Vacation Thoughts on Worship

March 26, 2009 at 9:34 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God, Worship | Leave a comment

            We are vacationing in Knoxville this week with Cathy’s brother and family.  Since I just finished John and am on vacation, I am changing my devotional reading plan for the time off – just pondering some Psalms.  As I’ve read the Psalms numbered in the nineties, I have been impressed by four things concerning worship:  First, our worship must always be directed toward God.  Notice things like “sing to the LORD” (found in 95:1, 96:1-2, 98:1, 101:1); “It is good to make music to your name, O Most High” (92:1); and “Shout for joy to the LORD all the earth” (100:1).  In every case, the praise is directed to God.  He must always be the object and the receiver of our praise.  How often do we sing songs that please us, songs that are choreographed for “seekers,” or songs that are directed to something other than God?  We easily direct our church music everywhere but upward.

            Second, God must be praised for who he is – especially his love and faithfulness.  I have mentioned before the number of times these attributes of God appear together in Psalms, and there are some examples in these chapters.  You can look up 92:2, 94:18, and 98:3; but probably the best know verse of the list is 100:5, “The LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

            Third, the style of worship is demonstrated in these verses.  Some worship must be a jubilant, joyous, noisy type of worship.  Examples include the prescription to “sing for joy” (92:4, 95:1, 96:12, 98:8, and 100:2).  We are even told to shout in our expression of worship (95:1, 100:1).  Listen to these words of jubilance praise:  “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth” (96:11-13).  “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the LORD, the King” (98:4-6).  Sometimes it puzzles me, why those who believe a Reformed theology often have more boring worship services than those who believe the Arminian perspective.  It seems if I have some part in my salvation, there is not a lot to praise God for, but if God has done it all for me, and it is all about him, then I should be terribly excited about that!

            However, there should also be a melodious, quiet, reverent side of our worship too.  “It is good to praise the LORD  .  .  .  to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp” (92:3); “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (95:6); and “Tremble before him all the earth” (96:9).  Noisy, upbeat praise is a good thing to draw one into the spirit of worship, but a diet of nothing but that style is shallow and can become empty emotionalism.

            Finally, worship is all about God, all about his glory.  “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name  .  .  . Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (96:8-9, but read 3-9); “You, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods” (97:9).  Even our salvation, which we think of as for our good, is ultimately for God’s glory.  I was impressed by these words in 98:1 “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”  Did you catch that?  He has worked salvation for him?  God doesn’t need salvation, so it must be our salvation that is in view here, yet even that is for him.

One morning I was thinking about Psalm 97:7.  This psalm, which gives the words for the popular praise song “I Exalt Thee,” see verse nine, also has this interesting verse.  “All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols – worship him all you gods!”  I found that final phrase an interesting one.  Have you ever thought about that, even inanimate idols will worship God?  Everything in the universe is subject to Jesus Christ; everything is under his sovereign control.  Though we think many objects of our affections are inanimate, they also are subject to and will eventually bow down to Jesus Christ.  That means everything we worship will someday worship him.  Knowing the end of the matter, we might as well give up on those other things and worship him now!  Once again, it’s all about Jesus!



The “I Am” Statements in John

March 21, 2009 at 8:22 am | Posted in Theology | 1 Comment

I just finished reading the Gospel of John in my devotions.  Someone once told me that there were seven “I am” statements of Jesus in the book of John, and I thought at the time that there were many more than that.  I decided maybe that count was grouping all the “bread” statements and all the “good shepherd” statements, etc.  together, but never really followed up on it.  These last few weeks I noted every “I am” statement of Jesus I came across and looked them up in the Greek NT.  Here is a summary of my findings:

There are seven “I am” statements of Jesus that use the common to-be verb without the emphatic pronoun “I.”  Among them are Jesus’ claim at the last supper to be the Teacher and Lord (13:13) and his claim that he is in the Father (14:10, 11, 20).  The others are found in 9:5; 10:36; 16:32 and 17:11.

