Praying the Psalms: Psalm 15

How can man be with God? Who can come before His presence? We tend to ignore the importance of that question. We live in a world in which many people deny the transcendent. Functionally, many people live as if there is no God. So why would they wonder how they can be in his presence? Yet, this is the most fundamental question. Who can come before the presence of God? As we look at another Psalm of David, we are going to see David meditate on just this question. IMG_0500

Commentary

v. 1 - The Psalm begins with two parallel questions. "O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?" The question presupposes something foundational—not every human being will be accepted before God in his glorious presence. The idea of the tent David mentions draws our attention to the tabernacle that was used during the wilderness years. The tabernacle served as the home of the very presence of God in the midst of the encamped people. Later, Solomon would be a temple, place on that holy hill. The tabernacle/temple dynamic in the Old Testament serves as an important tool in teaching us about God and his presence.

First, God is distinct and holy. The innermost part of the temple was the holy of holies. It was the most sacred space. Only the high priest could enter in to make a sacrifice. He would only enter once a year after extensive purification and preparation. To enter into that place was gloriously terrifying. God is holy and untouchable.

Second, We are defiled and unclean. Because of our sin, we cannot simply waltz into the presence of God as we would stroll about our homes. God provided strict rules of who was allowed to come into his presence. The reason for this is because we are sinners. Our rebellion causes separation between us and God.

So as we look at this in the canon of Scripture, “who shall dwell on your holy hill?”—the answer is no human being. We have all fallen short. We have all sinned. Yet, we know that God makes a way. He cleanses us from our sin, not through the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but through the final sacrifice for all, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was through the death of the Lord Jesus that the thick curtain that separated the holy of holies was ripped in two. For those who come clothed in the righteousness of Jesus by faith, they may enter into the very presence of God.

So this psalm does not intended to show us how to be saved, as that is not its purpose. If we were to read it in that way we would severely misunderstand its meaning and wrongly conclude that all it takes is to be a good person. Yet, that is not what David is trying to teach us. David knew that he is not blameless. The man was a murderer and adulterer. Just read David's psalm of confession in psalm 51.

So what is the purpose of this psalm? This psalm was most likely sung by the people of Israel as they would gather at the temple for worship. It was a song of personal reflection and heart examination. Am I coming to God with the ideal heart for worship?

As Christians, we gather into worship on Sunday morning in a trivial and lackadaisical manner. We enter into worship with little self reflection and little confession. We truly don't prepare our hearts for worship. Unfortunately churches have become in practice like the theater. A group of people socializing and taking there seats getting ready to watch the show. Yet, Psalm 15 instructs us that when we come to worship we must examine ourselves.

v. 2-5b - David then begins to give a list of inner characteristics that describe a true worshiper. The inner and personal holiness of a Christian is vital for true worship. Yes, we are not saved by our works. Yet, Christ Jesus didn't save us to leave us as sinners. Rather, as Christians we embark on a journey of sanctification. Though we cannot reach perfection in this life, the end goal is that we will one day worship God in complete purity and personal holiness. As we worship God today, we must seek to worship him in the inner purity of our heart and life. Where there is sin we must confess it and repent. We must seek to become, by the Spirit's power, true worshipers of the Lord.

So what sort of character does David describe? Well, a true worshiper walks blamelessly and does what is right. He speaks truth in his heart. What a beautiful combination! A true worshiper of God loves the truth and sound doctrine, yet lives it out in his daily life as he walks blamelessly.

The true worshiper also speaks the truth. He does not slander or speak evil to his neighbor. His relationships with other people are upright. He doesn't tear people down and he doesn't use people for his own selfish gain. A true worshiper possesses a reputation for honesty by those around him.

A true worshiper also despises evil. He has a love for those who fear and love the Lord. He honors those who fear God while despising those who are vile. This person keeps his promises and he does not back out of them though it might end up being personally costly to him. In the words of Jesus, his yes is yes and his no is no. He generously treats all people fairly, not even charging interest to others. He is just and refuses to take a bribe.

