Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Purpose of church 2 - Education part 1

Church serves as a place to explore and learn about the faith we profess; or at least curious about. This may seem to be a rather obvious fact with little to explore. However, I believe there is in reality one aspect of Christian education we should explore, yet the church hasn’t done as much as we should. That being the question of, how did Jesus teach? Religious leaders talk about Christ likeness all the time, yet seldom do I even see the concept being applied to how he taught. I think it’s about time we did. 

How Jesus taught

Discipleship - The concept of discipleship is so equated with Jesus many assume that he invented the practice, but that is not the case. It was a common practice in Biblical times, even before his birth. We often throw the term around loosely, but the practice went farther than mere mentorship, as we sometimes treat it. Discipleship involved becoming as much like the one you were following as possible.

Example - Jesus didn’t just command us to do things; he told us to do as he did. To love as he loved, to obey as he obeyed, to serve as he served. (John 15:9, 14:31, 13:14-15) As St.Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel everywhere you go, if necessary use words.” Yet, often what we observe today is many words being uttered with very little example to back them up. Words that don’t have a good example to back them up possess very little impact.

Scripture  - Jesus quoted scripture often to those who recognized its authority. There isn’t much mystery here, for even current church leaders utilize this as the church always has and should. Yet, sometimes we try to utilize this on people who do not yet recognize the Bible’s authority, to little effect. This is where good example is better suited.

Parable - One of the primary ways that Jesus taught, yet very few pastors do, is parable. However, it’s a concept I utilize in my artwork, only I use illustration rather than words to provide the narrative. I have a whole website dedicated to the idea of parable and my execution of it via art. So rather than repeat myself here I’d encourage you to visit my website. Visual Parables

Pastor teaching in a way far differently than Jesus did

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Worship - conclusion of the first purpose of church

Worship, what is it really? Jesus once had this to say about it.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” -John 4:23-24

This certainly reenforces the idea that worship should be a sincere act, and not a systematic obligatory act done by some formula or checklist. Jesus also has this to say. 

“If you love me, keep my commands.” -John 14:15

Keeping his commands is part of holiness, and as we already revealed pursuing holiness is part of worship. Yet, what does Jesus reveal in this verse about what should motivate us in all this? Love. Worship should all be done with the motivation of love. It may begin with fear of the Lord or familiarity (Psalm 111:10) but it shouldn’t stop there. As the apostle John said, perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18) That’s the goal, to worship in love. To show honor out of love. To show gratitude out of love. To pursue holiness out of love. If you wanted to summarize the definition of worship into one phrase, it would be, expressing love for God.There has been much talk about the concept of the love languages these days. Well worship is God’s love language. In our everyday relationships expressing love can be tricky, for not everybody is the same, consistent, or even clear on how to do that for them. However, God is so very different.  He is always the same and spells out the language he receives love by quite clearly to those willing to seek it from his word. Yet just like our everyday relationships we often try to make it about us, not the other person. We try to express ourselves in a way that makes us happy or comfortable. We just love the feelings they spark in us, not the person. That’s where love goes wrong, and it’s where worship goes wrong. All because of selfishness, and love is a selfless act, not a selfish one. (1 John 3:16) There is a rather famous praise song called The Heart of Worship. In it, there is a line “I’m sorry for the thing I’ve made it.” What have we unconsciously made worship indeed? Is it what it should be? I think we would all do well to ask ourselves those questions. 

worshiping God in the spirit and truth
In the Spirit

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Worship and Music?

The music of worship has been a rather volatile subject in the church for centuries. Mainly because so many people are trying to apply principle where the Bible does not. So I think the best way to deal with the subject is to start with what scripture actually reveals. 

Music is part of worship (1 Chronicles 6:31-47, 2 Chronicles 29:27-28) Do not confuse this statement with the idea that music is worship in itself. Many try to do this in practice, since it’s an easy way to provoke a good feeling, but as we already revealed that’s not the ultimate focus of worship. While one can honor God, offer thanks to God (Psalms 95:1-2, 147:7) or even learn of holiness via music. We should not limit such expressions to God via music alone anymore than we should limit our expressions of love for our families to a single way. Plus, knowing of holiness does not make one holy in itself either. Our pursuit of holiness must eventually lead towards actual transformation.

Music can be a learning tool (Colossians 3:16)

Music can be used to prophesy (1 Chronicles 25:1-31)

Instruments can be used in music (1 Chronicles 15:16, 2 Chronicles 7:4-6) For some this may seem like an odd fact to lift up. However, there have been denominations that have forbad the use of instruments in worship, deeming them worldly; so all music had to be performed a cappella. This idea is not Biblically sound at all, for instruments are mentioned frequently in the Bible. Keep in mind that many of the ancient words used to designate instruments in the Bible are quite vague. So translating them precisely to a specific instrument is often impossible. So trying to say one instrument is okay, where another is evil based on weather it’s mentioned in the Bible is not a valid argument. 

Even the prudent and wise should have music in their lives  (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Music can be exuberant (Psalms 33:1-3, 65:13, 66:1-4, 71:22-23, 81:1-2, 98:1-6) In all these verses listed musical references are placed in conjunction with the action of shouting. So it seems safe to say that the idea that church music has to be dull and dispassionate is not Biblically sound. If one is going to use music to praise God, then praise him sincerely and passionately as if you mean it, not as a lifeless obligatory action. 

