Sunday, April 26, 2015

City Notes 22 | Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of God Part 2 of 3

Emmaus City Worcester MA Worship Story of God Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Transcultural Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities


City Notes 22: Books in 30 minutes or less

City Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous City Notes books:



Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper Review of Quotes | City Notes 22: Part 2 of 3


Chapter 5 | Worship One, Two, Three

“Israel was a people formed with a promise. Even in exile, the promise is held forth that God will rescue them, and that in the meantime he means for them to worship him, hold on to the promise, and receive blessing through him (Jeremiah 29). The church, similarly, is a community in exile. We're challenged to be in this world but not of it. Our song is sung in the tension of life between this world and the one to come, where all things are restored and sin is abolished once and for all.” – pg. 74

"Participating in God's glory-sharing life happens in two contexts: scattered and gathered. Worship scattered is the Spirit-filled life of the Christian in the world, and worship gathered is the meeting of God's people to remember, encourage, and bless one another. ... it all happens in union with Jesus, before the eyes and presence of a loving God, who by a miracle of boundless grace receives each and every act, though offered with mixed motives or frailty of heart, as a pleasant acceptable offering.” – pgs. 76-77

"Scattered worship reveals the scandal of God's grace. The whole mess of our lives is transformed in Christ, from corrupted to glorious, from ashes to beauty. The addict who can only cry out in faith, 'Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,' is just as accepted by the Father as a faithful missionary or pastor. There are no mountains to climb to seek God's presence, not gates to unlock, no feats to accomplish. There is only Jesus, who throws wide heaven's gates and cries, 'All who are thirsty, come and drink' (John 7:37).– pg. 77 

"After describing the priesthood of Jesus in the heavenly realms (Hebrews 8) and his once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 9-10:18), the author then invites us to draw near to God through Jesus (Hebrews 10:19-22) and to continue to gather (Hebrews 10:23-25). Through the book of Hebrews, we're shown how Jesus replaces the central focus of Israel's gathering – the temple, the priest, the sacrifice – and yet the author goes on to tell his readers to continue to gather. The gathering's purpose shifts from the work of the priests – the efforts to cleans Israel's sins – to the work of the church – encouraging one another, and all the more as 'the Day' approaches. The 'Day' here is the day of judgment. The passage goes on to warn of the dangers of falling away, and the author points to the gathering of the church as one key for holding fast under the pressures of a broken world and the temptations to sin. ... We continue to gather in the light of our profound weakness. Like the children of Neverland, we're forgetful, or 'prone to wander,' as the old hymn says. ... Our only hope is to remember the gospel – remembering who we are and whose we are as we rehearse the story of redemption that calls us out of the wilderness and back to the garden." – pgs. 77-79


"It's no small thing to realize that when a Christian shows up, God shows up. 'Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?' (1 Corinthians 3:16). So when the church gathers, it gathers as a collection of people in whom God dwells. God inhabits the gathered church because these scattered worshipers are all temples, who together make a greater temple (Ephesians 2:19-22). When this temple gathers, something otherworldly takes place. It's an outpost of hope in a dying world, a fellowship of resurrected sinners, whose presence in the world is a foretaste of a greater transformation to come (Ephesians 4:11-13). Theologian David Peterson points out the communal nature of Ephesians 4  Paul is talking about the formation of an entire church, not just individuals. It's not merely that I should be built up, but that we should be built in unity. This happens as those given to lead the church exercise the gifts, teaching and preaching from God's Word (Ephesians 4:14-16). ... According to Peterson, 'speaking the truth in love' is not so much about interpersonal boldness as it is about the community that shares a confession, a unified expression of faith in the God who saved them. The gathered body teaches the Word and proclaims it together; we speak the truth in love as we sing, read the Scriptures, and remember the gospel together. These passages, taken together, show us a church that gathers in the midst of the world's pressures, under the hopeful warning of Christ's return, encouraging one another and building each other up through the presence of God's Spirit by immersing itself in God's Word, singing and proclaiming the gospel. The fruit of the gathering is not just a strong individual, but a strong church, united in faith. In this sense, the gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (it is that, though God's presence is a constantly available comfort and help to the Christian); rather it's unique because it is an encounter with the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. Christ in me meets Christ in you.– pgs. 79-81
 "The gathering of the church is not just a family reunion. We gather because we have work to do – to remember the gospel and hold fast to our confession. The Greek word for the gathered church offers some insight into how the apostles saw their gatherings. Though the language offered a variety of options for words to describe the gathering church, the authors of the New Testament chose ekklesia. According to scholar Larry Hurtado, it was an odd choice: 'In its historic Greek usage, ekklesia designated the gathering of citizens of a city to conduct civic business. Such events always had a religious character and would be commenced with offerings to the gods, but the ekklesia was not precisely a gathering to conduct worship.' We gather because we have work to do. Ekklesia emphasizes the work of the people. We gather to do our work, which is to say, we gather to remember, to encourage, and to spur one another on. Gathered worship then feeds scattered worship, building up and equipping worshipers to live in the power and wonder of the gospel, able to persevere amid the trials that surround them. Likewise, scattered worship feeds gathered, as each worshiper brings his or her growth, suffering, and maturing faith to the gathering.– pg. 81
"In Colossians 3:16-17, verse 16 describes the heart of the gathering  singing, sharing, and encouraging one another that the word of Christ might dwell richly among us. Verse 17 then opens the doors to the wider world, inviting us to step out with thankful hearts, doing everything in the name of Jesus. Worship scattered and worship gathered go hand in hand, shaping and informing one another in the life of the worshiper. One without the other will inevitably be weakened. It's a gospel rhythm – sent and gathered, always worshiping and regularly worshiping together, with the story of the gospel throbbing in regular rhythms at the heart of the church: this is who you are, this is your God, this is your story. It's a life-giving and community-building pulse, and when the gospel is at the center  remembered, declared in unity, and displayed in the church's worship – it's a rhythm of grace." – pg. 82

