Those who know me, know my passion about true-biblical worship. I think the following video captures what I mean by that. Please don’t let the commercial bother you. Just click the “skip ad” option and keep going.
Those who know me, know my passion about true-biblical worship. I think the following video captures what I mean by that. Please don’t let the commercial bother you. Just click the “skip ad” option and keep going.
I appreciate David Murray’s post entitle Everyone Has a Regulative Principle. For those who do not understand the phrase regulative principle, it is a phrase coined in the Reformation about the guidelines the church has when it comes to worshipping God. Just bringing up the fact that there were guidelines and principles governing worship brings about an ire from so many in our day. This should not be something we rejoice over, but lament because when it comes to worship, so many are doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
In other words, the worldly have stolen worship from the people of God and told us we need to worship like the pagans do at rock concerts. I call this boom-boom worship because you can hear the bass drums from the street. When you boil this type of worship down to its driving force, it’s nothing more than idolatry that satisfies the flesh and is not concerned with what God has prescribed. It’s worship that appeals to the hormone-driven 17-year-old, not the worship of mature believers in communion with God and one another.
This is why we need to return to the Protestant regulative principle. Murray helps break down the many views of worship and helps us to see the need to return to what God commanded: Here are the five main positions:
This last principle, prescription, was recovered by Calvin at the time of the Reformation and was linked to the rediscovery of the Gospel. The reformers saw that the God-centered and God-glorifying salvation they had rediscovered, required God-centered and God-glorifying worship, and that this could only be secured by including in worship only what God had commanded. This principle was based on Scripture (e.g. Lev. 10:1; Deut. 12:32; 1 Chron. 15:13-15; John 4:23-24; Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:23) and the teaching summarized in the Westminster Confession:
The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF 21.1)
In other words, when we are considering the content and conduct of our worship, the biggest question is not “Does the Bible forbid it?” but “Does the Bible command it?” That makes things much simpler because any list of what God forbids in public worship would take an encyclopedia to cover all that the human mind has invented as “worship.”
The WCF gives us what is acceptable in worship: preaching and reading of God’s word, prayer, baptism, communion, along with the taking of lawful oaths and vows. I know, sounds boring. But when done with hearts in submission to God’s expressed will, this can be some of the most spiritually fulfilling worship the believer can experience on this side of glory.
I know there are those who will look at this list and wonder at what point would such worship allow for personal emoting that goes on in boom-boom worship. You know the type of emoting I’m talking about: like some love-struck Romeo telling his Juliet of his undying love. This is what you get when emotions drive worship and not truth.
Truth be told, at one point I was drawn to such worship, worship where we were yanked along by our emotions. We were all like sheep being led to the slaughter as the worship leader drew us along in the direction he wanted to take us. Some days we were to be happy Christians, and other days, we were to be guilt-ridden Christians, because guilt is such a fun tool to use in the hands of a manipulative worship leader.
What happened to me was that my life was a wreck with the sufferings all Christians go through and the music leader was emoting that I should just feel happy in Jesus. It was more of the don’t worry, be happy type philosophy that is found in so many worship programs. But what about the lament? What about suffering? What about those times when life is really hard? Do we just ignore such times, and be a happy idiot pursuing the legal tender?
I can’t do that. I need music that is reverent and truthful. I need music that will lift up my spirit because of the truth found in the songs, not because some worship leader says I should clap my hands. I need music that is focused upon God and His goodness, not some emotion brought about by the worship leader.
BTW, just the phrase “worship leader” would have been foreign to the Reformers. The pastor was the “worship leader” and lead through proclamation of the word, through prayer, through preaching and the administration of the sacraments. Just having a specific role for someone who is called “worship leader” shows how off base we are.
Now, I do need to be upfront about my views, for I’m just as opposed to worship leaders who do the same thing with “traditional” music as I am to those who use boom-boom music. It’s not a particular music style that is the problem. It’s usually the attitude and the loudness of the music. I visited a church this past Sunday that had traditional worship, and they had a song-leader. To me, he was just as offensive and just as much a stumbling block as those who had the boom-boom music in their worship. Why? Because the entire portion of the worship service when we were singing was devoted to him singing loudly into a microphone, and the choir singing loudly into their microphones to the point that the worship was drowning out the congregation.
