Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Reforming Worship

This is an article written by my father Rev John J Murray in January 2016

Reformed Theology and Reformed Worship are one

The conflict over worship today manifests itself in what have been called ‘the worship wars’. In many church buildings you witness a platform with a plethora of musical instruments. If you check out the order of service  you will find that more time is given to so-called ‘worship’ than to the reading and preaching of the Word of God. You may hear people say ‘We had a time of worship and then we had a message from the visiting speaker’. Is this a sign of spiritual health? Have we made progress in the last twenty years? Or is it a mark of the lack of genuine spirituality and a question of filling a vacuum?

Has the time come for another reformation?  For Calvin it was the issue of worship that necessitated the 16th century Reformation. He said: ‘The primary rudiments by which we are wont to train those whom we wish to win as disciples of Christ , are those; viz, not to frame any new worship of God for themselves at random, and after their own pleasure, but to know that the only legitimate worship is that which God himself approved from the beginning’. In his tract entitled On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, Calvin speaks of ‘the whole substance of Christianity that is a knowledge first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained’.

What is required to recover true Biblical worship? There are certain basic considerations:

 1 True worship is directed wholly to God

‘Worship’ is a transitive verb. It demands an object. Everybody worships some thing or somebody.  Everybody has an altar and every altar has a throne. The question is who is on the throne? What is highest in our lives? What do we value most? The highest object ought to be the triune God. We come to this God and we ascribe His worth.. We make a response to God and we have a passion for God. He must be the sole object of our worship. (Exodus 20.3)

The worship of the Reformers and the Puritans cannot be understood without the high vision of God contained in the Bible and in their Confessions of Faith. The restraint which marked Puritan worship sprang directly from much humble meditation on the inexpressible glory of God’s being. They were  drawn to delight in this glorious God and His image was reflected in them.. Dr J I Packer makes a comparison with them and us:  ‘The experimental piety of the Puritans was natural and unself-conscious because it was so utterly God-centred, our own (such as it is) is too often artificial and boastful, because it is so largely concerned with ourselves.’ (Among God’s Giants, Eastbourne, 1991, p283)

2 True worship is centred in the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven
For Calvin, Christians ascend into heaven while worshipping. Worship  draws the Christian into heaven in communion with the ascended Christ. Our Mediator descended in the incarnation to lift us up to heaven. ‘He has entered ‘into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’ (Heb 9.24). Believers are seated with Christ ‘in the heavenly places’ (Eph 1.3). They are united to Him. They have an entrance into the Holiest through Him and their persons and offerings are accepted in Him. He leads the praise of His brethren for ‘he is not ashamed to call them brethren , saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee’ (Heb 2.11-12).

But that is not all.The Church that is in the heavenlies is also on earth. Paul writes to ‘the saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus’ (Eph 1.1).  They have two locations.They are a colony of heaven. They are the Body of Christ on earth. The link between heaven and earth is Christ dwelling in the believer and in the Church by the Holy Spirit. As Calvin observes, the enthroned Christ helps us heavenward as His Spirit descends to empower the Word and sacraments of the Church. ‘Such is the weakness of our minds that we rise with difficulty to the contemplation of his glory in the heavens.’ The Hebrew Christians were hankering after the glories of the old Levitical system. They were forgetting the greater glory - the glory that surrounds our High Priest in heaven. God is the glory in our midst.

3 True worship is dependent upon Spirit-inspired truth

We all need to ask why our worship is not more uplifting and transforming? The response  of many is to try to make worship more pleasing to the senses. The tendency even among some Reformed Churches is to make services more user-friendly and so be a means of winning converts.  But the question needs to be asked: What have these changes done so far to inspire holy living, to give a hunger for the Word of God or to arrest falling numbers in churches?

Worship expresses our theology. W Robert Godfrey says that Calvin would have insisted that those who think they can preserve Reformed systematic theology  while abandoning a Reformed theology of worship are wrong. (The Worship of God, Mentor, Fearn, 2005,p 49). The two go together. Salvation is all of God and so too is worship. Reformed worship like Reformed doctrine is God-centred and God-directed. The late Dr William Young declared  ‘Man’s will may contribute nothing more to God’s worship than to God’s plan of salvation, and it is no accident that will-worship and rejection of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone flourish together’.  (Worship in the Presence of God, Greenville, 1992, p 80).

