Preparing For Worship

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It is once again time to prepare our hearts for worship. We are preparing our hearts to meet God in public worship. John Piper says: “There is a heart preparation to be done in order to meet God.” Why is it so important to prepare our hearts for worship? Well, Jesus said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). All of us have probably been guilty of honoring the Lord with our lips when our hearts have been far from Him. So, as we prepare for worship we need to do some spiritual inventory on our hearts. Are our hearts far from the Lord? Whatever we may find when we do spiritual inventory, we all need to be closer to the Lord. We all may be different distances from the Lord, but those distances are not measured in inches or miles. John Piper says those distances are measured in the following five ways:

“It is measured with the tape of attention—you may not even be thinking of God Saturday night or Sunday morning. So your heart is far from him measured by attention.”

“Or it may be measured by the tape of focus—you may have some attention on God but it is broken up by other things and there is no focused attention that gets God clearly in view and makes him the primary object of attention.”

“It is measured by the tape of desire—you may feel little desire for God but be very much caught up in a greater desire for sports or finances or a trip to the lake, while the desire and the longing for God is weak by comparison.”

“Or it can be measured by the tape of trust and hope—your trust in God may be weak and your hope faint and wavering.”

“Or it may be measured by the tape of delight or joy in God—you may feel much more pleasure Saturday night in a late movie than in meeting God in the morning.”

Piper goes on to say that: “Every one of us is far from where we want to be on one of these measuring tapes every week.” So, all of us are far from where we want to be on some of these measuring tapes that Piper listed. So, how do we draw closer to God in these areas? As we think over these measuring tapes, I think a good place to start is prayer. Let’s start with the first one. As we think over the first measuring tape we realize that our heart is far from God measured by attention. We have thought about seeing friends at church or we have thought about what we are going to have for lunch or a hundred other things, but we haven’t thought much about God. So, we just go to the throne of grace and plead with God to help us reorient our hearts on Him. We would pray something like: “Lord forgive me for being so focused on other things this morning, forgive me for being so consumed with the things of this world. Lord draw my heart closer to you, help me to reorient my heart on You. Draw me closer to you and stir up my affections for you Lord.”

Let’s take the third measuring tape. As we think over this one we realize that our hearts are caught up in a greater desire for something other than God. So, again we pray something like this. “Lord forgive me for having a greater desire for sports (or politics, or whatever it may be) this weekend than for You. Father as I consider these measuring tapes I am reminded of the song that says: “No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in your sight. The best I have to offer are these filthy rags.” Lord I am a great sinner and every day proves me guilty in your sight, and yet you love me! Father help me to live my life in light of the gospel. Help me to be able to truthfully say what the Psalmist says: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Let’s be sure and pray for Ian and Erin who will lead us in worship. Let’s also lift up Jerry who will lead us in a time of confession, and let’s pray for Mark who will open up God’s Word to us. Mark will be preaching on Genesis 40. The link to the ESV text is below:

Genesis 40

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Preparing For Worship

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It is once again time to prepare our hearts for worship. Philip Ryken says that we should emphasize: “the priority of worship. This is what human beings were made for: to give praise to God.” John Stott said: “Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.” So, what is ‘true worship?’ James Boice helps us out when he says: “Many people worship with the body. This means that they consider themselves to have worshiped if they have been in the right place doing the right things at the right time…In our day this would refer to people who think they have worshiped God simply because they have occupied a seat in a church on Sunday morning, or sung a hymn, or lit a candle,…or knelt in the aisle. Jesus says this is not worship. These customs may be vehicles for worship. In some cases they may also hinder it. But they are not worship in themselves. Therefore, we must not confuse worship with the particular things we do on Sunday morning.” So, we can get to North Avenue early, sing all the songs, have our Bibles open on our laps following the text, fellowship with others after the service, and even in all of that we may not have partaken in true worship.

Boice continues: “In addition, however, we must not confuse worship with feeling, for worship does not originate with the soul any more than it originates with the body. The soul is the seat of our emotions. It may be the case, and often is, that the emotions are stirred in real worship. At times tears fill the eyes or joy floods the heart. But, unfortunately, it is possible for these things to happen and still no worship to be there. It is possible to be moved by a song or by oratory and yet not come to a genuine awareness of God and a fuller praise of His ways and nature. True worship occurs only when that part of man, his spirit, which is akin to the divine nature (for God is spirit), actually meets with God and finds itself praising Him for His love, wisdom, beauty, truth, holiness, compassion, mercy, grace, power, and all His other attributes.”