Whether it is traditional worship or boom-boom worship, the moment I can’t hear the person next to me sing is the moment that the worship leader and his cohorts have gone too far. Worship is to be congregational, not professional. This was a mark of the Reformation, giving worship back to the congregation. We need to do the same thing today. Turn off the microphones, un-amp the piano, kick the drumset to the curb, and let the congregation sing to our LORD, not be sung too about our LORD. True worship involves the entirety of the congregation lifting up our voices together, not being drowned out by a worship bozo and his team of professionals singing to us. If we want that, we can go see U2 in concert and actually have a much better show.
For more on this, and true biblical worship, go to Scott Aniol’s piece here. He traces how worship has developed through history and helps paint a picture of what it means to follow the regulative principle for worship.
I could not have said it better myself.
I sat on the pew outside the sanctuary and began to weep. I was crushed at what I was hearing and what I was experiencing. “Was I such an anomaly that finding a place to worship God with reverence and holiness was asking too much?” I literally felt like there would be no place for me to worship, no place to confess sin, no place to hear from Christ, no place that honored our LORD in thought, word and deed.
The church was an Acts 29 church, so I thought it would be solid in some ways. But I was disappointed the moment I saw the “band.” I know, I’m a relic, a has-been, a wash out, therefore I should just get “with it” and the “world” and worship like the rest of the world worships God. But I can’t do it. To me the “band” lacks reverence for a holy and just God. It is the world’s invention, thrust upon the body of Christ by those who supposedly “know better.”
If you were to tell the believers in the 1960s and 1970s that by 2010, if you really wanted to lead people in worshipping God then you would have to adopt the concert hall, the bar room, the disco in order to worship, they would have quit sharing the gospel at that moment out of reverence for His holiness.
“You mean the body of Christ is going to become the world, in order to save the world?”
I think the apostle John had something to say about that. 1 John 2:5 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the loveof the Father is not in him.
But John was “o-so first century! What did he know?” (Read: Open Letter to Praise Bands).
Instead of reverence, corporate prayer, corporate confession of sin, meditation, reading of Scripture, we are given the barroom with the latest act “leading” us? in worship. The leading act was so loud, it hurt my ears. That was the initial reason I left the sanctuary. I’ve had enough ear damage from my days of debauchery, I have no real desire to damage them some more in worldly worship.
The “band” even sang one of my favorite songs, Amazing Grace. But I wasn’t inspired to sing. Why should I? No one would have heard anyone over her voice and the congregation knew that as well. No one but the leader of the “band” was singing. John Newton would surely weep if he knew his song was being treated in such a manner.
This was not corporate worship. Corporate worship, which is prescribed in the Bible for the church to do, is for the entire body to do, not just a lead singer. Corporate worship was one of the marks of the Reformation. The Reformers were seeking to put worship back into the hands of the people.
Before the Reformation, only the clergy were participating in worship. The people just watched. Little did we know that the people really don’t want to worship. Just as the people in Moses’ day rejected being in God’s presence and asked Moses to be the mediator, so too are our congregations rejecting their right to pray, confess and sing to God. We are putting worship back into the hands of the clergy all over again, only this time the “clergy” have guitars and drums. They don’t realize this is what they are doing because while the lead singer belts away on one of their favorite tunes, he give some in the congregation an emotional experience, thereby deluding them into thinking that they have worshipped. They haven’t. I was having an emotional experience, and it was NOT worship.
Worship is more about obedience to God than emotional experiences. It is more about saying what is true of God, back to God. It is recognizing that we are meeting with a holy and just God, not Jay Z.
It means we do all to glorify Him, not that which glorifies the band leader and the guitar player. It means we actually prepare for worship throughout the week and on Sunday morning. We realize that congregational worship is the most important thing we will do all week, when done properly. When it is done properly, then we have met with God in His presence, heard from God through the reading and preaching of His word, been fed by God through reading and preaching of the word, and communion. We have been comforted by the gathering of the saints, both the ones here and the ones worshipping God as the church triumphant. In fact, we are joining with them in the worship that is already taking place in heaven.
But for some reason, we now want our worship to resemble some bad rock concert from the 1970s. Instead of holiness and reverence, we can dance in the aisles like a bunch of drunks.
I decided to leave. No point in staying. By the time the pastor got around to preaching, my heart would have been so upset that it wouldn’t matter what he said. My heart wasn’t right any longer. I knew that church wasn’t for me so I left, went to the car, and wept some more. I knew it would be hard to find a church to get plugged into, but I never realized the emotional toll it would take on me.
I called Babalucy and we talked and prayed.