The true public worship of God is counter-cultural. To make people feel at ease is not its purpose. It is that they may sense the presence of the living God. The teaching of I Corinthians 14.23-25 is rather overlooked today. The Spirit who inspired the truth is the One who can make the means of grace efficacious to sinners. Words spoken by T E Peck in Columbia, South Carolina in 1884 are worth pondering. He refers to those who resort to the devices of human wisdom ‘instead of humbling themselves before the Holy Ghost in earnest prayer for his quickening which alone can make any ordinances efficacious for salvation..The true glory of Christian worship consists in the presence and power of the Holy Ghost and without the Holy Ghost,  all our paraphernalia of  “long drawn aisle and fretted vault” of painted windows and “ dim religious light”, of symbols of lamb and dove, of pealing organs and what not are but the paraphernalia of a corpse lying in state. It is a vain attempt to conceal the reality of death’ (Quoted by Iain Murray  in To Glorify and Enjoy God, Banner, 1994, p191).

May the Lord intervene in His mercy to reverse the trend!. As Terry L Johnson says ‘The way we worship today will determine the shape and substance of our piety for generations to come.’

Friday, 15 January 2016

Everyday Hero

What makes a good father?  As the father of five boys most people seem to think I have this particular question nailed.  I don't.  But I do spend a huge amount of time thinking and praying about it.  Over the last 17 years I have made a lot of mistakes, shed a lot of tears and had the privilege of a very patient wife and five long-suffering sons who still love their Dad (even when he messes up).  I also talk to lots of other Dads who struggle with all the same issues I do; juggling all the pressures of work, family and church, trying to pay the mortgage while always trying to nurture our own relationship with God.  I've written before on my own upbringing and reflections on my own father in 'Reflections of a Forty-something Father' which you can access here.

Obviously our parenting style is heavily influenced by our own parents.  I had a really happy childhood but it was overshadowed by the death of my sister, Lynda in 1980.  You can read about my reflections here.  Watching my parents cope with this trauma taught me a lot about resilience and faithfulness in difficult times.

A few other things stick out in my mind that helped me form my own view of parenting.  One was when I was out in America in 1992.  My Dad was ministering in Detroit but we had the chance to travel around.  We visited some friends up in Lamont called the Lannings.  I remember being incredibly impressed with Ray and Linda and how 'normal' their kids were.  As a family they loved Jesus, they had fun, they loved sport, they were involved in their community and they all seemed to get on as a family.  I guess it felt very 'holistic' or 'joined up'.  I remember, as a 19 year old, chatting to Linda about raising kids and she said something I never forgot.  She said that she had agreed with Ray, before they even had kids, that they would parent in such a way that they would enjoy their children and wouldn't have to spend their all their time disciplining and correcting them.  This meant setting down the ground rules early, communicating expectations and then covering everything in lots of love and prayer.

For us, this means putting family worship, at the centre of our family life every day. Reading the Bible, prayer and singing the Psalms introduce a whole set of values to my boys on a daily basis. Most importantly they learn about Jesus, the greatest example who ever lived.  People seem to think that worshipping as a family is really difficult.  But it doesn't need to be.    This year we have been reading through Kevin De Young's 'The Biggest Story - How the Snake Crusher brings the Garden back to Life'.  It is beautifully illustrated by Don Clark and is made up of short chapters that take you through the whole Biblical story. We are also using Tim Keller's new book 'My Rock My Refuge' which is a lovely meditation on the Psalms.  Either would be a great place to start worshipping together as a family.  We've also really enjoyed the 'Jesus Storybook Bible' by Sally Lloyd-Jones for the younger kids.  Our latest book is 'Exploring Grace Together' by Jessica Thompson which is short but has good solid Biblical content.

I'm a great believer in bringing up boys to be boys.  I encourage my boys to play shinty, football, attend army cadets, get muddy and occasionally have a wee scrap (they can almost take me when they jump me at the same time).  I try and keep them off the Xbox and other devices as much as possible and make sure they treat their mother and brothers with respect. Most of all I want them to grow up knowing and loving Jesus.  We have that great promise from Proverbs 22 v 6 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.'

I hope (and pray!) that my boys look on me as some kind of example albeit a very imperfect one.  I guess I would love to be their hero - maybe not a super hero but I would just settle for an everyday hero.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Analysis Paralysis - Living Purposefully in 2016

‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ Lamentations 3 v 22-23.

