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August 12, 2006

The final day of the conference began with seminars, so Julian and I decided to attend one led by Dr. Bruce Ware who spoke on “Worshiping the Triune God.” As I expected from the man who wrote such a convicting book on the Trinity, Dr. Ware covered the topic thoroughly and biblically. This is a seminar that you may want to consider purchasing a listening to a couple of times. It will prove well worth the hour-long commitment and will nicely complement his book, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And now we look forward to the last general session of WorshipGod06. Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspectives Ministries will be the special guest.

It turns out that, while I enjoyed Alcorn’s talk, it proved quite difficult to encapsulate in a few short paragraphs. This became even more clear as it continued and I guess he began to run short of time. So please take these notes as merely an indication of some of the things he said.

What is the essence of heaven? The essence of heaven is to be with God, to see His face, to never have anything between us, to be unimpaired by sin and curse. While we will never sin again, we’ll never lose the memory of sins we committed in that we’ll see the scars on the body of Christ. We’ll know why He needed to become our redeemer, but the details of sin and the remembrance of sin will be real but will no longer have a grip on us. There will be nothing between us and God. We’ll be fully and finally redeemed.

Where is heaven? It is where the omnipresent God chooses to make His central dwelling place. Heaven is not everywhere but is the place where God’s throne is. He rules everywhere, but His throne is specifically located somewhere. Here is a surprise: God will relocate heaven. It is not now where it will be in the future. Heaven will one day be right here right now—on earth. This earth will be made new and will be heaven. Will the bodies we have right now be our bodies forever? Yes and no. It will not be the body as it experiences the curse but will be made new with continuity between the old and the new. The doctrine of the resurrection means that we will not hover around as ghosts for eternity, but we will live forever on what God calls “the new earth”—an earth that was redeemed because God was not content to only redeem souls, but also bodies and the earth itself (see Revelation 21:1-3).

So the teaching of Scripture is that God will relocate Heaven to the physical realm of the New Earth. Sin’s curse will lose its grip both on us and on the earth. Sin will no longer be. This is a magnificent promise but where does it say that the throne of God and the Lamb will be located? It will be located in the New Jerusalem, the capital city of the New Earth.

The eternal incarnation, Immanuel (God with Us) is not “Us with God.” It is not ultimately about us going up to dwell with God and angels in their place, but God coming down to dwell with us in our place. God Himself will dwell with them on the New Earth. He will make Earth, our home, into His home. This has implications on how we view eternity, eternal life, and our lives right now. Evangelical Christians have developed a theology of destruction and abandonment, but the Bible teaches a theology of redemption and renewal. We believe that the universe is such that God will not have to abandon and permanently destroy it. God is going to take the earth, which will be destroyed, and reassemble it much like the earth was rebuilt after it had been destroyed in the flood. This should cause us to worship God for His greatness because it is a lot more magnificent to redeem and renew than abandon and destroy. The word “redemption” is used a lot, but perhaps we don’t really understand what it is saying (see Ephesians 1:10). The ultimate is not that earth and heaven will be separated but will be brought together under Christ.

We now live life on earth and when we die, we will go to an intermediate heaven. But when Christ returns and we experience the resurrection, we will be brought to live on the New Earth. We can learn about this state by observing the resurrected Christ who had flesh and bone, who ate and drank. Regardless of eschatology, the promise of Scripture that is emphatic and we can all agree on is that we will all live together on a New Earth. We don’t have to debate about the eternal destination as we debate about what happens before. “God will make the new earth his dwelling place…Heaven and earth will then no longer be separated as they are now, but they will be one. To leave the new earth out of consideration when we think of the final state of believers is greatly to impoverish biblical teaching about the life to come” (Anthony Hoekema). This is true, but when was the last time most Evangelicals have heard a message on the New Earth? We talk more about the end times than about the New Earth—the means rather than the end.

Worship on this earth is a foretaste of and preparation for life on the New Earth. God is the Fountainhead, the Source, of all the lesser streams we desire. When I desire food, friendship, work, play, music, drama or art, I am desiring God. God has made me to desire Him. There is an almost infinite gap between us, yet of all creation only we are made in His image. We should be desiring God in our desiring of other things (see Philippians 1:7-8). Christ is the primary who gives to us the secondary so that in anticipating the secondary we may worship the primary. So In all we do, we should do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Here are a few more random quotes or near-quotes:

The original Great Commission can be found in Genesis 1:26-28 which is a command to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion. Not once are we told that God has abandoned this. God’s kingdom is forever and God’s people will rule over it.

A lot of people treat the Bible as if it has no resolution.