I then set off for a Lutheran church I had passed the other day. I’m not Lutheran, and I don’t like the fact that going there, I would be considered out of fellowship and denied acceptance at the Lord’s table. I knew all of that, and accepted it in the hopes of solid, biblical preaching and a reverence of God.
Damn! The Lutheran church I found had open communion. That meant they were conviction-less Lutherans. No preaching of the word of God today. However, I did get a helpful lesson in forgiveness, which is what the pastor was preaching. In fact, it was a 12-step program and he was on steps 8 and 9. He even used a bit of Scripture, but was very brief with it. No need for the Bible here! Move along.
The pastor also let us know that he and his wife had tattoos on their backs. For some reason, he felt like we needed to know that. I guess he was trying to show us he had a past… and a present.
While the first church was irreverent in their music and approach before God, the Lutherans were irreverent in the substance of their actions with God. Both were irreverent in their own way. Both failed to take entering into the presence of God with any level of holiness or seriousness. Both treated entering the Holy of Holies as if it were a joke.
(Please note: Not all Lutherans are this way. I was hoping to find the ones who were not. It is just this particular church was. I can accept being barred from the table over theological disagreements if those barring me are reverent before a holy and just God.)
By the time I got free of the Lutherans, I realized I had time to find another place to worship. Someone told me of a church that was non-denominational that was supposed to be really good. I went to that one and as I got out of the car, I could hear the thump-thump bass of the band inside.
“Keep walking,” I told myself. I did. I noticed others arriving about the same time and then it hit me. No one was carrying a Bible but me. In fact, the two previous churches had the same symptom. No one carried their Bibles. This was not good.
I got to the door and looked inside. I could see the “band” playing at the front of the sanctuary, the lead singer’s face all contorted as he belted out whatever ditty he was singing. The crowd, all on their feet, staring ahead as if he were Jon Bon Jovi rocking away.
“I’m NOT going in there!” I turned and went back to my car.
On the way over, I passed a typical Baptist church that had a lot of cars in the parking lot. “Ok, give it a shot.”
Turns out, the Baptist church was letting another Luther church use their sanctuary during the early hour. They were all leaving when I got there, and there were only about 50 of us left in the sanctuary that held about 250. I stayed simply out of empathy for the pastor. I know what he must feel to look at all those empty pews. I could see the budget shortfall reported in the bulletin. I knew his staff was way too big, but because of tradition, he was bound to keep the associate pastor, the organist, the church secretary, etc., even though the church had no need for all that.
They were desperate for growth and I felt that desperation. Literally. They had me introduce myself and gave me a form to fill out so they could contact me. And IF I gave that form back to the pastor at the end of the church, they would give me a special gift. That wreaks of desperation. I know. I’ve done all those things before. Desperation never works. I’m an expert at it. I know.
But I was polite and put my name on the form. I sang the songs presented, and listened to the explanation of Acts 14. It was OK. It wasn’t offensive. It was a decent message and he didn’t act like Jesus was his BFF.
I left without giving the form back to the pastor, but the associate pastor chased me down in order to give me my gift! It was a bag with a coffee cup, some Hershey’s Kisses, a New Testament, a pen and a pack of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.
While the Acts 29 church was trying to woo me with Starbucks-like coffee, a rock band and donuts, the Baptist tried to win my heart with Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.
Neither worked. I want calls to worship, benedictions, corporate prayer. I want corporate confessions of sin, and corporate assurances of pardons. I want singing where I can hear the congregation, and songs that are theologically accurate and Christ centered. I want good, solid Biblical preaching where the pastor strives to preach the full counsel of God. I want communion where the table is fenced and non-believers know that partaking of the communion in an unworthy manner is to drink judgment upon oneself. I want benedictions, and pastoral prayers, and the reading of Scripture.
I guess what I’m saying is that I want Reformed worship… and another pastorate.
I love this open letter to praise bands by James K.A. Smith (Hattip: Lance). He says what we all feel about the praise band in a way that truly resonates with those of us who are seeking to worship in spirit and truth. I know, the praise band leaders say they are seeking to worship Christ in spirit and truth too, but for some reason, their spirit and truth seems more focused on their emotional experience before a crowd, than actually humbly worshipping our Savior for who He is and what He has done.
Mr. Smith points out part of the problem is that we, the church, have encouraged the leaders of praise bands to bring their worship into the church itself. He writes:
I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.
In other words, we know you have talent, and want you to use that talent, but it’s not truly fitting for true worship of God’s people. He gives three reasons for this:
1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship. In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship. I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to modelworship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.