So, true worship is worship that is done in spirit and in truth. As Jesus says in John 4: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John Piper helps further explain this: “Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. . . . Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers . . . . On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Similar to some of what Piper said, Bryan Chapell adds that: “true worship requires enthusiastic, respectful, and grateful praise of God, that is doxology (from the Greek word for praise). If God’s people gather to worship without evident gladness, awe, and security in God’s redemptive provision and providential care, then their worship is defective.”

So, as we prepare for worship, we want to prepare to worship God in spirit and in truth. We want to prepare to partake in true worship. We do not want to partake in worship that is defective. If our affections for God are low, then let’s race to the cross as Jerry Ediger would say. Let’s run to the throne of grace. Let’s open up God’s Word and ask God to stir us up as we read from say Colossians or Philippians, or a Psalm. Another thing we can do is to text or call our friends and ask them to pray for us. Tell them that your feeling dry spiritually and that you need their prayers. If your affections for God are strong today, then text or call your friends with something encouraging that you read. Maybe it was a verse, or a song, or an article, or a sermon that encouraged you. Let’s all seek to obey Hebrews 3: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

I will see if I can encourage you guys with something I read this week. I read this from J.I. Packer (who turned 90 yesterday): “The older I get, the more I want to sing my faith and get others singing it with me. Theology, as I constantly tell my students is for doxology: the first thing to do with it is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out.”

Let’s be sure and pray for the service tomorrow. Specifically let’s pray for Ian, Erin, and Ethan who will lead us in worship. Let’s  pray for Jerry as he will lead us in our time of confession. Let’s also lift up Mark at the throne of grace as he will be opening up God’s Word to us. Mark will be preaching on Genesis 39. The ESV text is below:

Genesis 39

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Preparing For Worship

 

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It is time once again to prepare our hearts for worship. D.A. Carson writes that: “We long to meet, corporately, with the living and majestic God and to offer him the praise that is his due.” Every Sunday afternoon at North Avenue Church we have the privilege of meeting, corporately, with the living and majestic God and during our time together we get to offer him the praise that is his due! This should get us excited for Sunday afternoon worship at North Avenue.

R. Kent Hughes says: “When…you get together with the people of God who are seeing the glory of God, it is amazing. When you’re praying and all are united together, when you can hear people affirming what’s going on, there is something very wonderful about the gathered body of Christ. There is an encouragement that takes place from singing with the people, affirming the same things, saying “amen” to the reading of God’s word, having your Bibles open with all the pages turning at the same time to the text that can’t happen individually. There is nothing like gathered worship.”

We should be eagerly anticipating the Sunday worship service. As we prepare our hearts for worship today and tomorrow we should remind ourselves that there really is ‘nothing like gathered worship.’ Seminary professor Dennis Prutow says: “There is a great privilege the people of God have of drawing near to God in corporate, public worship.  In corporate, public worship, God is pleased to draw near to His people…and to assure them that they belong to Him and that He is indeed their God.” So, one way we can prepare for worship is to simply thank God for the great privilege that we have of drawing near to God in corporate, public worship.

God’s Love

I am going to go in a slightly different direction to end this post than I normally do. This is something that I thought about yesterday and today. As most of you know Mark and Kelly went to the hospital Thursday evening and Kelly ended up going into labor Friday. Their precious little son Micah was born at 3:38 AM early Saturday morning. My wife and I were there Thursday night, Friday night and today. What I saw was how much this little guy was already loved by everyone. All of his family and extended family already loves him so much. Almost everyone cried when they first saw him. Honestly I was moved by all the love that was so obviously evident for little Micah.

As I was dwelling on the love that was on display for Micah I began to think about God’s love for us. I saw my brother with such love for his only son Micah, and then I thought about God. God also has a dearly beloved precious Son. God could have sent his Son into the world to condemn the world. Thankfully John 3 tells us: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amazingly God sent his Son into the world, so that the world might be saved through Jesus!

How would the world be saved through Jesus? Well, God would have to: “not spare his own Son but give him up for us all…” Martyn Lloyd-Jones powerfully tells us of God’s love when he says: “God, in his great love to us, delivered up for us his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, who had never disobeyed him and had never done any harm to anybody, to the death of the cross…God did not say, Because he is my Son I will modify the punishment. I will hold back a little, I cannot smite him, I cannot strike him…He did not keep anything back. He spared not his own Son. He poured out all his divine wrath upon sin, upon his own dearly beloved Son. That, my friend, is the love of God to you, a sinner…And that is the wonder and the marvel and the glory of the cross, God punishing his own Son, in order that he might not have to punish you and me.”

So, as we prepare our hearts for worship let us marvel at the grace of God in our lives. Let’s marvel at the gospel! Today as I thought about the love for Micah Timothy McAndrew, it was almost as if God was telling me: “Yes, there is a lot of love for Micah, but have you felt my great love for you?” I think I experienced on a very very small scale what D.L. Moody experienced in the 1870’s in New York City. He describes it like this: “one day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name…. I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world—it would be small dust in the balance.”

