You see, on one hand, last night was a gloomy night for America. Senator (soon-to-be President) Obama’s radical position on issues related to abortion (most notably his oft-stated commitment to the Freedom of Choice Act and his opposition to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act) frighten me for the future of life in our country. With one signature, Obama may wipe away three decades’ worth of Pro-Life policies designed to protect the rights of the most helpless, voiceless class of Americans – the unborn. This is morally reprehensible and personally heartbreaking. So on behalf of millions of unborn Americans, I am saddened and frustrated.
On the other hand, last night was a terrific night for America. 150 years ago, American society didn’t consider black men and women fully human, much less American citizens. Last night, we elected an African-American man the leader of our nation. I can’t overstate the magnitude of this occasion. I rejoice with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus of Nazareth at this enormous step toward racial harmony. Racism is an evil paralleled by few others, and last night marked a huge victory for the United States of America in the war against it.
Senator McCain’s concession speech was a model of humility and grace in the midst of fervent contest. It was classy and elegant and right. Senator Obama’s acceptance speech was solemn, grateful, powerful – in a word, inspiring.
So you see, in many ways November 4, 2008 was a great day for the United States of America, with many glorious victories. And yet, these victories are tainted by the ominous reality of the future of millions of unborn Americans. It falls to Christians across the nation to humbly and wholeheartedly support our President, and at the same time to pray fervently for God to change his heart (and his mind) toward the unborn.
America – I give you my deepest sympathies.
And many congratulations.
I’m reading Bob Kauflin’s new (and utterly terrific) book about corporate worship, “Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God.” Kauflin is the author of a popular blog of the same name (http://www.worshipmatters.com/), dealing with a broad range of issues related to the corporate worship of the church.
In the book, Kauflin is unpacking, phrase by phrase, his definition of what a worship leader does. Perhaps at some point in the future we’ll go through this material together, but I want to focus your attention on a particular portion of it today.
One of the worship leader’s tasks is to “motivat[e] the gathered church to proclaim the gospel.” He defines proclamation as “declaring what’s true about God.” He suggests that one reason it’s necessary to proclaim truths about God and the gospel that we probably know already is that we tend to forget. We get wrapped up in the worries, fears, desires and busyness of life, and we need weekly reminders of God’s goodness, specifically of his mercy and love displayed in the cross of Christ.
He cites 1 Peter 2:9, where the apostle says that we have been saved “that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” One purpose, and result, of our redemption is that we now proclaim God’s excellencies. Kauflin says that “we’re meant to fulfill this command both in our meetings and in our lives.” Then he writes these insightful words:
People come into our churches proclaiming all sorts of things with their words and actions. Through close-fisted giving, some are asserting how much their own personal wealth matters. Others, by their complaining, are declaring that personal comfort matters. Teens in the latest fashions may be proclaiming that being cool matters. Others confirm through their smiles or frowns that their musical preferences matter. But we want each of them to leave proclaiming this: The gospel of Jesus Christ matters.
I was struck and convicted by these words. Can you relate to this? Have you ever entered a corporate worship meeting proclaiming with your words and actions something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ? Kauflin’s given us a few examples here, but what are some other things we might proclaim? What might people be distracted by as they enter to encounter the living God with a community of believers? How can we get our gaze fixed once again upon the crucified Messiah and the fountainhead of blessing we find there?
I ran across an article a couple days ago about the Christian music industry, with a particularly unsettling discovery (on my part) about the group Phillips, Craig, & Dean. It’s gotten me thinking a bit.
Here’s a link to the article, which includes the discovery I mentioned. The bottom line of the article is the suggestion that the CCM industry (Contemporary Christian Music), and what is “Christian music” and what is not, is driven more by business considerations – namely, what makes money – than by any spiritual or doctrinal standard. The evidence of this fact given in this particular article is the difference between Sufjan Stevens and Phillips, Craig & Dean.
You see, Sufjan Stevens is not a “Christian artist.” His CD’s have been produced by mainstream labels. His agents and promoters are CCM outsiders. And yet his orthodox Christian theology is immediately recognizable in his music (Countless other examples could be offered, but this is the one the writer of the article chose.). He even has a soulful rendition of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (which you can check out at this link; don’t pay any attention to the goofy animal pictures – just listen to the music.).
Phillips, Craig & Dean, on the other hand, as you probably know, are highly successful and prominent artists within the CCM family. Unless you live under an evangelical rock or you can’t change your radio dial from KHCB, you’ve likely heard many of their songs, even if you didn’t realize it (“Crucified with Christ;” “I Want to Be Just Like You;” “Mercy Came Running;” “You Are God Alone” (which, I should add, they didn’t write), etc.). And now the discovery: They are modalists – which means they deny the doctrine of the Trinity. Each of the three men are pastors and music ministers in (different) Oneness Pentecostal churches, which teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit motifs are simply different “modes” in which the unipersonal God has revealed himself in various periods of history. In other words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons comprising one unified Godhead – rather, they are each an alter ego (that’s my term, not theirs) of the one person who is God.
This is deeply troubling to me. Of course you won’t find the word “trinity” anywhere on the pages of holy Scripture, but its concept is nearly impossible to miss! Jesus prays to his Father. He says “I and the Father are one.” He tells the disciples that after he goes to heaven he will send them “another Comforter, who is with you and will be in you.” When he gives them the “Great Commission,” he tells the disciples to baptize people “in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (plural).” In the event of Jesus’ baptism, all three persons of the Trinity are seen performing separate tasks at the very same time. Is this unipersonal God of Oneness Pentecostals seriously delusional, or is something else happening here?
