Saturday, April 23, 2022

Once More unto the Mountaintop: Fresh Ruminations on Public Worship

This week, I was at a pastors' fellowship where this year's theme was heavenly mindedness. It was wonderful. The fellowship also has a very strong ordinary-means-ministry emphasis built into its DNA. Also wonderful. The pastor of the host church gives a talk on it each year that is superior in its annual variety and closeness of application to the talks of his predecessor. This year's talk was marvelous. So with this year's theme on heavenly mindedness and the perennial theme of the means of grace, it felt disconnected to have so many 'Episcoterian' (my term; excuse the shorthand) elements in the worship times. 

The day after I got back, our family worship time was in Exodus 19. It was a reminder that until Christ, the church could gather to God but not even touch the bottom of the mountain; just the one man could go up—and then throughout the Sinaitic administration only one man could ever go all the way in. But Hebrews 12 celebrates that with our risen, ascended, enthroned High Priest we go all the way to the top of the mountain and all the way in through the veil; hallelujah

The regulative principle is not only about making sure that we regard God as holy whenever we come near (cf. Lev 10:1–3); it's also about doing only those things that actually enter into the worship of heaven, only those things that are led by Christ from heaven, only those things that join the assembly of the firstborn, only those things through which we have confidence that the Spirit Himself is bringing us through the veil by the new and living way that is Jesus's flesh, with our bodies washed and consciences sprinkled.

Then last night, I had great fellowship with a brother whom the Lord has brought so far. From evanjelly to fundamentalist baptist, to 'reformed' baptist that was more refordamentalist, and then by Lutheryterian podcast to a church/place of that flavor. Knowing his journey, I understood why he had difficulty processing my views on simplicity and purity of public worship. I wrote him the next two paragraphs, which I've now modified slightly, which is what precipitated this blog post.

When you start to understand what worship is, where worship goes, who leads it, who are joined in it, and what specifically are the worship actions that participate in all that by the Spirit... the believer who understands these things embraces the regulative principle not as a boundary within which we do what we feel like is helpful or meaningful to us, but as a mission on which we hotly pursue in worship only those things that Christ Himself is leading from glory.

So when I talk about public worship, I'm coming from a different angle than just about anyone in "liturgical" circles. I believe in liturgy, but I think that Jesus actually has one (elements and forms though not necessarily sequence) and that to whatever extent we add that which is from man, to the same extent we disconnect ourselves from the worship of heaven and the true church through the ages and throughout history. Ironically, even true churches add things to try to create more connection across history and around the world; but, the very things they add end up taking away from the worship-unity that Jesus Himself had provided.

For further (better!) consideration, maybe take a listen to yesterday's family worship lesson or the "How God Wants to Be Worshiped" sermon series in which I tried to open these things from Scripture. And of course, others have done it better before me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Ps 30:12 — Eternal Praise Sweetens Temporary Grief

    To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Ps 30:12

If it was determined before time that our end would be to sing praise and give thanks to God for eternity, then nothing in time ought be able to rob us of our gladness—even if that gladness must be mixed with a momentary night of grief.

Ps 30:9 — Experiential Theology a Cure for Despair

    “What profit is there in my blood,
    When I go down to the pit?
    Will the dust praise You?
    Will it declare Your truth?
Ps 30:9

The theological knowledge of the end of our creation and redemption can sustain a man even in moments where he despairs of life. It is a means by which the Lord carries believers through the valley of the shadow of death. The theological must not be merely speculative but experiential.

Ps 30:4–5 — Heavenly Joy in the Midst of Earthly Weeping

    4      Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
            And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
    5      For His anger is but for a moment,
            His favor is for life;
            Weeping may endure for a night,
            But joy comes in the morning.
Ps 30:4–5

Even under that anger that is for a moment and that in that night when we endure weeping (v5), the believer who has the hope of joy mixed in with his grief is thereby enabled to sing praise and give thanks. He remembers Yahweh's Name; He does not have to wait for heaven to have it.

Ps 30:1–3 — "O Yahweh!" A Cry of Personal Intensity

    1      I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
            And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
    2      O LORD my God, I cried out to You,
            And You healed me.
    3      O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave;
            You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
Ps 30:1–3

The triple "O Yahweh" is both intensely personal and personally intense. Personal, intense dealings with God are the right response of those whom God lifts up, and whom God allows to call Him our own, and whom God resurrects unto everlasting worship of Him. Indeed, personally and intensely is how He deals with us.

Ps 29:11 — How to Be Strong and Blessed

    The LORD will give strength to His people;
    The LORD will bless His people with peace.

Ps 29:11

As a conclusion to the rest of this Psalm, v11 drives home that it is Yahweh, Who gives strength and blessedness to believers, and He does so by means of His Word in public worship. 