Maybe as we prepare for worship we should go to the throne of grace and ask God to help us: “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,…”

Let’s be sure to pray for Ian and Erin as they will once again lead us in worship. I am actually going to be doing the confession tomorrow, so if you wouldn’t mind praying for me that would be great. Also, let’s pray for Jerry as he will be preaching on the life of Joseph tomorrow. He will mainly be looking at Genesis 37. The link to the ESV text is below:

Genesis 37

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Preparing For Worship

 

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It is once again time to prepare our hearts for worship. I read a book about B.B. Warfield written by Fred Zaspel not too long ago. In this book Zaspel says that: “Warfield’s heart beat hot for Christ. His passion for Christ and the gospel pulses prominently throughout the many thousands of pages of his works. He adored the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Redeemer, and he loved to say so.” I loved the description of Warfield’s heart beating hot for Christ. As we prepare our hearts for worship we are seeking to stir up our affections for God and to get our hearts beating hot for Christ.

If we want to get our hearts beating hot for Christ we need to start at the throne of grace and plead with God to come and stir us up. This past Thursday at our discussion group we had a wonderful time of prayer after the discussion. Several people prayed for God to come and fill us up because we are helpless without God. So, let us start here at the throne of grace. Let us plead with God to come and fill us up and to stir up our affections for Him. Then we should go to the gospel and just preach the gospel to ourselves again.

So, let me preach the gospel to us all for a little bit. I want to use the passage that Mark preached on last Sunday. Mark preached from Genesis 29 which talks about Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Specifically, I want to go back over the story of Leah from Genesis 29. Tim Keller says that: “We are told that Leah is the older daughter, but the only detail we are given about her is that she has weak eyes. Nobody quite knows what “weak eyes” means; some commentators have assumed it means she has bad eyesight. But the text does not say that Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel could see a long way. Weakness probably means cross-eyed; it could mean something unsightly. But here is the point: Leah was particularly unattractive, and she had to live all of her life in the shadow of her sister who was absolutely stunning.

As a result, Laban knew no one was ever going to marry her or offer any money for her. He wondered how he was going to get rid of her, how was he going to unload her. And then he saw his chance, he saw an opening and he did it. And now the girl that Laban, her father, did not want has been given to a husband who doesn’t want her either. She is the girl nobody wants.” So, Leah is the girl nobody wanted, but God in his mercy loved her. Keller again: “when the Lord saw Leah was not loved, he loved her. God is saying, “I am the real bridegroom. I am the husband of the husbandless. I am the father of the fatherless.”

Then Keller goes from the girl nobody wanted Leah, to the man nobody wanted the Lord Jesus. “When God came to earth in Jesus Christ, he was the son of Leah. Oh yes, he was! He became the man nobody wanted. He was born in a manger. He had no beauty that we should desire him. He came to his own and his own received him not. And at the end, nobody wanted him. Everybody abandoned him. Even his Father in heaven didn’t want him. Jesus cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Why did he become Leah’s son? Why did he become the man nobody wanted? For you and for me! Here is the gospel: God did not save us in spite of the weakness that he experienced as a human being but through it.  And you don’t actually get that salvation into your life through strength; it is only for those who admit they are weak. And if you cannot admit that you are a hopeless moral failure and a sinner and that you are absolutely lost and have no hope apart from the sheer grace of God, then you are not weak enough for Leah and her son and the great salvation that God has brought into the world.”

Keller gets you on so many levels in this story. First you feel compassion for Leah as you see she is the girl that nobody wanted. Then you are moved by the compassion and grace of God. “when the Lord saw Leah was not loved, he loved her.”  This should make us think of our own conversion. We were without hope and without God in the world. We were running our hell bound race indifferent to the cost. Then God pursued us and loved us and lead us to the cross.

Then Keller jumps to Jesus and says that he was the man nobody wanted. This is so deeply moving. Jesus the Son of God, was ‘despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;…’ Then Jesus was even abandoned by God: “Even his Father in heaven didn’t want him. Jesus cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, let us dwell on Jesus today and tomorrow morning, and let’s think about how much he suffered. Let’s think about how the sinless Jesus was actually made sin for us, ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’  As we do this we will find our hearts will begin to beat hot for Him. As Jim Elliot once said: “Of Jesus I cannot seem to get enough.” May this be true of all of us, that we just can’t get enough of Jesus.

Let’s be sure to pray for the service tomorrow and to lift up Ian and Erin at the throne of grace. Let us also pray for Jerry and Mark who will open up God’s Word to us. Mark will be preaching from Genesis 32-33. Links to the ESV text are below:

Genesis 32

Genesis 33

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Preparing For Worship

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It is time once again to prepare for worship. David Mathis writes about the privilege of worshiping Jesus:

“Worshiping Jesus together with his church is an awesome privilege.