Music should be used to Praise God (Psalms 92:1-3, 149:1-5)

making an offering to God via music
Audio Offering

With all this being revealed let’s, have a look at these aversions concerning music. Most emerge from the idea that righteousness and being dispassionate are synonymous. Many in the church both past and present have made it their mission to stamp out everything that provokes a pleasant feeling, like music and dancing. While feeling good is not the goal of worship; it shouldn’t be interpreted that it’s forbidden. (Psalm 68:3) Just do a keyword search of the word rejoice or Joy in the Bible. You will get hundreds of hits on both. Joy is even one of the gifts of the spirit listed in Galatians 5. It’s not that feeling good is bad in itself, it’s what you are seeking joy from that can make it good or bad; for good and evil lies in the hearts of those performing the music, not the music itself. Those who disallow people from finding joy in God and his righteousness are ultimately just driving people towards seeking joy in the sinful nature of the flesh. If anything, it’s those who try to destroy all feelings, making no distinctions between those of the fleshly sin nature and those of the spirit, who are truly guilty of something. They are guilty of extinguishing the spirits fire. (1 Thessalonians 5:19) 

In the end, the Bible is pro music. While Biblical era music may have sounded different from what it does today, scripture never makes any kind of judgement or commands on how it must sound other than it should glorify God and his truth. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Purpose of worship 3 - seeking holiness 2

What is holiness really? You might have heard that the word literally means “set apart.” Well what sets us apart exactly? By what standard is holiness defined? Every believer should be able to answer that question, not just posses an abstract notion of it. Is it a universal truth that even God must answer to? Or is it merely what God wishes it to be? The true answer is this, the standard of holiness is God himself. It is a reflection of his very nature and character. God is holiness incarnate. To be holy is to emulate him. (1 Peter 1:15-16, Psalms 99:5, Isaiah 43:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 4:22-24)

The concept is so very simple, yet somehow we manage to make it complicated. Which is precisely why we must seek holiness with God’s guidance and strength. Approaching holiness through worship is a critical step towards that. Not by our own efforts in a misguided attempt to make ourselves worthy of his presence. (2 Corinthians 12:1-10, 1 Peter 5:7) Without God, it is truly impossible. The reason we complicate the simple, lies in our dual nature. While our spirit gravitates towards the holy, for that is its natural desire. There is another side to us though, which is the flesh, where our sinful nature resides. Our flesh wants to go in the exact opposite direction that the spirit does. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that following and giving into the sinful nature is so very easy. Yet, there are still those who get so caught up in the “don’t do this” mentality, that we tend to forget about what we can and should do in the spirit. This mentality often just turns into a standard by which we look down upon those who fail at holiness. Is that how the holy should act though? The truth is we fail at holiness the moment we take pride in it. (Proverbs 13:10 & 21:24, Psalm 59:12 & 69:26-28) So there is nothing left to take pride in once we do. If we were really so righteous we would want to help people in their pursuit of holiness out of love, not condemn them. Only those who have honestly tried to overcome the flesh via God’s strength could ever be sympathetic towards the plight of self-destructive sinners, or even have a clue how to help them; rather than just criticize and condemn them.  As Galatians 5 reveals, the spirit does not lead us toward hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions or factions as critical self-righteous people often do. That is not proper worship, those are unholy products of the flesh. Besides, you can’t truly say you’ve succeeded at holiness until you are following the spirit, not just denying the flesh.

offering heart in worship via obedience
Heart of Obedience

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Purpose of worship 3 - seeking holiness 1

Dealing with sin was a critical part of Old Testament worship. Again, Jesus has made the ultimate atoning sacrifice for us which allows us to approach God fearlessly. Before we had to be ceremonially cleansed of defilement just to approach God, because you did not make any form of offering in an unworthy manor in those days. Now we can go to God directly for said forgiveness. Still, there is the matter of repentance, the New Covenant equivalent of atonement. Which is a change of heart as much as a change of actions, as Jesus himself revealed, our actions originate within our hearts. (Matthew 15:19) Seeking holiness is ultimately allowing God to cleanse and transform our wretched hearts by his grace and power, for there is no way we could ever do such a thing on our own. (Matthew 19:26-26) Is that how you approach it though? In many ways, I see believers trying to carry on as if we’re still under the old covenant. We get all fixated on our action and disregard the origin of said action, yet wonder why we constantly fail like the people of the Old-Testament. Then act as if we’re unworthy to approach God and try to clean ourselves up on our own as if grace does not apply to us, as if we can get back into God’s graces by refusing his grace. Where do we get such backwards thinking?

Remember, there is still the matter of confession. It was right there in the original list of the purposes of worship under the heading of holiness. Protestants often see this as a Catholic thing, but it is Biblical and still relevant under the New Covenant. (James 5:16) It has an accountability aspect that Protestants often miss out on in their church experiences.  Which can be very beneficial to personal growth. With that being said, true Biblical confession extends a little farther than even the Catholics take it. True confession is not just an admission, but an agreement. This can be seen in original Greek word for confession, which literally means “To say the same thing as.” Biblical confession is acknowledging that what God says about sin is true, that sin is harmful to the sinner, and your relationship with God. Plus there is also value in just being honest with God and yourself about your failings. (Luke 18:9-14) We cannot change or get to the bottom of what we refuse to acknowledge after all. This level of confession can eventually move us from doing things legalistically, to purposefully, and sincerely. True holiness is a sincere act of the heart, not an external whitewash. “This is your true and proper worship.”

unable to escape sinful heart
Wherever you go, there you are.