Ps 29:1–9 — Glorious Worship Is Scripture-Saturated Worship

    1      Give  unto the LORD, O you mighty ones,
            Give unto the LORD glory and strength.
    2      Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
            Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

    3      The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
            The God of glory thunders;
            The LORD is over many waters.
    4      The voice of the LORD is powerful;
            The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

    5      The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars,
            Yes, the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
    6      He makes them also skip like a calf,
            Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
    7      The voice of the LORD divides the flames of fire.

    8      The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
            The LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
    9      The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth,
            And strips the forests bare;
            And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
Ps 29:1–9

After noting that God Himself is the glory of worship, the Spirit pours forth a "flood" of verses showing how very much the Lord has chosen His Word (His voice!) as the great display of that glory in worship. Glorious worship is Scripture-saturated worship.

Ps 29:2 — God's Holiness Is Itself the True Beauty of Worship

    Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
    Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
Ps 29:2

The word 'beauty' has the sense of 'majesty'. God's holiness is itself the true beauty of the worship. God's glory (literally, "heaviness") is the weightiness of the worship. It is a misinterpretation bordering upon blasphemy to use this text and its parables to justify artistic adornments of the earthly circumstances of the worship of God.

Ps 28:7 — My Heart Trusted in Him, and I Am Helped

    The LORD is my strength and my shield;
    My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
    Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
    And with my song I will praise Him.
Ps 28:7

Yahweh's making the heart trust in Him is so much of a help that by this mechanism, one can come to greatly rejoice and to have heart and mouth opened with song of praise, even without a change in circumstances.

Ps 28:5 — Regard the Works of God's Hands

    Because they do not regard the works of the LORD,
    Nor the operation of His hands,
    He shall destroy them
    And not build them up.
Ps 28:5

The worst thing about the works of the wicked's hands against men (cf. v3–4) is that men are the work of God's hands. The worst thing about idolizing the creation is failing to see that it is a work of the Lord's hands. And the worst thing about failing to understand redemption correctly is that it is the work of the Lord's hands. God make us to regard the works of His hands!

Ps 28:3 — The Hardest Speech of All: the Silence of God

    1      To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock: Do not be silent to me,
            Lest, if You are silent to me,
            I become like those who go down to the pit.
    2      Hear the voice of my supplications
            When I cry to You,
            When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.
    3      Do not take me away with the wicked
            And with the workers of iniquity,
            Who speak peace to their neighbors,
            But evil is in their hearts.
Ps 28:1–3

The speech of those who are false in their hearts is a great trial. But the silence of God would be a greater trial still. Let believers supplicate Him that He be not silent.

Ps 27:13 — The Ultimate Hope of True Religion

    I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
    That I would see the goodness of the LORD
    In the land of the living.
Ps 27:13

Resurrection ("land of the living") unto beatific vision ("see the goodness of Yahweh") is the ultimate hope of true religion. Without it, there is no hope (cf. 1Cor 15). 

Ps 27:10 — Our Perfectly Faithful Caregiver

    When my father and my mother forsake me,
    Then the LORD will take care of me.
Ps 27:10

Literarily, being forsaken by father and mother functions in this verse as an unthinkable impossibility, with the implication of how much more devotedly loyal to us and our care is Yahweh. But in a wicked world, where the unthinkable is often the experienced, how much more we need and ought to nestle safely into His care!

Ps 27:8 — The Help of a God Who Commands Our Hearts

    When You said, “Seek My face,”
    My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.”

Ps 27:8

What a help it is to have a God Who commands our hearts! When our hearts are not seeking His face, we may look to Him to command our hearts to do so.

Ps 27:6 — The Purpose of Deliverance

     And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
    Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
    I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.
Ps 27:6

The purpose of deliverance (cf. v5) is to offer sacrifice not of blood but of our joyous shouting and singing and praising to Yahweh. Have I been delivered? Then let my soul serve the purpose of that deliverance!

Ps 27:4 — The One Thing

    One thing I have desired of the LORD,
    That will I seek:
    That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
    All the days of my life,
    To behold the beauty of the LORD,
    And to inquire in His temple.
Ps 27:4

"What is the one thing for which we ultimately exist?" It's a what question with a Whom answer. We exist for Him, specifically to behold Him and consider Him. And for this, He has created especially corporate worship (e.g. "house" and "temple"). Everything else is a means unto that end.

Ps 27:1 — An Inextinguishable Life

    The LORD is my light and my salvation;
    Whom shall I fear?
    The LORD is the strength of my life;
    Of whom shall I be afraid?

Ps 27:1. 

Yahweh is not just light unto my eyes but the light of my eyes, which is to say that He ismy very life. And if He is my life, then who can extinguish it?