According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Category: Worship

Why Christians Should Regularly Gather for Worship

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One out of every eight people who call themselves a “born again” Christians do not attend church. Almost half of Americans have come to the conclusion that “the Bible does not command people to attend church; that is a man-made requirement.”[1]

Is this correct? Are Christians wasting their time going to church every Sunday when they could be doing a number of other things? While most people in the previous generation went to church because it was the thing to do, less people today see it as necessary. Many attend but get bored because it feels like there is nowhere to be involved. The nursery is full and they don’t feel qualified to lead or teach a Bible study.

What the Bible Says

While the culture may scream that attending church on Sunday is a man-made concept, the Scriptures do actually speak of it.

Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to either churches or pastors of churches. Romans, Ephesians, and Philippians are written to the church at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. Revelation is written to seven churches throughout Asia. The letters of the New Testament were not written to generally all Christians, or “the church universal”, though they certainly have application to all Christians. The letters were written to specific churches in specific cities that met together.

It likely didn’t look exactly as meetings today look with pews, a pulpit, the Lord’s table, and such things, but the Scriptures do speak of the church assembling together. Paul mentions the church coming together four times in 1 Corinthians. (5:4; 11:18; 14:23; 26). James gives instruction to the church about how to treat rich people when they come into their worship gathering. (Jas 2:1) The book of Acts is filled with believers meeting together for worship. To assert that meeting together for worship was man-made later is to ignore the church of the New Testament.

The key command in Scripture to go to church is found in Heb 10:23-25,

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The writer of Hebrews commands to not neglect meeting together as Christians. What is the purpose of this? There are two primary reasons he gives.

First, it is that Christians can faithfully hold to the hope they confess. The writer says “Let us hold fast…” It’s not an individual matter. Many say they have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our relationship is very personal, but it is not private. It is to be shared with other people. Christians cannot grow to full maturity in Christ without interacting with other Christians who can help them continue believing what they believe.

Secondly, the writer says to not stop meeting together so that Christians can continually encourage each other to participate in love and good works. What good works is he speaking of? The writer is not talking about what the world perceives as good works. It’s not simply about Christians helping each other recycle better or protect the environment. It’s about Christians participating in good works that are going to expand God’s kingdom, help each Christian grow, and ultimately glorify God.

A Model Church

Since the Bible does include a church that regularly meets together, it is that church that must be examined to see what these good works look like. At the beginning of the Christian movement, Luke gives us a concise picture of what the early church looked like:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Within this passage, there are seven characteristics of what it looks like for a church to operate and for Christians to faithfully gather and encourage each other toward good works.

  1. Preaching and Teaching

It is crucial for Christians to read the Bible on their own throughout the week. But this does not suffice for proper diet of the word of God. Along with personal Bible reading, Christians need to regularly be sitting under someone preaching and teaching God’s word to them. The early church was “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”

It is not enough to listen to podcast sermons. Doing this is good for Christians, but podcasts allow the Christian to listen to whatever topic they want instead of getting a steady diet decided by a shepherd and it allows Christians to stop listening when they get bored or uncomfortable.

Attending church means Christians are listening to preaching and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them through the work of the Word.

  1. Friendship/Community

People often speak of this aspect as “fellowship”. But fellowship is different. Fellowship will be discussed later. The believers in the early church were best friends. They were eating meals in each others’ houses every day. The closest friends of a Christian should be those in the church. When a believer begins to be led into flawed thinking such as believing a false doctrine, ending their marriage, living in sin, and such, it is their friends who can best correct them and they need godly friends who can.

  1. Fellowship

The word “fellowship” comes from the greek “Koinonia.” Koinonia is a relationship that goes far beyond two people eating at Chick-Fil-A together. It is used for Christian fellowship, but it’s also used for sexual intercourse.

Fellowship is more than socializing. It is when two or more people are partnered together with the same vision and goal in mind and headed relentlessly toward that. For Christians to have fellowship means that they are striving together for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom and seeing fellow believers reach full maturity in Christ. (Eph 4:13)

  1. Prayer

The church must be praying together. Prayer fuels all of the Christian’s work. It must be more than Christians praying for the healing of Uncle Frank in the hospital. Those things must be prayed for, but the church’s prayers must be laser focused on the mission of the church which is to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.