In NT Greek, the pronoun is unnecessary to complete the thought, because it is contained in the form of the verb.  But when it is used, it is very emphatic, as though Jesus was saying, “Hey look at me; I am the .  .  .”  There are 17 “I am” statements where Jesus uses the common verb with the emphatic pronoun and also a direct object.  Among them are the statements like “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 41, 48, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8:12 – the 9:5 version does not have the emphatic pronoun); “I am the door” (or gate – 10:7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I am the resurrection” (11:25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14:6); and “I am the vine” (15:1, 5).  The others are 8:23 twice, 17:2.  The “seven” statements mentioned above may be the seven direct objects of these statements: bread, door, light, shepherd, resurrection, way/truth/life, and vine.

Then again, the seven may be the seven “I am” statements with the common verb, the emphatic pronoun and no direct object.  However, some of those have an implied object in the context such as John 4:26, translated “I am he” in the NIV – the implied object is the Messiah from the woman’s comments; 8:28, translated “I am the one I claim to be” in NIV, though NASB’s “I am He” is much better – the implied object is “the Son of Man” from the earlier part of the sentence; 18:5, where Jesus of Nazareth is the object; and 13:19 could have the implied object of the one promised, but this passage could possibly be interpreted with the ones below.

That leaves three “I am” statements with the emphatic pronoun and no implied object.  The first, in 6:20, is often translated “It is I.”  When Jesus walked on the water in the storm and the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, Jesus literally said “I am; don’t be afraid.”  It is easy to see how the context calls for usual translation.  However, that is not what he said.  The second reference is in 8:24, where Jesus says “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (NASB – the NIV again uses “I am the one I claim to be,” with a footnote listing “I am he” as an alternative for this and the reference in v.28)  I don’t see any implied object here.  The third is the most famous of all the “I am” statements and is found in 8:58.  It happens in the same conversation as the “I am He” of verses 24 and 28.  After Jesus mentioned what Abraham knew, the crowd commented, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  This one is an emphatic reference to God’s “I am” in Exodus 3:14, and I find no other way to interpret it, especially in light of the Jewish crowds’ reaction.

If someone ever says Jesus never claims to be God.  These references are a clear indication that he indeed did claim to be God.  And there are not just a few of them!

Burnout #2

March 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John 15:1-8.  I wrote a blog entry last fall called “Burnout in Ministry.”  It’s been one of the most visited entries I’ve written.  I wrote it in response to a discussion about burnout with the director of a college ministry.  Now I’ve been asked to speak at a retreat for the staff of that ministry on the topic of burnout.  I wrote then that burnout in ministry is always a result of relying on some resource other than God, though that reliance can take many forms.  I read this “Vine and Branches” passage in my devotions the other day and am now considering using it as a basic text for my talks at the retreat.

“If a man remains in me and I in him,” Jesus said, “he will bear much fruit.”  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you,” he added, “ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.”  That’s the positive side of things, but on the negative side of the matter, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.”  And “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers.”  That last phrase sounds like burnout.  In fact, as Christians describe their feelings of burnout in ministry, they often use words and metaphors very similar to these – thrown away, withered, fruitless.  Interestingly, Jesus added, “Such branches are thrown into the fire and burned!”

Notice that Jesus puts this metaphor in a context of reliance:  “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine;”  “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”  As a branch draws all its sustenance from the larger vine and is dead apart from it, so we must draw all our sustenance from Jesus.  Anything else will eventually end in burnout and ultimately amount to nothing.  As Jesus himself said,“Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Sorrow and Repentance

March 10, 2009 at 11:40 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:8-10.  Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