I really like reason number 3. He says what needs to be said. So many who lead praise teams seem to think that the worship is about them and their performance. I know that praise leaders will say that it isn’t. If that is the case, why not move the praise team to the back of the church where no one can see them? That is a quick way to determine just how important the praise team and song leaders think they are.
What I have found in most churches that have praise leaders/teams is that for them, worship is the music itself. It’s not what is prescribed in worship according to Scripture. The means of worship according to Scripture are… and get this, reading God’s word, the declaration of God’s word (known as preaching), prayer and the sacraments. No where are we given praise teams/leaders.
In fact, up until about 200 years ago, the use of instruments in worship was quite limited to those of the Lutheran and Catholic persuasions. Protestants didn’t use instruments for the most part and sang only from the psalter which is the actual worship book of the church, i.e., the Psalms. Now it is hard to even find anyone sing the psalms at all. There are hymns that reference the psalms, but that isn’t singing a psalm.
The other problem with praise-band churches is that they tend to punt the other elements of worship. For instance, preaching God’s word has fallen on hard times and has been substituted for mass-counseling sessions on everything to from better marriages, to better sex in marriage, to better dating before sex and marriages, etc. The messages are attempts to become more “relevant” to the needs of the congregation and shows the complete lack of faith those who preach such sermons have in God’s word.
Preaching God’s word faithfully means preaching the text of God’s word, saying what it says, not saying what it doesn’t say. It means declaring the truth of what God has said regardless of how uncomfortable or unwelcome it may be. Far too many preachers are too busy wanting to be liked, as opposed to doing what God has called them to do. See the Paul Washer video below.
The other element of worship that has fallen on hard times is true biblical prayer. We do get prayer in the praise-band churches, but it’s usually the praise-team leader emoting about “just” wanting to see Jesus and “just” wanting to be in His presence, and “just” wanting to praise Him, and just just just just just just many other things. And by golly, the praise-team leader was so emotional, that it must have been a good prayer. That’s not true prayer.
True prayer is speaking God’s truth back to Him and praising Him (real praise) for who He is. That requires that the one saying the prayer to the One receiving it must know some actual truth about the One being prayed too. In other word, if you are going to lead in prayer, you should probably have a deeper knowledge of who Christ, the Father and the Spirit are, than your typical eighth grader.
And then.. there are the sacraments. I was visiting a mega-church back in July that actually had it’s baptismal in the lobby of the church. They didn’t bother putting it in the sanctuary where they “worshipped,” even though baptism is a center-piece for worship. By baptizing our converts, we are worshipping in the truest sense.
Never mind communion. It’s pointless to even bring up that the early church had communion every Lord’s day. It was central to the worship service. Most mega-churches cannot conceive of the fact that the Lord’s supper is actually an element of the worship service given to us by our Lord. After all, there is no room in the “worship” service for communion. It takes too long and cuts into the “singing/emoting/concert” time.
And we wonder why the broader church is having trouble standing for righteousness’ sake.
Update: Found this parody via Daniel. It’ fits well with the theme of this post…
Well, I haven’t, but Bill Blankschaen has in the churches he attends. We still sing hymns in my church and I love them. Hymns offer a lot of great theology, they are singable without the need of a melodramatic worship teams and boy wonders on the guitar. They also connect us to the church that sang them in the past. No, you won’t hear them on the local Christian radio station. But you won’t hear any great truth about God on Christian radio stations since most of the songs are written for dreamy eyed 14-year-old girls, and nerdy 16-year-old boys.
Enough of what I think, here is what Bill has to say on the topic. He has written his article to those who insist on the latest praise tunes to come out of Nashville:
To be candid, I know how to behave in your church. I’ve been raised in it my entire life. So I know how to fake it when necessary. Lately, it’s been very necessary when the music is playing and we’re supposed to be singing, you know, to God. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Maybe all the “seekers” are enjoying it, but I’m finding it hard to sincerely engage in anything resembling worship.
Instead of feeling the joy of joining with other believers in offering praises to the Almighty, I often feel insulted, bored, and disconnected from 2,000 years of worship history. And just when I think that maybe it’s just me having a selfish and sinful attitude — a very real possibility — a flamboyant electrical guitar solo breaks out. I’m left deciding whether to waive my iPhone and buy the t-shirt or just shut up and go home.
