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    ThuThursdayAugAugust10th2017 You vs. God
    byBill Davis Tagged Dependence Psalms Worship 0 comments Add comment

    Volumes and volumes have been penned on why the Psalms are so essential to our devotional development in the Christian life. They connect in ways that other Scripture doesn’t (not in a superior way, as 2 Tim 3:16 is clear, but still in a rather unique way). The cry of the psalmist can connect to the cry of our soul when we really aren’t sure how to think about God, let alone how to express emotion to him. Sometimes we’re not even sure what those emotions are until the example of the psalmist shows us how to think about our circumstances and gain a broader perspective. Some of the darkest, most dire moments of my life have resulted in the Psalms moving from words on a page to understanding, comfort, wisdom, hope, perspective, and life.

    But thankfully we don’t have to be in the middle of dire circumstances to tap into the life and perspective of the Psalms. How do we make this connection just in our more day-in and day-out moments? I suggest it starts with an unlikely pairing: worship and grammar.

    The Psalms are many things, but they’re nothing if they aren’t a direction to worship. They are songs and poems to express the heart of a worshiper after the heart of God, and the very heart of God himself. I like a definition of worship I once heard that goes something like this: it is rightly recognizing who God is and who I am. The more I rightly see God in all his splendor, sovereignty, and glory, the more I recognize there no one or no thing like him (Ex 15:11)… certainly not me! And thus I start to rightly see who I am – both as one in desperate need of his saving, but also one gloriously and graciously saved and brought to new life!

    Okay, worship makes sense, but grammar? In particular, I think one key way to read the Psalms is to make note of the subject and the predicate (and if you need a little refresher on that, you might enjoy one of our family’s favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs here). Namely, who is doing something, and what are they doing? Now this is where the worship comes in. If worship is rightly viewing God and thereby rightly viewing myself, then I can look to the Psalms to see what does God do, and then I look in the same psalm to see what is my action or response.

    Sarah and I were recently praying for wisdom and direction, and found ourselves looking into Psalm 25. It’s a cry of David for God’s leading and deliverance. But just take a look at some of the verbs assigned to God, and compare them to the verbs assigned to you and me:

    God: lift, save from enemies, make me know, teach me, lead me, remember mercy, remember not sins, love steadfastly, be good, instruct, pardon, guide in choosing, befriend, rescues, turn to me, be gracious, consider me, forgive, guard, deliver, redeem

    Us: trust, wait, keep covenant, fear the Lord, look toward the Lord, take refuge

    Two things quickly become very obvious. First, one list is clearly longer and more active than another. God is saving, teaching, leading, forgiving, and on and on. We’re trusting, anticipating and receiving. I’m not saying that trusting is trivial or easy, but clearly he’s doing all the heavy lifting here!

    Second, it’s quite evident that I all too often try to assign myself God’s list and shirk mine. This is where my worship gets warped. I don’t view God rightly enough and thus think wrongly (more highly, more lowly) of myself. Instead of trusting and waiting, I think I’ll lift myself. I’ll be the one to save myself from my enemies, I’ll figure out my path, I’ll instruct myself, I’ll…  Sound familiar to you, too?

    Oh “turn to me and be gracious to me” Lord! Even when I get this all inside-out in my thinking, the Psalms guide me even in how to repent. Let’s stick to our verbs and grow in trusting God for his. So, walk through the Psalms and take time to write out such “You vs. God” lists of predicates like the above, and let that little bit of grammar drive a lot of worship.

    ThuThursdayJunJune15th2017 Hospitable Worship

    Have you ever been enjoying a meal with an old friend only to be interrupted mid-bite by someone passing by who knows your friend but not you? As they engage in a lengthy conversation, you sit and observe and toy nervously with the eggs and bacon on your plate.

    Such a situation is not bad but does feel awkward. We’ve all been there. We’ve also been the ones who instigate the feeling of a third wheel in others.

    Hospitality seeks to remove the awkward. It seeks to make everyone feel welcome, valued and a part of what is going on.

    I’ve become more mindful of this as it relates to our gathering on Sunday mornings. There is so much about what we do that is family. We are a family. We do what families do. We have rhythms and inside language and general know-how. That isn’t bad. In fact, it can be a sign of great health. But it can also create awkwardness in guests if we are not careful. That is something to be mindful of and to think about.

    One area of desired hospitality that has come to mind recently for me is related to the songs we sing. It came out of some very helpful conversations right here within our church family. It has to do with language, particularly well-aged pronouns and verbs – Thee, Thou, Thine, dost and the like.

    Now, before you react, let me say that I understand these words are very sacred to many within our church family and hold significant meaning in a variety of ways. I’m not attacking their use or their usefulness. But they can create a sense of awkwardness in some of our guests.

    So, I changed some of them. But there are some ground rules. Let me explain.