  1. Generosity

The early church sold their property and possessions to help one another out. They did way more than drop a check in an offering plate. The early church had a generosity that allowed them to be sacrificial for the benefit of each other. God expects the church today to have this same kind of generosity.

  1. Worship/Praise

Many people quote Rom 12:1 and say that worship is not about singing a song, but is about offering your life as a sacrifice. While that is true, the early church was daily praising God in the temple. Worshipping through song was a regular part of their Christian lives and it should be the same with Christians today.

  1. Multiplication

Finally, the mission of the church is that more and more Christians will be created through its work. The church is supposed to be about helping the poor and reaching the outcast, but if that is done apart from the Gospel being proclaimed and people coming to Christ, it is not functioning right. A good sign of a faithful church is if God is adding to their numbers daily of those who are being saved.

Conclusion

It is absolutely crucial that Christians go to church. Christ left the church on earth to make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) This best takes place as local churches gather every week to encourage one another to love and good works. So go to church. Begin to serve in the church. Fall in love with the church.


[1] Whitney, Donald S. “Why Go to Church.” Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, 15-17. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1996.

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The Joy of Sabbath Rest

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Sundays are my favorite day of the week. It’s not because I get to go to church, even though I am always excited to gather with other believers for worship. It’s not because my place of employment is closed that day, so I don’t have to work. It’s not because the Walking Dead comes on at 9, even though that show is cool.

Sunday is my day of rest. But not the kind of rest you might think of. I don’t just relax. I seek Sabbath rest.

We never think of the Sabbath as a big deal anymore. After all, didn’t Jesus say we don’t have to keep it anymore? Technically speaking, no he didn’t. What he said was:

The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matt 12:8)

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Jesus did tell the Pharisees that their extra rules they had added to the Sabbath were bad. He told them it was okay to heal on the Sabbath. It is okay to get an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath.

So what is Sabbath rest? I could give you a theological definition of it, but you are still not going to know what to do with it, so let me tell you what it looks like in my life.

It is usually Sunday for me, however, that is not required. Church worship is on Sunday and you should attend that, but the day that you seek Sabbath rest is going to depend on your schedule.

On that day, I lay aside my weekly jobs. My place of employment is closed, so I don’t have to worry about working. I refuse to do homework on that day. I don’t do laundry, dishes, or any chores.

For at least a few hours, I turn my cell phone off and stay off my computer, unless it is needed. During that time period, I allow the Spirit to lead me in my activities. I do things that are going to center my mind and my heart on the Lord.

I may spend several hours in the Word. I may have a time where I just sing and pray. I read Christian books that are not required for my seminary classes. I might write a blog post. I might journal. I might listen to a sermon. If it’s nice weather out, I might go to a park and go for a walk or a hike and spend that time meditating on the things of God.

Whatever the Spirit leads me to do, I spend that time period with the Lord, seeking his presence, and worshiping him. This is what Sabbath rest is. Jesus is the greater Sabbath. Sabbath rest isn’t relaxing on the couch. It’s relaxing in Jesus.

God made the Sabbath for man’s benefit! He made one day a week for us to rest, but the rest that is best for us is rest in Him.

So start taking a day off every week. Reorganize your schedule and your to-do list in a way in which you can. No matter which day of the week you do it, spend that day putting away as many distractions as possible and seek the Lord of the Sabbath.

Why Standing in Worship is Important

In the Spring, I graduated from Western Kentucky University. WKU’s fight song begins like this:

Stand up and cheer. Stand up and cheer for dear old Western.

Can we agree that if we have to stand up to cheer on something as small as WKU (or any sports team for that matter), we should probably stand in our worship.

Now, let me be clear. This shouldn’t sound like legalism. I’m not saying you aren’t “giving God your best” if you don’t stand up. I’m not saying God is mad if you don’t stand up during worship. And I fully recognize that some people can’t stand because they are old, disabled, or the like.