This was the beginning of the end for me when it came to praise music. I always felt like the praise teams in worship were trying to rip me along emotionally, but never gave me any other reason for being moved emotionally except that we were supposed to be emotional. There was never any real content to the praise tunes, just repetition and drivel. But let’s get back to Bill since he puts it much better than I do.
As best I can sort through my own muddled and messy thoughts, I think there are three things that really bother me about the worship music in many Evangelical Christian churches today:
1. They’re really, really simplistic. There, I tried to keep the words small. You certainly put a lot of work into doing that for me each Sunday. It’s not just that most of the lyrics are simple — as in easy to understand. It’s that so many of the songs remind me of the ditties we sang at camp — when I was ten. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the theology in some of those camp songs was more advanced than the ones I’ve heard in some of your services. But, hey, everybody else seems to be really, really enjoying it so maybe it’s just me. Unless, of course, they’ve also learned how to fake it.
2. They’re all pulled from the latest Top 40 Worship channel. Or so it seems. Most songs I hear in evangelical churches of late have been written in the last decade, if that. I know I’m painting with a broad brush here because there have been some really, really (is this helping?) awesome songs written in the last two decades that deserve a place on the all-time worship songs list. We just usually don’t sing those. Maybe because they’re so three years ago.
What ever happened to the previous 2,000 years of church music history? Oh, I know, every so often you toss a token “hymn” (meaning within just the last century or so) into the mix. But even then, it’s a remix that requires melodic jujitsu to keep up with the quicker pace and fancier chord progressions. One distinguishing mark of the worship music of centuries past is that it generally focused more on content than today’s simplisitc style. Songs like “Arise, My Soul, Arise”; “Immortal, Invisible”; “Rejoice, the Lord is King”; or even the simple “I Sing the Almighty Power of God” typified a depth of doctrine that taught us as it revealed the glory of our Lord.
3. They repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And rep — all right. See what I mean? Really, really annoying. Really. The first time we sang the simplistic ditty, I could tolerate it though I thought the infinite God of all creation deserved better. By the fifth time, I was hearing echoes of Jesus warning about vain repetitions. But once you went softer and slowed it down on the seventh time, it really began to resonate with my soul.
I love the comment about good praise songs that have come on the scene but are no longer sung. He writes “they are so three years ago.” That is what I tried pointing out to a lady in charge of worship at an area church. She won’t be singing the same songs in three years. It’s all about what is cool and hip. When that drives your worship, you probably are not worshipping in Spirit and Truth any longer, since you are not concerned about what the Ancient of Days might have to say about how we worship Him.
I confess I don’t have a well-developed strategy for modern worship. I’m just a guy in the pews, a husband, father, and former pastor, frustrated that I just don’t feel like singing by the time the worship music ends. It seems that focusing on three things would at least be helpful so take it for what it’s worth.
So here’s what I’d like songs in church to be:
- Truthful. Rather than trying to get dumber than a fifth-grader in the worship service (no offense to my fifth-grade daughter), offer truth that grows my understanding of God as we glorify him. He is truth, after all, so it shouldn’t be that difficult.
- Written for adults. We’re not camp attendees giddy about it being our first time away from home. Well, maybe some of us are — but the rest of us don’t always want to have to choose between clapping our hands in rhythm with the group or wrestling with the guilt trip you put on us. Go ahead. Give us songs with deep doctrine that excite our souls. We’re not seekers anymore. Come to think of it, I never was.
- Timeless. Let’s sing songs that reach back into the archives of songs proven to have been used by God to edify His people. Mix them in with modern songs, by all means. That’s fine. But don’t feel as if you have to make them sound like they just hit the airwaves last week. Imagine Mayberry today on MTV. Modern? Yes. Watchable? No. Sometimes classic is really cool. Really.
I could mention the need to play the music well, of course, but, frankly, I can live with the best you can give on that one. Make it as excellent as you can, please — just don’t make us sing it ad nauseum or worship your musical talents instead of our musical God.
I think Bill might be on to something. Maybe we should be more selective about what we sing in worship before the Almighty God of Creation. Maybe our worship songs should actually be based upon Scripture truth, that deepens our understanding about Him, His grace towards us and our need for Christ. I would say that it should deepen our understanding of His love for us, but we have so abused that attribute of God for the past 30 years that we should probably give it a rest for a while. Maybe we should focus on His holiness for a while. After all, the attribute of holiness is mentioned in the Bible far more than His love. (I know, this disappoints the love-sick 14-year-old girls, but they don’t read blogs like mine anyway).