" ... there are three distinct audiences that the church needs to be aware of, both gathered and scattered. There is God, who is both the object of our praise and a witness to us as we praise him; there is the church, which both participates in and witnesses the lives and gatherings of the people; and there is the world, watching from the darkness." – pg. 83

" ... the gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (since God's presence is a constant comfort and help to the Christian); it's unique as an encounter with God intensified among the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. It's communal, not individualistic. Christ in me meets Christ in you. The gathering should be a place where believers are built up and encouraged in the midst of the various trials and circumstances of their lives. So when we gather, we sing to each other. We declare the truths of the gospel to one another. Our presence and our participation is not merely for the sake of our individual relationship with God, demonstrating our confidence and hope, but it's also for our brother's and sister's sake. Our participation in the gathering is testimony and encouragement to them. When you sing, you are 'speaking the truth in love' to your church around you, and your bold confession of faith may be exactly what someone nearby needs to hear in the midst of his or her dark hours. Likewise, you may be the one who needs to receive the comfort that comes from the praises of God's people. ... Just as the Psalms declare the wonders of God to all of Israel, they declare them to the nations (Psalms 96:3). In the New Testament, we see the gathered church as an island of exiles whose worship causes outsiders to see Christ's glory and be drawn in. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, admonishes the church to seek to prophecy more than they seek the gifts of tongues. He describes an outsider at a gathering: 'The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you' (1 Corinthians 14:25). It's the clarity of prophecy  heart-cutting words in an intelligible tongue – that makes the moment transformative for the unbeliever. Tim Keller says: 'It cannot be missed that Paul directly tells a local congregation to adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers. It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the unchurched feel or think about our worship. ... God wants the world to overhear us worshiping him. God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises 'before the nations.' We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.' This reminds us of the centrality of the gospel to the gathered church. As Keller says, the world needs to clearly and coherently see the gospel celebrated. Even though three audiences witness our worship, the message doesn't have to be tailored separately; all of them need to see and hear the gospel displayed and celebrated.– pgs. 84-86

"When a one-hour worship service is our only encounter with God's presence, we will intuitively become much more demanding of that gathering – and divisive. Song selection, for instance, is a much more loaded concept if Sunday morning is my sole sacred hour with God. I'll be much more picky because a decision I disagree with or don't particularly love robs me of intimacy with God. A brokenhearted friend who asked me for prayer would be guilty of pulling me away from the Holy of Holies. Everything about the service becomes sacred, and if it's done poorly (or not to my taste), it's not just a matter of preference or opinion – it feels more like heresy. By contrast, if the gathering is about building up and encouraging the church, then a song I don't like presents an opportunity to love and encourage others whose tastes differ from mine. A needy friend is an opportunity for me to participate in the work of the church (the ekklesia), listening, praying, and building him or her up. Distractions, errors, and cringe-inducing moments in the service aren't disasters on a cosmic scale because worship continues throughout my week; Jesus continues before God's throne, and I can join him anytime.– pgs. 88-89