I was pondering these words about sorrow and repentance after reading them in my devotions last week.  It is easy for us as Christ’s followers to beat ourselves up over our own sin.  When we do wrong, we feel guilty about it.  That guilt is God’s working in our lives.  Many unbelievers don’t feel any guilty about sin, especially the more subtle kinds like self-righteous pride or lust; believers do because the Spirit is in their lives.  When those guilt feelings come, we have a couple of possible responses.  Sometimes we beat ourselves up over it, thinking that we are not worthy of God’s grace.  We think that we don’t deserve to be Christians, and therefore believe we aren’t very good ones.  That response is believing a lie.  It is true that we don’t deserve to be Christians and aren’t worthy of God’s grace, but that’s exactly why salvation is by grace.   The other possible response is to realize our sorrow comes because we’ve wronged God and we don’t deserve to be Christians, but then tell ourselves that is the point of grace.  Christ died for the very sin I’m feeling guilty over, not because I am a good Christian most of the time, but because I am totally unworthy all the time.  Those guilty feelings should make me realize I can never live the Christian life on my own and cause me to fall back on the grace of God.  That seems to be the point of Paul’s words in the above passage.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation.  Repentance is a change of mind and direction; it means we quit trusting in ourselves as good Christians and trust in the grace of God.  That is saving faith.

The other day, Cathy told me something she’d written down in Dr. Pegler’s class on the Atonement.  He said the same thing I’m trying to say here.  “When struggling with sin issues, instead of punishing yourself or trying to do better or trying to fix it, meditate on the grace of God.  It will take you further in your walk with God than anything else.”  Good words.  Remember the grace of God.

Angel in the Whirlwind — part 2

March 4, 2009 at 10:09 am | Posted in Books and Movies | 1 Comment

Here are some more thoughts from Benson Bobrick’s Angel in the Whirlwind, from the chapter on the Declaration of Independence.  After Thomas Jefferson wrote the document and presented it to the Continental Congress, the delegates went over the document word by word.  “Justly proud of his composition, Jefferson was appalled when his colleagues began changing words and phrases and making drastic cuts.”  They debated for three days, from July 2 to July 4, 1776.  After a brief summary of the great phrases that the Congress kept intact, Bobrick comments:

All this was important.  But it is the preamble to the declaration that made it the immortal document that it is:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.  Thankfully, these lines emerged from the stern editorial scrutiny of the delegates unchanged.

Nevertheless, Jefferson remained indignant about the revisions for the rest of his life.  In all, close to a hundred changes were made and the text cut by about a fourth.  Adams himself believed that Congress, while making some judicious emendations, had also “obliterated some of the best of it.”  Richard Henry Lee was likewise sorry to see many of the phrases go.  “I wish sincerely, as well for the honor of Congress, as for that of the States,” he later wrote to Jefferson, “that the manuscript had not been mangled as it is.  However, the Thing in its nature is so good that no cookery can spoil the dish for the palates of free men,”

And who could deny it?   (page 200)


A few pages later Bobrick, in the passage which gives the book its name, adds these thoughts:

Those who afterward lined up to sign the document (on August 22) had reason to be uneasy.  They knew the peril and penalty of treason and were signing, as it were, with halters about their necks.  John Hancock, as president of Congress, wrote his name first.  “We must be unanimous,” he reportedly declared.  “There must be no pulling different ways, we must all hang together.”  “Yes,” replied Franklin, “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  .  .  . 

Yet there was also an overriding and mystical feeling of providential cover to the boldness of their act.  As John Page, a Virginia statesman, put it rather beautifully to Jefferson two weeks after the declaration was adopted, “God preserve the United States.  We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the Strong.  Do you think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?”  (page 202)

I am thankful for the men who “lined up to sign the document.”  They put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line, and freedom has never looked the same.  I suppose an Angel really did direct the storm they rode.


John Piper on the TNIV

March 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Posted in English Bible Translations | Leave a comment

          I read John Piper’s blog on a regular basis.  I found this interesting article by him on the TNIV translation this morning.  The fascinating title is “Barak Obama and the TNIV.”  Though arriving at the same conclusion I came to while reading through it, Piper has a different appraoch that deserves a hearing.  I find it hard to disagree with his argument.  Piper’s article is here.

          My thoughts were at the end of this miscellaneous article.

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