Music does not get us closer to God, Jesus does

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In a sermon that Pastor Mark Driscoll preached last Sunday on the 2nd commandment (do not have any idols), he said this in regards to corporate worship:

Sometimes a well-meaning but theologically understudied worship leader will say it this way, “Welcome to our church, and today it’s my great pleasure to usher you into the presence of God.” Ooh, now you’re a pagan priest, with a guitar.

What you’re saying is that the music will get you closer to God. Now we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping worship. We’re worshiping song. We’re worshiping the experience that we receive from the sounds that we hear. Is it OK to say, “I love to sing because I love Jesus. I love to hear God’s people sing.” “‘God inhabits the Bible,’ says the praises of his people. “I feel God’s presence, not through the music, “but the music helps to awaken my emotions “and affections and my heart toward God, “but I know that I am close to God because of Jesus, not because of the music.”

-From sermon entitled “II. Have No Idols,” preached on 9/22/13 from the sermon series Ten Commandments: Set Free to Live Free

Driscoll said these words right after talking about the problem with entering an old, beautiful, stained-glass church and saying “I feel closer to God here.” Here’s why saying that is idolatry:

How many of you have many even done this or said this, you walk into, let’s say, a religious building, all right—a church or a mosque or a synagogue—and it’s beautiful, it’s amazing. You say, “I feel so close to God here.” Idolatry. What you’ve just said is, “The building brought me closer to God.” The building can’t get you any closer to God than Jesus has already gotten you.

The problem here has to do with us treating some entity other than Jesus as our mediator. Whether it’s a building or music, it cannot bring us “any closer to God than Jesus has already gotten you.” Our only meditator between us and God is Jesus, the God-man (1 Timothy 2:5). Nothing else in all of creation can bring us closer to God. Driscoll’s point is that to treat anything other than Jesus as a mediator between God and ourselves is idolatry.

Do you agree with Driscoll? Does a worship leader “usher you into the presence of God”?

For more thoughts on corporate worship, see my earlier post entitled “Worshipping as a Church in Spirit and Truth to Truly Glorify God

Are you Crazy Busy?

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I’M TOO BUSY! We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. All too often, busyness gets the best of us. In this (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung puts an end to ‘busyness as usual,’ helping us to strike the balance between doing nothing and doing it all.

Thanks to the generosity of Crossway, I have been given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.  It’s a brand new book from pastor and author Kevin DeYoung that will release on September 23. Over the next few weeks I hope to interact with it and you as I read it, and then conclude with a review.

Has Kevin DeYoung mastered busyness? He wishes. Here’s how he describes himself:


You can get the book 50% off at WTS books by clicking the image above!

I do not write this book as one who has reached the summit and now bends over to throw the rope down to everyone else. More like the guy with a toehold three feet off the ground, looking for my next grip. I’m writing this book not because I know more than others but because I want to know more than I do. I want to know why life feels the way it does, why our world is the way it is, why I am the way I am. And I want to change (pgs. 11-12).

So, he’s just like us. Struggling with how to juggle all the responsibilities of life. Good for us, though, is that DeYoung is a very perceptive thinker and writer. Through his blog and prior books, he has said a lot of beneficial and edifying stuff. So, we’re in a for a treat. As I go through this book and share stuff with it from you, stay tuned for insights from DeYoung on our crazy business. I hope we can learn how to manage the craziness better, how to glorify God more in the midst of our busy schedules.

8 reasons Christians should study the Old Testament

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Two Mondays ago was the first meeting of my Bible survey classes I’m teaching this Fall (for an intro to these, see my earlier post). I have 12 students in my Sr. High survey class and 6 in my Jr. High one. I had a good time with them, although it was too short. Less than one hour is just not enough time to adequately explain why we should study the OT as Christians and then provide an overview of the OT. Thankfully, I’ll have future weeks to tie in the particular book(s) we are studying with how it/they fit in with the overall picture.