We live now in a fallen culture. We will live in a redeemed culture that will accurately reflect God’s glory. Earth will not end as a failed experiment. It will continue forever a glorified success.

The “spiritual” corrective to idolatry: seek the Giver, not the Gift. Better: see the Giver in the Gift.

Narrow worship to its one true object: God. Worship leaders need to broaden worship to see God far more in his creations than sub-creations. We are not Creators but we are creators.

And this brings us to the end of the WorshipGod Conference. In only a few hours I will be making my way home. I do hope that in the coming days I will be able to reflect further on this week’s events and share my convictions, thoughts and reflections. Thanks for dropping by the blog to follow along.

August 11, 2006

This evening’s session, the fifth general session of the conference, was primarily a time of singing and worship. I have attempted to capture an account of the evening’s events that those who have never attended a Sovereign Grace event may be able to understand how they worship.

The evening began with “Come Now Almighty King” and soon transitioned to a Valley of Vision video featuring the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus.”

Awe in God’s Presence:

We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” a cappella and then listened to the reading of Isaiah 6:1-8 as a prelude to a time of repentance.

Acknowledge that Sin Cannot Exist in God’s Presence:

This was a time of repentance and confession, both corporate and personal. There was a time of silence where we searched our own hearts and asked God to reveal our sin to us. We then sang “The Precious Blood” and were led in prayer by Craig Cabaniss who thanked God for His mercy in Christ.

Gratefulness for Jesus, Our Access Into God’s Presence:

The vocalists read Hebrews 4:14-16, Ephesians 2:13-18 and Hebrews 10:19-22 which reminded us that we have access into God’s presence only through Jesus Christ. We followed these Scriptures with “I Come By The Blood” and “Jesus Thank You.” There was then a time of spontaneous group singing where Bob encouraged each person to sing his own song to the Lord. While I love to hear 1000 voices sing a single song to the Lord, it was equally stirring to hear 1000 voices sing 1000 songs to Him.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in My Life:

Bob began this section by stating he had been led to sing a prophetic song for the women in the audience named Katie. He asked all the Katies presence to come to the front and he sang a song for them, the theme of which was to encourage them and to direct them to the Word as the source of God’s voice.

Shannon Harris sang a new song, “Who Made Me To Know You” and Scripture verses were read between each of the verses. There was then a time of individual prayer where we were to ask God’s Spirit to be working in and through our lives. Bob asked us to consider where we desire God to be more active in our lives: “Holiness? Purity? Boldness? Resisting temptation? Faithfulness? Prayer? Hearing and responding to His voice?” Again, there was a time of spontaneous worship based around a chorus which said, “Come Holy Spirit, glorify Jesus in me.” A few people delivered words from the Lord centered around images they felt He impressed on their minds. Bob and another gentlemen felt that God wanted to heal those with migraines, arthritis and lower-body pain. People with such infirmities raised their hands and were soon surrounded by those sitting closeby who laid hands on them and prayed that God would heal them. After “There is a Redeemer,” we broke into groups of just three or four people, each of which prayed for the local churches represented by the men and women in that group. We were to pray for them to actively pursue the presence of God in their midst.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in my Local Church and the World:

The final portion of this evening’s service began with a time of spontaneous prayer for the church. It was then time to pray for the worldwide church and people from six nations read the first three verses of Psalm 67 in their native languages. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” It was read by natives of Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Japan, Korea and Australia (What happened to Canada!?). How good it was to hear God’s name praised in five different languages! When they had prayed, we recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison and closed a wonderful evening of worship with “Let Your Kingdom Come,” a new song written by Bob Kauflin.

And now we look forward to an hour-long concert by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and the church’s band.

August 11, 2006

The fourth session of the WorshipGod06 Conference will be led by Bob Kauflin who was first honored by Mark Altrogge and others for his years of outstanding service to the Lord through ministry. Bob will be speaking from 1 Corinthians 12.

Too often we approach God like the subject of a biography. We read about him, but do not expect to actually encounter Him. We pray but don’t think He’ll talk back. We read His word but see it as lifeless facts and information, not a living word. But the Bible is not the biography of a dead God! Jesus Christ is alive! God’s presence and power is not only in Scripture for He can be personally encountered. Our worship is not only to or for God, but is where we encounter and experience God. The One who allows us to encounter God is God Himself in the Holy Spirit. As we have learned in the previous three sessions, the Holy Spirit is actively present when we gather together as the body of Christ.