    First, as it relates to our entire gathering, we seek to blend preferences and honor a variety of perspectives. Rather than create different styles of worship gatherings (contemporary or traditional), we aim for one blended opportunity. This means that there is a portion of our church family present on Sunday morning that worships well and finds it helpful to sing Thee and Thou and similar words. It connects them (and us as a whole) to our history and the foundation of worship that they (and we) have rested on for decades. Further, when many sing Thy or Thine there is a sacred elevation in their heart as they praise God, so much so that even this type of pronoun relating to him is special and holy. For this reason, I don’t touch the most beloved hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount.”

    Second, it can’t be forced. Some songs simply cannot be updated because the poetic smoothness is tainted. I find that usually is the case if the title uses any of these pronouns or if a line ends with one. The title is usually sung within the hymn itself so a change often throws off an entire line and thus, the whole song. Or, if the end of a particular line is changed then the subsequent line will not fit.

    However, even while mindful of these two ground rules, there are some songs that can be changed and allow us to be more hospitable to our guests who have no idea what such a word as dost even means. “Come Ye Sinners” has become “Come You Sinners.” Recently we introduced (though some were familiar with it) “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place.” In it were three occurrences of the word Thy. It is a lesser known hymn. There was no impact on the content. I changed them to Your. It served as an opportunity of hospitality to our guests.

    I know you may not agree. That’s okay. But I hope that the next time you notice a change and double clutch, that you can defer your preference to others in the room and exercise hospitality while you worship.

    WedWednesdayOctOctober26th2016 All Together Worship
    byWill Peycke Tagged Family Parenting Worship 3 comments Add comment

    Worship BC and AD

    I’ve heard this question several times over the past year: “Why doesn’t Kossuth provide a children’s church program for elementary-aged kids during the worship service?”

    My typical answer: “That’s a great question. How much time do you have?”

    Since long before my time here, Kossuth has believed that corporate worship is for children as well as adults. Instead of trying to create a parallel experience for children, our church encourages families to worship together. Nursery and preschool classes are available for little ones, but families are welcome to keep their youngest members with them in the worship service as well. There is significant value (not to mention biblical and historical precedent) for all ages worshiping God together.

    That said, worshiping together as a family is hard: it’s a long time for young kids to sit in one place, and there are big words that are hard to understand. We live in a culture of 30-second commercials, not 40-minute sermons. We are used to being entertained, and worship is not entertainment. Our life tends to be all about us, but worship is all about God.

    For all of us, genuinely engaging our hearts and minds in praising God is a challenge—and adding kids to the mix only increases the level of difficulty. Author Robbie Castleman sums up the challenges this way: “There is a big difference between worship BC and worship AD—worship ‘before children’ and worship ‘after diapers.’ I have heard more than a few parents confess, ‘I used to get more out of church before I had kids’” (Castleman, Parenting in the Pew, 24).

    As a result, our practice in this area often lags behind our convictions. The church settles for telling families to worship together instead of training them in how to do so. Parents and grandparents settle for telling kids to “sit still and be quiet” instead of training them to worship with us.

    But the hard things are usually the good things, and the easy way out is never the way forward. To borrow again from Castleman:

    Worship can be one of the times when we parents would like to pay attention to something other than our children. Kids can be distracting, aggravating and embarrassing in church. Parenthood can make sitting in a pew a lot of work. Paying attention to our children can make us less attentive to the service. . . . It’s hard to pay attention to God and children at the same time.

    Training children to pay attention to God, however, is one rare way to have your cake and eat it too. Parenting in the pew can help children and parents pay attention to what is really important. (Castleman, 17-18)

    Worship Training Tools

    Consider the original question again: “Why doesn’t Kossuth provide a children’s church program for elementary-aged kids during the worship service?”

    Another way to answer that question would be, “We do. It’s just not what you think.”

    You may have noticed the “Sermon Notes for Kids” sheets that started popping up a few months ago. We now have two versions: the main “Sermon Notes for Kids” bulletin features activities and questions for elementary age kids, while “Sermon Notes for Kids Junior” provides activities for preschoolers who are not yet proficient at reading and writing. Our desire is to see SNFK become our “children’s church program”—right in the middle of “big church”!

    To say I’m excited about the potential of these tools would be an understatement. Kay and I happen to be two of those parents who are trying to figure out this “all together worship” thing ourselves, and the SNFK sheets have already been a great help to us and our kids. However, it would be a mistake to simply hand our children an activity sheet and think we had done our duty. Remember, the goal is not to entertain but to train. As a parent, my goal is not to get my child to sit still so that I can participate in the service; rather, my goal is to help them to participate in the service alongside me. It takes work, but the end result is worth it!

    Parents, if you have tried using “Sermon Notes for Kids” with your family, share a story below—good, bad, or ugly! I’d love to hear how it’s going, what’s working, and what isn’t. We’ve also put together a few parent tips for using SNFK, mostly based on our own experiences as a family.