God’s own voice sounds in the reading and preaching of his word. The community of the redeemed responds together in prayer and song. Pastors care for the souls of their flock through their preparation of the service and leadership from the front. Congregants offer, as act of worship, their humble, but sacrificial, financial partnership in the mission of the church.

Take a careful inventory, and you will find that most weeks this is the single most important hour of the week — and yet we are so prone to squander such a rich opportunity, sometimes even neglect it.”

So, how do we prepare for worship? Bob Kauflin answers: “We want to build a sense of expectancy, that we’re going to meet not only with each other, but with God. That’s an amazing thing.” He goes on to say that: “There are no normal Sundays.” Meaning, that we should not just go through the motions on Sundays with low expectations, but we should try and cultivate “a sense of faith” toward corporate worship. Which this sense of faith according to Kauflin: “develops over a period of time, just by reading God’s word and seeing how many times God called his people together to meet with them, to remind them of his promises, and strengthen them.”

Kauflin then proceeds to give us three practical pieces of advice to prepare ourselves for Sunday worship. The first thing he says is: “To get enough sleep.” This may seem like common sense, but how many of us have dragged ourselves to corporate worship with less than adequate sleep? If we come to worship tired, Kauflin says we will not: “really participate the way we could because we weren’t prepared.”

The second piece of advice Kauflin gives is to: “Plan ahead for others.” I think he is mainly aiming this at parents who have children. He wants those parents to give their children appropriate instruction about what worship is and not to just drag them along with them. If we don’t have children but are either married or dating or even driving with friends to the service, I think we can still heed Kauflin’s advice about planning ahead for others. Maybe if you are riding to church with a couple of friends, you could suggest that you guys all say a quick prayer for the service. For those of us who are married maybe we could talk to each other about the passage that Mark will be preaching on, or just ask how you could pray for each other. You could almost title this second piece of advice ‘helping others prepare for worship.’

The third piece of advice he gives is: “To arrive early.” “Aim to get to the meeting fifteen minutes before it starts. Think of weddings: no one wants to be late for a wedding. . . . [We should] think of the Sunday meeting that way, where I want to be there early because there’s so much happening beforehand. If all these spiritual gifts are in operation before the meeting even starts, why wouldn’t I want to be there, both to participate and be used by God to serve others, and then to be encouraged and strengthened by those around me?”

I thought these three pieces of advice from Kauflin were very practical and helpful. I have written a lot about how we prepare our hearts for worship, which I hope we will continue to do each week. In addition to that though, I hope we will all begin to ‘get enough sleep, plan ahead for others, and try to arrive early.’

What happens though if we don’t sleep well enough, and we haven’t prepared our hearts for worship, and haven’t planned ahead for others? Should we neglect the worship service if we haven’t done those things and don’t really feel like going to church that particular Sunday? To answer in the words of Ravi Zacharias: “No, no, no, a thousand times no!” If we miss church Bob Kauflin says ‘we are missing grace.’ ‘We are missing God himself at work to pour out his grace.”

Years ago when I was single I had many Sundays when I was tired and I wasn’t prepared for worship and I would wrestle with the temptation not to go to church. Every time that I ended up actually going to church on those Sundays I was always encouraged and strengthened, either by the singing of the songs, or the preaching of the Word, or the fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The Sundays that I didn’t go to church and stayed home, I missed grace. So, let’s prepare our hearts for worship, let’s pray for Ian, Erin, Jerry, and Mark, and for the service at North Avenue. Even if we don’t do these things, and don’t feel like going, let’s not miss grace.

Mark will be preaching from Genesis 29. The ESV text is below:

Genesis 29

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Preparing For Worship

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It is time to prepare our hearts for worship. How do we prepare our hearts for worship if we are spiritually dry and our affections for God are low? What if we are feeling spiritually stuck? Paul Maxwell writes: “We are stuck people. We get distracted, pulled down, undone. God feels distant and irrelevant. Dane Ortlund says, “You are not abnormal. So relax. We all go through this from time to time.”