There is a great deal of confusion about God’s active presence, and all of this confusion existed in the Corinthian church. Much like many Christians today, these people were confused about the spiritual gifts and used them in wrong ways. Paul wrote them to guard them against errors and that will be Bob’s purpose as well. Paul proves that spirituality has to do with our understanding of and relationship to Christ, not a manifestation of the gifts. The main work of the Spirit we want to celebrate is the miracle of regeneration where the Spirit causes dead souls to live. Paul also makes it clear that, more important than using the gifts, is the reason we use them: motivated by love and to build others up. Paul seeks to protect these people from error and fanaticism. He does not tell them to stop seeking God’s presence but encourages them to seek evidences of the Spirit’s active presence. Nowhere does Paul tell them to stop seeking this gift and nowhere does he forbid evidences such as tongues. He quoted D.A. Carson who says, “We must desire to know more of God’s presence in our lives, and pray for a display of unleashed, reforming revivifying power among us, dreading all steps that aim to domesticate God. But such prayer and hunger must always be tempered with joyful submission to the constraints of biblical discipline.”

This morning Bob wants to focus on the experiential aspect of God’s presence. He asks, what kind of heart does God want us to cultivate so we can be aware of and respond to what He is doing? There are three things:

A Desperate Dependence - Paul speaks of the gift of grace, which speaks of the source, for it is both a gift and is of grace. It is difficult to acknowledge our desperate dependence for we like to have everything under control, just the way we are familiar with. We don’t like to think that we need God’s Spirit. It is easier to rely on knowledge, resources and experience. Yet we should not pit these against the Spirit, but celebrate them both. We need to have an awareness of the opposition to us which seeks to draw us into the world and into the flesh. The devil seeks to condemn and to deceive and we are susceptible to his schemes. When we realize how these forces oppose us, it helps us to recognize our desperate dependence. We can acknowledge our dependence by asking God for help. We are commanded to pray in, by and to the Spirit because of our need for Him. He stirs us up to pray and allows us to cry out to God. He helps us in our weakness as we pray. Do we pray before we meet with God’s people? Do we pray before we meet with our small groups? Do we feel our dependence upon His Spirit. Do we pray for our hearts and wills to be opened and receptive? His strength is perfected in our weakness, but how can we know we are weak if we are never aware that we are desperately dependent?

Eager Expectation - The same Spirit empowers all of the gifts in everyone. A manifestation is something we can see - a person who says he is happy while scowling is not manifesting joy. Paul tells us that the Spirit gives not only a gift but a manifestation of that gift. Christians are supposed to demonstrate that they have a particular gift. Trusting in God’s sovereignty is no reason to think that He will not move in miraculous ways. The early church trusted in His sovereignty but still expected that He would do great things through them. God’s sovereignty is the foundation for expecting his active presence. What does eager expectation look like? It means listening and watching for the Spirit’s activities, leadings and promptings. Some Christians listen but without really expecting the Spirit to speak.

Humble Responsiveness - One of the reasons that the charismatic/cessationist debate has been volatile and hurtful has been that people respond to genuine works of the Spirit in a proud way. Certain groups view their gifts as the best, are offended when their gift is not received as authentic, or are too timid to actually share their gifts. The point of what Paul says to the Corinthians is that there is a variety of gifts and none is better than the other. For example, there are miracles and there is showing mercy, and both are works of the Spirit and manifestation of His active presence. Prophecies have to be tested because people don’t always get them right. Christians have no right to say “thus said the Lord” about anything other than Scripture. There needs to be humility in sharing prophecy. Bob shared about how he often “receives” songs spontaneously. He does not regard these as infallible words or are heavenly melodies. He wants to be faithful in using this gift and delivering these songs. These do not replace God’s word, but are simply confirmation of God’s active presence among His people. Scripture is the primary and infallible way that God speaks to us. No experience of God’s Spirit today will ever be canonical or will give us new doctrine. And yet God’s word says that the Spirit gives varieties of gifts and service and activities. “I have a hard time believing that the only church were the only ones who were supposed to get these things.”

So how do we humbly respond? Not everyone should start singing spontaneous songs! Each should use the gifts God has given. Here are a few ways we can use the gifts: In larger meetings there can be serving, exhorting, leading and so on. But Paul’s focus in 1 Corinthians 12 is more on the spontaneous verbal contributions. There is a microphone in the sessions at this conference for that very reason. These gifts must be exercised decently and in order and in this church there are men who “screen” such words. In a larger meeting, fewer people will have the opportunity to participate in verbal ways. In smaller meetings we can pray beforehand, bring a verse, testimony or impression. “We are quick to dismiss impressions,” but we should not be this way. Bob offers this guideline for what impressions should be shared: no dates, no mates, no correction, no direction.

