Whom Shall I Fear?

by Louie Giglio

REFLECTION

In the midst of the fray and fury, keep your eyes on Jesus. He is fighting for you. Emmanuel is near. Though accusations fly and the enemy assaults your thoughts, though people try to cut you down and drag your name through the mud, though schemes are launched and temptations roar, though your flesh fails and screams for revenge—your hope is in the One who fights for you. You are safe in God’s love and in the power of His mighty name.

MEDITATION

Fear Not to Trust Me in the Storm

Fear not to trust Me in the storm,
I’m always very near.
I come thy needless fears to calm,
Then, weary ones, don’t fear.

Refrain

Fear not, I am with thee,
Fear not, I am with thee,
Fear not, I am with thee,
Am with thee all the way.

I may not always seem so near
As thou wouldst have Me be;
But in the calm and in the storm,
I all thy dangers see.

Refrain

Fear not to trust My mighty arm;
It bro’t salvation down.
I suffered much to give thee life,
To give to thee a crown.

Refrain

J.W. Howe, Stanzas 1–3

PRAYER

Father, in the middle of the storm I am setting my hope on You. You fight for me and You are greater than all my enemies. Nothing I face today is more powerful than You. You are the solid ground beneath my feet. Thank You for surrounding those who surround me. Give me peace in the presence of my enemies, knowing that You see me and defend me in Your love. Amen.


Louie Giglio is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and founder of Passion Conferences—a global movement of college-aged people living for the fame of Jesus Christ. A dynamic and effective communicator, Louie holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Shelley, live in Atlanta.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 5

By Bob Kauflin

We can’t help but notice the number of times God addresses idolatry in his Word. He hates it when we pursue, serve, or are emotionally drawn to other gods, which are not really gods at all. Idols enslave us (Ps. 106:36), put us to shame (Is. 45:16), and ultimately conform us to their image (Ps. 115:8).

But God’s intention is that we be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Like the Psalmist, we should hate them and those who pay regard to them. (Ps. 31:6). Too often, though, we find ourselves to be the idolaters. Today, I want to share another idol that looms large when we worship God corporately. It particularly applies to musicians.

The Idol of Musical Excellence
Offering God our best has biblical precedent. (Ex. 23:19; Num 18:29-30) In today’s culture, that “best” is often defined as music marked by skill, complexity, or even sophistication. So four-part harmonies edge out unison melodies, orchestras trump upright pianos, and full bands with choirs replace solo guitarists. We become more concerned with making corporate worship bigger, better, and more involved. We balk at the thought of someone without extensive musical training and study leading congregational worship. In the process, we lose sight of what makes our offering acceptable in the first place.

Reggie Kidd, in his book With One Voice, pinpoints the problem: “In some churches the quest for ‘excellence’ is an idol, regardless of whether ‘excellence’ is defined by standards of so-called ‘classical’ culture or of ‘pop’ culture. Such ‘excellentism’ needs to be replaced with the quest to pursue the likeness of Christ crucified and him alone. As good as it gets this side of Christ’s return, we’re never going to get it completely right. There will always be a flat tenor, a broken guitar string, an overly loud organ, or a poorly placed hymn. But it’s okay. The cross means it’s covered.” (p. 101-102)

Does that mean we don’t need to be concerned about how we play, whether we’re in tune, or what songs we use? Of course not. God commends musical excellence (Ps. 33:3; 1 Chron. 15:22; 2 Chron. 30:21-22). Years ago, my degree in piano performance taught me (painfully) something about the value of musical skill and excellence. But in congregational worship, excellence has a purpose – to focus people’s attention on God’s wondrous acts and attributes.

In corporate worship then, excellence has more to do with issues of edification and encouragement than simple musical standards. Pursuing excellence wisely means continuing to grow in my skill so that I won’t distract those I’m seeking to serve. It means I might play fewer notes to allow more space for people to hear the words. It means I may have to sacrifice my ideas of musical “excellence” to make the truth more musically accessible to my congregation. It means I might not play at all sometimes so that the congregation can hear their own voices clearly ringing out in praise to God. Musical excellence, defined rightly, is a worthy pursuit. But like all idols, it makes a terrible god.