Seasons of spiritual darkness are common — even when many pretend they’re an anomaly. Even when indifference pirates our most pious intentions, and we surrender ourselves to isolation in our lack of holy zeal, don’t be deceived: gloom in the Christian’s heart is common.” Maxwell goes on to give us a few places to start if we are feeling spiritually stuck. The first one is to ‘be honest about your heart.’ He says: “Let’s be honest about what we feel toward God — our tangled thoughts, our slogging feet, our raw experiences, our dulling passions, our disappointed expectations.” If I am being honest about my heart, this week just hasn’t been the best for me spiritually. I have read my Bible and prayed each day, but I have been caught up with the cares of this life. Work was really busy this week and I have been frustrated, and somewhat stressed by it. I have not done a good job of running to the throne of grace with my frustrations and stress. Then in my home life my wife and I are applying to become missionaries and we have done paperwork, written our bios, worked on ordering materials for the Bible classes that we have to take, etc. Things that I should have been doing joyfully, brought more stress and anxiety to my life. On top of that I struggled writing my digging deeper blog post this week. When I finally finished I just felt as though it wasn’t put together as well as I would have liked. Then we come to today and I am a little stuck spiritually. So, if this is how you are feeling, just know that we are in this together. So, let’s start by being honest about our hearts.

Next, let us pour out our hearts to God. Maxwell says: “Now, speak your honesty. We need the blessing of God’s fatherly ear toward us, inviting us to speak what we might not say out loud in church:

“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping.” (Psalm 6:6)

“I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69:3)

“I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out.” (Proverbs 30:1)

Maxwell then recommends that we should turn off our iPhones and Social Media for a little while and go outside and enjoy nature for a little while. Go to the park, or the river, or go watch a sunset. This is something that Charles Spurgeon recommends as well: “Spurgeon recommends that we breathe country air and let the beauty of nature do its appointed work. He confesses that “sedentary habits have tendency to create despondency . . . especially in the months of fog.” He then counsels, “A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.”

Next, we need to remember that God cares for us. I found this list to be moving from Paul Maxwell: “God intimately cares about and knows:

He knows everything about us. And he still sustained us today. He still gave us breath. He still woke us up. He still gave us what we need to live a full, 24-hour day.

For some purpose, in his knowledge that is greater than ours, and in his care and provision and compassion that are more imaginative and sufficient than we can conceive, he has not allowed the atoms that hold us together to dissolve. That would be terrifying, knowing we live our lives teetering on the cliff of non-existence at the whim of a more powerful, all-righteous being, except that he tells us why he gives us another day, another breath, another reason for hope: he loves us.”

Finally, we should practice receiving the love of God. Maxwell again: “This may be the most important thing you can do. Without this, all the other spiritual exercises you could possibly integrate into your personal life will quickly disintegrate. So let’s have at it.

God loves you so much. He loves you…He is with you in the dim and the dark. He sings songs of joy about you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

You don’t need more good news than this, whether it’s the first day you belong to Christ or the fiftieth year you walk with him: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).”

So, let’s preach the good news to ourselves today and tomorrow and every day! As Joe Thorn says: “Most of us need to rediscover the gospel. And such a recovery is needed daily because our need is ever present and our hearts are prone to wander. But gospel recovery only happens when we feel the weight of our sins, the weakness of our flesh, and the frailty of our faith.” Charles Spurgeon tells us to: “Let the gospel enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul.”

Let’s not forget to pray for Ian, and Erin who will lead us in worship. Let’s pray for Jerry who will lead us in a time of confession, and let’s pray for Mark as he preaches from Genesis 27 tomorrow. The ESV text of Genesis 27 is below:

Genesis 27

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Preparing For Worship

 

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It is once again time for us to prepare our hearts for worship. Author and long time pastor R. Kent Hughes says: “If I have learned anything in leading worship after twenty-five years in the ministry, I have learned that worship does not just ‘happen.’ Worship requires careful preparation on the part of the ministers and congregations.”  So, before we get to North Avenue Church tomorrow afternoon we all need to do some ‘careful preparation.’ If you don’t know where to start, just start with prayer. Kent Hughes says: “Spiritually, prayer about the Lord’s Day is essential—prayer for the service, the music, the pastors, one’s family, and oneself.”  So, let’s all spend time in prayer today and tomorrow for the service. Let’s pray for Ian and Erin as they lead us in worship. If you are wondering how specifically to pray for them, here is a sample prayer that may help us. This prayer was written by Tim Challies, but has a few alterations in it:

“Our gracious God and Father. I approach Your throne today, knowing that it is only through the name of Jesus that I can stand before You. I thank and praise You for Your goodness in allowing me to do so. I recognize very well that I am unworthy of this honor, this privilege, apart from Your unmerited favor and grace. I come before You to seek Your blessing on the service on Sunday.

Be with Ian and Erin as they lead us in worship. Be near to them as they sing and play instruments. Grant that in all things they may seek to serve You. May songs be selected that will bring glory and honor to Your name. May they lead us in singing songs that celebrate the beauty of the Savior and sing of Your wonders, Your glory, Your triumphs, Your holiness, Your majesty and Your great gospel. Let everything that has breath in North Avenue praise the Lord together. May our worship be a sweet and fragrant offering to You. Accept it Lord, though we know it is poor and imperfect. Accept it through Your grace.”