    “All together” worship is challenging, but the rewards are worth it. I’ll leave you with these words of encouragement from Robbie Castleman:

    Parenting in the pew can be a hot battle or a holy triumph of grace. It can consist of whispered commands: “Be quiet,” “Shhhhh,” “Sit still,” or it can contain the most intimate moments of life with God’s family together in his presence. Sunday morning with children in the pew can be the longest hour of the week, or it can provide the very best preparation for eternal joy.

    Teaching your children to worship—parenting in the pew—is entering the house of your heavenly Father and saying, “Daddy, I’d like you to meet my children.” Worship is seeing your Father’s smile. (Castleman, 23)

    ThuThursdayMarMarch24th2016 Gathering in Grace
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Grace Holidays Worship 0 comments Add comment

    Her pin was very long, a half meter in length, and we all gazed on it in awe any time she brought it out. Her name was Vicki and she was no doubt a model of godliness for the church family I grew up in. She served aggressively, had a sweet demeanor, and it was clear that she loved God.

    The pin she wore was no doubt inspirational. At the center was a white circle with a beautifully etched picture on it. Then, below it, gold-plated bracket after bracket after bracket had been added, forming a long chain from the top. The brackets each represented a year of perfect attendance in church. And Vicki had won the day, and the year, for many years.

    She was a faithful woman for sure and this was but one sign of that.

    But I got it wrong. What I believe was a godly practice on her part translated to an ungodly one on mine. I imitated Vicki, but sinfully so. As a young boy I worked hard for those brackets, and soon looked with pride at my own inspirational (at least to me) pin. I cared less about God and worship and hearing his Word. But I really wanted more brackets.

    I still fight those tendencies. I’m older now, and our church family doesn’t reward any kind of attendance. But I still struggle not to look at any participation in a church event as a score card. It is somewhat humorous to me that, though I did nothing to receive my salvation, I can turn something like church participation in to yet another attempt to perform for God and others.

    God did not save me to attend church. He saved me for a relationship with himself, to be enjoyed and lived with my church family. Sunday morning is a big part of that. But we gather in grace. We don’t gather to earn any points with God.

    This past week, in our Gathering in Grace Connection Hour, we took a look at Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." While not specifically about corporate worship, it has implications for it. Personally and corporately we approach God because of his grace and, in the midst of that gathering, we receive abundant grace. There are no pins or physical rewards for that. It is simply a joy.

    Kari (my wife) and I often hear from our families a desire for us to be with them on Easter Sunday (if only we could clone ourselves!). Somewhere in the conversation we make a statement like this to ourselves: “I can’t imagine spending Easter at any other church than our own.”  

    This Sunday marks a key event in our church calendar – the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Come ready to celebrate the awesome Christ with all the passion, volume, and joy imaginable. But fight the temptation to believe you have somehow earned some points with God for showing up. That would be anti-grace. We gather this Sunday because of his grace, worship him as we are motivated by grace, understand his Word and obey because we are empowered by grace, and then exit with the message of his grace as we scatter.

    No pin is big enough to honor that.

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary17th2016 The Songs We Sing

    George Matheson became aware of the harsh reality that he was going blind. Imagine, something as precious as sight, which we take for granted every minute of every day, being taken away from you. Everything would change for him.

    Add to this that his fiancé broke off the engagement, having determined that she did not want to be married to a blind man. Ouch. Losing your sight is one tragedy to face. Losing your fiancé because you are losing your sight is a whole new realm of difficulty.

    But God provided through Matheson’s sister, a woman who determined to love her brother by caring for him. Soon enough, however, another harsh reality came on the scene. Matheson’s sister found happiness in an upcoming marriage and he was forced again to think about life alone as a blind man. It was in the midst of this last event that he penned a most wonderful hymn, O Love that will not Let Me Go. The first verse goes,

    O Love that will not let me go, 
    I rest my weary soul in thee; 
    I give thee back the life I owe, 
    That in thine ocean depths its flow 
    May richer, fuller be.

    We as a church love to sing and listen to hymns and various kinds of Christian songs because we relate to the words. The best of these songs emerge from real life stories. They are not contrived out of apathy and ignorance, but out of the realities of raw life. Some birth out of mountain top experiences, and others, like this hymn, come out of pain and sorrow. Regardless, they span the tides of real life and help us express what we may struggle to put into words.

    Hymns and songs come from, and even tell, a story. Did you know that William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) struggled with major bouts of depression and attempted to end his life on three occasions? And yet hymns like There is a Fountain (a personal favorite hymn of mine) came from his heart and mind. Did you know that he was good friends with John Newton and that, together, they wrote a hymnal from which Amazing Grace was born? I think the best songs continue through the generations because we relate to them and our story joins with theirs. They mean something to us. They help us express what we value most. They are timeless.