Therefore let’s stick to the hymns, or at least not forge them. The church might actually learn about God again if we start singing of His rich truth. You can read the rest of Bill’s article here.
I thought about entitling this post, “The Pain of the Prophet,” but I didn’t want anyone to think that I was making myself out to be a prophet. I first had the idea about this article after preaching on Sunday and I wondered if what I felt after preaching was much of what the prophet felt when he was proclaiming truth to wayward Israel. I use to think that the prophet took great delight in saying the things he did. He got to stand for God and proclaim His truths to the people, both good and bad. That was naive thinking on my part and after preaching for 16 years, I’ve changed my mind. I think the prophets felt the heaviness of God’s truth before they proclaimed it, while proclaiming and after they had done so. God’s truth in the lives of believers is far to meaty to be flippant about. This is why so many of them struggled with what was being proclaimed. Think of Isaiah, and how he proclaimed the truth for five chapters of events, then found himself in the very Holy of Holies with God Himself. He was completely undone before the Lord and said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Don’t think for a moment that this realization didn’t take it’s toll on Isaiah. Not that the toll it took was bad. It was very good for Isaiah to undergo the scrutiny before the Lord that caused him to realize his own sinfulness. He needed that scrutiny and pain that was brought about just as we all do. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it was easy. God’s work in our lives is never easy. Easy is what you get from the many flippant pastors who enter pulpits week after week in order to make every one feel good about themselves. Preaching God’s word is never easy, and rarely makes us feel good about ourselves. If it really works in us, we welcome the uneasiness it brings, or even the comfort that comes from His word because we know that the end result is better than being left alone. If we want to shine like gold for the Lord, He must turn up the fires of sanctification to burn away the dross.
This is what Isaiah was going through before the Lord. It is what Jeremiah went through when he wept. It is what the other prophets in the Old Testament had to deal with as they spoke to Israel in a manner that seems so harsh at times. That harshness was working on the prophets when they proclaimed those truths.
Preaching God’s truth is much the same way today. When a pastor faithfully preaches the text, it works on him more so than those in the pews, as it should.
I would love to say that every time I enter into the pulpit it is nothing but pure spiritual joy. But to say so would be a lie. There are times when I am filled with His love and joy that make preaching a pure delight. But there are other times when it is very hard to preach God’s word week after week. It is hard to open God’s word every week and truly proclaim it without it costing the one proclaiming it. For if we are truly proclaiming God’s word, then God’s word is working on us and in us as we prepare the sermon. That is hard. Having the Holy Spirit examine my heart day after day, line upon line of my sermon, word study upon word study, begins to take it’s toll after a while. Especially when the text applies to my life as well as the lives of those in the pews.
I once had a fellow pastor tell me after his two-year anniversary with a church that it was then that real ministry was beginning to take place. I know what he means. After about two years we really begin to get to know our congregations and get to see what they need in their lives as we pick out our sermon texts. This is where the heaviness comes from, preaching what we know our congregations need to hear. It may not be what they want to hear, but as the Spirit leads us in this selection, we must trust that it is best for them and for us.
It is on days like this when I pray and look at the text I am going to preach that I want to run from it. I want nothing to do with it. It is not as though I want to be disobedient to the Spirit’s guiding, but I know that what I’m going to preach will step on some toes, mine included. Being a guy who loves to be loved, that is a tough proposition. I try the old bit of pulling up an oldie but goodie. There are no oldies but goodies in preaching. If we are really going to faithfully preach, we need to wrestle with the text as God wrestles with us.
So much so, that there are times that I find myself crying out to the Lord more than I do writing a sermon. Take the words, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” They seem like easy words to read and easy words to mentally agree with. Yet God is not trying to get us just to agree with those words. He is working in us so that we live them out as His children are called to do.
Does that mean that those words apply to me as well as those in the pews? Absolutely! The Father allowed His Son to die on the cross and gave me His Spirit so that I could live up to those words. That means He wants me to truly bless those who have persecuted me. This is not some theological theory to be bandied about as a philosopher does inside the local pub or college class room. He wants us to live it.
It is for this reason that I wrestle with the text. I don’t want to live it. I don’t want to ask Him to pour blessings on those who have persecuted me in some way or another. I know that we can expect persecution from those who are not believers, but what about those from inside the church? What about those who attack because I do preach God’s word? What about those who are supposed to cherish the preached word of God, but somehow, despise it? Am I supposed to turn the other cheek when they attack me, and ask for God’s blessing upon them?