But what I am saying is that it might show the state of our hearts if we stand up and scream the whole time we are at a football game, but sit down while singing songs of praise to God in church.

Often, our worship at church looks more like the bored, sophisticated people at the opera than the excited people cheering on their sports team.

I hate it when people are up on the stage at church singing worship songs and the congregation is told to sit down, yet join in singing. Let’s be honest. Most of the congregation doesn’t. They just watch.

There is a more engaged atmosphere with worship when we are standing. It’s more awkward to lift your hands in worship if you are sitting down. You physically can’t get as into the music when you are sitting. Sure, you can meditate on the lyrics, but that only takes you so far. This is why the Psalms constantly tell people to praise God with loud shouts of joy. Praise is more than simply meditating on a truth. It is rejoicing and getting excited about it.

Maybe you say, “Well, why don’t you just stand and sing while everyone else is sitting down?” Here’s why. If I wanted to sing worship songs by myself, I’d stay home on Sunday morning and turn on my Spotify worship playlist. I go to church to worship God with a group of people. There is a different dynamic that way. Church is not simply a place for you to come and have a personal spiritual experience all to yourself. It is a place for the whole body to experience Christ together.

So let’s stand and sing. Let’s rejoice. Let’s stop looking bored out of our minds while we sing praises. He is much more exciting, more glorious, greater, and infinitely more worthy than your favorite sports team.

Stand up and cheer. Stand up and cheer for the Lord God Almighty.

14 Signs You are a Hipster Worship Leader

If you look at the younger generation of Christians seeking to be church leaders, you see an overwhelming majority of one particular group of people: Hipsters. A friend of mine described hipsters as people who want to look like they are as smart as nerds without doing the work of being a nerd. A major area this is becoming apparent in is worship leaders. So here are some ways you can tell if you are, or your worship pastor is, a hipster worship leader.

1. Your worship leading outfit consists of at least 3 of the following items:

  • Brown pointed shoes that look like a cross between work boots and dress shoes
  • Tight jeans, with the ankles rolled up
  • Flannel shirts (with either the top two buttons unbuttoned to show your chest hair or all of the buttons buttoned up to the top)
  • A cardigan sweater (bonus points if it is unbuttoned)
  • Big rimmed glasses
  • A toboggan/beanie
  • An untamed beard (think David Crowder or Duck Dynasty minus a few inches)
  • Combed over/slicked back hair
  • A scarf
  • Your hair with the sides cut shorter than the top
  • Optional: Tattoos

2. You have quoted John Piper, CS Lewis, or Valley of Vision more than once while leading worship.

3. Expressive worship is good, but in every worship service, you look like a squirrel is crawling around in your pants.

4. You sing the same 5-15 songs every time you lead worship and they are all either well know hymns or from Sovereign Grace Music.

5. You find a way to bring Calvinism into every worship service.

6. You have thanked God for predestining you to salvation before the foundation of the world.

7. You have led worship while drinking coffee.

8. You have instagrammed your quiet time more than five times in your life.

9. You hold to the theology that all worship songs have to be deeper than half the passages of the Bible.

10. You look down on versions of the Bible like the NLT or the Message.

11. You are really adamant about supporting social causes and missions….on social media.

12. Your preferred Bible translation, no matter the audience is the ESV.

13. You think Chris Tomlin is too mainstream.

14. You swear on your mother’s grave that you are not a hipster.

 

I Come in Simplicity

“I come in simplicity, longing for purity, to worship you in spirit and truth, only you….You’re the reason I sing, the reason I sing, yes, my heart will sing, how I love you. And forever I’ll sing, forever I’ll sing, yes my heart will sing, how I love you.” -Rend Collective “Simplicity

These are the lyrics of my favorite Rend Collective song. The reason I love it so much is that it calls us back to worship the Lord in simplicity.

I am a seminary student, so I am usually around a lot of people who speak at least two languages: English and Theology. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love theology. My bookshelf has finally reached it’s third full shelf. I love to read and study.

But us who study a lot must be careful, because knowledge puffs up. If you aren’t careful, knowledge makes you arrogant and thus, dishonoring to Christ. If we ever reach the point where we are not acquiring knowledge in order to know and love God anymore, but rather to be smart, we are in sin.