The Spirit is actively working in our lives all the time, whether we are alone or gathered as a church. We have so much more to know of God and His workings in our lives. As long as we are alive we should continue to seek God’s active presence experienced and encountered. He promises to be with us in His word, to be with us when we gather in His name. And He promises to manifest Himself through the gifts of His Spirit. The heart God seeks to cultivate is one of desperate dependence, eager expectation and humble responsiveness.

A brief note: For cessationists who are seeking to understand how the gifts of the Spirit are manifested in the daily lives of those who believe in the continuing gifts, this will surely be a helpful message. It should be available to order in the next few days from Sovereign Grace’s web site. You may not agree with all of it and some of it will probably give you strange twitches, but it will prove helpful in understanding the other side of the debate.

August 10, 2006

As I mentioned in my write-up for session three, George W. Bush took some time out of his busy schedule to drop in to the conference and introduce Keith and Kristyn Getty. As much as I hate having my photograph taken, a photo op with the President was forced upon me. So here it is: this is myself with George W. Bush:


And here he is signing one of his 8x10 glossies for me:


Incidentally, Bush was played by John Morgan, a professional Bush impersonator who just so happens to attend a Sovereign Grace Church in Florida. You can see his site here.

August 10, 2006

We were led this evening by Devon Kauflin and 1Band. We also endured more of Mark Altrogge’s mostly-hilarious antics and anti-pianist commentary. I will continue to accept reasons why guitar players are better than piano players or why guitars are better than pianos. Feel free to let me know via the comments and I’ll pass them along to Mark. And then, to the tune of “Hail to the Chief,” a George Bush lookalike took the stage to introduce Keith and Kristyn Getty. Bob spent a few minutes interviewing the Getty’s and they then led us in singing “The Power of the Cross,” “Christ Has Risen” (sung by a children’s choir), and “Speak O Lord.” I look forward to having them lead us in a concert tomorrow evening!

Tonight’s session will be led by Craig Cabaniss who pastors a Sovereign Grace church near Dallas, Texas. He will speak on “Celebrating God’s Presence.”

How many times have we gathered with the church to worship God and been unaware or only vaguely aware that God is present in His house? How many times have we sung songs of praise with our minds distracted in a thousand different places, completely unaware that God is present in His house? How many sermons have we listened to and been aware of the pastor’s voice, but only vaguely aware of God’s voice? How many times have we received communion and been aware of the bread and the cup, but been only vaguely aware of the Savior who is living in His people who are His house? It should be of great concern that Sunday after Sunday we could be in the presence of the living God and be unaware or only vaguely aware that He is there. God calls us to be clearly and distinctly perceptive to His presence. God is present in His people and when we gather on Sunday for corporate worship, He is present in our midst. Yet somehow this is very easy to forget. Paul reminds the Corinthians of God’s presence with them, for they did not live as if God was present. In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul asks “do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?” Craig’s talk will not be profound instruction but a reminder. The reminder is this: when the church gathers, God is present. We have heard the “where” and the “when” of God’s presence. Tonight Craig will discuss the “how” of His presence.

He will speak of God’s presence in two ways, the ordinary and common means of grace: the preached word and the Lord’s Supper.

God is present through the preached word (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5) - Paul, near the end of his life and with his final written words, begins his charge to Timothy by pointing to the authority of the word. He communicates to Timothy that the Scripture is not the word of man, but the very word of God; the breathed-out word of God. When we open our Bibles we need to be aware that we are in the very presence of God, hearing the very word of God. With this in view, Paul tells Timothy to preach the word of God. The word “preach” is the verb form of the word “herald.” Timothy is to publicly proclaim, as a herald, the very God-breathed word. A herald, of course, communicates to others on behalf of the king and with the full authority of the king. When we hear the word of God we do not just hear the herald, for when he announces the Scripture he is announcing the very breathed-out word of God. The Holy Spirit attends this word so that what is heard is God speaking to His people. This passage alone defines the purpose of the Sunday gathering. We do not gather as spectators at a show or students to hear a teacher or as patrons who have come to have entertainment. Rather, the people of God gathers so the king may announce through a herald His word to His people. What is heard is God speaking to His people. When the word of God is proclaimed aloud, it is God that we hear. Let it be known that preaching is not just talk about God, but biblical preaching is talk from God. It is God revealing Himself to us; revealing Christ and His work to us through the very ordinary means of teaching. God is actively, actually doing something through the preaching, for He is present (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

When we gather on the Lord’s Day we need to ask “who do I come to hear?” We need to ensure that we are coming to hear God. When we come what are we expecting? Are we listening expectantly, attentively and with a hunger for God to speak? What place does the preached word have in our hearts? Our sense of awe, attentiveness and expectancy will increase proportionately with our understanding of who speaks to us in the preaching of the word. God has chosen an ordinary, common means, to herald and announce the coming of a king.