    At Kossuth we value a variety of genres when it comes to corporate worship and singing. Included on this list is an appreciation of hymns, old and new. One ministry that has helped us sync with these values is Indelible Grace. This ministry seeks to keep the best hymns ever penned alive for our generation by revamping the melody and music behind the rich words.

    We are so glad to host again Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace. Please join us on April 21 for what will be an incredible evening together. Come at 4:45 p.m. for a dinner and seminar with Matthew Smith, followed by a concert at 7:00 p.m. The evening will conclude with a dessert reception. Find more information and register at ksbc.net/igrace.

    To help you prepare for this event, we are providing two playlists on YouTube. A general playlist of many of their songs already exists, but we have also made a playlist of their songs we currently sing at Kossuth. Check them out, sing along, and we'll see you there!

    ThuThursdayDecDecember3rd2015 Christmas Worship

    Not all songs are created equal. This is even truer when it comes to songs we use in corporate worship.

    I am a huge fan of Christmas music. Some years I have been known to listen to Christmas music as early as September (crouched down, hidden in a closet, with headphones on, of course). I currently have 228 songs in an iTunes playlist entitled “Christmas.” Further, I have even created a “Christmas Running” iTunes playlist for my listening pleasure while out on a run in the winter season.                

    But, as a worship leader, many of these songs do not make my own cut for what we sing on any given Sunday morning. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” remixed to a bebop style is great for the Turkey Stampede I just ran, but it wouldn’t fly for singing truth on Sunday morning (despite how cold it really is outside that morning). You might catch my five year old and I belting out “Jingle Bells” at the top of our lungs while en route to buy peppermint milkshakes at Chick-Fil-A, but we wouldn’t request that for Sunday morning (though he might attempt it).

    But how do we draw those lines? There are so many great Christmas songs out there. And Christmas music, secular and sacred, has so much emotion involved. Some of our best memories over the years are wrapped up in many wonderful tunes, several of which we sang with our families when we were kids.

    Yet not all Christmas songs are created equal. Despite its popularity and the fact that it’s even better when sung by an adorable kid’s choir, I do believe Jesus cried in the manger just as any normal baby would do. To sing, “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes,” would simply be untrue. When my boys woke up as infants, they were hungry, and they let you know in the way that all babies share their strongest opinions.

    So, maybe I’m being a bit harsh on a classic carol, but the point stands. Christmas time calls for discernment on all levels, and no less in what songs we sing in corporate worship as a church family. It has been a privilege and joy to seek out old and new Christmas songs that fit the bill for weekly celebrations of Jesus and his gospel. The sacred songs of Christmas most suitable for corporate worship accurately point us to Christ and rest on the foundation of his gospel.

    Last year we began singing “He Who is Mighty” and “God Made Low” from Sovereign Grace. The year before that we enjoyed “Exult in the Saviour’s Birth” by D.A. Carson (one of the greatest theologians of our day) and Matt Boswell. And all the while we worship with the classics, “O Holy Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Joy to the World.”

    This is a wonderful time of year in our church calendar. And it is our responsibility to keep Christ at the center of our activities, and yes, our corporate worship. That means many dearly cherished songs will make the song list on Sunday morning, but some will not.

    To help us keep Christ at the center, I’ve built a Spotify playlist that contains many of the songs we will sing this Christmas season as a church. I invite you to check it out and stay updated as new (and old) songs are added to it.

    WedWednesdayOctOctober14th2015 4 Tips for Listening to Sermons
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Church Sermons Worship 1 comments Add comment

    How many sermons do you think you’ll hear in your lifetime?

    If you’ve been in a church service most Sundays since birth (like I have), and if you live to be 80 years old, then simple math would predict that you’ll hear over 4,000 sermons. Supposing an average length of 40 minutes per sermon, this means you’ll sit through approximately 2,667 hours of preaching during your life. And that doesn’t even count all the other times you’ll listen to Bible teaching (at retreats, at conferences, on the radio, on podcasts, or in classes).

    The point is that if you’re going to be involved in a church, you’re going to listen to a lot of preaching. And if you’re going to listen to a lot of preaching, wouldn’t you like to make the most of it? Nobody wants to waste 2,667 hours of their lives!

    Although there are many things that could be said to help you maximize the hours you’ll spend in the pew, here are four quick ideas that will get you started:

    1. Prepare your heart. When properly understood and practiced, a sermon is not a collection of the preacher’s thoughts and ideas; it is a message from God’s word for God’s people. This means that you can prepare for it by cultivating an attitude of humility. Through prayer and reflection, get your heart ready to listen to God. And if you find that task to be difficult, then use the singing time to help you warm your heart to the goodness of God in the gospel so that you are ready to listen to him in his word.