For more on this topic, download the following free message from the Sovereign Grace site: Understanding the Musician’s Heart by Eric Hughes


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 4

By Bob Kauflin

I’d like to continue addressing a topic I began a couple weeks ago, that is, identifying the idols we may serve in our hearts even as we gather to worship God with His people. In previous posts we looked at music, tradition, creativity, experience, and liturgy. Here’s one more (well really, two).

Biblical Knowledge
I hesitate to include “biblical knowledge” as a potential idol. The reason I do is that we can wrongly pursue a knowledge of doctrine that is distinct from a knowledge of God Himself. We have to acknowledge this possibility or we easily fall into the error of the Pharisees, who took more pride in their “rightness” than in their relationship with God. We too, can be more impressed with the accurate theology in our songs than the fact that God has shown us mercy in Jesus Christ.

Doctrine and theology, humbly studied and applied, always lead us to fear, love, and worship God more, not less. For that reason, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for pursuing a knowledge of Scripture that didn’t lead to Him. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40, ESV) As we grow in our understanding of and love for God’s Word, it should always produce a corresponding humility and godliness in us. How tragic that those who defend certain ways of worshipping God most vocally often disgregard the humility God esteems most highly. (Is. 66:2)

Biblical Ignorance
On the other side of the coin, we can exalt our ignorance of Scripture as we worship God, claiming that “words get in the way of worship.” At some point in the future I plan to share on the primacy of God’s Word in our worship. For now, it’s enough to say that when we don’t intentionally value God’s Word as the controlling influence and primary substance of our worship, other authorities rush in to fill its place. We are not more spiritual, nor closer to God, nor more mature if we think we don’t need words to communicate with God. God has always placed His Word at the center of our communion with Him, whether that be through song, prayer, or preaching. Through God’s Word we best come to know Who He is, who we are, and how we are to relate to Him. (Ex. 20; 1 Kings 8:9; Ex. 34:6-7; Josh 1:7-8; 2 Chron. 31:2-4; 34:29-33; Ps. 119; Ps. 19:7-11; Mt. 15:8; Acts 13:48-49; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:13)


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 2

by Bob Kauflin

I tried to come up with a shocking title for these posts to alert us to the difference between a “professed” God and “functional” god. That is, the God we say we believe in, and the god that actually governs our desires and actions.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, idolatry can be active in my heart even as I’m outwardly worshipping God. That’s a sobering thought. Whenever I think I can’t worship God unless “X” is present, I’m making a profound statement. If “X” is anything other than Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory. Idolatry is always evil, but the idols we pursue aren’t necessarily evil things. They are evil for us because we value them over God.

Pages could be written on each of the potential idols I’m about to cover. Most, if not all of them, touch on areas that can and should be used with discernment to serve God’s people as we gather to sing His praise. Some of them are more important them others. But all of them are meant to exalt God, not replace Him.

Music
Musical styles for congregational worship have caused quite a stir in recent years. Actually, they’ve been causing a stir for centuries, and for good reason. Music is a powerful medium that can affect us positively or negatively. However, the root of the division is often (though not always) people insisting they know what kind of music God likes. It hasn’t helped that “new music proponents” are often arrogant, insensitive, selfish, and impatient. However, we can make an idol out of what’s old and familiar as easily as we can make one out of what’s new and creative. Music must be wisely chosen for its ability to serve both the lyrics and the congregation in order to truly honor God. But thinking that we need a certain type of music to truly engage with God is, at its root, idolatry.

Tradition
Every church, even those that claim to be non-traditional, has traditions. A tradition is simply something you’ve done more than once. Can traditions serve God’s purposes in the church? Absolutely! Paul encourages the Thessalonians, ““So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2Th. 2:15, ESV) But are our traditions today equal to Scripture in authority? Absolutely not! Every generation is responsible to examine whether or not the traditions they’ve inherited (or are seeking to establish) are biblical and truly help people exult in God’s worthiness and works. The complementary idols of familiarity and comfort are often revealed in the words, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Creativity
Lest this list seem one-sided, NEWNESS can also be an idol. We’re convinced that some fresh, different, never-been-done-before idea will make our congregational worship more effective. Or powerful. Or appealing. Maybe it’s lighting…or a new stage set up…or a video clip…or candles…or banners…or “interactive artistic activity.” Creativity is never our goal in worshipping God. It’s simply a means to the end of displaying and seeing the glory of Christ more clearly. New forms or mediums of communication can give us a different perspective, causing the truth to have a greater impact on us. But if we walk away from a time of corporate worship more affected by our creativity than our Savior, or think that the Word of Christ is old news, God help us.