My flesh wants nothing to do with it. Just like the flesh of the world it wants revenge. The Holy Spirit will have none of that. To seek revenge is to usurp His place as the final judge, and while we will judge the world in that final day, it’s not the final day yet. If my flesh seeks that revenge, then I’m just as guilty as those who have wronged me. The battle continues.
As pastors, we must let the battle continue. We cannot shy away from it as difficult as it is. We must never distance ourselves from the words we preach for that leads to cold, lifeless preaching. We must own each and every sermon we preach from a personal standpoint of knowing the words we proclaim are meant for us as well. We should never go into the pulpit to preach “to” the people, but to proclaim His word for all who have ears to hear.
This is why we must let the Holy Spirit battle with us, to prepare us and get us ready for the proclamation that will take place.
For me, the battle usually begins sometime on Thursday afternoon when I begin my initial push to write my sermon. When the text is really cutting my heart, it lasts well into Friday and even Saturday. My lovely bride has watched me go through this many times. I will pray, and read, and pray some more, looking for a way out, asking God for some new direction. But He is resolute. In my spiritual exhaustion on Friday, I finally commit to another sermon and open up the file. I read it. “What a great sermon!” I think to myself. And it was a great sermon when I first preached it. Trying to fool myself into thinking I have found the solution, I call it a day.
Then my lovely bride asks me how the sermon is going. “Great!”
“What is it on?” she asks gently.
I tell her. We talk about it. Then at some point, she asks that deadly question: “Timothy, have you asked the Lord what He wants you to preach.”
I bark! “Come on! Of course I have.”
She lets me believe that I have. Saturday morning comes. I’ve rested. I open the oldie but goodie, and punt it before I can get past the first page. That is not what God would have me preach. I go back to the text I have wrestled with all week, and finally begin to write. I’m resigned to His words working in my heart as well. Yes, I will bless those who persecute me as He has called me to do. And I will preach His word, as He has called me to do. That is my ultimate blessing to those He has entrusted me with. I’m fortunate. Most look forward to my preaching, never knowing the struggle I go through to bring them the word. They appreciate it nonetheless.
Many will never know what the preacher goes through while trying to prepare a sermon. That is fine. It’s not their cross to bear. It’s mine.The pain of preaching is mine as well. That is the call He has placed on my life, and so many other men as well. We are to wrestle with the text and let the Holy Spirit work in us as we prepare, so that when we proclaim, we will not just be proclaiming God’s word in some distant fashion, but proclaiming God’s double-edged sword that has cut us to the bone as well. That is the pain of preaching.
Paul Washer asking some tough questions: do we desire God? Do we desire Him, more than our sin? Do we desire Him above all that we have and own?
Or is God just some trinket that we add on to the sum and total of our lives?
Yes, true professional musicians will be playing in our worship this coming Easter Sunday morning! Dr. Jay & Miss Diana will drive up from Bolivar to do special music for our prelude and offertory during worship. They came and sang once before and it was truly enjoyable.
I have been listening to their albums over at their site, Dr Jay & Miss Diana, and reading their bio’s. Both are fully qualified in life to sing the blues, both Memphis style and whatever other styles may exist out there. I feel like knowing them that I’ve met royalty, but they would spit and hack at that description. They are truly unpretentious and I don’t get the impression they are impressed with those who are pretentious.
Dr. Jay gave me a portion of his testimony at one point and told me that he has played as a studio musician for the likes of Jimmy Page, and… well, others you would know if I could remember them. I asked him point blank: “were you impressed by any of the people you played with?” Not a bit.
While most of us never get to know those who run celebrity circles, Dr. Jay and Miss Diana have. Sadly, they told me the worst were those who were “Christian” artists. Doesn’t surprise me. I’ve heard that before. But they have experienced it first hand. I get the strong impression that the word “celebrity” would be less than a compliment in their world. Most of us know that, but there is a part of us that would love to know someone famous, simply for the joy of knowing someone famous, so we can tell the rest of those of us who are not famous that we know someone famous and therefore, are more special that the rest of us who are not all that special (in a worldly sort of way). They have known enough famous people that they are not caught off guard by the glow of stardom. This is what makes them so special, that and the fact that both are dear brothers and sisters in the Lord.
As for knowing someone famous, there is truly only One person in all of humanity to know and be known by, and we will be worshiping Him this coming Sunday at Grace Presbyterian Church here in Jackson, TN. Come join us as we band together to worship and hear from our Savior this Sunday morning. Please bring ears to hear.