The person David describes is morally upright, solid in character, loving in personal relationships, and known for his personal integrity. This is the kind of person that can come and truly worship the Lord. As we read these sort of character traits they give us pause. Am I such a man or woman? In Christ, am I becoming someone who walks blamelessly? Who speaks truth? Who is generous and loves justice? The answer, if we are honest, is this: we still have a long ways to go. By God's grace may he form us into this type of worshiper as he conforms us to the image of his perfect son Jesus Christ.

As we read this list of inner character traits, only Jesus alone could fulfill them. If these are the requirements of entering in to the tent of God's presence, than he alone could enter in without fear. Yet, by the substitutionary death of Jesus, God gives us Jesus’ perfect record of righteousness. Now, by the Spirit's work, God is transforming us into who we now are in Christ.

v. 5b - The last sentence tells us the sort of confidence this sort of worshiper can have. "He who does these things shall never be moved." For those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and who daily seek personal holiness, we can have great confidence. We will not be shaken and we will not be moved. Through the love of Christ and the gracious work of the preserving and sanctifying work of the holy Spirit one day we will see God face to face in all his glory.

As you come into worship this upcoming Sunday, remember it is a foretaste of heavenly realities. Examine your heart. Come prepared for worship. Seek holiness and justice in your life, and know that it is only through Jesus that you shall dwell on that holy hill in worship.

Prayer Guide

  • Thank God for Jesus and for his grace in granting you access to the Father.
  • Ask the Lord to reveal to you hidden sin. Examine yourself.
  • Ask the Lord to help you seek personal holiness and to grow in the image of Jesus Christ
  • Thank God that through Jesus you can come before God in confidence.

Christ Over All: Put on the New Self

http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/03-08-2015.mp3  

Each Monday (This week Wednesday!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians, chapter 3 turns to the practical aspects of the Christian life. Paul has been discussing how our union with Christ by faith changes who we are. We are new people with a new identity. Therefore the old person who we used to be is now gone. Paul tells us in v. 5 to put to death our old self and to put off the vices of worldliness.

Here in v. 12 Paul is going to instruct us what the character of Christ looks like in the Christian life. We must not simply stop doing the sinful activities of our past, but we must put on a new character and a new heart that is birthed out of our new identity in Jesus.

One of the things that I think will surprise you as we study this passage together today is just how much Paul discusses putting on the character of Christ within the Christian community of the church.

Some will claim a “me and Jesus” faith that has no need for the community of the church. They may claim to be able to worship just fine on the fishing boat or may claim to grow just fine disconnected from community and membership to a local body. Yet, this attitude is not found in the NT at all. The writers of the NT always assume that a follower of Christ is always connected to the body of Christ.

If you hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and if you hope to increase in Christ-likeness it will not happen if you are severed from the church. God has ordained it that we grow together in the loving community of the church. If we hope to put on the character of Christ as Paul instructs us here today, we will see that he assumes it is done within the context of the local church.

If you have a desire for holiness and if you have a desire to live your life for the glory of God than you ought to have a desire to belong and participate in the life of the church as well. The church is God’s gift to us helping us to grow in our faith. As we dive in to our passage for today we will see it over and over again. Putting on the character of Christ is meant to happen within the Christian community of the local church.

In Jesus, we put on the character of Christ and grow through the community of Christ.

1. The Character of a Christian (v.12–14)

Paul kicks off his command of “Put on then” by reminding us of who we are. Again that theme of indicatives and imperatives reoccurs here again. Before Paul tells us what we must do as Christian he always reminds us of who we are. And just who are we?

Paul tells us that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Paul reminds the colossians and reminds us that if you are a Christian who are the elect of God. Chosen to be a member of his family. You have been called by him to be set apart and you have been chosen by him to be a special object of his love as he unites you to his son Jesus Christ by faith.

Paul is reminding us again of our new identity in our Christian life. Our identity in Jesus is the source and power for any hope to put on the character of Christ. Because in Jesus we have been made holy, by the Power of God’s spirit we are able to live in holiness.

I must never cease in warning you of this: It is impossible to live the Christian life without first being made by God a Christian. When we come to Christ there is a fundamental change in who we are. We are made new. We are born again. We become new men and new women in Jesus. It is out of this new identity that we are able by the Spirit to not only put off our former way of life, but put on the character and love of Christ.