Let’s pray for Jerry who will lead us in a time of confession and let’s pray for Mark who will open up God’s Word to us. Here is another sample prayer that may help us pray for both Mark and Jerry. Again this is from Tim Challies, but I have altered it a little bit:

“Be with Jerry and Mark as they prepare to open up Your Word on Sunday. Grant that their time of preparation will be fruitful and that You will stir their hearts with the great news of the gospel, of the precious truth of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone. May all of us at our Church live in the power of this gospel always. Protect us from the devils lies and help us to never be bored by the wonderful doctrines of grace, but grant that they may be the joy and delight of our hearts. Open our eyes Lord to see just how Your glorious gospel affects each and every area of our lives. Grant that Mark may preach with great power and passion on Sunday afternoon. May the preaching be God centered, cross centered and gospel centered.”

Let us also pray for ourselves as well. Here again is another sample from Challies on how to do this:

“Be with me Lord. Prepare my own heart for Sunday afternoon when You speak to us as Your people. I confess that already my heart is polluted with sin. As I think about worshiping You, already I wonder how other men may perceive me. Already I sin against you. Extend Your gracious forgiveness to me that I may come before You with a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Keep the truth ever before me that to obey is better than sacrifice. Help me to be obedient to You in all things. Fill me with Your Spirit. Grant that I may serve You by serving others.

Grant traveling mercies as men and women, boys and girls come to our Church on Sunday. Keep us safe this week and as we gather together in Your name.

We pray for peace and unity while we gather together. We ask that there will be mercy and understanding. We ask that there will be a great outpouring of your Spirit. We ask that you will bless us for the sake of the glory of Your great name.

I ask these things humbly and in the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that I may be expectant and observant in seeking answers to this prayer so that I may praise You for Your goodness. May we all seek Your presence and glory in it together as we worship You this week.”

Mark will be looking at Genesis 25. The link to the ESV text is below:

Genesis 25

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Preparing For Worship

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It is time once again to prepare our hearts for worship. One thing that is absolutely essential to prepare for worship, is to spend time with God. Matthew Henry said: “It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.” So, we need to begin preparing for worship by spending time with God. We need to hear from God and His Word, and we need to go to the Lord in prayer. Matthew Henry talking about prayer says: “The scripture describes prayer to be our drawing near to God, lifting up our souls to him, pouring out our hearts before him.” So, if you are feeling cold as I have said many times before, just go to the Lord and pour out your heart to God. Beg the Lord to stir up your affections for Him! If you are feeling warm and have enjoyed a great week this week, go pour out your heart to the Lord with gratefulness and thanksgiving for His mercy and grace.

I want to spend some time discussing our great salvation that we have. Hebrews 2 gives us a warning about growing cold and drifting away from the glorious gospel: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that the author of Hebrews: “calls them back to the message of the gospel, exhorting them to give more earnest heed to it and to be very careful never to drift away from this great and glorious message.” 

Great Salvation

So, I want to let Martyn Lloyd-Jones just lay out this great and glorious message, this ‘great salvation.’ He says: “this salvation of ours in Christ Jesus is the greatest thing the world has ever known or ever can know.” He continues by asking us these questions: “Do you habitually think of your own salvation as the greatest and the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you? I will ask a yet more serious question: do you give your neighbors the impression that you have found the most magnificent thing in the world?…I have a terrible fear that many people are outside the Christian church because so many of us give them the impression that what we have is something very small, very narrow, very cramped and confined. We have not given them the impression that they are missing the most glorious thing in the entire universe.”

Lloyd-Jones says that our salvation is great because it saves us from such a ‘great and terrible calamity.’ “We are familiar with calamities these days, are we not? But these are nothing compared with the calamity that faces the soul that does not accept and believe this gospel…The calamity is terrible, terrifying.” So, as we prepare for worship let us consider what we are saved from. How we have been saved from the wrath of God that our sins deserved, and we are saved from an eternity in Hell.

So, we are saved from the wrath of God, but we are also forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God! Lloyd-Jones again: “Reconciliation! There is nothing in the whole world today as valuable as this. To be reconciled to God! To know that our sins are forgiven! The wealth of the universe cannot purchase this. There is nothing more valuable…Reconciliation. It is more precious than the whole universe. Even millionaires commit suicide. You cannot buy happiness. You cannot buy peace of conscience and of mind and of heart. Money will not enable you to face death triumphantly. There is only one way whereby that can happen, and it is through this “so great salvation.”