I think it would be of benefit to you if I share the 8 reasons I gave to my students for why we as Christians should study the Old Testament and some explanation:

  1. It is roughly 2/3 of our Bible
    I had my students put one finger at the start of the OT and another at the end, and then hold up their Bibles. For those who had no notes in their Bible, it was quite a visual: the vast majority of the book they were holding was the OT! I’d encourage you to try the same exercise.
    My point was that Christians have always considered the OT a part of our Bible. The OT is revelation from God just like the NT. It deserves our study.
  2. It answers life’s basic questions
    While the New Testament provides some explanation, we would not have full answers to many of life’s basic questions without the OT. Questions like: Where did we come from? Why is the world so messed up? Is there any hope in life? Is there life after death? Why do we wear clothes? The OT provides answers to these and so many more.
  3. It presents doctrine in story form
    It’s important to have correct beliefs about God and His creation. We learn a great deal, for example, from Paul’s letters, which in many places are like one statement of doctrine after the next. The Old Testament also teaches us doctrine, but it often does so through the stories contained therein. My point is that truth can be learned from both the propositional sections of Scripture as well as from the narrative sections. For teenagers, the drama of stories often can be quite engaging and enjoyable.
  4. It illustrates the seriousness of sin
    All throughout the OT we see that God takes sin seriously. There are consequences when God’s people choose not to obey Him. When you realize that the Old Testament covers a period of at least 4000 years, most of which tells of God’s people in rebellion against Him, you begin to realize that sin has consequences at all times, even up to the present day. God still takes sin seriously. It really does matter when we choose to disobey.
  5. It comforts & encourages us (& challenges us too!)
    For this point, we read 1 Corinthians 10:1-6. There Paul brings up the Israelites and the events surrounding the Exodus and says that “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (v. 6). So, the OT provides us bad examples we should not emulate. But, it also provides much encouragement that builds our trust in God. Think of the Psalms, for example.
  6. It helps us appreciate the NT more
    If the Israelites at the time of Jesus did not have the OT’s record of their history, most of the ministry and teaching of Jesus would have made little to no sense to them. Think about it. If there were no expectations of a Messiah, and if there were no prior revelations about God entering into covenant with His people, how could one make sense of Jesus’ life? Or of His last supper with the disciples?
  7. It helps us better see & understand Jesus
    This was a new concept for just about everybody. I made the case that not only is Jesus predicted in the OT, but also spoken of through events, people, etc. and that He is even present at times. This probably is a startling claim for many of my readers, but I invite you to give this thought a fair hearing. In future posts, I hope to expand more on this point.
  8. It was Jesus’ (& His Disciples’) Bible
    When the early church preached Christ crucified, they did so using the OT. There was no NT that had been written or compiled yet. So, when Paul went around to synagogues in various cities, he preached Christ from the OT in light of His crucifixion and resurrection. People got saved from “sermons” on the OT text! When Jesus’ spoke to crowds and quoted Scripture, it was the OT that He spoke of.

Can you think of any more reasons why we should study the Old Testament? Please share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Skimming Bible Stories We Think We Know

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I’ve read this story about the two builders [Luke 6:46-49] countless times. I’ve read it so many times that I almost don’t read it anymore when I come across it in the Gospels. I skim it. I gulp down three sentences at a time because I already know what they say. I don’t want to read my Bible like that, but, honestly, sometimes I do (Joshua Harris, Dug Down Deep, pg. 18).

Harris goes on to describe how one morning when he was about to skip over that passage in Luke he actually slowed down to read it. Not skim it. As he did, he saw something he hadn’t seen before. In the past he had thought that this passage was primarily about one builder that was a Christian and the other who was not. Reading the very first verse of this passage made Harris realize he hadn’t understood it very well. In verse 46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” In Harris’ own words:

That question makes me uncomfortable because I can’t pretend I don’t understand it. And I feel that he’s talking to me, that’s he’s talking to religious people—people who claim to belong to God, people who say that Jesus is Lord. This is interesting because it clues us in to the fact that Jesus isn’t just contrasting religious and nonreligious people. He’s not just saying that atheists get their houses knocked down. He’s talking to people who claim to believe in God.

Jesus is calling the bluff of the religious. He says, Why play this game? Why call me Lord as if you care who I am or what I want when you don’t bother really knowing me or doing what I say? And then Jesus tells the story about the builders and their two houses. The homes they build represent their lives—their beliefs, convictions, aspirations, and choices (pg. 18).

After talking a bit more about this passage, Harris concludes with these words:

What hit me that morning on the beach is that digging down and building on the rock isn’t a picture of being nominally religious or knowing Jesus from a distance. Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished—a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine (pg. 19, emphasis added).

