WG09 – Family in Worship

The Friday afternoon session that I chose to attend was one led by Donald Whitney on the subject of family worship.  This had been the one session that I was looking forward to the most, but ironically, this is the one session that perhaps I gained the least from.  While Donald Whitney is a great author and I’m sure a good lecturer, the personal feeling that all the other sessions had, including the general session speakers, was not there.  Further, I was disappointed when I immediately realized he was basically reading from his book, Family Worship in the Bible, in History & in Your Home – a book I had just purchased the previous day.  Perhaps it was this sense of simply reading from his book that gave it the non-personal feeling.

In this book (and subsequently, this session), Whitney discusses family worship from a few Bible verses such as Deut. 6:4-7 and Josh. 24:15.  He spends a good deal of space (and the vast majority of the time of the session) talking about family worship in the lives of Christian heroes down through church history such as Martin Luther, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon and John G. Paton.  While this was very interesting to read in his book, the time spent reading word for word lengthy biographical sections from the book bordered on tedious.  He has some practical advice for families wanting to either start family worship or perhaps need encouragement in what they are doing.  He offers three main elements of family worship: reading and explaining the Bible, praying, and singing.  He also mentions other options such as catechizing, using Scripture memory verses or other reading.  He then deals with some objections or concerns that might be brought up such as what to do if the children are very young or what if there is a wide range of ages among the children.

Perhaps I should clarify something at this point.  While the actual content of the session was disappointing, I learned a very important lesson.  See, when I first decided to come to the conference, it was with the intention of learning how to lead my family in worship (see this post).  In fact, I had originally tried to sign up for another session, “Training Children to Worship God” as well as the “Family in Worship.”  The first was already filled and the second I had to shuffle some things around in order to be able to attend.  And as I mentioned, this session was ironically perhaps the one that I did not learn very much about what I had intended to learn – namely, family worship.  But by the time we left on Saturday afternoon, I realized that God had so much more for me to learn than practical tips for leading family in worship.  Although family worship is very important, I personally needed (and still need) to gain a better understanding of the God I worship.  I cannot properly lead my family in a worship that I don’t really grasp.

Because of the other sessions I was “forced” to attend and because of the general sessions, I realized that my focus was entirely incorrect.  I was worried about what I could learn practically for the sake of my family instead of simply wanting to come and learn about God and be overwhelmed with the desire to worship only HIM.  Now when I think of family worship, it’s with a desire to have them join with me in praising Him.

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WG09 – Conference Audio

Sovereign Grace Ministries has the audio of the general sessions of the Worship God 09 Conference available on their website.  Every one of them is worth listening to, but if you only have time for a few listen to both of Piper’s sermons.   The interview of Bob Kauflin and CJ Mahaney is also worth listening.  Oh, and the one on The Church of Worship.  Okay, just listen to all of them. 🙂

(And I promise, I will be covering the rest of the sessions hopefully this week!)

WG09 – Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

The first afternoon session I attended on Friday afternoon was on the subject of “Clean Hands and a Pure Heart: Keeping it Real” let by Pat Sczebel.  It was a very honest, very transparent look at recognizing the gap between what we are trying to do as worship leaders (or even as Christians in every day life) and what we are actually experiencing in our own lives.  In quoting Timothy Land and Paul Tripp in their book How People Change, Sczebel said, “The symptoms of the gap [are]: Knowledgeable but impersonal walk with God, a struggle with material things, and a definite lack of personal growth.”  The goal is to consider the gap and its remedy found in Psalm 73.

The Psalmist starts out in recognizing the truth that “Truly God is good to Israel” (v.1).  We see the goodness of God most clearly seen in Christ.  John Piper was quoted as saying: “Saving faith is the cry of the new creation in Christ.  And the newness of the new creature is that it has a new taste.  What was once distasteful or bland is now craved.” (Piper, Desiring God, p.54)  In relating this to the gaps we experience, it is easy to come off a “mountaintop experience” of God’s goodness only to plunge back into the depths of despair or even fall into sin when “normal” life sets in.  As Sczebel pointed out, “Yesterday’s encounter or reminder of God’s goodness is insufficient for today.”  We can’t rely on the grace given yesterday to guarantee victory or seeing God’s glory today.

This was perhaps one of the best lessons of the afternoon seminars.  It reminded me the message John Owen gives in his excellent, excellent book The Mortification of Sin in the Believer.  Every day is a battle to be faced on its own.  But as we are reminded in God’s word, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

I am trying to keep this lesson in mind for both Sunday and the coming workweek.  I’ve just experienced a truly remarkable week in focusing on God and worshiping him.  It can be so easy to either assume that this vision of God’s goodness and greatness will continue indefinitely, and then when perhaps it doesn’t, to come crashing back down to “normalcy” and possible fall into sin.  I want to not only guard against that, but also to keep my mind focused on God so that while the “high” (if you will) of this past week may fade, the reminder of God’s goodness remains.