I’m aware what I’m writing may offend some. I pray that’s not the case, although what we perceive as an “offense” might be the Spirit’s conviction. It could just as well be my poor communication. But this I know: God is committed to receiving all the glory, honor, and praise each time we gather as His people, redeemed through His Son’s atoning sacrifice. He will have no rivals. “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Is. 42:8, ESV) Each time we meet to worship the triune God, HE should be the all-consuming center of our attention and affections. His greatness and splendor should become bigger in our minds, hearts, and wills. His desires and commands should become more precious to us. Jesus Christ and His atoning work should be more glorious and amazing to us.

Tomorrow, I’ll share more idols I’ve found myself worshipping on Sunday mornings. In the mean time, I pray you’re encouraged by the Father’s costly love for us.


For more on this topic, download the following free message from the Sovereign Grace site: Worship Music or Music Worship by Bob Kauflin

Conditional Worship

by Russ Hutto

Conditional Worship

“I just can’t worship with that kind of music.”

Have you ever said something like this?

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. I’ve definitely thought it at times.

I was at a traditional church several years ago when God opened my eyes to this. I was sitting there during the music and thinking about how I would do the song differently. Then God basically slapped me in the face. I felt Him say to me, “Gary, worship me. If you can’t worship me with this kind of music, then your idea of worship is shallow.” I walked away from that a changed person and a changed worship leader. Over the years, I have seen and heard testimonies of people who have worshiped and connected with God for the first time, even though they didn’t prefer the music style that I was bringing. That is what it is all about. It’s not about the methods or styles in which we worship. It’s about bringing worship that the Father is seeking, which is in Spirit and in truth.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23 ESV)

That being said, I’m concerned that there is a danger we need to watch out for in our churches. The danger is CONDITIONAL WORSHIP. It’s when God’s people convince themselves of certain conditions that need to exist in order for corporate worship to happen. For some, it may call for a killer band and for others, it may call for a choir. For some, it may be lights and multimedia and for others, it may be stained glass and candles. These things are not bad ideas at all. When used properly, there are so many things that can enhance the experience and touch the senses, but we need BALANCE. We need to learn to worship God no matter what the circumstances. Paul said in Colossians 2:16 – “So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (The Message)

What is the substance of your worship? If it’s not Christ alone, then you are probably suffering from CONDITIONAL WORSHIP.

Here’s a few signs you can watch out for:

1. INCONSISTENCY

Is your worship experience inconsistent? If it is, you need to realize that it’s not the church’s fault. It’s not the worship leader’s fault. It’s not the pastor’s fault. The issue is found when you look in the mirror. If Christ is the substance of our worship, then we will experience consistency in corporate worship. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” When Christ becomes the substance of our worship more and more, we will experience more and more consistency in heart-tugging, life-changing corporate worship.

2. BOREDOM

Jesus is not boring. Following Jesus with surrender is a true adventure. When Christ is not the substance of our worship, then we require lesser things to keep our attention in corporate worship. We require certain styles, certain songs and certain sermons. Eventually, we tire of those things the same way a spoiled kid gets tired of unwrapped Christmas presents after a week of playing with them. If you are bored in corporate worship, maybe your attention is being arrested by lesser things. When you fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3), you will never lose sight of true, exciting worship, no matter what the conditions.

3. HESITATION

Hesitation in corporate worship manifests itself in our inspection of everything, before we surrender everything. It’s when we look at who is on the stage or what is on the agenda, as we assess whether or not the order of worship will satisfy our wants and needs. Surrender and obedience are at the heart of worship. Delayed obedience is disobedience. When we delay or hesitate to bring an offering of praise to God, we’re not trusting that Christ is truly all we need. In Matthew 4, when Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, it says that they “immediately” left all they had and followed Him. May we not hesitate. May we follow and worship with trust and surrender.