"The gospel is all about once-broken worship being restored by Jesus. We worship the Father with and through the Son by the power of his Spirit. The gospel transforms all of life into sacred space because Christ dwells in us and we dwell in him, and this frees us from expecting too much from the gathering and yet compels us to gather and encourage one another. Worship that celebrates the gospel brings all three audiences together: the God who saves by the gospel, the church formed by the gospel, and the world in need of the gospel. ... we never get 'past' the gospel because we never get past the need for Jesus to mediate between God's holiness and our sin.– pg. 90 

Chapter 6 | Worship as Spiritual Formation

“ ... we should evaluate our gatherings. What are we saying about 'normal' Christianity? How do our services reflect the way the gospel changes our perspective on the world? What are we saying to those who suffer? To the poor? The rich? Those who are like us? Those who are unlike us? How are we connecting to past, present, and future?” – pg. 94

"The cosmic scale of New Testament worship is crystal clear; our songs (and our very lives) are caught up in the worship service Jesus is leading in the true tabernacle. We see the mechanics of that worship service in technicolor – the blood of Jesus making a way for us to enter in; the Son of God leading us in a procession from captivity to new homes in the kingdom; the tribes, tongues, and nations gathered before the throne of God.” – pg. 95

"Israel was a story-formed community, and their gatherings were punctuated by remembering God's story and their place within it. Where the church's worship is centered on the cross and resurrection, Israel's story centered on their own rescue: the exodus. Throughout the Old Testament, when you see the people of God gathering, you see them remembering their story. When God introduces himself in conversation, he says, 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.' The identity of Israel and the terms of their relationship with God are firmly and thoroughly rooted in their history. So every time they get together, they recount their story and their place within it, rehearsing and reaffirming their identity. In Joshua 24, Israel's prophet-leader gathers the people to call them back to the God who saved them. He begins by retelling their story (vv. 1-13) and then says, 'Choose this day whom you will serve' (v. 15). Joshua presents worship as a choice between the God of Israel and the idols of the world around them. Their task is not only to worship the Lord; it's also reject their idols. The people respond, and Joshua presses in, warning them that worship calls for the wholesale rejection of their lesser gods (vv. 19-23). The gathering climaxes as the decrees and laws are reaffirmed (v. 25) and the covenant is renewed. ... Throughout the Old Testament, a similar pattern of covenant renewal is repeated. The Word is presented, reminding people of their God and their story, the people repent, and the covenant is reinvigorated with fresh commitment on behalf of the people of God (see also 2 Kings 23; Nehemiah 8-10; Deuteronomy 31). ... Our commitment to the gospel is reaffirmed as we gather with the church and remember God's promises to us. 'Just as the people of Israel gathered together to renew their covenant with God (i.e. Joshua 24:1-27), so we Christians gather to renew the new covenant God has made with us in Christ. Christian worship is like a covenant-renewal service in which the gathered reaffirm the vows made with God in Christ. ... In a worship service, we renew the promises we made (and often failed to keep) to God, and we hear again the promises God has made (and kept!) in Christ." – pgs. 97-98

"A gathering with this purpose  remembering and renewing our commitment to God in the light of the gospel – is driven by a profound sense of purpose. Remember that the New Testament word used to describe the gathered church (ekklesia) indicates a gathering with purpose. We come with work to do: remembering and renewing our covenant. ... 'worshipers need to be challenged to see the worship event as a deeply participational, relational event in which we are active listeners, speakers, promise receivers, and promise givers.' It's similar to when a married couple renews their vows. They aren't inaugurating something new when they look into one another's eyes and reaffirm their love for each other. Instead, they're saying, in the light of all that's happened in their years of marriage, that they remain committed to one another. In a worship gathering, when the church comes together to hear they gospel afresh and respond in faith, it's a similar reaffirmation. God's promises still stand, and we remain his people by faith. My friend Isaac Wardell, a pastor of worship and founder of Bifrost Arts, asks whether we think of gathered worship as being more like a concert hall or a banquet hall. If it's a concert hall, we show up as passive observers and critics, eager to have the itches of our preferences and felt needs scratched. A banquet hall, by contrast, is a communal gathering. We become hungry and in community, ready to participate and share the experience with one another. – pgs. 98-99

"Theologian Jeremy Begbie calls the gathering an 'echo from the future,' a forestaste of something we'll see come to fruition when Christ returns and all things are made new, a not-yet life that we taste in part already. Today, we gather in exile, in the world but not of it, but one day the exile will end. God will rebuild creation, and not one corner of it will be stained by sin and rebellion. Until then, we have these momentary and imperfect glimpses and foretastes as we gather, hear the Word, and respond together. As flawed and imperfect as these gatherings are, they're the most truthful moment of our week, an outpost of the kingdom of God and a foretaste of eternity." – pg. 100