God is present through the Lord’s Supper - How is God present when we receive the bread and the cup? This issue has divided Protestant from Catholic so that Protestants do not believe that Christ is physically present with us in any gathering of the local church at this point in time (though He will be in the future!). It is easy to overreact to this false teaching and believe that He is nowhere near the bread and wine. Some people go so far in reacting to the Roman Catholic error that they mean to prove that Christ will not be present in the Lord’s Supper. We do not want to believe or to do this. We do not want to understand the Lord’s Supper as merely a reminder or merely a symbol. Clearly it is a symbol with the bread representing His body and the wine representing His blood, yet it is more. As Calvin said, “the truth of the thing signified is surely present there.” The symbol exists to assure us of true participation in it.

Some have described the elements of the Lord’s Supper as “visible words.” Through them God is saying to us that we are forgiven. When we receive communion, we need to perceive and discern God’s word, communication and fellowship springing from the truth of what He has done. Meals play an important role in biblical history. Before Adam and Eve fell, they ate all of their meals in the presence of God. And then It was a meal that shattered their relationship with God. They shared a meal of the forbidden fruit in an act of rebellion and refusal to accept God’s authority. This forbidden meal banishes them from the presence of God. Because of this meal, there is separation of man from God. When Christ comes and shares the last supper with His disciples, which we experience and celebrate through the Lord’s Supper, there is restoration of relationship. It is a meal of reconciliation. It is a meal that points to the intermediary who has given His own body and blood, who has stood as substitute, to take the wrath we deserve through the meal of rebellion. Through a meal, Christ declares to us that there is fellowship between friends. The reconciliation of God with man is commemorated through a meal. The sharing of this meal demonstrates welcome and fellowship. Christ is present in this meal by His Spirit. With the bread and wine we proclaim His death until He comes. These elements point to another meal, in a day when it will no longer be the spiritual Christ present at the meal, but the physical Christ. We will see him face-to-face, sitting with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Christ is present through the word and through the Lord’s Supper and here is why this is so important: When God’s people gather, we gather to worship a personal God who is present. When we gather on Sunday we are not just running through a program or executing an order of service. We are not just moving through an agenda of a meeting. No, we are gathering in the presence of God to meet with Him personally and to recognize His presence in the church. We cannot honor God appropriately if we do not recognize His presence. We need to thirst for it, enjoy it, celebrate it, for otherwise He will not be properly worshipped. Recognizing God’s presence and responding to God’s presence is what Christian worship is about for we worship a personal God who is present now, here, and every Sunday when the church gathers.

When we think of God’s presence, we are prone to think he is only present to hear our worship. And it is true that he hears and receives our worship. Yet we must realize that God is not only gathered as a spectator, but He is also the actor and speaker in our worship. He is not there only to receive and observe, but to speak and to act. He is present in the table and in His word proclaimed. If we do not see this, we miss Him. God delights in speaking to us and to revealing Himself to us.

How do we respond to all of this? We need to anticipate His presence and look forward to it. Craig ended with a challenge that for the next four Sundays at the very least we specifically seek and anticipate the presence of God in the preaching of the word and in the Lord’s Supper.

August 10, 2006

One interesting feature here at the WorshipGod06 Conference is the prayer room. This is a small room that has been set aside for times of individual prayer. We have all been invited to go into this room whenever we feel the urge to sit quietly, to journal, or to pray. There are several “stations” in the room, each with its own focus. The stations feature prayers and quotes collected from The Valley of Vision. There is also a world map that has arrows pointing to several areas in the world and invitations to pray for needs specific to each area or nation.

When I visited the room there were people sitting quietly and praying at several of the stations. A couple of men and women were writing in their journals and several more were reading from the Bibles that had been placed in the room. It is an area of tranquility and, more importantly, an area of focused prayer. Here are a few photographs Julian snapped:




August 10, 2006

We awoke this morning to hear about the terror plot that was foiled in England. While we are grateful that no harm was caused and no damage was done, we quickly realized that it may make getting home more of a chore. We’re expecting long lines through security. And I guess my hair gel and toothpaste will have to be left behind. How sad. This morning’s conference kicked off with a wonderful time of worship led by Pat Sczebel. Bob Kauflin then recommended several books to us: God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts, According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, and Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem.