After reading Harris’ words and re-reading Luke 6:46-49 I am struck with two things:

  1. How many Bible stories do I skim over that I should be reading? (I do this far too often, especially when a Bible passage is embedded in someone’s book)
  2. Am I building my life on the Rock? Am I digging down deep so that I may have a solid foundation to stand upon when trials come?

May the Lord, by His grace, help each of us to read His Word more carefully, less distractedly, and then make choices in life that fit the doctrine we just read.

Worshipping as a Church in Spirit and Truth to Truly Glorify God


God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24 ESV).

How does one truly worship God? How does a whole congregation?

I came across the verse above in a book I was reading tonight, and I was really struck by it. I guess I haven’t really thought of this verse in terms of corporate worship in church before. Yes, I know that worship extends beyond an hour or two on Sundays, but let’s think about that hour or two for a few moments.

I have been to churches that seem to emphasize the “experience” of worship, where what really matters is that you feel God close to you. You are overwhelmed by His marvelous love for you, and you get that tingling feeling that you suspect might be the Holy Spirit.

I’ve also been to churches that seem to make the doctrine contained in the lyrics of the songs we sang all that matters, irrespective of the feelings of the congregation. Usually this meant singing hymns from many years ago or tried-and-true contemporary worship songs. If you pay careful attention and meditate on what the songs are saying, you can often be reminded of a lot of comforting or convicting truths about the Lord, while at the same time glorifying Him through the public proclamation of these truths.

Is one kind of worship service better than the other? Over the last few years I would have answered this question by pointing in the direction of the second kind of worship service described above: the one that emphasizes doctrinally sound lyrics. I still would point in that direction, but with the following thoughts to clarify.

In the verse mentioned above, Jesus is clearly saying that true worship involves the heart and the head. It’s not either/or. It’s not 1) The songs can say whatever, as long as I “experience” God while singing at church; and it’s also not 2) It doesn’t matter what I feel in worship as long as the words are doctrinally sound.

Worship that truly pleases God includes your heart and your head. I’ll address those in reverse order. Yes, the worship songs you sing must be doctrinally sound. They cannot contain any statements that are false. For “those who worship Him must worship … in truth.” If the song you sing as a congregation has any statements in it that do not conform in principle to Scripture, the person who leads worship should be throwing it out and not having it sung in church. I believe this may include songs whose words are technically correct, but misleading in their emphasis and prone to give worshippers a misunderstanding about the nature of God or of themselves. The danger of these kind of songs is too great to justify including them in your order of worship, even if they sound great or are popular in evangelical churches across the nation. Ultimately, popularity, or the entertaining sound of songs, mean nothing in comparison to whether the words sung are true. God cares deeply whether what you proclaim about Him and His creation through song is accurate.

On the other hand, the songs that you sing as a congregation can be the most doctrinally sound as is possible, but if your singing of them lacks the involvement of a humble heart before God, you are not truly worshiping Him as Jesus taught in the verse above. For “those who worship Him must worship in spirit.” I think of the verses in the Old Testament that essentially say that what God really wanted wasn’t sacrifices, but humble hearts ready to serve Him in visible ways. As we worship God corporately, we should feel something. We should feel His nearness to us, along with His grandness. His love for and grace toward us should fill our hearts with inexpressible joy. We should feel compelled to live out the implications of the lyrics as they relate to us. We should never define sound doctrine in such a way that it has no implications on our affections. Because truly sound doctrine always ought to lead to doxology, i.e. worship (see Romans 11:33-36 as an example in the life of Paul after he had written a long doctrinal treatise in chapters 9-11). In short, corporate worship should always involve glorifying God through truthful lyrics that inspire God-centered, Christ-exalting feelings.

Now, all of us at times will not worship the way we ought. It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t love us in those moments, or that He accepts us less. Far from it. His cross-enduring, wrath-of-God-bearing love for us covers over all of our worship mishaps. Even the really big ones. So, take heart that Jesus loves you even on a Sunday morning when you got little sleep and you struggle to hold back a yawn (or two) during the sermon or singing time. You are as precious to Him on that morning as on the morning when your heart explodes with joy and your mind soaks up the message of the sermon. He loves you!

Because of His great love for us, let us do all that we can to worship Him with a humble heart proclaiming Gospel-centered truths through song. Laziness has no place for the Christ worshipper. He demands and deserves all of our worship. Let’s give Him our best, by His grace. And that means experiencing Him while we sing biblically truthful words. To God be the glory.

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