Conditional worship is a sign that we have grown stale in our relationship with God or maybe we just have not grown at all. It reveals a heart that is not completely His.

When we completely, unconditionally surrender our heart to God, our worship will be complete.

God’s love for us is unconditional.

May our worship for Him have less and less conditions.

He loved us so much that He sent His only son to die for our sins. Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Christ is the substance of true worship and the only condition in worship we will ever need.


Russ Hutto works 9-5 in print design. He volunteers in music ministry at St. Simons Community Church and also travels to worship with congregations and help with Worship Ministry Development. He’s into reading Star Wars novels & working out at CrossFit. As the TWC editor, he’s always on the lookout for great content for The Worship Community.

Entering the Presence of God

by Bob Kauflin

Holy-of-Holies_Fotor

My friend, West, left a question on another post. He was asking about comments I’ve made to the effect that it isn’t a worship leader’s responsibility to lead people into God’s presence. Only Jesus can do that. West wrote:

Heb. 9 through Heb. 10:1-22 call us to enter the Most Holy Place confidently. John Frame says “The Most Holy Place was opened to us at the death of Christ, when the veil of the temple was torn in two” (In Spirit and Truth, 27). If God is enthroned on and abides in the praises of his people, and if he is wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, then it seems that there is an actual, spiritual experience of “entering into” the holy of holies when we gather and praise him.  That being said, it seems that we as leaders in corporate worship have a kind of priestly duty to bring God’s people into his presence, his Most Holy Place, like the Israelite musicians of old. I don’t know.  Am I just way off on this?”

I don’t think anyone is “way off” to ask a question like this. Part of the reason there’s so much confusion about worship and the presence of God is that we so often experience a new awareness of God’s presence when we sing his praises. We often feel like we have “entered God’s presence.” What’s going on?

First, in the Old Testament, the high priest entered the holy of holies once a year on behalf of Israel (Heb. 9:6-7). Jesus has now “entered once for all into the holy places.” We shouldn’t think of ourselves as “entering” them again because Jesus has entered them for us. Hebrews exhorts us to draw near to God with full assurance because we have entered the holy of holies through our union with Christ. In Christ, we are always in the heavenly places and are exhorted to “draw near.” Of course, we can do that at any time, although there is a particular significance when we gather as the church to express our faith in the Gospel.

Second, the issue is how we enter God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to put their faith in Christ’s finished work, not to try to duplicate it. David Peterson, inEngaging with God, says, “Fundamentally, then, drawing near to God means believing the gospel and making ‘personal appropriation of salvation.’” (240). In one sense we have the “priestly duty” of reminding people of what God has said and done (Neh. 8:8). But we are not leading them into the Most Holy Place. Jesus has done that for us. Through faith in his finished work we now have the privilege of confidently drawing near to God.

D.A. Carson shares some very helpful thoughts in this topic. He’s commenting on the thought that “worship leads us into the presence of God.”

“Objectively, what brings us into the presence of God is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If we ascribe to worship (meaning, in this context, our corporate praise and adoration) something of this power, it will not be long before we think of such worship as being meritorious, or efficacious, or the like. The small corner of truth that such expressions hide (though this truth is poorly worded) is that when we come together and engage in the activities of corporate worship (including not only prayer and praise but the Lord’s Supper and attentive listening to the Word…), we encourage one another, we edify one another, and so we often feel encouraged and edified. As a result, we are renewed in our awareness of God’s love and God’s truth, and we are encouraged to respond with adoration and action” (Worship by the Book, 50-51).

So as I’m standing in front of the church, leading them in songs, Scripture reading, and prayer, my goal is not to “lead them into God’s presence,” but to help them remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished for them through his righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection. As they place their faith and trust in the perfect high priest, they will most likely experience a fresh awareness of God’s nearness. Their position in Christ hasn’t changed. Their appreciation of it has. The church will be built up and God will be glorified.

Understanding this area really brings freedom to me as a worship leader. I don’t have to try to pull off an impossible task. I don’t have to be anxious about whether or not people will “make it.” I simply have to present what Christ has done in a clear and compelling way to encourage people’s faith. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest.


