking, but that we are not able to hear. [The chapter on Isaiah 6 in Worship HeartCries deals with this, which is much to long for this post.]

4. We need to learn to change the measure of our worship experience from our feeling to more by our  obedience and sensitivity to God's direction and leadership in our lives.  If we are not immersing ourselves in the Word every day, meditating, memorizing, spending time with the Father, how will we recognize His voice on Sunday? Worship becomes the natural obedient response to God as He reveals Himself in His Word. We can celebrate His grace and goodness in the service, but it must stem from regular fellowship and intimate time with God, not drummed up emotion from the rhythm and music.

5. I would add more element under teaching worship: Find another person in which you will invest time, over a cup of coffee, pizza, walking, etc., but invest in a regular time together to pray, share struggles, to share what God is teaching you about worship.  Worship leadership is taught and caught; it is not an either/or option.

I hope this has been helpful.

Ed

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How do we balance our worship so that it draws the unbeliever or the "new" or "baby" Christian and yet remains God-centered worship for the mature worshipper?


This was a great question asked by one of the readers of the this blog that I thought needed more than just a simple paragraph to answer, so I will attempt to give some ideas toward an answer.


I do address some of these issues in Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship, [that was a shameless plug my book, excuse me....], but I will try to add some details that I am learning and still continue to learn.

I believe we need to be careful that we understand that the purpose of worship is not to “draw the unbeliever,” but the center and purpose is glorifying God.  Worship is not just the music, but is our obedient response to the nature and character of God, which can be carried out in a variety of actions. Our worship needs to be understandable to unbelievers, but to design worship to draw a non-believer changes the focus. [Even Sally Mogenthaller has revised her views on this.] In worship, God is the Audience of one; our aim is to please Him, to glorify Him, to surrender and respond to Him, – not to the whims and fads of the crowds. We must do this in a way that the generations can come together as the Body of Christ and focus on the Head, who is Christ. Some questions we can ask are the following:
-- Is the focus of this service clearly and singularly on God? 
--Are the activities in this service designed so that the various generations represented may respond? 
--Are the songs sung biblically sound and of a nature that the congregation can participate? 
--Are we regularly teaching and mentoring what biblical worship is as leaders?
I promise that these things just don’t happen on their own, they are intentional and must be led by the Holy Spirit.

The question remains, “How?” To address that I believe I need to address a larger issue to get to the heart of the problem. On the whole, it appears that our discipleship efforts with new believers is woefully inadequate; I know mine was, and especially when my wife and I began discipling youth there were very few good materials and I needed as much help as those with whom I was working. One of the areas completely neglected was biblical teaching on worship; that was one of the motivations why I wrote the book and teach these principles to my students at the seminary. We must be firmly grounded in what biblical worship is and begin to share that with the new believer from day one. With time and maturation the believer will begin to develop in this area; it is not a fast process and just having been taught the material is not enough, anymore than handing a book on swimming to a beginner will make him or her a swimmer just from the information. There is a gradual shift from me-centerness [baby] to other-centeredness [adulthood/parenthood].  We must practice worship ourselves and teach these new believers by example. 

Another issue I have observed, but only recently have really begun to address, deals with why some individuals get "stuck" and stop growing. They read their Bibles, pray, are sincere, are serving, but just can't seem to move past certain issues and to be honest their character really doesn't reflect  Christ's nature. Some have secret issues that have been defeating them for years, yet the harder they try, nothing seems to happen.  I have talked this over with several trusted mature believers, one of whom is my wife, who is a gifted counselor and deep in the Word and her relationship with Christ.   Sometimes we have unresolved issues in our past that we have failed to deal with that are hindering growth.

God has forgiven us by His grace and mercy, and we are new creatures in Christ. Though we are new creatures, we are not perfect creatures and still have our sin nature, and still wrestle with temptations, etc. We grow in Christ as we learn to trust and work through these issues.  These issues are like icebergs in which we can easily see some problems, but others remain below the surface and actually cause more problems because we are largely unaware of their existence.  How do we know if we have these hidden issues? Outbursts of anger, over responding to a given circumstance, and fears that seem to debilitate are but a few of the red flags that indicate we need to ask ourselves "why?" 

Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate this is with a personal example. I have been in the music ministry for over 45 years. I even have a DMA with a vocal performance concentration. However for most of those years I dreaded having to sing in front of people.  When I began to work through my "icebergs," I began to  ask "why?" and began to go to answers much deeper than just "stage fright." This fear of failure had its roots in believing my worth as a person was dependent on my ability to perform well; when I did not perform with excellence, my self worth was devastated. It wasn't until I realized that my worth comes from what Christ has done in my life, not by what I could do, that I began the process of re-orienting my thinking and the fears began to subside.  Scripture reading and prayer were helpful, but I couldn't break the cycle of fear without getting to the cause. 

You might be asking the question, "Why is he spending so much time on this? I just wanted to know how we can get the congregation to worship?"  Great question. The point is that we all have "icebergs," issues beneath the surface that influence how and why we do what we do and our freedom to worship biblically is tied to our total spiritual health.  A book that has been of immense help to me and to hundreds of others, is Peter Scazzero's The Emotionally Healthy Leader.  I cannot state strongly enough how important it is that we learn to deal with our total spiritual health. Otherwise, we are like the person who has a car with super-bad gas mileage and doesn't correct all the fuel systems problems, but just changes the oil and rotates the tires and hopes for the best. The root problems remain and will remain until they are specifically addressed.