WG09 – The Church of Worship

Friday morning dawned bright and early. Well, since it was already bright when I woke up, I presume it was early. The first general session for Friday was in a word – awesome. I know, I’ve used that word quite frequently lately, but I really can’t think of any other word to describe the service. Shai Linne, Christian (and Reformed to boot!) rapper opened with a couple of his songs that you could have used to write doctrinal statements. The songs we sung afterward were focused on praising God even in suffering and trials. As I mentioned earlier, we ended the music part of worship with “It Is Well With My Soul” – and it was incredible. To sing of the wonderful truth that no matter what life brings, no matter what Satan throws at us, we can still say with the utmost confidence “It is WELL,” our sins having been fully and completely nailed to the cross. We can look with eager anticipation to the return of our Lord. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thabiti Anyabwile spoke during the Friday morning general session on the Church of Worship. There is in some circles the thinking that the church as an institution or an actual gathering of the body of believers is unnecessary. Anyabwile pointed out that this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. He gave five reminders of why the local assembly of believers as a church is (or should be!) important to us based on 1 Cor.12:12-27:

1. We should love the church because it is God’s composition. Our proper response to the wisdom of God in building the church as He has with the people He has should be “Wow! What a God! What wisdom!”
2. We need the church because we need to be cared for. “It takes a church to raise a Christian.”
3. We need the church in order to be equipped for the Christian life. We cannot mature in Christ independent of the local church body.
4. We need the church because we need God’s grace.
5. We need the church because we need God’s love.

The local church body is absolutely essential, composed by each member of the Trinity. This was an excellent reminder of why our gathering together is vital for our Christian faith.

WG09 – The Leaders of Worship

Thursday evening at the Worship God 09 Conference was yet another great service with God-honoring music and a Christ-exalting message. Jeff Purswell (editor of Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine) spoke on The Leaders of Worship. Basing his message on Hebrews 10:19-25, he gave three answers to the question, “Why do we gather as a Christian body?”

1. We gather to encounter God – even though we as individual Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us, there is an especial privilege in gathering together for corporate worship.

2. We gather to respond to God. Understanding that worship is a response to God protects us from formalism, emotionalism (as D.A. Carson says, “worshiping worship rather than worshiping God”) and legalism

3. We gather to strengthen each other for the glory of God. He made an encouraging observation that at such a conference like WG09 where we have hundreds of people worshiping together, it’s easy to not want to leave this and return our smaller (less enthusiastic?) congregation, a smaller (less knowledgeable?) worship team. But even in those smaller congregations, worship is still just as true and just as God-honoring as it is with what has been experienced this week at WG09. That was especially encouraging to be reminded that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst.”

WG09 – A Brief Note

As I’ve been taking notes and then trying to relay on this blog what all has been going on at the conference, I find myself incredibly struggling with conveying everything that has been going on.  First, I’m a horrible note taker.  I find myself listening to what the speaker is saying and forgetting to write it down.  Then later, I might remember the essence of what was said, but struggle with remembering exactly what was said.  For those reading this, please forgive my lack of being able to communicate what is taught.

But second and perhaps most important, I simply cannot begin to describe the atmosphere of what is going on.  To sit in each of the sessions and being continually reminded of the greatness of God and the beauty of the gospel to undeserving sinners is simply breathtaking.  We hear it in the music and especially from every speaker.  The opening night when we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” it was as people who had tasted of the Living Water that Jesus promises and were so eager and wanting more, it just spilled out into our exuberant singing.  To have this image of the greatness of God continually pointed to over and over throughout this conference has been truly magnificent.  In this morning’s session, we sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” To be honest, I don’t think I got completely through any one verse, I was so overcome with emotion as the goodness of God.  Imagine trying to sing the following verse after being powerfully reminded of God’s glory, his beauty, your own sinfulness, and his never ending grace and forgiveness:

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul!”

Any words or thoughts I manage to get down in writing will simply not do justice to what I have experienced this week.  My prayer is that this will continue even after the last session on Saturday and I am able to bring these teachings home with me.

God is good.

WG09 – Worship in the Valley

For the second afternoon session on Thursday afternoon, Matt Mason led a session on worshiping God even through trials and sufferings.  Being the pastor of a church in New Orleans, he told firsthand of the trials they went through during Hurricane Katrina and how the entire church there learned to minister to one another even in a time of great suffering.  To be able to endure hardships, we must have a heart-orientation toward God.  Mason quoted John Owen:

“Men love to trust God (as they profess) for what they have in their hands, in possession, or what lies in an easy view; place their desires afar off, carry their accomplishment behind the clouds in their sight, interpose difficulties and perplexities – their hearts are instantly sick.  They cannot wait for God; they do not trust Him, nor ever did.  Would you have the presence of God with you?  Learn to wait quietly for the salvation you expect from Him.” (John Owen, “God’s Presence with a People the Spring of Their Prosperity”, Sermons of John Owen)

The main takeaway from this was actually in a question and answer time afterward.  Someone asked the question of what to do or how to help someone who may be going through a difficulty and quite honestly isn’t ready for a theological lesson.  The Bible says to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  Sometimes, it is simply enough to listen and pray with those who are struggling.  Too often we are ready to launch into “Romans 8:28 mode” – while these truths are certainly still true, sometimes it is wiser to listen and empathize.  Additionally, we can serve them even in our praying for them by reminding God of His promises to us, and the individual listening may be encouraged while listening to you pray.