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WorshipGod06 Conference

July 17, 2007

Tuesday July 17, 2007

Interview: Sinead O’Connor has a new album, “Theology,” that she says is based on the Old Testament (and that is being pitched to Christians). Christianity Today has an interview with her. “I also feel that Jesus is inside everybody. It’s almost like an energy or a thing that lives inside of us.”

Blog: Phil Simpson is currently writing a biography of Jeremiah Burroughs (and, as I understand it, still needs a publisher!) and has just created a Jeremiah Burroughs site. “I hope you will find many things on this site which will help you to know God better, love Jesus Christ more, and glorify Him in practical ways.”

Art: ReformationArt has a sale on prints of five great reformers.

Music: The shortest concert ever.

August 22, 2006

cd2.jpgContemporary praise and worship music has achieved a poor reputation. It is often regarded as being of poor quality both musically and lyrically. Sadly, this critique is often accurate. Yet there are some who swim against this current. It is only in the last year or so that I have been introduced to an organization that produces music to which these critiques cannot apply. Sovereign Grace Music has released a wide variety of albums which provide not only top-quality music, but excellent, God-glorifying song-writing. The latest project, released only a couple of weeks ago, Valley of Vision, is based on the classic book of Puritan prayers of the same name.

Why would Sovereign Grace create a project based on the prayers of a bunch of dead guys? “That’s an easy one. Puritans like John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, and Isaac Watts knew their hearts, their Bibles, and their God much better than we do. Many of them wrote down their prayers not to be published, but to assess their own spiritual growth and to encourage themselves in times of spiritual dryness. These prayers reveal a personal, humble, passionate relationship with an awesome God, a living Savior, and an active Spirit. Reading their meditations inspires us to pursue the same level of reality as we worship God.” The two-fold purpose of this CD is to encourage the listener deepen his relationship with God as he becomes more aware of his own sin and God’s holiness and that the listener will be inspired to read the book of prayers that inspired the album. “We pray that you won’t simply read them, but that they will become a springboard for your own prayers and meditation in your relationship with our great, merciful, and changeless God who is, ever and always, there to meet us in the Valley of Vision.”

The CD begins with “In the Valley,” sung by Shannon Harris. Shannon has a stunningly beautiful voice, though having heard it live at the WorshipGod06 conference, I have to admit that I love the purity of her voice in a live performance just a little bit better than the slightly more engineered sound on the CD. She sings a powerful song based on the prayer “The Valley of Vision” and asks God to let her find His grace, life and joy. For sake of comparison, here is the original prayer and the song based on it:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.

And here is the song:

When You lead me to the valley of vision I can see You in the heights And though my humbling wouldn’t be my decision It’s here Your glory shines so bright So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown To be low is to be high That the valley’s where You make me more like Christ

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley’s where Your power is revealed

A couple of up-tempo songs follow. “All That I Need,” sung by Stephen Altrogge, declares that Jesus Christ is the believer’s only hope and the only one who can satisfy the heart’s deepest longings. “Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son” is a song of thanks to God for His work of election and for providing His Son as Savior. “How Deep” explores the love of Christ and the mid-tempo “I Come Running” is a song of praise to Jesus, written and performed by Mark Altrogge, acknowledging our need of the Savior. My favorite track on this album, and one we sang near the close of the WorshipGod Conference, is “Let Your Kingdom Come,” written by Bob Kauflin and based on the prayer “God’s Cause.” It is a perfect choice to end a service or conference and calls upon God to let His kingdom come. “Let Your Kingdom Come / Let Your will be done / So that everyone might know Your Name / Let Your song be heard everywhere on earth / Till Your sovereign work on earth is done / Let Your kingdom come.” Perhaps it could have been the final track on the album!

This is followed by “O Great God,” a hymn eminently suitable to corporate worship that celebrates the sovereignty of God and His work of redemption. “Help me now to live a life / That’s dependent on Your grace / Keep my heart and guard my soul / From the evils that I face / You are worthy to be praised / With my every thought and deed / O great God of highest heaven / Glorify Your name through me.”

The CD continues with “It Was Your Grace,” “Only Jesus,” “The Precious Blood,” “It Was Love,” and “Who Made Me To Know You.” Each song explores a different theme and each centers upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. These songs feature vocals by Kyle Davis, Shannon Harris and Megan Russell. Standout tracks, and ones that are most suitable to corporate worship, include “Only Jesus” and “The Precious Blood.”