Five Virtues

So Paul describes the character of Christ in which we are to put on. Just as Paul gave us a few verses earlier of 5 vices to put off, here he gives us a list of 5 virtues that are to radiate from the Christian life. He tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Jesus transforms our very personality as he brings about the character of Christ in our life. In our Christian life we should seek to be growing in each of these areas.

Our ruthless merciless hearts should be growing more warm and compassionate towards others. The rudeness and selfishness that dominates our speech should be replaced with the kindness of Christ. Our sefl-suffeciency and pride should be replaced with a God given humility and meekness. Our irritableness and frustration with others should be replaced by divine patience for others struggles and weaknesses.

Bearing with One Another

Paul goes on to tell us that we should bear with one another, and be patient with one another. Here already you see the importance of community in growing in christ-likeness. It is easy to get frustrated with one another as church members isn’t it? We all have annoying little quirks and we all have areas of sin in our life and blindspots. Some of us are a little thick-headed and stubborn than others.

Yet maturity in Christ means that we are patient in bearing with one another. For those who are slow to learn we show humble patience. To those who hurt us and harm us we offer forgiveness. To those struggling with sin, we come along side and help them bear their struggle.

The immature Christian is a one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and gets filled with self-righteous frustration. The mature Christian is the one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and is filled with compassionate and loving patience.

For those of us who struggle with our weaker brothers and sisters perhaps we are not as mature in Christ as we’d like to think.

Forgiving One Another

Paul even tells us that those who have put on the character of Christ should make us forgiving people. A forgiving spirit is a sign of maturity in Christ. Those who hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart not only hurt their own soul but bring destruction and disunity on the church. The forgiveness of God changes us.

How has God forgiven us? Well he has forgiven us in the most costly of ways. That while we are sinners God sent his son, born in human flesh to absorb the penalty for our sin at the cross. Jesus stands in the gap and takes on our shame so that we could receive the favor of God and be adopted into his family. Our horrific, vile, and detestable sin has been forgiven by the blood of the lamb! The forgiveness of God is costly, it wasn’t cheap, and yet God generously gives it to all who might believe in his son Jesus Christ.

Again, I must urge you if you do not know Jesus and if you have yet to be forgiven by God, he is generous and merciful to receive all those who would turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Christians are not perfect people, but forgiven people. And God’s forgiveness shapes us and molds us into forgiving people.

So when you have conflict with other members in the church it is vital that you go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. A church filled with gossip, bitterness, grudges, and tension is not a church that is growing in the image of Jesus Christ. We should be so quick to offer forgiveness when we fail each other and we must be quick to offer grace just as God in Christ has offered to us.

Paul says that above everything else that should define the character of a Christian, a Christian must be defined by love. As recipients of God’s love we love one another. Why is it that we refuse to forgive one another? Why is it that we are not humble or compassionate or patience towards others? It is because our hearts have not been filled with God’s love. Harmony in the church is achieved when the people of God genuinely and deeply love one another. It is the love of Christ that binds our hearts together and puts us together in perfect harmony.

2. The Community of a Christian (v. 15–17)

Paul tells us that the one of the distinguishing marks of the body of Christ should be one in which the peace of Christ rules. The church is to be a group of people growing together in christian maturity. We live under the rule of Christ and under his authority, and we live under the rule of his peace. In col 1:20 we are told that Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross. As we live our life under his Lordship that same peace should be evident in our churches.

The church should not be known for its back-bitting, grumbling, and complaining, but joyful peaceableness as we live under the rule of Jesus together, and for that we should be incredibly thankful to God that he allows us to be apart of this wonderful community of peace called the church.

But a question remains. How can our church became a community living under the peace of Christ? Why is it that most churches seem to be places of hostility not of peace?

Let the word of Christ Dwell in you richly

Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer of how that peace within the body is attained. We live under the peace of the rule of Christ if we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly. That’s what Paul says isn’t it in verse 16.

As we think about Forest Hills Baptist Church none of us can claim any sense of ownership to this body. Even though I’m a pastor, this isn’t my church. Even though you might have been born and raised in this church, Forest Hills is not your church. The one who owns us, who controls us, and who rules over us all is Jesus Christ himself. After all, he is the one who bought us by his own blood.