Bob Kauflin serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Which Comes First: Praise or Worship?

by Sheri Tesar

praise-worshipThe words “Praise and Worship” are linked together so often that I wonder if many people really pay any attention to difference between the two words. “Praise and Worship” has become as common a phrase as “salt and pepper,” “peanut butter and jelly” or, if you’re Forrest Gump, “peas and carrots.” We use the phrase “Praise and Worship” to describe a specific musical genre or the musical portion of the Sunday morning gathering. It is helpful when leading others in praise and in worship to remember that “Praise and Worship” is not a genre of music but two different, but related concepts.

Praise is a part of worship, and worship is much larger than singing songs of praise. Have you ever thought much about the relationship between the two distinct words “praise” and “worship” and why they are usually linked together in that particular order? (I have seen these words linked together as “Worship and Praise” on occasion, but very seldom.)  The customary order is “Praise and Worship,” and I believe they are linked in this order for a reason. It is not because they fall this way alphabetically, but because this is the order in which these two events occur.

Praise always precedes worship. Until we praise God –that is, until we recognize and acknowledge how infinitely great and awesome He is, and until our hearts are filled with gratitude for all He has done for us, we will not worship Him –-that is, we will not bow down before Him as our Lord and offer our lives in service to Him. The acts of both praise and worship appear in Psalm 95, and they appear in that order.

The psalmist begins Psalm 95 with an invitation to praise God. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation!” (Ps 95:1 NIV) We are invited to sing joyfully to the Lord, to shout triumphantly to the One who gives us victory. The psalmist goes on to invite us to “come before [the Lord] with thanksgiving; and extol Him with music and song” (vs 2). We are invited to continue our praise of God by offering Him thanks for all that He has done for us.

In verses 3-5, the psalmist offers us reasons as to why we are to praise the Lord. “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” (vs 3). He is greater than anyone or anything else. He is God. He is the King of all the earth. All of creation was crafted by Him and belongs to Him.

Once we acknowledge the unsurpassed greatness of our God and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us, the psalmist invites us in verses 6-7 to worship the Lord. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (vs 6). We are to bow down in worship before the King and Creator. As part of His creation, we are to kneel in reverence and obedience before Him because we belong to Him, and He is the One who tenderly cares for us and leads us as He sees best.

I have often struggled with how the final four verses fit with the first part of Psalm 95. It has always seemed to me to be a rather abrupt change, but in reflecting on this psalm recently, I now see that it fits very well.

The first seven verses are comprised of invitations and instructions from the psalmist. He invites us to praise God (vs 1-2), instructs us on the reasons why we should praise Him (vs 3-5), and then he invites us to worship (bow before) Him and instructs on the reasons why (vs 6-7).

The voice changes in the final three verses to a message from God. He warns us as to what will happen if we refuse to accept the invitations and instructions given to us in the first 7 verses. God lets us know what will happen if we refuse to worship Him or bow down before Him. He warns us not to “harden [our] hearts” or to test Him (vs 8-9). God advises us to remain firmly in His care and not to be prideful, stubborn, and insistent on doing things our own way. This is not a threat from an egotistical leader who wants all to bow before Him. This is a warning from a loving Father who wants His children to obey Him because He knows best. It is in our best interest to follow the psalmist’s instructions in the beginning of this psalm.

“Praise and Worship” is not a musical genre or just another inseparable pair of words. Praise is words that honor the Lord for who He is and what He has done, and worship is the ensuing attitude of humility, obedience, and willingness to submit to the King and Creator of the universe, the One who is infinitely greater than we are and loves us more than we can comprehend.

Engage in praising our God. Recognize and audibly acknowledge to everyone how great He is. Sing, shout, and praise His holy name. Then make the conscience decision to worship Him, to bow before Him and submit to Him in reverence, humility, and obedience.


Sheri Tesar has an M.A. in Worship Studies from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a B.S. in Worship Arts from Dallas Christian College. She has served as a Worship Minister and as an Adjunct Professor of Worship. She and her family currently live in Littleton, Colorado.