At seminary, it has been described as the fact that we are drinking out of a fire hose. And that is the truth. We have to take in a lot of information in a short time span. So there are a lot of extremely smart people at my seminary, which is great! Take your study and do it to the glory of God. Learn as much as you can, but never lose track of the purpose of loving God more in your knowledge.

At seminary, I have to constantly take a step back and come to the Lord in simplicity. I love really deep worship songs like those by Sovereign Grace Music and Hillsong, but I like more than just those deep worship songs.

Chris Tomlin recently released a song called “Jesus Loves Me”. The chorus simply says, “Jesus, he loves me. He loves me. He is for me. Jesus, how can it be, he loves me.”

I know some people at seminary who scoff at songs like that because it’s not high enough theology. But if you can’t fall in worship singing that Jesus loves you, there is something wrong with you. It may not talk about the propitiation of the cross, the sovereign power of God, the extravagant glory of God, or the overcoming of the saints by the blood of the Lamb, but it is the Gospel in it’s simplest form.

There is real value in laying aside theology textbooks and heavy doctrines for a bit and just remembering what Rend Collective says, that he is the reason we sing, and then singing how we love him.

The Repetitive Baptist Prayer

I am a Southern Baptist. I love it. I don’t think I’ll ever be part of another denomination.

I may love the Baptist tradition, but I do consider other denominations my brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they are true followers of Jesus, meaning they believe the Gospel.

I hear a lot of Baptist speak against Catholics in how they pray. Because they pray the Lord’s prayer or other repeated prayers, they are said to violate Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 where he says not to pray with vain repetition. I would absolutely agree, under most circumstances, don’t pray with repetitive prayers. But I do have to challenge those in my own denomination who say this.

Have you ever heard either of these prayers:

“Lord, thank you for this meal. Use it to the nourishment of our bodies.”

“Dear Lord and Gracious Heavenly Father. Thank you for this day and all your many blessings. Lead, guide, and direct us. In Jesus name, Amen.”

I hear these two prayers all the time. In fact, by habit, I sometimes unintentionally pray the first one.

Baptists, these are just as repetitive as those Catholics use.

Think about it. We get to talk to the God of the universe! The one who created us. We get to speak to God! Why in the world would we ever want to recite something to him when we can talk to him? If I were married, I’d never recite a speech to my wife. I’d genuinely talk to her because I love her! The same with God.

Let us all, Baptist, Catholic, or anyone else, make our prayers like this. The prayer over your meal. The prayer over the offering in church. The closing prayer at church. None of these are transitions to get on to the meal or the next part of church. They are prayers. You are talking to the God who loves you. The God who made you. He has a personality. He has a character. Talk to him like he is a person and not just some genie in a lamp that you have to recite a certain saying to get what you want. Talk to him like he is really there.

Praise God we get to talk to him.

Holy Spirit, Fill This Place?

Often, I think we pray for the wrong thing. During worship services, sometimes we pray that the Holy Spirit would fill the place. That’s a great prayer, but I think it’s a little off target.

Sometimes, I feel like we are praying that a warm breeze would fill the room when we pray that. That wouldn’t benefit us in any way. We’d just have to turn the air up because the people would be complaining that it is too hot in the sanctuary.

Think of the Holy Spirit as water. If the stained-glass windows were to explode in your church and a rush of water came in and filled the room like a scene right out of Titanic, it would not be beneficial for the congregation. They’d drown and die.

However, if you give them a glass of water and they drink it, they have the required strength to live life.

When the Holy Spirit first fell in Acts 2, it did fill the room in a wind, but it wasn’t until it actually rested on the apostles that anything happened in the life of the church.

So it’s not bad to desire the Holy Spirit to fill a place, but what is His target? Is it simply to fill the room and make everyone have warm, fuzzy feelings while they sing? Or is it that the Holy Spirit would fill each person in the room and send them out to do God’s work in the world?

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our people that the Kingdom of God will advance in the world for the glory of Jesus in all nations.