This is hugely important for us to grasp. If Jesus rules over us as his body, then that means that his Word is the final authority when it comes to our church. It means that every member of this church should submit our lives to the Scripture not only our personal lives but also in our church.

The reason there is so much hostility in some churches is because their is a conflict of authority. The church is not the place for you to come and exert your own influence, control, and your own way of doing things. When people begin to act like this, conflict ensues and rivalries develop. When Jesus’ word is replaced by our own personal authorities we cease to be His church.

So let me make it clear in case there is any doubt, as pastors of Forest Hills Baptist Church we will only lead our church under the rule of God’s word. God’s word will be our authority, not the opinions and preferences of our members. Why? Because we want the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, therefore we want to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly.

Corporate Worship

v. 16 has a lot to teach us when it comes to cooperate worship. One implication is that it means that the word of God takes the primary seat in all we do, particularly in our corporate worship.

This is why there is such an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible here at Forest Hills, because we want to let the word of God dwell within us as a body. As a result, it gets the lions share of time as we come together. The preaching of the word of God and the teaching of the word of God are essential and primary in the life of the church.

In every generation there seems to be an attack on the preaching of the word, but in our own day preaching is especially attacked by a focus of shifting our church worship towards entertainment. There is great pressure for churches to make their worship services something that will attract a large crowd through large scale musical productions, skits, videos, flashing lights, fog machines, and overpowering decibels of volume. The preaching of the word is being reduced to a 15 minute sermonette in which preachers become less like prophets heralding the truth of the Gospels but stand up comedians who tickle itching ears.

Some will doubt that the word of God will be effective in reaching this next generation. The Bible isn’t enough, we need to bolster it with our own ingenuity or we need to come along and bolster the Bible. Some may say that the Bible isn’t enough at all that it should be jettisoned and replaced in the church with something new and fashionable.

Let me tell you something, the word of God is enough. Whenever a man of God stands before a church with the Scriptures miracles happen. Why? Because the Spirit of God works to save the lost and grow the saved through the faithful preaching and teaching of the word.

May God forgive us for making worship about our own entertainment than about God’s own glory. At Forest Hills we are committed to treasuring Christ in worship by seeking to fill our hearts with the word of Christ! Does this mean worship is only preaching? No, not at all.

In the same focus of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly Paul tells us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to admonish one another with the word of God. Music can be a powerful way to instruct one another with the word of Christ. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do, to admonish one another with the word of God.

When it comes to music in our worship we must always make sure that we are singing towards God in worship but also singing to one another. The point of music isn’t to set a mood, draw attention to soloists or the musician ship of worship leaders, but rather it should function as admonishing one another with the word.

There are few principles of how I think Colossians 3:16 gives us guide when it comes to understanding our singing.

  1. Our songs should be dripping in Scripture.
  2. Our Songs should be directed towards God.
  3. Our songs should be admonishing one another.
  4. Our songs should be sung with thankfulness to God.

The summation of the Christian life both individually and corporately has one aim and one aim only, the glory of God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, so everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” v. 17.

As we put off our old way of life and as we put on the character of Christ in the community of the church may our life’s purpose be to the glory of God. In whatever we say and whatever we do may our ambition for God’s glorious name be the driving motive in it all. The Christian is one who lives his life wrapped up entirely in Christ. There is no such thing as being to committed or to devoted to Jesus. Christ is our life. He is Lord over all. His peace rules over us as we live in our community of love together allowing the word of God to dwell in our hearts and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Don’t you want to be a part of a community like this? There are some of you that are incredibly connected and invested in the community of Forest Hills Baptist Church, but there are many of you that are not. You come to an event on Sunday morning but you are not engaged in the community of the saints. Your not a member of our church, you are not connected to a Sunday School class, or you are not engaged in serving the body in any way. Let me challenge you today to get connected to what God is doing here in us. If you want to grow in your faith and put on the character of Christ you need the body. You can’t do it on your own.

If you are interested in joining in membership to our church I’d love to talk to you about that after the service. We have our membership class starting again in just a few weeks and we’d love to get you learning more about what it means to be a covenant member at our church.