" ... many of the activities are connected in one way or another to the Word, either directly (reading, preaching, praying, and singing) or indirectly, as responses to the Word (confessing faith, saying the 'Amen'). Larry Hurtado, in his excellent short book At the Origins of Christian Worship, points out how this Word-centeredness was a stark contrast to the religions of the world around the early church. The pagan religions of Rome were sensual, with ceremonies, orgies, statuary, and a vibrant visual culture. Yet the church gathered simply, centering their collective life on the Word of God and the community's participation. Their goal was to shape the hearts and minds of Christians, following on the heels of Deuteronomy 6:7, saturating the life of the believer with the Word of God as it was read, preached, prayed, and sung. It was profoundly countercultural in Rome to gather so simply and starkly. The earliest church gatherings were still in the temple and synagogues, and the synagogue in the first century was itself a Word-centered, soul-forming place. Robert Webber describes worship in the synagogue as being a Word-centered event in which the counterculture of Israel was taught and reaffirmed through affirmation of faith, prayer, and the reading of Scripture. They gathered to remember the covenant, pray together, and hear the Word read and taught. It was in this environment of Word-centered community that the early church sprung its roots. Jesus grew up in the synagogues and much of his teaching ministry occurred in synagogues outside of Jerusalem. To grow up there was to have your worldview and life shaped by disciplined immersion in God's Word. In this world, the gathering wasn't an event designed to wow or impress. You didn't attend as a spectator. It was a place you entered to have your identity formed and refined as part of God's community, living under the testimony and authority of God's Word. Gathering with God's people was part of an identity-shaping rhythm of life. This rhythm remained in the aftermath of the resurrection (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42). Believers continued to meet regularly in the temple and in public. Where the center point of God's saving work had been the exodus, in the light of the empty tomb it became the work of Jesus. The gathered church meets with the same agenda: remember and celebrate how God rescued us, pray and sing in community, hear and respond to the Word. – pgs. 100-101

"Psalm 121 is a psalm of ascents  a prayer sung by pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist sings, 'I lift my eyes up to the hills. From where does my help come? (v.1)' The mountains on the road to Jerusalem were littered with temples and idols, little gods who offer protection from bandits and thieves on the journey. The threat of attack would tempt weary travelers to go to the mountains, worship one of these lesser gods, and trust in it to save, but the psalmist refuses. 'My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth' (v. 2). This is what we do every time we gather with the church. We not only affirm that our hope is in him; we deny any hope in the gods of the world around us. ... Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a 'worship war' failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one God, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen, and will come again is in all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us. ... Worship isn't merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn't our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home. – pgs. 102-104

Chapter 7 | Worship and the Story of the Church

"In 313, the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, ending persecution against Christians and legalizing the practice of all religions throughout the empire. ... Christians went from gasping for air under the fire of persecution to having the official religion. The church spread far and wide. Authority in the church centralized in Rome under the leadership of Gregory the Great, and thus the papacy was born, and the church became an institution in an entirely new way. ... power consolidation under the pope ... in its day, preserved the church against the momentum of Gnostic and docetic heresies, who undermined the doctrine of the Trinity. ... To many Protestants, the church calendar may seem like an arbitrary regulation ... but for its authors, it was designed pastorally. The church calendar was designed to walk believers through the story of the gospel every year, from the incarnation to the ascension. If we allow historic prejudice to color our perspective too heavily, we lose sight of the brilliant, pastoral creativity that shaped some of the church's inventions. ... Likewise, creeds, confessions, and orders of worship, when seen through the lenses of gospel-given freedom, represent an opportunity to connect with the past and acknowledge, as we gather with God's people, that we're not the first ones to discover and love the gospel. ... In the dark years, the gospel became veiled behind the trappings of religiosity and a profound distinction between clergy and laity. Worship was hierarchically controlled by religious officials, and the actions of the gathered church became more divided between the clergy and laity. More of the work was done by the priesthood, and the church itself became passive observers. ... Imagine being a Christian in the year 1400. Worship services were in a language you didn't speak, and your vague comprehension of the gospel would be based upon the little understanding passed on to you by others or discerned from the Mass you attended. You would passively observe the clergy as they sang (you weren't allowed to sing), and you would listen as they read Scripture and carried out various rituals on an altar at the far end of a cathedral. At some point, they would serve the Eucharist through a mysterious set of actions that led to your only real participation in the service ... In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, and a fire was lit that would transform churches the world over. The Protestant Reformation brought Scripture back to the people of God and with it restored a biblical vision of worship. As Luther once said regarding worship, 'We can spare everything except the Word. We profit by nothing so much as by the Word.' The Bible was translated into the native languages of the people, and worship gatherings in new, Protestant churches were full of prayers, songs, and sermons in the vernacular. The Word was made central to the life and worship of the church, and everything else that was done in the gathering was reformed and reinterpreted in the light of God's Word ... the movement spawned countless seminaries and academic institutions because they believed that the pastor should be well equipped to preach the Word of God and shepherd his people. It gave birth to the hymns of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and all of the great English hymn writers. These men and women like Anne Steele wrote with a heart for shepherding and catechizing – training people in doctrine and a biblical worldview – through the songs they sang. Their legacy continues to be heard in the music of churches all over the world hundreds of years later.– pgs. 106-109, 111