This morning’s session, “Christ Our Access,” will be led by Mark Mullery, Senior Pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, Virginia. We first heard from Ryan Ferguson who happens to have memorized the book of Hebrews. He recited for us from memory chapters nine and ten. It was just a thrill to listen to Scripture brought to us in this way. I’ll try to find out if Sovereign Grace intends to release a video of this presentation. I hope they do, for I’d suggest that any Christian would be just as thrilled as I was to watch this. It was incredibly powerful and makes me desire to have such knowledge of Scripture. I can see how helpful it would be to churches to have Scripture presented in this way.

Last night we learned that God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own and we saw this through five pictures. In the first session Jeff answered the “where” question - where has God chosen to dwell among His people? Today Mark will work from Hebrews 10:19-22 which will work not only with the “where” but also with the “when.” When do we get to go to heaven? This passage informs us that since we have Christ we can go to heaven today and we don’t have to die to get there. He will work with the text that says “Since we have confidence to enter holy places and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near.”

Since we have confidence to enter (verses 19-20) - Confidence to enter what? Christ entered into the Holy Place to accomplish his high priestly work and He remains there to this day. We are told through Scripture that believers now have confidence to enter the holy places. The basis for this confidence to enter heaven, God’s presence, is the blood of Jesus. The job of a priest was to offer sacrifices to atone for sins and make worshippers acceptable to God. There were many priests and many sacrifices. But these sacrifices, as we know from Hebrews 10, didn’t really do the trick so they had to be offered continually. The continual offerings were a reminder that sin had not been dealt with in a decisive way. But then a new priest came—a different kind of priest. He was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi. Jesus Christ came and, like other priests, offered a blood sacrifice. But this was a different kind of blood and was not the blood of bulls and goats. Instead, He offered human blood. It was a human sacrifice. He was to give His life in exchange for the lives of sinners. His death opened a way of access or entry into God’s holy places. It provided a way that had never been opened before—a new and living way. It’s new because it did not exist and it is living as long as Christ lives and intercedes for us. D.A. Carson says, “Objectively, what brings us into the presence of God is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” It is not a person, a song, an instrument or the passion of the singer that brings people into the presence of God. It is not the task of the worship leader to bring people into the presence of Christ. Objectively, it is the death and resurrection of Christ that bring us into God’s presence. If we do not get this right, we rob Jesus Christ of glory.

Since we have a great priest (verse 21) - Who needs a high priest? We do not spend a lot of time thinking about priests, but this question is worth pondering for God informs us that we have a priest, and in fact, a great priest. In the sacrificial system God instituted to deal with human sin, He is seeking to act graciously. He could institute execution, and would be just in doing so, but then He would have no people with whom to dwell. So instead he instituted the priesthood so there would be mediators between God and His people. From this group of intermediaries, there was on great priest, the High Priest, who entered once a year into the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, to offer the key sacrifice. He got there by going through a curtain and went into a place where God’s presence was manifest in a unique way. There he made an offering on his behalf and on behalf of the people. So who needs a priest? Sinners need a priest. Hebrews tells us how Christ is a greater priest, a better priest, than any who preceded Him. Christ is a great priest because when He finished offering His sacrifice, unlike all other priests, He sat down. His work was done, it was accomplished, once for all. Christ brings us into the very presence of God Himself. No priest in Israel ever went into this Holy Place. They went into a Holy Place made with human hands, but Christ lives forever in the holy place of heaven.

We can enter God’s presence because God revealed Himself in the form of a person. God who dwells with His people makes it possible for us to dwell with Him because one day He chose not to dwell with His Son. At the cross, the Son of God was abandoned by the Father and this is the reason that we can come into the presence of God today. Every thought and experience of dwelling in God should remind us of this.

Let us draw near (verse 22) - Having seen the two “sinces” of this passage, we turn now to the application. Verse 22 is pivotal in this book. From this point it turns primarily towards exhortation and response. Verse twenty two demands this response: let us draw near. This is priestly, temple language. What does it mean to draw near? We must first think of a priest and how he draws near. This refers to coming into the temple with a sacrifice to worship and deal with the problem of sin. The temple system was a system of worship that first provided a solution for the sin problem. Priests did not work by themselves in the temple but were part of a covenant community and a chosen people. When we think about drawing near we realize that we no longer need human intermediaries as in the Old Testament. We draw near to God as a nation of priests and a royal priesthood. We draw near as an expression of worship, as a covenant community, and for a solution to the sin problem. We are to draw near and are to draw near now. This passage informs us that God has given us access to Him right now, today. By faith we can draw near. We are invited and welcomed into God’s presence. Heaven is not simply an offer for later, but is a place God intends that we visit today and repeatedly for the rest of our lives.