As most of us crawl through our first week back after the Christmas holidays, its a good time for reflection and change.  It is so easy to drift through life wasting time and having a lack of purpose.  I'm reading through John Hayes book 'sub-merge' at the moment and he talks about 'analysis paralysis' among Christians.  I was struck by something he said about the blind man in John 9.  His disciples took part in what Hayes calls ‘analysis paralysis’.  Hayes says; ‘Jesus sidestepped the counterfeit debate and recast the negative scenario as one of hopeful opportunity.  The issue, He said, was neither the man nor his parents; the issue was that God wanted to reveal His power to the blind man.’  Hayes continues; ‘Jesus was, and is so different.  He simply reached out and touched the man.  It was embarrassingly simple: Jesus acted.  Christ committed Himself to a ministry of compassionate presence, not dispassionate distance.' 

I want to make 2016 a year of 'hopeful opportunity'.  Some of the changes I am making is to read more.  I've taken up Tim Challies 'Avid Reader' challenge and hope to read a book a week.  We are also going to give ourselves as a family much more to hospitality on a weekly basis.  If you are eating anyway why not invite others to join you?

I found these 10 questions from Kevin de Young really challenging. You can read DeYoung's answers here and mine are below.

1. Am I spending time slowly reading God’s word and memorizing Scripture? 
I had a look at various Bible reading plans towards the end of last year but I'm sticking with my tried and trusted M'Cheyne Bible reading plan. It is normally 4 chapters per day and lets you read the New Testament twice, the Psalms twice and the Old Testament once.  I find I can usually read it while travelling on the train in the morning although more recently I've enjoyed listening to the Bible on my new kindle fire.  Memorisation is a challenge but surely a necessity if we want to store God's word in our heart.  I think keeping a journal can help with this.  There are lots of reading plans available here.

2. Am I having consistent, focused, extended times of prayer, including interceding for others? 
No.  I long to pray in a more focussed way.  This year I am keeping a journal so I can write down prayer request and answers.  Finding time and peace and quiet are a challenge but something I need to wrestle with.

3. Am I disciplined in my use of technology, in particular not getting distracted by emails and blogging in the evening and on my day off? 
Again a real challenge for me.  It is easy to get lost on facebook or in online news sites.  In terms of blogging I'm keen to blog more often this year.  I'm hoping to put aside Tuesday evenings for this.

4. Am I going to bed on time?
I'm better than I used to be but too often its nearer 12 than 11.  Can they not put Newsnight on a bit earlier?

5. Am I eating too much? 
Apart from falling off the wagon over Christmas I'm now wheat and dairy free.  This has helped my eczema and my waistline.  I'm fairly committed to 12 stone but my wife is a very good cook!  Marmite crisps are my downfall.

6. Have I exercised in the last week? 
I've got the option of 5 a sides on a Tuesday, walking 2 miles from work to the station every night and shinty on a Saturday.  Hopefully between the different options a get a wee reminder each week of how unfit I am.

7. Am I patient with my kids or am I angry with them when they disobey or behave in childish ways?
My answer is pretty similar to DeYoung on this - you need to ask my kids.  I also find the winter much tougher with the kids not running off much energy.  I've made the decision to preach much less in the coming year and we try and keep Tuesday and Friday nights as well as Saturday and Sunday as family days.

8. When at home, am I “fully present” for my wife and family or are my mind and energy elsewhere? 
With five boys it's easy to seek refuge in the converted garage - 'I'm just watching the Channel 4 News!'.  If I'm being totally honest I can bring the problems of work home with me and I need to work at being 'fully present'.  As anyone with young children will know, parenting is incredibly rewarding but it can also feel like a long dark tunnel.  As our kids get older, and as the older ones can babysit (please James) my wife and I are now committed to getting out at least 2 Fridays a month. 

9. Am I making sermon preparation a priority in my week or am I doing other less important things first?
Unlike DeYoung I'm not a minister so perhaps not so relevant.  My only commitment to preach is once per month in my local prison.  I want to do this much better than over the past year.  I hope to work through 'Encounters with Jesus' by Tim Keller.  Apart from that I've decided only to preach in my own local church with perhaps 1-2 exceptions.

10. Have I done anything out of the ordinary to cherish and help my wife? 
This is a good reminder to be much more 'intentional' (terrible word) about this.  I probably need to ask my wife more about what makes her feel cherished. 

DeYoung makes a great point that our faith is all about grace and not works.  No amount of 'performance' will bring me any closer to the Lord.  God does, however, want us to bear fruit and lots of it.  By living our lives in a purposeful, organised and accountable way we can achieve more for God's glory and His kingdom.  Let's make 2016 a year of action not paralysis - redeeming the time not wasting it.  Let's be known for a ministry of compassionate presence not dispassionate distance.