    2. Prepare your mind. Having your heart in the right place is important, but you also need to get your mind ready to engage ideas and follow along with what is being said. For some this might be as simple as going to bed earlier on Saturday night. For others this might mean putting the phone away before you enter the sanctuary. Maybe you need to start taking notes to help you follow along—or stop taking notes, because you get too wrapped up in writing down every minute detail. The goal is a mind operating at full capacity.

    3. Know what you’re doing. When the preacher is 20 minutes into the sermon, and you’re starting to get drowsy, it’s always good to remind yourself why you’re there. You’re not there to pass time or do your weekly religious duty. You’re not there to frantically memorize all the sub-points or merely make it to the end with your eyes still open. You’re there to understand and respond to God’s word. That’s a sacred task! So focus on that and let the significance of the task inform your attitude and outlook.

    4. Make a return trip. If you walk out of the sermon and do nothing with what you’ve heard, then guess what – you’ll end up doing nothing with what you’ve heard. So if you took notes, find a time to review them later in the week. If you want to process a part of the sermon more slowly, go back and listen to that section again online. And perhaps most importantly: find ways to use the truth of the sermon in your daily conversations—with your family, your friends, your care group, or anyone else. This will help translate the truths you’ve heard into real life practice.

    These are simple suggestions. But I’m confident that they can go a long way toward helping you get the most out of all those sermons you’ll hear. May God continue to use his word to bless his people! 

    WedWednesdayAprApril1st2015 Getting in Shape for Easter
    byDon Whipple Tagged Holidays Singing Worship 0 comments Add comment

    I’m glad some songs we sing in church are limited-use songs. One example is “Angels We Have Heard on High,” that is thankfully restricted to the season of Christmas celebration. The two “gloria’s” in the refrain repeated with each of the four stanzas seemingly take an hour and a half to get through by themselves. Add to that the awkwardness of trying to keep a congregation of independent singers on the same note at the same time while trying to figure out what “excelsis Deo” means – like I say, I am glad some songs are limited-use.

    You may have an opportunity this Easter Sunday to sing the word “alleluia” 16 times in one song. You may initially think that this qualifies as one of those limited-use, let’s-go-through-the-motions holiday church songs. Let me help you not to make that serious mistake.

    “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” written by Charles Wesley, has served the church incredibly well since it was first published in 1739, over 250 years ago. Wesley wrote several verses of text while the “alleluia’s” were added later to interrupt the flow of truth with opportunity to respond with expressive joy toward God. The message of the song expresses the heart-stirring themes of the resurrection of Jesus in a clear, comprehensive, and provocative manner. This song is a great tool for you to express your joy and confidence in the risen Christ. Don’t let the “alleluia’s” intimidate you. Here are three ways to get into top alleluia singing shape for Resurrection Sunday:

    1) Read/sing the song several times before Sunday. Meditate on the phrase-by-phrase description of the rich victory over death won by our Lord and Savior Jesus. Here are the words.

    Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!                                    
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

    Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

    Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

    Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
    Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

    2) Practice singing the song. Sing it in the shower. Sing it in the car. Find a version from YouTube; there is a wide assortment available. Practice the “alleluia’s” so that everyone in the pews around you on Easter Sunday can follow your rich and melodic tones. Determine to be an alleluia influencer.

    3) Remember and submit to the truth that your voice was made to sing praises to the God who has defeated death in his Son Jesus. There is no higher or greater use of your voice than to agree with others that you not only get it, but you celebrate it: Jesus is alive! “Alleluia” simply means praise the Lord. Review Revelation 19:1-6 to be reminded that your hallelujah singing now is only practice for the glorious future assured for those who love the risen Christ.

    Get ready to soar! Plan to raise your joy high! Prepare to mock death! Practice your alleluias! Christ the Lord is risen today!

    ThuThursdayMarMarch5th2015 Whose Crown?
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Humility Worship 0 comments Add comment

    The Bible is full of rich, vivid imagery, one instance of which occurs in Isaiah 28, where the prophet tells us about two crowns. The first is the crown of self, which is sought and celebrated by the spiritually arrogant. The second is the crown of glory, which belongs to the Lord of hosts himself.

    In this passage, the prophet begins by announcing God’s judgment upon his wayward people (a common theme!), and he addresses the haughty, self-absorbed people of God by comparing them to a completely wasted guy who is staggering down the street proudly pretending to be some sort of king by virtue of a faux crown that he’s placed upon his own inebriated head (Isa. 28:1). He’s so hammered that he doesn’t even realize how ridiculous he looks and how foolish he is to be boasting in this empty demonstration of royalty. He’s entirely caught up in the delusion of his own sense of self-importance.

    Yet the delusion won’t last. Just a few verses later, Isaiah says that this crown of pride will be “trodden underfoot” (Isa. 28:3-4). That shiny crown so prominently displayed atop the head that is swollen with pride will be cast into the mud and stomped on. It will be broken and tarnished and revealed as the worthless piece of junk that it truly is.