"Freedom from the hierarchy was liberating, but not without consequences. ... 'Free Church biblicism deteriorated into Free Church pragmatism.' Revivalism, led by nineteenth-century preacher Charles Finney, transformed worship from the banquet hall to the concert hall. Rather than worship being a formational process in the lives and hearts of believers over years of gathering and learning, it became an ecstatic experience driven by emotive preaching and decorated with music. The goal was a catalytic, life-changing moment. ... For many Christians in the years since, this has been the norm. Worshiping with the gathered church is about music and preaching, with preaching taking a central (and often primary) place, while music serves as an emotional warm-up. Preaching itself has devolved from careful exegesis to vaguely Christian platitudes and techniques for self-help. Elements like prayer, Scripture readings, and greeting one another are seen as peripheral, decorative, and secondary to the real purpose of the gathering. In this economy, worship is defined as music, and its value is measured in its emotional impact more than its truth content. ... This model likens the journey of worship to a pilgrim's journey to the temple in Jerusalem. As one worship leader describes it, 'We see the 'Temple Journey' of worship from every day life, walking towards Jerusalem, into the Temple courts and finally into the deepest place of God's presence.' The journey begins in the 'outer gates,' where the crowd assembles rambunctiously, with celebrative and energetic music. As worship continues into the inner gates and into the temple, music becomes more intimate and the presence of God becomes more immanent. ... The problem with the 'Temple Journey' model is twofold. First, it's developed backwards. The theology of the Temple Model is a theological interpretation of an experience, and it is divorced from any kind of historical perspective on the gathered church. Second, it ignores most of what the New Testament teaches us about worship, the presence of God, and the temple. Instead of being led by Jesus through the inner curtain, we're led by a worship leader or a pastor – a pseudo-priest. God's presence is measured in emotional impact, and it's mediated through music and preaching, displacing Jesus from his role as our sole Mediator and worship leader." – pgs. 111-113

"Both revivalism and Catholicism measure the presence of God through the work of the church – the Communion service in one, music in the other. Both install a new priesthood responsible for leading the people to God and speaking for God to the people. In Catholicism, he wears vestments and doles out God's presence in bread and wine, and in contemporary worship, using the Temple Model, he wears a fauxhawk and an acoustic guitar. It's interesting, too, to see that Roman Catholic worship, by making the cathedral a place where priests serve and heaven comes to earth, is itself modeled after the temple. Somehow, both in historic Catholic worship and in contemporary, experience- and emotion-driven worship, we are seeking to recreate a temple experience, mediated by human beings who lead us to an experience of heaven on earth that the New Testament tells us is profoundly inferior to worshiping the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit. It's not unlike in the book of 1 Kings, where the people of Israel have God as their King in an arrangement that makes them unique among the nations. Even so, they aren't content and they demand a human king. God gives them Saul, David, and Solomon, who despite their better achievements, are profoundly flawed. So it is with any human priest or mediator: we reject Jesus, our worship leader, and settle for Saul." – pg. 114

"We come to our churches eager to hear deep truth and connect spiritually with our communities and with God. ... The Spirit of God has a tendency to do powerful things when Jesus is on display and when God's people gather. That's a powerful recipe for life-changing worship: gather the people of God, display the glories of Jesus, and invite the church to respond. We have to see that there's a difference between a service that's compelled by a hunger to display the gospel and a service that's compelled by a desire to stir emotions through other means. We also have to see that the church needs to be equipped for more than emotional catharsis. ... it's important to remember the gospel even as we reflect on the efforts of worship leaders. As Harold Best says, 'we offer, Christ perfects.' Our best efforts to worship in spirit and truth, feeble or confused as we may be, ascend to the heavens through faith in Jesus. They're cleansed by his blood, and they arrive at God's throne a perfect, pure, and fragrant offering.– pgs. 114-115


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