As great and glorious as reconciliation is, it gets better. Lloyd-Jones again: “Having reconciled us to God and having given us pardon and forgiveness of our sins, the gospel then goes on to do something that is almost incredible. It actually makes us children of God…You are not only pardoned and forgiven, but you are adopted into the royal family of heaven. You have become a child of God. You belong to the heavenly family.”

As we are thinking about what we are saved from, and our reconciliation and our adoption, we must not forget the cross. Without the cross we would not have reconciliation. We would not have adoption. We would not have salvation at all. Lloyd-Jones talking about the Lord Jesus and the cross says: “From the highest throne of glory to the cross of deepest woe. The author of life being put to death: this is the drama of dramas. Nothing is worth talking about side by side with this. From the very height of glory he not only came into the world but went to death, even the death of the cross, and he died, and they took down his body, and they laid it in a tomb. The author of life, the sustainer of the universe, was buried in a grave. But thank God, that was not the end. Here is the drama…But he burst asunder the bands of death. He rose triumphant over the grave. He could not be held by death. He arose ‘and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (2 Tim. 1:10).”

Lloyd-Jones sums this up: “My dear friends, he did all this so that you and I might be saved from the calamity of hell, that we might be reconciled to God, that we might become the children of God, that might share glory with God throughout the countless ages of eternity. Great salvation! Is anything else worth talking about? Do you apologize for being a Christian? Do you attend the house of God grudgingly? Are you giving people the impression that you have something small and narrow? Shame on you! If that is so, it is simply because you have never seen the greatness of this ‘so great salvation.’..Pray that the Holy Spirit may enlighten the eyes of your understanding, that you may see this ‘so great salvation’ and especially the Savior himself, the Lord of glory, who came down and endured such shame that you and I might live. The Son of God, as John Calvin put it, became the Son of Man so that the sinful sons of men might be made the sons of God.”

As we pray that God would stir up our affections for Him, and that he would help us to see this ‘great salvation,’ let us pray for Erin and Ian as they will lead us in worship. Let’s pray for Jerry who will lead us in our time of confession. Let’s also pray for Mark once again as he opens up God’s Word to us. Mark will be preaching from Genesis 24. The link to the ESV text is below.

Genesis 24

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Preparing For Worship

 

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It is time to prepare for worship. John Piper gives us some helpful ways to prepare for worship. He says that we should “renounce all known sin in our lives before coming to worship God.” So, we need to examine our hearts to see if we find sin there. We need to repent of sin that God may be convicting us of, or sin that we have knowingly committed this week. If we don’t do this, Piper says: “Worship will inevitably become a weak, empty form and ritual if we try to keep on with it while our hearts are running after other gods. God will gladly take the dirtiest sinner into his arms on Sunday morning who comes with a broken and contrite heart intent on forsaking all known sin and trusting in Jesus for cleansing. But God will not be mocked by those who make like they love him and willfully break his law during the week.” He goes on to say that part of preparing for worship is: “to confess and renounce all known sin and come to worship cleansed by the blood of Jesus and resting in his forgiveness and hope.”

Piper summarizes what most of my ‘Preparing for Worship’ post are about when he says: “we prepare for worship by drawing near to God in our hearts.” I will quote Piper at length here, because I believe this is helpful:

“There is a heart preparation to be done in order to meet God.

Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). When this is the case, the preparation needed is a movement of the heart from far to near, and yet it is a movement that is not measured in inches or miles.

  • It is measured with the tape of attention—you may not even be thinking of God Saturday night or Sunday morning. So your heart is far from him measured by attention.
  • Or it may be measured by the tape of focus—you may have some attention on God but it is broken up by other things and there is no focused attention that gets God clearly in view and makes him the primary object of attention.
  • It is measured by the tape of desire—you may feel little desire for God but be very much caught up in a greater desire for sports or finances or a trip to the lake, while the desire and the longing for God is weak by comparison.
  • Or it can be measured by the tape of trust and hope—your trust in God may be weak and your hope faint and wavering.
  • Or it may be measured by the tape of delight or joy in God—you may feel much more pleasure Saturday night in a late movie than in meeting God in the morning.

Every one of us is far from where we want to be on one of these measuring tapes every week. So I want to close with some practical suggestions that I think will help us prepare to meet God in worship together Sunday morning.”

Going Hard After God In Worship

Piper continues by telling us that we need to learn to go hard after God in worship. He says:

“My assumption is that our primary goal is to meet God in this service on Sunday morning, and to commune with him and to hear him and to speak to him and to savor him. My further assumption is that this is very hard to do and that it takes teaching and preparation of heart. My third assumption is that most of us grew up in churches where this was not a conscious priority—a sustained, God-centered focus on dealing with God without human distraction.