For some of you who are members perhaps you need to pray today about investing in this community with your time and with your resources. Maybe you need to recommit to pursuing holiness by committing to regularly participating in the life of the church. We need one another to grow together in Christ. Will you join us as we come together as a church to put on the character of Christ together for the glory of God.

Let the Nations Praise You: Worship is the Fuel for Global Missions

Missions is an idea far from our minds. In our day to day lives many Christians do not pause to pray or even think about what God is seeking to do across the globe. Although we have been blessed greatly as Christians by receiving God’s gracious salvation, we fail to see how we have been blessed by God to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. No passage describes God’s passion for the nations and our response to God’s blessing like Psalm 67.

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Psalm 67, ESV)

God Has Blessed Us in Christ

As we think about our own salvation we have been saved by grace alone. If you are a Christian, God has set his love on you by redeeming you through Jesus Christ. God made a way to forgive you from your sins and in the cross of Christ as he pours out his wrath due our sins on his beloved son the radiant love of God shines like the beaming sun on us. We have been blessed beyond measure.

We who were isolated have been brought near.

We who were lost have been found.

We who were enemies have been made friends.

We who were orphans have been adopted.

We who were hungry have been made full.

We who were condemned have been justified.

You see we too have been blessed greatly by God as recipients of his grace and mercy.

God has blessed us incredibly, far beyond comprehension. We have not just treated better than we deserve we are treated the opposite of what we deserve. We deserve wrath, but have been given peace. We deserve condemnation, but God has given us salvation. God loves us incredibly, yet the Gospel is not simply “God loves me”. David Platt in his book Radical pens these words:

“The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period”, as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him – his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness – known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.” (70)

The purpose of God’s saving work, the reason we have been so blessed is so that God’s glory might be known in all the earth. This means that God desires that all the people of the earth praise him as God and find their joy in him, just as we have. We have been blessed to be a blessing. So for what purpose have we been saved? Why has God so richly blessed us?

So That All the World Might Praise and Be Glad in God

Here within these verses we get the thrust of why God created the world. Have you ever wondered that question? Why does all that exists exist? What is its purpose? What is its appointed end? The answers to all those questions is this – the glory of God. His glory is the purpose of all things. So God has put this world into existence so that he might be praised above all and by all. God’s desire in the creation of humanity was to fill the earth with his image bearers so that the whole earth might be filled with glorious praise. God has chosen to do this through the redemption of humanity. By saving sinners God glorifies himself through his great sovereign redemptive work.

However notice again the object of God’s redemptive plan. His blessing was never meant to stay within Israel, but rather Israel was blessed to be a blessing to the world. By blessing the people of Israel the praise of God was to spread throughout all the peoples of the earth. God’s plan from the beginning of creating is to glorify himself through all the peoples of the earth. The salvation of the nations is just a plan of God it is THE plan of God. It has been and it always will be. Why? Because as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worship, value, rejoice and be glad in God, He is made glorious!

And he wants the nations to be glad in God! Oh how wonderful it is to be happy in God. To delight in him, to rejoice in him, the enjoy him. The proper display of worship is to treasure God. Here the Psalmist is calling out in petition to God begging that all the peoples of the earth might enjoy God as we do. The psalmist is praying asking that God would display his glory by having the nations find there joy in God alone. Enjoying God is glorifying God. And this is the aim of missions – to bring all the peoples of the earth to find their rest, their joy, their hope in the one savior who takes away the sins of the whole world and who purchases a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation for the glory of God!

So we like the Psalmist join in prayer crying out to God “Let the peoples praise you, o God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” We pray asking for God’s named to be hallowed, for his kingdom to spread, for the salvation of all the peoples of the earth!

The Goal of the Church is Worship, Not Missions

This is key for us to understand. The goal the church is not missions, but rather it is worship. It is the praising of God’s name throughout the earth. That is the appointed end of all creation. John Piper writes in his classic work on missions Let the Nations Be Glad and writes,

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever”

So because we as a church exist for the glory of God and since we have been saved for the glory of God, we must seek to bring glory to God through the evangelization of the nations. The glory of God is our aim in our passionate pursuit of him.

Apathetic to Missions

Though so many of us seem completely unmoved by missions. Why bother with international missions? Isn’t all the focus on missions excessive? I mean we may give money to missions, why is there any need for us to go? If we are honest many of us don’t even think about missions.