Valley of Vision is a unique concept and one that could easily have fallen flat. Thankfully, Sovereign Grace did the project justice and have created an album that is beautiful, inspiring and full of the gospel. With many tracks suitable to corporate worship and all suitable for private worship (or for just singing with the car windows wide open), Valley of Vision is a worthy addition to any CD collection. Like previous Sovereign Grace music projects, it is well-written, well-produced and of the utmost quality. I heartily recommend it.

Valley of Vision is available for purchase from the Sovereign Grace Store. Be sure to take a look at the other CD projects available such as Songs For The Cross Centered Life and Awesome God. Sample audio clips, lead sheets and chord charts for this album are available for no cost from the Sovereign Grace Ministries.

August 15, 2006

It was a great thrill for me to spend several days of the last week among the men and women of Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church at the WorshipGod06 Conference. Being among these people was an opportunity for me to learn a great deal about worship and to learn how other believers express their worship to God. Sovereign Grace Ministries is often described as being “Reformed Charismatic” but it seems that this may be too simplistic a description. There is far more to this organization than Reformed soteriology and Charismatic expressions of worship.

I know quite a few people are waiting to hear some reflections on this event, so I thought I would offer those today. I offer them as an outsider, one who has worshipped in many different contexts, but never in one quite like this. I will focus on observations on the use of the spiritual gifts as I witnessed them at the conference. It is worth nothing that, with over half of the attendees belonging to churches other than Sovereign Grace churches, many people present were not charismatic in their understanding of the continuing gifts. I was grateful to see that Bob Kauflin and other conference “officials” were careful to be respectful towards the cessationists present and to be deliberate in proving their own credibility as believers and believers who dearly love the Lord and serve under His Lordship and under the authority of Scripture. While many charismatics have gained the reputation of being a group that allows spiritual gifts to supersede Scripture, Sovereign Grace clearly showed itself to be a ministry that places Scripture in its rightful place above and beyond all gifts. In speaking to others after the conference, I was not able to find any, even among the strictest cessationists, who was offended by seeing the continuing gifts being practiced. This speaks of the humility and grace of the organizers of this conference who were deliberately cautious and respectful towards others.

Before I begin, let me make one point clear. While this did not come from Bob Kauflin or from others who stood in front of the assembly, I heard a few statements such as “cessationists do not believe in the spiritual gifts.” This is not strictly true, for cessationists do believe in the spiritual gifts. They are, after all, explicitly and undeniably mentioned in the Bible. Cessationists believe that spiritual gifts are given to all believers and are operational even today. Most would affirm that these gifts should be eagerly identified and sought after. Most would also affirm that the various lists of gifts in Scripture is not exhaustive but points instead towards a great abundance of gifts. Where cessationists differ from continuationists is in their understanding of the miraculous gifts which are generally identified as prophecy, speaking in tongues and working of miracles. Cessationists believe that these gifts were given for a specific purpose at a specific time and that they ceased with the close of the Apostolic era. Thus, while cessationists affirm the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues, speaking prophecies and working miracles, they do not believe these gifts to be operational today. My purpose here is not to argue the case, but merely to summarize the belief, so let’s not turn this into an argument on this matter!

So let’s look at how these miraculous gifts manifested themselves at the conference.

While charismatics may be best-known for using the gift of tongues, I did not witness any use of this gift at the conference. Craig Cabannis, one of the speakers at the conference, explained Sovereign Grace Ministries’ perspective on this gift. It can only be used in a public setting when it is deemed appropriate, when a person is available who has the gift of interpretation, and when this person feels that he has an interpretation for this particular utterance. From what I understand, it is quite rare that this happens, and so this gift is seen only sparingly within Sovereign Grace churches. And as I mentioned, I did not witness it last week.

While there may not have been any public uses of the gift of tongues, there were a great deal of prophetic utterances, both in the main sessions and in seminars. If a person felt that he had a prophetic utterance to share with the assembly, he would make his way to the front where a pastor or elder sat with a microphone. The person would share the prophecy with this person who would make a determination whether it seemed genuine and whether it was appropriate to share with the assembly. If he felt it should be heard, he would signal the worship leader who would find an opportunity to allow the person to speak. These utterances were often spoken in the first person. They were sometimes words from the Lord and at others times were images or encouragements. At one point Bob Kauflin mentioned that prophecies were not allowed to include words about dates, mates, correction or direction.

