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.