    Compare that to the second crown which is described as “a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of [God’s] people” (Isa. 28:5). This is no cheap rip-off; it’s the real deal. This crown doesn’t rest on the heads of drunkards; it’s given to the remnant of God’s people—those whom he preserves by his grace. This crown represents not the fading glory of self, but the eternal glory of almighty God.

    Two crowns, one question: Whose are you seeking?

    All too often, I find that the crown I really care about is my own. I want to advance my agenda, serve my desires, celebrate my achievements, and honor my name. I’m like the drunk guy who thinks he’s a king. I love my crown, and I don’t want to take it off. The problem, of course, is that it’s all a complete sham.

    In a recent installment of a long line of television commercials promoting Las Vegas tourism (and, apparently, debauchery), a group of young men is seen gallivanting around the city while hoisting a silver cup-like trophy everywhere they go. They’re in an obvious spirit of joviality and celebration, giving the viewer (and all the on-screen characters who interact with them) the impression that they’ve just won some remarkable sporting championship. At the end of the night, however, the exhausted, haggard-looking group is seen arriving back at the hotel, at which point they return the trophy to a shelf in the hallway, whereupon we discover that this “trophy” is actually nothing more than a mundane decoration that was used to display a bouquet of (now wilted) flowers.

    Apparently I’m supposed to book a flight to Vegas after watching that, but all I’m able to think about is how pathetic one must be to use a cheap hotel decoration to garner the empty praise of strangers!

    And yet that’s exactly what it looks like when I seek my own crown. “Look at me!” I shout to anyone who will listen. “Look at this crown! Isn’t it pretty?” Never mind the fact that it’s a phony that will end up being stomped on. In the moment, it makes me feel significant, and that’s all that matters.

    Time and time again, I need to be reminded that my crown is a sad substitute for the crown that belongs to God. His crown is a truly glorious one that cannot fade. Mine is a worthless trinket that is bound for the mud. And it’s only as my fingers loosen their grip on my own pathetic crown that I am able to receive the incomparably beautiful divine crown of God’s own matchless glory.

    So I ask again: Whose crown are you seeking?

    ThuThursdayFebFebruary26th2015 Leviticus in February
    byMikel Berger Tagged Scripture Worship 0 comments Add comment

    How many New Year’s resolutions to read through the Bible in a year have died in February while reading Leviticus? One reason might be the cold drudgery of life this time of year when holidays seem so far away and the warmth of spring seems equally distant. Another reason might be that we overlook Leviticus as something boring and irrelevant. My daily Bible reading plan has had me in Leviticus the past few days and I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what God has been teaching me.

    My big take away from Leviticus is that God gets to decide how he wants to be worshiped. He decides how he will be approached. He decides what is unclean and should not be near him or his people. And he decides what is clean and can be brought near him and will benefit his people. God’s people don’t decide any of these things.

    Consider Leviticus 1:3: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.” In this verse God, decides the quality of the offering. He will receive nothing but the best from their primary food supply.

    And then there’s Leviticus 5:7: “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.” God decides the punishment for sin and when grace will be extended because of the circumstances for the sinner.

    Yet again, in Leviticus 11:2: “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.” God sets out dietary restrictions that serve as a reminder of his rule and reign over even their most basic needs and allow them to physically remind themselves and others of their devotion to him.

    So it was certainly true in the Old Testament that God decided how he wanted to be approached. That lesson is no less true today. God has decided we can only approach him through his son, Jesus Christ. While Christ has fulfilled the law, he has not abolished it. So when you read Old Testament law, be reminded that the requirement to meet the demands of the law has been fulfilled completely for you. We don’t get to decide how to approach God. Accept that gift and then serve him in joy. That thought will keep you warm even on the coldest February morning while reading Leviticus.

    "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near" (Hebrews 10:1).

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember4th2014 I Lift Up My Hands
    byDan Dillon Tagged Prayer Worship 5 comments Add comment

    [Guest post by current elder candidate Dan Dillon]

    I’d like to share a bit of how God has convicted and is encouraging me in hopes that it encourages you.

    Psalms 120-134 are some of my favorite Psalms. They are labeled as “Songs of Ascents” and seem to be written for the worshiper who is traveling to the temple in Jerusalem, perhaps for one of the annual feasts. They follow a general pattern as the worshipper approaches Jerusalem, starting with distress and despair and ending with petitions, rejoicing, and praise. A few weeks ago, I read Psalm 134, the last (and shortest!) of the set:

    Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
    Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!
    May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

    So, after the long journey to Jerusalem, what are we to do in the temple? What does it all boil down to? Two things: bless the Lord and lift up your hands.