Let me illustrate. I was at a gathering recently where we were worshiping. The pianist was very accomplished. It was obvious. But he had led us into the presence of the Lord and most of us really were singing to the Lord and dealing with God. Another act of worship was to follow this song that would have kept us in conscious communion with God. But as the hymn came to an end, the person who was to lead us into the next act of worship looked at the pianist and said, “There is living proof that all men are not created equal.” A few people chuckled. And then he tried to reintroduce communion with God.

That sort of thing is what I grew up on. And many of you did. And it’s why we never learned what it is to go hard after God in worship. It’s why a sustained communion with God in corporate worship is a foreign experience for most people. And yet when most Christians taste it, they sense that they have come into something that they have missed and that is needed in the core of their lives.”

We should not come to church wanting to be entertained. We should come to church wanting to go hard after God in worship. Piper gives a few practical things that should help us prepare for worship. First, we should: “Set aside some time Saturday night to begin the orientation onto worship. Turn off the television and set your mind on things that are above with the word of God and a time of prayer.” So, after we have repented of sin, let us lift up Erin and Ian who will lead us in worship. Let’s pray for Jerry who will lead us in a time of confession, and let’s pray for Mark who will open up God’s Word to us.

Lastly, Piper says we should  become the actor in worship. “Finally, before every act of worship, whether a hymn or a reading or a prayer or an anthem or a moment of silence or a sermon, say to the Lord, “Lord, I come. I come to sing to you. I come to pray to you. I come to listen to your Word. I come to enjoy your presence.” Don’t drift through the service as though the action is on the platform. Become the actor. The greatest action in worship is when a heart that is far from the Lord draws near to the Lord, and focuses on him and desires him and trusts him and enjoys him.”

Mark will be looking at Genesis 21 and possibly Genesis 22. Both chapters are below:

Genesis 21

Genesis 22

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Heart-Work

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It is time to prepare our hearts for worship. What do I mean by ‘our hearts?’ When I use the term heart, I don’t mean the organ in our chest. I mean it as J.I. Packer says that the heart is “the central, dynamic core of personal life. The Bible uses the word in this way about a thousand times, and thereby highlights, illustrates and enforces the following truths: 1. The human heart is the controlling source of all that we do in expression of what we are: all our thoughts, desires, discernments and decisions, our plans and purposes, our affections, attitudes and ambitions, all the wisdom and all the folly that mark our lives, come out of, and are fueled, serviced and driven by, our hearts, for better or for worse. 2. The salvation that God gives us in Christ is rooted in a created and creative change of heart, as described by Ezekiel in an oracle about the restoring of Israel following the captivity: ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek. 36:26-27). The new, renewed heart becomes, on the one hand, the source of faith in Christ and in the gospel promises, whereby we enter a new relationship of acceptance with God; and, on the other hand, the source of love to God and man – the grateful, responsive, resolute purpose of honouring and pleasing God in all things, and seeking the best for our nearest and dearest and whoever else may cross our path. The new heart, acting in these ways, is in fact the sign of our salvation, and the inward discipline of sustaining such action is the reality of ‘heart-work:’ which, be it soberly said, is work indeed.”

So, when we are preparing our hearts for worship, we are preparing ‘the controlling source of all that we do in expression.’ We need to do what Packer calls ‘heart-work’ as we prepare for worship. Which Packer goes on to say that heart-work is “in effect, talking to oneself before the Lord, reminding oneself of truths about the ways of God and the grace of Christ that will energize and stabilize one for a return to, and continuance on, the path of faithfulness, no matter what. These truths, re-anchored in the heart by applicatory meditation, will stir believers to renew their prayers for strength to carry on through thick and thin.” The Puritan preacher John Flavel said: “The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.” So, as we do heart-work tonight and tomorrow before we worship, we are trying to keep our hearts with God. We are praying for and seeking to stir our affections up for the Lord.

I don’t want this heart-work to be too introspective. Robert Murray McCheyne wisely said: “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . .Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.” So, let’s say you begin to do heart-work tonight and you look in your heart and you see that your affections for the Lord are low, and are cold, and you see sin there. You realize that you have been too caught up with the things of this world this week. If you stay there in this introspection, you will grow sad and possibly depressed. If that is you tonight, lift up your gaze to Christ. Race to the cross and dwell there tonight. Repent of the sin you find and race to Jesus. While dwelling at the cross, remember that: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;…” Remember at one time how we were all far from God. Then be freshly amazed by remembering that “the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.”

As we go to the throne of grace while preparing for worship, let’s be sure to lift up Ian and Erin at the throne of grace, as they will lead us in worship tomorrow. Let’s also pray for Jerry who will lead us in confession and let’s lift up Mark at the throne of grace. Mark will be looking at different chapters in Genesis. The link to the ESV text of Genesis 20,21, and 22 are below:

Genesis 20

Genesis 21

Genesis 22

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