Add to this isolated issue the loads of sappy drivel that pass for Christian art these days, and I think we have a pretty substantial problem on our hands. After all, in one very real sense, this is the image of Christianity the world is receiving. Is this what we want to communicate? That we don’t really care that much about what people believe, and the closest we can come to art is to imitate what non-Christian artists are doing?
I don’t have good answers at the moment. Just those questions and concerns roaming about my mind. Perhaps some of you have thoughts to share. That’s what the comments are for.
we got a goldfish to give away as a “white elephant” gift at a party we attended early in december. it got a few laughs, and then was handed back to us at the end of the evening. “we don’t need a fish,” they said. alright, fine. madeline seemed pretty interested in the fish anyway.
we took the fish home. madeline was thrilled. she thought we were giving it away (so did we.). she reminded us multiple times a day to feed her fish (whom she named… you guessed it – nemo). she sat in a chair next to his bowl often and just looked at him. she was a good fish companion.
until last friday. i passed by nemo’s bowl on my way into the kitchen, and in the corner of my eye noticed that he seemed very pale. i examined him more closely and discovered that his gills were not moving, his fins were not waving about through the water, his eyes were not blinking, and his mouth was not doing the usual fish pucker thing. he was dead.
i delayed relaying the news to madeline as long as i could (i was still waiting for lindsey to come home from shopping, and preferred for us to handle it together if possible). i knew, however, when madeline insisted that we feed nemo his lunch that i could not tell a lie or simply redirect her attention elsewhere. the truth had to come out. with all the articulate wisdom of a third-grader with stage fright i stuttered out a few sentences about nemo. “honey, fish don’t live forever. in fact, they have very short lives. i think nemo must have gotten sick. he died.” a confused stare from my daughter.
“he can’t eat his lunch?”
“no, honey. he isn’t alive anymore. he can’t swim, or eat, or see, or smell.” she started to look really sad, which made me assume she was beginning to grasp at least that it was sad for her fish to be dead, though i’m sure she didn’t understand the concept of death.
a few moments passed quietly, and then she asked, “can i see him?”
she saw the fish. i tried to explain to her what it meant that he was dead. i don’t think she got it. i suggested that we flush him down the potty as a way of saying goodbye to him. she thought that was silly, but i told her it was better than putting him in the trash, and assured her that, as gill proclaims in one of her favorite movies, “all drains lead to the ocean.”
i’m not sure what all this has to do with the gospel. as i put off the discussion of the dead fish, i contemplated the possibility of using it as a springboard to talk about death and life, and sin, and jesus’ death. but then i thought, “she’s three! surely that’s not fitting for one so young.” is it? perhaps all she would come away with is a fear that at any moment she might get sick and die like nemo did. that didn’t seem like what i wanted her to take away. so i decided to leave out the connection.
so i wonder, when, and under what circumstances, does it become right and fitting to teach youngsters about the realities of sin and death and judgment and eternity? of course we’ve talked with her about jesus’ as the ruler of the universe, and we celebrated his birth at christmas. we’ve read a couple books that talk about jesus dying on a cross. but how and when do you bring home these enormous realities?
rest in peace, nemo.
here’s why we need a savior:
we take the mirror of god’s image, which was intended to reflect his glory in the world, and turn our backs to the light, and fall in love with the contours of our own dark shadow, trying desperately to convince ourselves (with technological advances or management skills or athletic prowess or academic achievements or sexual exploits or counterculture hair styles) that the dark shadow of the image on the ground in front of us is really glorious and satisfying. and in our proud love affair with ourselves, we pour contempt (whether we know it or not!) on the worth of god’s glory.”
– john piper, the supremacy of god in preaching, p. 32
what are you treasuring today – the reflection of god’s infinite worth, or your own dark shadow cast on the ground by his glory?
last semester in school, I heard dr. jim hamilton lecture through 1 corinthians, and then he preached in chapel about 1 corinthians 1:18-31. he summoned preachers – and, by extension, seminarians – to expound the gospel of christ, even though to the world it is “folly” and “a stumbling block.” according to worldly standards, a messiah, a promised ruler, who is executed as a common criminal looks weak and foolish. unregenerate people are able to cognitively grasp the gospel story enough to think that it is foolish. a fairy tale. a crutch for the weak. but they will not, of their own volition, believe and embrace this message of a crucified christ.
and yet, it is this very message, foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, that god uses to save sinners. “since, in the wisdom of god the world did not know him through wisdom, it pleased god by the foolishness of what is preached to save those who believe” (1 cor. 18:21; emphasis added). so the call for the christian preacher – and youth pastor, and children’s minister, and education director, and sunday school teacher, and worship pastor – is to proclaim the gospel message of this murdered messiah – “a stumbling block to jews, and folly to gentiles, but to those who are the called, both jews and greeks, christ the power of god and the wisdom of god” (1 cor. 18:23-24).
here’s the application for us as pastors, teachers, leaders in corporate worship, or christian laypersons: our calling is the very same. our goal in every element of the church’s worship gatherings is to proclaim this crucified christ. in our sermons, songs, scriptures, prayers, congregational readings, and personal reflections, we must expound the gospel of a messiah who was executed at the hands of wicked men (though, ultimately, at the hands of a wrathful god), and who was raised by the spirit’s power. though the world sees this message as foolish and weak, it is the power of god to save those who believe.
as a leader of corporate worship myself, reflecting on these verses has caused me to be committed all the more to christ-exalting, gospel-saturated, god-centered songs and liturgy in congregational worship. may we, as members of the body of christ, celebrate and marvel at the glories of this gospel, and its power to save damned sinners like us, and may its power cause us to live life for the glory of our great god.
if you’re reading this, hello.
if you’re not, why am i writing this sentence?
i hope to see more of you, and you can hope to hear more from me.