We don’t pray for missionaries.

We don’t pray for the unreached people groups of the earth.

We don’t cut back our spending so we can give more to missions. We don’t go on missions trips.

We just simply don’t really care all that much do we?

Yet, perhaps the reason we don’t care about global missions is because we do not love God as we ought. Perhaps the reasons our zeal for mission is weak is because we do not desire for God to be made glorious in our lives and in our world. Again, Piper writes,

“Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. Churches that are not centered on the exaltation of the majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to “declare his glory among the nations” (Ps 96:3). Even outsiders feel the disparity between the boldness of our claim upon the nations and the blandness of our engagement with God.”

If you are struggling to have a heart for missions. If the sacrifice seems to great to you and to costly, then pray that God would show you more of God. Pray that you would see the radiance of his glory, that another veil would be lifted and that you might see his majesty! I’m convinced the reason we are apathetic towards missions is because we do not realize the majesty of the God we worship. Our hearts have yet to be gripped by the beautiful vision of God’s glory that grips our hearts and brings us to our knees in worship. When his face shines upon us and we know the joy of his presence, a privileged purchase by Christ, then we will want to call the world to praise and be glad in this gracious God.

The reason our heart for mission is to small is because we do not realize the largeness of the God we worship. He is the God of the nations! He is the God of the universe and he WILL be made glorious in all the earth. He WILL be exalted among the nations. And he has chosen to glorify himself through us as his church. He is calling us to be a part of spreading his glory throughout all the earth. He is giving us opportunity to participate in the very purpose of creation.

Talk about a life filled with meaning and significance! Do you want that? Do you long to not waste your life on trivial pursuits that end up no where? Missions is God’s invitation to you Christian. It is your calling. It is the purposive your redemption. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We have been blessed by God to take this Gospel of grace to the very ends of the earth. What a sacred privilege and what a glorious honor! We must begin getting serious about this divine calling. We must begin to get serious about sending disciples globally around the earth.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!”

The Importance of Theology in the Church

What do you think about when hear the word "Theology"? Does it conjure up some grey haired, bearded old man who wears a tweed jacket and talks in a dreary monotone voice like Ben Stein? For many Christians theology equals boring. We want a feeling. We want a worship experience. We want the warm fuzzies. It seems like theology is largely out of style in most churches. Who cares about doctrine anyway? It seems like the local church has exported theological education to seminaries and reserved it just for pastors. As a result it is commone to find a Christian who has been attending church their whole lives to be but theological ignoramus.

Worshiping an UnKnown God

I fear that many churches look more like the greeks at the Areopagus where they are worshiping an unknown God. Many will enter into church longing to worship a God about whom they know very little. Could it be possible that many Christians are raising their hands and feeling warm fuzzies about a god of their own creation and not the God of the Bible?

I'll never forget visiting an older lady one time to help her learn how to work the TV (cause that's what young pastors do in an older church, help the older members with technology). We spent some time talking and she made reference to a recent sermon I preached. I don't even remember the sermon, but she referenced a comment I made about the Holy Spirit. The sermon wasn't even on the Holy Spirit, but she was curious. She told me, "You know I've been in Church a long time, but I know nothing about the Holy Spirit". I left encouraged by an older woman's desire and thirst to learn more about her God even in her old age, but I also left extremely disappointed. How is it possible that she has been in this church her whole life and never been taught on the third person in the Trinity?

The Pressure for Practicality

The failure is largely on pastors who fail to teach their people theology. This is largely because they feel the pressure to give the people what they want. It is easier to tickkle people's ears rather than teach theology. However, as pastors we must remember we must give people what they need, not necessarily what they want. Many people will tell their pastors, "I don't want to hear a sermon on the Trinity. Just give me five ways to get my kids to obey me."

Some how Christians have bought into the lie that theology is not practical or relevant to their lives. However for the Christian faith not only is doctrine and theology essential (less we cease to be Christian), but it is also incredibly relevant and practical to our lives.

Theology Increases Our Ability to Worship

Theology does not hinder worship but increases it. Doctrine does not hinder love but deepens it. It is incredibly hard to love someone you know very little about isn't it? In fact, as you get to know someone better your love for them deepens. I'll give you an example with my son Jude.