Here are some of Dr. Jay’s comments on their lives from their site, which I recommend you visit and listen to the music… and buy some of it as well.
My childhood was normal I suppose. My father was a designer, of the electrical sort. My mother was a lovely woman who loved desserts. The hour of the day did not matter, nor the day of the week, nor season of the year. Weather, alignment of the planets, larger issues in the world around her such as war and peace, poverty and plenty – my mother would see to it that my father and I had a good helping of sugar charged edibles at the end our evening meal. “To,” as she would so aptly put it, “get the taste out of your mouth.” By, “the taste,” she meant the remaining bouquet of what may have been a select grain-fed Texas rib-eye, a veal piccata, a delicate spinach salad followed by a hearty burgundy, a light chablis or whatever our petite family had just ingested. The fluffy sugar concoctions my mother baked, fried, whipped or blended would relieve any harmful lingering savor we may have just endured. I loved my mother.
My first remembrance of my father’s true self came in my fifteenth year. I was, at the time playing in a rock band and needed what I felt was some snappy garb to wear on stage. Watching TV and films early in my artistic pursuits, I quickly realized the need for such raiment – it wasn’t that I wanted to be known as someone with a flawless fashion sense; I wanted to be known as a babe magnet. (I think it was Colonel Chriswell Langhorne who said, “Etiquette is for people who have no breeding; fashion is for those who have no taste.”) Anyway, being without the financial means to purchase such penetrating items, I wandered into my father’s study one evening hoping for monetary aid, making sure I held what I hoped would be perceived as a dispirited countenance. My father, being the kindhearted sort I came to know him as, asked, “What’s troubling you son?” With an appropriate muffled voice I related my apparel situation; always managing to keep my face turned to the floor, my arms hanging limp at my side, speaking in a tone which he would hopefully regard as one which was trying its hardest to hold back a heavy-hearted tear. To which my father conveyed this story:
“I,” he began, “was about your age when I remember feeling bad because I didn’t have enough money to buy a pair of new shoes.” At this point my father paused looking forewarn into the vast invisible universe which lay somewhere past the books in his study. Turning back to me, “Then,” he continued, “I walked outside and met a man who had no style.” That was my father in a nutshell. I so loved him.
Miss Diana was born on the periphery of Memphis, Tennessee. She likes to begin the tale of her origin with the phraseology, “I was born a poor black child in the Delta.” This statement, although true, is more of a paradigm or archetype of the real; Miss Diana’s maiden name was Black and her life did not have its genesis in the most moneyed parentage in the South. But, other than her forbearer’s appellation she is and was as white as her hair has now become – thanks to L´ORÉL®.
Someday, after living to ripe old ages, Miss Diana and I plan to be buried together in an open field of flowers behind our Refashioned Industrial Unit. A ten foot square pink marble grave stone will read: “We’re dead now. Everyone who really loved us, take off your pants” . We also plan to have our will spelled out by the card section at the annual Texas/Oklahoma football game: “We Leave it All to our Neighbor’s Poodle!”
There is so much more there to read, laugh about and ponder. So head over to the site, listen to their music, read their Bio’s and buy their stuff. And if you can make it next Sunday for worship, join us as we meet with Our Lord and Savior to praise Him to the music of Dr. Jay & Miss Diana. Services start at 11 a.m., Sunday school is at 9:30 a.m.
Happy Independence Day! I hope your 4th is a blessing.
I’m looking forward to worship this morning since I’m preaching on one of my favorite passages: John 14:1-6. I’m focusing on the comfort the passage gives us, even in dark days.
As for those who celebrate this nation in worship, remember, it’s the Lord’s Day, not a day to focus on the United States of America. While I am a patriot, I believe the focus of worship and preaching should always be Jesus Christ, not our nation. The gospel will do more to change our nation than anything else I can preach about. Even focusing on our history will not bring a real change, only the gospel.
Remember that as you gather for worship. It is the Lord’s day. Patriotism is good, but should be excluded from the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A place for extra credit.
Started this blog to (hopefully) articulate my thoughts on a variety of subjects as they come to mind, journal-esque with a hint of coffeehouse conversation. This is my thinking spot.
Making sense of the world in spite of hype, wrong-headedness and confusion
Thinking Christianly about the American Past
stuff about stuff
running the race with the help of a few good men
We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
A blog by Timothy J. Hammons
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