To summarize, we need to teach and model what biblical worship is, and we need to have a spiritual health checkup. [Such a check-up is in the Scazzero book]. We need to realize that there are no "quick fixes" and that just more information is not enough.  More books on worship have been published in the last 20 years than perhaps in all the previous years combined, but the issues seem to continue. I have hope that as we become aware and begin to really work on understanding biblical worship and working on total spiritual health that conflicts of preference will subside.   Join me in this total spiritual renewal and let's pray for God's moving among us in a mighty way. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What To Do When Men of God Disagree?

Just some thoughts...

What do you do when men of God disagree? Years ago when I was in seminary and had not been in the ministry very long, I was confused and dismayed by some disagreements that some of my "spiritual heroes" had.  Godly men, sincere, yet they held views that were, though not polar opposites, different about certain biblical understandings.  I did, and still do have great respect for these men, but at the time I seemed to be stuck with the option of agreeing with one, which would of necessity would mean the other was “wrong.” Both men knew the scriptures and the depth of their relationship with Christ was above question. My desire was to choose the one that was "right," but how could they both be "right"?

I will come back to this in a moment, but first I want to digress with a similar example from the history of our worship and congregational song between two men who had virtually polar beliefs based from the same passage. Benjamin Keach, a Particular Baptist pastor in the late 1600's, believed that it was biblical to sing hymns ["songs of human composure" as they described them], while Isacc Marlow, a member of Keach's congregation, favored the tradition of the day of only singing from the psalter, that is, from the metrical versions of the psalms. Without wading into too many details, both men wrote treatises expounding their rationales [Marlow first, then Keach in response], both grounding their positions in Col. 3:16.  The details of their arguments are interesting, but not necessary for the point right now: Godly men can differ, and differ substantially over the very same passage. Can both be right?

What is missing is perspective. If I could hold in my hand a large multi-faceted diamond, the facets and colors that I would see would most likely be different than the ones that the person in front of me would be observing. Both the other person and I are looking at the same gem. Both are “right,” but what is missing is perspective. We just are not capable of grasping the full beauty of all the facets from just one angle; we are limited. Because I cannot see everything that the person in front of me sees, I cannot say that the observations are incorrect; only different.

Remember the well worn story of three blind men touching an elephant? One is feeling a leg, while the other is holding on to the trunk and still another is feeling one of the large ears. One says that an elephant is like a tree, unmovable; one says that round like a large hose and flexible, while still another describes the elephant like a large fan. The issue is not whether one is right and the others wrong; the issue is that their observations are incomplete. They all contain part of the truth, yet none can “see” what an outside observer sees: grasping partial knowledge is insufficient to make a definitive statement for the whole.

I am totally confident that I do not know it all; especially when it comes to scripture. I believe that it is safe to say that only God has the complete understanding, though He gives us enough for us to follow and be obedient to Him. [The “incompleteness” of our knowledge is not from lack of love, but for our good to help us trust Him more– there is no faith in sight.] If this is true, and I sincerely believe that it is, then we must come to the understanding that although we have partial knowledge, we do not have complete domination of all things in the scripture. If I do not have complete knowledge then there must be things I cannot see, or that I might be partially wrong in my understanding.  However, I think the use of the phrase “partially wrong” would be better described as incomplete.  What we can say is, “Given the knowledge and understanding of the passage at hand, this is what I believe.”


Not to push an illustration too far, for nearly all illustrations break down at some point, but it seems wiser for one of the blind men to hear the others’ descriptions and realize that the elephant may be much more than his own experience and understanding, rather than try to prove that his understanding is right and the others wrong. The foundational truths of scripture like the Trinity, the virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, salvation in Christ alone, His Second Coming, and Scripture as the Word of God, are non negotiable. However there are many secondary issues, such as when Christ will come, and others like the some of the Calvinist /non-Calvinist debates that have seemingly served more to divide the Body of Christ, than unify it.

Is it possible that since we do not know everything, we could lay aside the idea that one is right and the other wrong and realize  since we don’t have all the knowledge of God, what seems an unreconcilable opposite from our viewpoint is only a matter of perspective in the sight of God?  God is consistent with Himself, but we do not yet fully know Him; there is unfathomable mystery in God’s nature and character. He has made Himself know through Christ and His Word, but our finite minds are limited. If we were capable of “figuring it all out” we would have to have be God, Himself.

I believe we would be better served to “seek unity in the bonds of peace” than try to invest so much energy into proving that we are right and the other wrong. [Again, I am not talking about heresies here or the non-negotiable beliefs. Apologetics is needed now more than ever.] How we must grieve God’s Spirit to spend more time fighting among each other, than sharing the Good News to a lost and dying world and ignore the very prayer of Jesus to the Father in John 17: “Make them one as You and I are one.”

So the next time we are tempted to post that searing criticism against a brother’s view, can we stop and reflect on the blind men and the elephant. Even as I write this, I know that some will completely miss the point. However, I am just sharing what I believe God is attempting to teach me, so we can refocus our efforts on what God has called us to do and what God has called us to be.  Just some thoughts....
"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (ESV; 1 Co 13:2)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What I desire my students learn this year...

1. God loves them. God is in control. God has a plan for their lives. They can trust God.
-“for we live by faith, not by sight”   2 Cor. 5:7

2. Their worth comes from what Christ has done in their lives, not by how “good” they perform.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith...” Eph. 2:8-10

3. God’s approval is based on faith and obedience not how many “likes” one receives. 
“...Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed..” 2 Tim. 2:15

4. Mastery of the skills needed in their calling is not an option. 
“Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288.” 1 Chron. 28:7

5. Knowing and deepening their relationship with God is a vital part of their everyday life.
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings...” Phil. 3:10

6. To learn to embrace the difficulties and suffering as a normal part of life this side of heaven.
 “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:7

7. Don’t give up; it is and will be worth it.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18