When Jude was born I loved him. He was my son; Yet, I did not know a thing about him. That little baby boy in my arms was but a stranger. I loved him, but I did not know him. Yet as he has grown into a rambunctious toddler, my love for him has deepen drastically over the past year and a half. Why? Because I know him, both intellectually and experientially. I know that his favorite movie is The Muppets that he watches at least once a day. I know that he loves to eat blueberries and that he can't go anywhere without his musical giraffe. The more I've gotten to know him, my love for him has deepen.

So too it is with God. In his letter to the Philippians Paul writes,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of _knowing_ Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8, ESV)

Paul zealously desired to know Christ. In fact his love for knowing Christ deepened his desire to live for Christ. His thirst for knowing Christ was so powerful that knowing Christ became the ultimate treasure. Everything else was rubbish compared to this glorious privilege of knowing Christ.

Knowing Christ: The Task of All Theology

The aim of all theology is to know Christ. As we learn about who God is and what his word teaches, our love for him deepens and we live boldly for him as our chief treasure. When we have a thorough and ever increasing understanding of the Word of God we begin to experience true worship. Theology is not some dry, boring study reserved for seminary professors. Theology leads us to doxology. As we reflect on the glorious truths of the love of God in the sending of his son Jesus and on the costly redemption God has purchased for us, these truths lead us to deep, moving, and authentic worship.

Theology is for the Church. It is for the people of God to lead them to Worship. Doctrine is the treasure of the church, because it informs us about the God in whom we are worshiping. When a church properly studies and values theology it will always lead them to a rich, corporate doxology.

7 Principles for Corporate Worship

Worship in the church has been a topic hotly debated over the past few decades. There has been fight after fight concerning the so called Worship Wars that debate over the style of music.  In addition there is a regular debate about the Regulative Principle. Yes, Scripture should guide our worship practices, but what about the things Scripture does not speak on like projectors for lyrics, fog machines, and even microphones? With all the variance that accompanies church worship, it is vital for churches to define scriptural principles that help them in planning their Worship time together. One of the reasons churches argue so much over worship is because the theological principles driving their worship are never clarified or communicated. As I continue to think through this issue, here are some Scriptural principles that guide me as I think about worship in the church.

1. Worship Should Center on The Word of God

The preached word of God should be the center point of our worship. In most churches, preaching takes up the dominant amount of time in our worship services. The church has a message to be proclaimed and a message that needs to be heard. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be taught weekly from the Bible. The best method of preaching is Expository Preaching, a method in which the content of the sermon should match up to the content of the Scripture studied. Topical preaching has its occasional place, but the steady diet for corporate worship should be the robust expository teaching of the word of God.

Many think that worship stops after the singing, but no, worship is just beginning. As the preacher stands before the people and heralds Gospel truth and as the people engage with God's word, they must rejoice over the truth along with the preacher. Christians are people who have had their lives transformed by a truth: the good news of Jesus. Therefore our worship must not only be an emotional experience, but a time grounded in the solid foundation of the truth revealed in God's word. However worship centered on the word of God is more than preaching but should be a part of everything we do in worship.  Whether it is influencing the content of our songs, having corporate scripture reading, or even in our prayers, scripture should be pervasive in our worship time together.

2. Worship Should Be Participatory

It is easy for worship to become a spectator sport. A huge crowd gathers into the room to come and watch the show.  We often think of church like coming to a football game where you cheer or criticize the team that is playing, but never participate in the game by stepping on the field. As you sit in your chair, you watch the people on the stage worship but you are just there to spectate. A lot of times churches design their worship services to encourage spectator, consumer Christians by including so many "showy" elements that foster a culture of sitting on the side lines.

This might make me a little bit odd, but this is one reason why I'm not a big fan of special music in churches. I grew up in churches that made this a weekly practice and I've even done a few special musics myself in my day. The special music is when every one sits down, gets comfortable and watches a soloist, a choir, or a musician perform. More often than not, the special music rather than encouraging participation facilitates a distant watching.

Worship should be participatory, seeking to get the people engaged in worship. Participatory elements include corporate singing, corporate scripture reading, the Lord's Supper, prayer, or even sermon notes to help people engage with the sermon message. Worship services should be structured to encourage the worshipers participation in worship rather than encouraging them to be spectators while the "professionals" worship up on stage.