Here is how this may look in real life: In private - We draw near to God in many ways such as reading Scripture, singing and prayer. In the church - There are corporate expressions and experiences of drawing near to God such as when we gather for preaching, singing and praying. When we gather on the Lord’s Day, God is present to bless in unique ways. Subjectivity is a particular temptation for musicians and worship leader. So how does one examine worship objectively? Asking “did we get into God’s presence” will not be useful. We need to ground our evaluations in the objectives of Scripture. “Did we draw near in faith to Christ? Did we draw near through songs that speak of the work and person of Christ?” The goal is not to obtain a subjective experience but is “by faith to draw near.” We draw near and enter through the blood of Jesus. Pastors and worship leaders must teach their worship teams and congregations to evaluate worship objectively. In all of life - We can draw near to God in all of life. In Hebrews 11 people are commended for drawing near to God not in their prayer or song, but in the way they lived. They brought all of their lives to Him so He informed and directed all of their lives.

When do we get to experience God’s presence in heaven? When do we get to go to heaven? It is now. We have full access even now through the death and resurrection of our Great Priest.

August 09, 2006

After leading us in “Come Christians Join To Sing” and “The Glories of Calvary,” Bob Kauflin asked everyone to divide into groups of four or five to pray together. One person was to thank God for safe travel and for the opportunity to worship and fellowship together; one was to pray for our minds, one was to pray for our hearts and one was to pray for our lives. We had a brief but edifying few minutes of prayer, praying with people we did not know but with whom we shared a bond in Christ. It was a privilege to hear hundreds of voices, rising and falling in a murmur throughout the auditorium. And while we prayed separately, in small groups, we prayed together, asking God in different ways for the same things. After being led in a corporate prayer, Bob introduced us to a new song from the Valley of Vision CD project which will be officially released at this conference. We also sang “Grace Unmeasured,” “The Gospel Song,” and “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.”

As the worship team left the stage, Bob moved to the center of the stage and introduced the conference. Josh Harris Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church also took an opportunity to welcome us on behalf of himself, his staff and his congregation.

And of course, as seems to be a tradition at this conference, Mark Altrogge was brought to the front to bring announcements. The theme for his announcements this year will be “Guitar players are better than piano players because…” Mark will be collecting submissions from those attending the conference. If you would like to submit an idea, feel free to do so in the comments section of the blog and I’ll make sure they get to Mark. He will also be giving away shirts emblazoned with a slogan that says, “Guitarists rule.”

The first teaching session of the conference will be led by Jeff Purswell who serves as Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College. He will be speaking on “A People of God’s Presence.”

What is in our mind when we use the phrase “presence of God?” Is it a mere distant wish? Is it something we need to strive to attain? Is it something we take for granted and treat with a “cool solidarity?” Tonight Jeff will bring our attention to one key idea—one biblical reality—that should inform the way we think about God and relate to God both in corporate worship and in our individual lives. It is this: God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own. His purpose is not simply to create a people or to govern a people, but it is to dwell among a people He has made His own. This message will be preparatory for the entire conference as we see this truth woven through the fabric of Scripture. When we grasp this truth we can be filled with anticipation for corporate gatherings for worship, for the singing and worship we do this week. This truth can and should have a transforming effect on our singing, worship and living.

Jeff will suggest five pictures or images from Scripture that appear as the Bible’s storyline progressively unfolds.

A Garden (Genesis 2:8-15) - After God creates man, we learn about the Garden. This passage gives a sense of safety as in a protected parkland or an enclosed orchard. God intentionally placed Adam in a setting He had created for him. This Garden also gives a sense of provision as Adam was in a place of delight and provision. It is a place of Divine companionship where God walked with Adam and Eve. The greatest characteristic of this Garden: it was fundamentally a sanctuary, a sacred place. The Garden was a temple. This is what the writer intends to convey, for a temple is a place where God and men meet together. In Leviticus 24:12 God says that He will walk among the people. This refers to the divine presence with His people and near to His people. This Garden is on a mountain, and mountains factor prominently in God’s purposes for mankind. We see unhindered fellowship with God in a perfect, unspoiled environment. Here in the Garden, God is present with His people. He has purposed from all Creation to dwell with His people. God is the initiator in worship. This image of the Garden establishes God’s purposes for mankind.