    No, no, no! I can bless the Lord, but “lift up your hands”? Couldn’t the Psalmist have picked something else for the second one? Maybe “praise him”? I can do that. Couldn’t the Psalmist have made the list longer, say five or ten items, so that I could conveniently ignore “lift up your hands” as I worked on the other items on the list?

    Oh, how the Spirit exposes and convicts! I was convicted that I needed to lift up my hands in worship: it’s commanded, not suggested, as one of the two things to do when you arrive at worship. In fact, “lifting up hands” shows up in Psalms 28, 63, 119, and 141, and several other places in the Bible (Lev. 9:22; Neh. 8:6; Lam. 2:19, 3:41; Hab. 3:10; 1 Tim. 2:8).  

    How often should we lift up our hands? I don't know. I don’t think we need to do it every second of singing and praying. But given that five of the 150 Psalms mention it, somehow “I lifted up my hands once, a few years ago, when the worship leader asked all of us to do it” doesn’t quite seem like a claim to full obedience.

    And, of course, “lifting hands” can turn into a rote act of obedience or a way of showing off. So, let’s counteract those trends by considering what “lifting hands” symbolizes:

    • We lift up our hands when we want to call attention to something: “Look up there!”
    • We lift up our hands when we, as a child, give something up: “Father, please take this.”
    • We lift up our hands when we, as a child, need something or someone: “Please, Father, can you help me?”
    • We lift up our hands when we, as a child, want someone’s attention: “Please, Father, love me.”

    “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

    ThuThursdayMayMay1st2014 The Gospel Grid
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Gospel Singing Worship 0 comments Add comment


    Distraction is a powerful enemy of Christian living. Can you relate? After a great weekend of rest and renewal, Monday morning comes with great intentions of a focused Christian life—a life dedicated to Christ with delight in his gospel.

    But you oversleep on Monday morning. You arrive at work late and before lunch arrives you’ve fought every ungodly thought imaginable. The deadlines are screaming at you and all you can think about is how you are failing in every area of your life.

    Or maybe you fit in an opposite extreme. You work hard to mind every area of your life because you want to rely on your own ability rather than the righteousness that God supplies in Christ. So Monday represents another day of working really hard to feel good about yourself based on your own performance.

    Add to this the prominent ability of the world to yell all day long that this life is all about you.

    It’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s difficult to remain focused on Christ and his gospel.

    Enter Sunday morning corporate worship. It is a summit where one can reach a height from which to take a deep breath, look all around, and remember what life is really all about. And that is one way the worship team wants to serve.

    Back in August of 2013 a shift in worship planning took place. It was the result of a number of influencers, but the outcome was a new grid by which to filter song selection: the Gospel Grid. It is based on Greg Gilbert’s book, What is the Gospel, along with some ideas from Matt Papa and Mike Cosper. In Gilbert’s book he presents a four-stage explanation of the Gospel: God, Man, Christ, and Response. God is holy and righteous Creator, Ruler of all things. Man rebelled and received the consequence of condemnation and death. Christ came to pay the penalty for that rebellion on the cross and conquered death by rising from the grave. People can respond by receiving new life as a gift from God through trust and repentance.

    What does this have to do with Sunday morning worship? Everything. On the summit of Sunday morning worship we have the opportunity to retell this story every week and to remind ourselves that life is not all about us. This is the grid that guides song selection as we retell this story together as a church family. In determining the first four songs each Sunday morning, one song is chosen for each part of the Gospel Grid. We begin by elevating our view of who God is. Next, a song is chosen where at some point we reflect on our sin. After that we celebrate with a song explicitly about the work of Christ on the cross. And finally we sing a song related to how we respond to the cross, either with further celebration, other reminders, or prayers to God for help.

    This has been so refreshing to us and I trust it has been to you as well. We are still tweaking things and improving on it. In future weeks, we will be inserting in the bulletin from time to time an explanation of this grid and which songs fit into which category so you can be more mindful of the purpose of what we are singing at any given point.

    If you’d like to learn more, take a look (and listen) at these two resources, from which these ideas have been completely stolen:

    • Matt Papa, "Sing the Story"
    • Mike Cosper, "Retelling the Gospel Every Week" (audio found here)

    And while I'm at it, let me take a moment to give a call-out. We will be losing a few musicians this summer. If you are a member of our church family (or in process or about to begin the membership process) and are interested in serving in worship ministries, please let me know. I’d be glad to connect with you and help you determine if you are a good fit for this ministry.

    ThuThursdayOctOctober17th2013 God of the Pits

    Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3, ESV)

    This verse struck me significantly during corporate worship this past Sunday—in particular, the notion of being "unsearchable." In thinking on this verse, my mind equates "unsearchable" to the notion of "unfathomable" (in fact, the NIV does translate that way). Something that's unfathomable is a thing whose depth cannot be found. 