3. Worship Should Be Evangelistic

A key component of worship must be evangelism. There has been vicious debate over what worship should be for, believers or non believers. Well I suggest that the issue is a false dilemma. Worship should seek to both reach the non believer and edify the believers. Every worship service should have a clear, explicit presentation of the Gospel message. Any lost person who happens to visit your worship should be able to walk away knowing how he or she can be saved.

This means that often you have to watch the Christianese that can alienate non-believers. Things must be explained, including the worship order so they can understand what is going on in the service. The non believers should be publicly welcomed and thanked for coming and even addressed specifically in the sermon message. This includes making your church welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, helping them to feel at home when they first come to your church.

4. Worship Should Edify Believers

A key component to worship should be discipleship. The majority of those who come to worship tend to already be believers. They come every week to be encouraged in their walk with Christ and to be fed the word of God for their spiritual growth. Worship should seek to empower and equip believers to live for Christ boldly and confidently. They should leave both challenged and stirred to turn from their sin and live for Christ.

This often comes from the sermon component that seeks to not only evangelize to the lost but also encourage the saints. It is hard to do both simultaneously and some sermons will be catered to one purpose over the other, but we must always try to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This comes through the teaching of the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17). Christians might leave challenged and convicted, but they should always leave in the hope of the grace of God that covers their failures and empowers them to live on mission.

5. Worship Should Be Contextual

Worship should be contextual. Worship will look different in different cultures or in different places. To deny that culture does not influence your worship services is to be a liar. The fact that our worship is in a specific language already contextualizes our service which by default reaches out to a specific culture and alienating others. All of our worship has some cultural expressions that are mingled into our time together. This is not always a bad thing, but it is something we must realize happens.

As a result different parts of our country and even different types of people will connect better with different worship styles than others. It is easy to elevate our personal preferences to THE way people must worship, but we must realize that our preferences are just that – preferences. They are not absolute guidelines to be imposed at all churches in all ways.

The question is how far is to far when it comes to contextualizing our worship? Can worship become showy and worldly? Can you over-contextualize in which you actually sacrifice the message of the Gospel? Yes, all those things are very real dangers. There are lines that can be crossed, often dealing with music, which leads us to the next point.

6. Music Should Have Solid Theological Content

The songs we choose for worship should have robust, rich doctrinal content. One of the great and true criticism of the Contemporary Christian Movement is that the lyrics could be very well about their boyfriend or girlfriend rather than Jesus. They often repeat vain ambiguous phrases over and over that could be about anything.  So often these lyrics emphasize emotionalism but not doctrinal truth. When Christians get together to sing, they should sing about the Gospel. Even the early Christian hymns we have in the Bible like Philippians 2 or Colossians 1 have highly rich doctrinal content.

Thankfully many are moving back to singing songs that have doctrinal depth such as many of the modern hymns such as "In Christ Alone". These are powerful songs, done in a modern or contextual way that engages people in worship while still instructing people in truth. The singing portion of worship can also be a time of great teaching. The people of God should sing the Gospel together, which means we need to make sure we are singing about what Jesus has done and not how much we love of our boyfriend or girlfriend.

7. Worship Should Bring God Glory

The focus of our worship should be about God. We are there to bring him glory, honor, and praise. It is so easy to turn our worship times into moments about us. "What can I get out of it?" is a question many ask when they think about worship. Yet, worship is not about us, but about God. As we read in Scripture about those moments of extravagant worship, it is clear to see who the focus is on.

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come" (Rev 4:8)

Their attention is totally focused on God and his glory. We come to worship together not to have our ears tickled or to be entertained, but we come to engage in worship with the triune God of the universe. We are there to worship the Father for his wonderful redemptive plan he put in place before the foundations of the earth. We are there to worship the son, for his servitude and humility by taking up the cross and dying in our place. We are there to worship the spirit, which opens our eyes to the truth of the Gospel and empowers us to live for the one true God. This is the worship we must strive for, rigorously God-center and bringing our gracious King glory.

What do you think about these seven principles? Are there any you disagree with or any I left out? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!