A Dwelling (Exodus 25) - God commands Moses to oversee the building of a sanctuary in which He will dwell. Israel is promised God’s very presence. At the very establishment of the nation of Israel, God’s presence becomes a fundamental characteristic of the nation’s identity. They will be marked by God’s presence. To be the nation was to have God’s presence. In Exodus 33, following the incident with the golden calf, God promises to have His presence go with Moses and with the people. Moses says, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Never before has God dwelt with man in this way. Man had unhindered fellowship with God in the Garden, but God did not dwell there. God met powerfully with Moses on Mt. Sinai, but God did not dwell there. But now God commands Moses to make a tent, a tabernacle, so He could live with them. God takes up residence in their midst. The location of the tabernacle points to this, for it was to be in the middle with the Twelve Tribes arranged around it. This is exactly where a king’s tent would be located when he would lead his people into battle. And there dwelt the Divine warrior. When the people entered the Promised Land, this dwelling was to be replaced by a permanent dwelling so that God would rest with His people. This shows us first that these dwellings were the mark of God’s presence with His people and in doing so He identifies with His people. As the people wander, God will wander with them, and when the people settle down, He will settle down with them. Secondly, these dwellings also point to God’s transcendence. While He was living with them in these dwellings, it is not unhindered fellowship. The tabernacle is divided and there is a curtain barring the Holy Place. As loudly as these dwellings spoke of God’s imminence, they also spoke of His transcendence. There is still a barrier to shield them from His glorious presence, for God’s presence is not always good news (think, for example, of Aaron’s sons and their “strange fire”).

A Person (John 1) - The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; it tabernacled among us. God set up a tent in our midst and dwells among us. We have beheld His glory just as His glory filled the tabernacle. Once again, God is dwelling with His people but now in a much different, more authentic, more personal way. Christ is the ultimate revelation of God; the ultimate self-disclosure of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple and tabernacle. He is the new temple. The place where man and God meet is a person, not a building. The place of sacrifice is not an altar in a building, but Christ’s own body. At His death, in the rending of His flesh and the spilling of His blood, the veil of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two, for it no longer guarded the presence of God. Access to God’s presence is no longer shielded but is open to everyone through Jesus Christ. The book of Matthew begins with the promise that Jesus will be Immanuel, “God with us,” and ends with Jesus’ promise that He will be with us to the very end of the age. Never has God dwelt more powerfully or authentically with man than in Jesus.

A People (1 Corinthians 3:16) - “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” When the Holy Spirit is sent and gives birth to the church, now what happens is that the church, in union with Christ and indwelt with the Spirit, becomes the Divine sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. The church is now the temple of God. God no longer dwells with people in a sanctuary they make for Him, but He dwells in them and they are a temple. See also 2 Corinthians 6:16ff. The Old Testament spoke often of a new temple and Paul tells us that this has now been fulfilled. Even more so than the tabernacle of old, the Christian congregation is God’s dwelling and should there be set apart for its sacred purpose. There are several implications. First, Christ must be ever-central to the church. We become the new temple only by virtue of our connection to Christ and by being filled with the Spirit. Second, Christ’s presence in the church demands holiness of the church. Third, God is uniquely present when His people are gathered. It is true that all Christians individually are temples of the Holy Spirit, but by far the emphasis in Scripture is that the corporate body of believers, the gathered church, is the temple of God. The church is that created entity that is nearest and dearest to God’s heart. The church is where God has chosen to place His name. Here he uniquely acts. Here he uniquely dwells. As a worship leader stands before the congregation, He stands before the very presence of God on earth.

A City (Revelation 21) - Everything in Scripture has been leading towards the descriptions at the end of Revelation. There is a surprise at the end of the Book, for through exile and destruction Israel was looking for a new temple. But in the consummation we see that there is no temple (verse 22). Why is there no temple? Because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The whole city is a cube. The only other cube is the Holy of Holies, showing that the new Jerusalem is the new Holy of Holies. The new city is made entirely of God just as the Holy of Holies was made of gold. But there are dissimilarities as well. The tabernacle had divisions, but the city has no divisions. There are no walls. The entire city is open to everyone. In the old temple was an altar, but in the new city is no altar for the definitive sacrifice has been made. And this brings us back to the beginning, back to Eden. Instead of Adam and Eve in the temple, Christ, the second Adam, is in the temple. As Adam and Eve fellowshipped with God in the Garden, so all of God’s people will fellowship with Him. Mankind returns to paradise.

God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own. This is now our reality: God is a God who desires to dwell with His people. From the first page of Scripture to the last we see God’s eagerness to live among and dwell with His people. Left to ourselves we do not desire God. Apart from His grace in the gospel we hate God and run from God. Praise be to God, His disposition is different, for He wishes to dwell with us and He has made this possible through the cross of Christ. One day we will worship Him for this, for all eternity, face-to-face.

The second teaching session of the conference (led by Mark Mullery) will take place, Lord willing, tomorrow morning. Check back before lunch and I should have an update for you.