    Our family has enjoyed in the past a BBC TV series Planet Earth (it's free at the library, by the way), a documentary with some pretty spectacular visuals of remote places I'll never see otherwise. One of those episodes shows some insane people (my assessment, anyway) free-falling into a vast gulf. It turns out, they're "skydiving" (without the sky part) into the Cave of Swallows, an enormous cavern that would easily fit entire giant sky scrapers within it. I can imagine standing at the edge (well, maybe not really at the edge but, to the point...) and kicking or dropping in a big rock and listening to the silence as it traveled the seemingly bottomless distance. I suspect I'd never hear the thud.

    But there is in fact a bottom. One technically can "fathom" it. It reminds me of other "pits" of the Psalmist that were seemingly bottomless. Like the pit of those who feel separated from God or his counsel, as described in Psalm 28:

    To you, O Lord, I call;
    my rock, be not deaf to me,
    lest, if you be silent to me,
    I become like those who go down to the pit.

    Or the pit of Psalm 40 that is the pit of destruction (self- or otherwise) that just feels like we can't get out because we're so "stuck" in the mire: 

    I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
    He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,

    Or the pit of Psalm 88 that feels like a deep grave, cut-off from God:

    For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
    I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
    like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
    like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
    You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
    Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

    The glorious, praiseworthy reality is that not one of those pits are "unfathomable". The rock does in fact hit a bottom, so to speak. Not so of God's greatness. In contrast, there is no pit into which God's arm cannot reach, for his unfathomable greatness always outstretches the bottom—however seemingly endless—of whatever the pit. And that is the stuff that can erupt in our worship of the unsearchable greatness of God, as we also see in Psalm 103:

    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
    who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
    who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

    Do you feel like you're in a deep, seemingly bottomless pit right now? If so, there's good news. No matter how deep the pit feels, you can be confident of this: God's great love is deeper still. Perhaps this is why Paul included "depth" in his list of intimidating things that ultimately prove unable to separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).

    Be encouraged. Pits can be scary, hopeless, and disorienting—but they're not unfathomable. Only God's greatness is unfathomable. So let's come together again this Sunday to rejoice in the unsearchable-ness of God, and his redemption of us from all pits, however deep.
    WedWednesdayAugAugust14th2013 Worship: Ready or Not?
    byDon Whipple Tagged Church Worship 0 comments Add comment


    One of my friends in grade school was the son of the pastor of the white church with a cemetery on the side in our little town of 500 people. We soon learned that he and his brothers could only play ball with the rest of us kids on Saturday until about 3:00 pm. Regardless of how good the game was or how close the score, at the appointed hour they had to make their way home to the parsonage and begin getting ready for church. Needless to say, they took a lot of heat from the rest of us who wanted to finish the game. It was the norm in their home to begin Saturday evening preparing for their celebration of the Lord’s Day—shining shoes, laying out clothes, gathering everyone around the table for a meal, taking baths, enjoying family game time. It piqued my curiosity to see how my friend moaned and complained to me about it when we were playing, only to see how much he actually loved it when I was there as an invited guest from time to time. I never quite understood his big bucktooth grin while showing me how his Dad taught him to shine his shoes.  

    I recently read this comment from an unknown source describing a common approach to worship: “We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” Playing at worship is an apt description that exposes how serious, prepared, and engaged we are in so many of our pursuits, while maintaining habits of passive, casual, and inexpressive participation at corporate worship.

    Whether you have ever shined a shoe or regardless of your belief that a distraction-free family meal is even possible, the point is that Pastor Brown and his family had something unique: a Personal Participation Plan for corporate worship.

    Worship of the one true God has always required preparation on the part of the worshipper. From catching and transporting that special animal for sacrifice in ancient times to preparing your heart, mind, and body to engage with God and others today, preparation is a big deal. Too often the musicians, preachers, or greeters catch the undeserved criticism that in fact should be pointed at the lack of preparation on the part of the worshipper.

    My Bible reading plan landed me today in Psalm 100. This invitation song sets a clear expectation that worshippers of God think a certain way and bring certain things with them to worship. The joyful noise of our worship is produced by a heart overwhelmed by the love and faithfulness of God. That requires intentional preparation and cultivation.

    So, here are two quick suggestions for your Personal Participation Plan for Sunday morning worship with your church family:

    1. Prepare your heart. Thanksgiving, praise, and joyful noises that will magnify God and encourage your beloved church family must be prepared carefully. Could you fit a quiet time alone with God into Saturday evening or Sunday morning where you spend time in the word, prayer, and song asking God to fill you and use you to draw attention to him? Dads, this could develop into a productive meal time together as a family.
    2. Prepare your body. Alertness, energy, attentiveness, and responsiveness require a rested body and mind. It amazes me sometimes how much we try to fit in on a weekend or Saturday night without thought of anything more than being at church close to on time.
    So, go ahead, make a joyful noise to the Lord with God’s people this Sunday. But you have some work to do to get ready to do it well.
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