I do believe this was the first time I had witnessed this type of prophecy and made at least one observation. As has often been said by cessationists, this prophecy bore little resemblance to the prophecies of Scripture. There was a humility or even hesitancy in speaking these prophecies which were often preceded by phrases such as “I feel God is saying” or “What I think this means is.” The “thus saith the Lord” statements that typify biblical prophecy were noticeably absent. I suppose this shows what many continuationists insist: that prophecy in our day is different from biblical prophecy in that a person may err in his understanding of a prophecy or his delivery of it. The sinful nature of human beings manifests itself even in prophecy. And, of course, as cessationists will observe, this type of prophecy seems absent from Scripture unless we choose to so interpret (or misinterpret) the prophecies of Agabus. Similarly, the hesitancy to provide prophecies related to dates, mates, correction and direction seem to differ from Scripture as well since these are common themes among the prophets described in the Bible.

I heard much about healing at the conference, but was unable to understand how the spiritual gift of healing was in operation. Typically a person would prophecy that God wished to heal people of a particular condition (such as arthritis, migraine, pain in the lower extremities, and so on) and would ask such people to identify themselves. Those who wished to be healed were soon surrounded by men and women who were asked to lay their hands on them and pray for them. There would then be a time of prayer and prophecy. There were two things in particular that struck me about this. First, I could not see how the spiritual gift of healing was used. The gift of prophecy was clearly in operation in identifying illnesses that God wished to heal, but I did not see anyone acting like the Apostles who laid hands on those who were ill (or even just touched them with their shadow) and instantly healed them of a variety of lifelong, debilitating diseases. These were not slow, gradual healings of inner afflictions such as arthritis, but instantaneous, miraculous healings of people whose bodies were immediately and dramatically transformed so that whole towns immediately understood what had happened. So like the gift of prophecy, I had to understand that the gift of healing, as exercised in these circles, is dramatically different than it was in the times of Scripture unless those who laid hands on the sick were self-identified as having the gift of healing. But I don’t think this was the case.

Second, there is nothing distinctly charismatic about the laying on of hands or annointing with oil and thus with most of what was assumed to be a distinctly charismatic event. I have known people from the most conservative wings of Presbyterianism who practice this and who have seen God extend His healing through such means. My aunt was the recipient of such a blessing and was instantly and permanently cured of alcoholism by the means of the pastor and elders at her church laying their hands on her, annointing her with oil, and praying for her. The difference is that in non-charismatic circles, it will generally only be church officials, elders and pastors (in other words, those with spiritual oversight and authority over a person) who would lay hands on another.

Finally, and I apologize if this seems to be rude or sarcastic, but it was something I observed a couple of times, but I found it odd that an organization that so stresses modesty would encourage the laying on of hands. On a couple of occasions I saw women, and young women in particular, indicate that they sought healing. Both women and men would then come to these people and lay their hands on them. These were not men and women who knew them or were elders at their church, but just other people who decided to lay hands on them. I can’t help but think that this would make me uncomfortable if that were my teenage daughter or my wife. When reconciling teaching on modesty and the practice of laying on of hands there seems to be something of a contradiction: “Don’t let your bra strap show through your blouse, but let me put my hand on it!”

So here’s the rub. Charismatics identify and practice three spiritual gifts that are not practiced by cessationists. Of these gifts, one was not in evidence at the conference, one was spoken of but I did not observe it practiced within the context of a spiritual gift, leaving only one that was practiced, but even then with marked differences to biblical descriptions. But through all things I noted a humility and a subjection to the word of God. I saw the leaders demanding that things but done decently and in good order. I saw that, despite differences in our understanding of the continuing gifts, we hold most things in common.

While Sovereign Grace Ministries may always be known as being both a charismatic ministry, it was clear that this was only a small part of how the organization would identify itself. It is primarily an organization that wishes to worship and celebrate the sovereignty of God as shown in His grace towards sinners. It is an organization that seeks to maintain biblical humility and seeks to serve the body of Christ, not just in word but also in deed. I mentioned to a couple of people at the conference that somehow, while sitting in that church and hearing praises rise to God, I felt a sense of home. I don’t quite know how to describe this or what I even really mean by it, but somehow the environment felt so safe and so familiar, even though this was my first time worshipping at a Sovereign Grace event. I was moved, I was stirred and I was challenged. And best of all, I was led to grow in my understanding of God, my appreciation of God, my love for His people and my ability to bring worship to Him.

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.