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Perfect Worship

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church 

           I am often asked the question, “How would you describe the worship of your church?”  In answering, I feel pressure to characterize our services in terms of our Christian “labels” for worship – “traditional” / “contemporary”, “liturgical / casual”, “high church / low church”, etc.  But I find that those labels mostly miss the point of what we’re striving for in our worship.  It’s kind of like describing my wife to you by talking about the clothes that she wears – an exhaustive knowledge of her wardrobe would give you very little information about the wonderful person that she is.

            Here are some of the labels that I would like to use to describe the kind of worship that we are striving to experience at Oakwood:  Biblical, Christ-centered, Passionate, and Authentic.  These adjectives describe the goals that our leadership is working towards.  We have haven’t fully arrived, but we’re committed to pursuing them until Christ returns to make it all perfect.

            First of all, we strive to be Biblical in our worship.  Jesus said that true worship is “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).  Worship happens when Spirit-filled believers are confronted with a revelation of God’s glory and they bow in awe, humility, joy, and thankfulness.  God reveals His glory to us in His Word, so our services must be filled with Scripture.  When we read Scripture, pray Scripture, sing Scripture, and hear Scripture explained, we receive glimpses of God’s glory that provoke our responses of worship. 

            In light of this, when people ask what we sing in our services, I find the terms “hymns”, “Scripture songs”, and “praise songs” to be mostly unhelpful distinctions.  I don’t really care whether a worship song was written in 100 AD, 800 AD, 1600 AD, or 2010 AD – what’s important is whether or not the content is thoroughly Biblical and well-expressed.

            Secondly, we strive to be Christ-centered in our worship.  In a sense, this is just a restatement of our first goal, because our Lord taught us that all Scripture is about Him (Luke 24:27).  But we must clearly and enthusiastically point out and make clear how each portion of Scripture is about Jesus Christ.  This is essential, because, as Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…”  Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s glory, so therefore He is to be the focus of our worship.

            Thirdly, we strive to be passionate in our worship.  True worship must be an exercise of both the mind and the heart (our affections).  Jesus condemned the hypocritical worship of the Pharisees with these words:  “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me…”  In other words, the words that they sang and prayed were Scriptural, but their hearts were not engaged.  Worship that doesn’t involve the emotions of joy, longing, grief, contrition, awe, or gratitude is not true worship.  The commands of God’s Word to worship address our minds our minds and hearts – “Delight yourselves in the Lord!” (Psalm 37:4).  Worship must involve both our intelligence and our passions.

            Finally, we strive to be authentic in our worship.  We need to be open and honest before the Lord and before each other, leaving our masks outside the door of the church.  We need to develop a sense of acceptance and freedom where everyone feels comfortable expressing their praises to God in a manner consistent with who they are and how they relate to others. 

            I often hear people say that they wish that people would be more vocal and expressive in our worship services (we are Presbyterians, after all!).  Generally, I agree; we are culturally inhibited in our expression of worship – there is strong “peer pressure” in our church to stand stiff and unsmiling as we sing and pray.  But I’m usually quick to point out that we wouldn’t want to go to the other extreme by creating a “peer pressure” to jump, shout, and dance throughout the service (not that we’re in any danger of that in this millennium).  What we should be striving for is an accepting worship environment where quiet and introspective worshippers feel comfortable expressing themselves with subtlety and where loud and boisterous worshippers feel comfortable shouting, raising hands, and even dancing a little jig when the Spirit moves them.  We need to be real before God and each other. 

            So there you have it – at Oakwood we long for worship that is Biblical, Christ-centered, passionate, and authentic.  Have we made progress toward those goals?  Absolutely!  Do we still have a long way to go?  Oh, yes!  But just like perfect righteousness, perfect worship must be our constant goal and our sure destination, thanks to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ!

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with
in Easter

Resurrction Hope

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

This weekend Christians around the world celebrate the most important event in their faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Many people would scoff at the idea of celebrating what they consider to be a myth.  Others, even many professing Christians, would say that Jesus wasn’t literally raised from the dead, but it is His example and teachings that we commemorate.  For them, Easter is a celebration of ideas, not an historical event. 

      Thomas Jefferson was one who felt he could embrace the morality of Jesus Christ but could not accept the claims to His divine nature and power.  Therefore, shortly before he died, Jefferson took it upon himself to create an edited version of the story of Jesus’ life.  He cut out all references to the supernatural, leaving what he considered to be a useful, purely moral document.  Jefferson’s gospel ends abruptly with these words:  “Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

      At least Jefferson was honest, more honest than the theologians and preachers of our day who share his disbelief in the resurrection and his desire to follow a “Jesus Lite”.  They don’t cut the references to the resurrection out of their Bibles – they just ignore or dismiss them, or else they redefine the terms.  But, although Jefferson was sincere, he was also sincerely wrong.

     What if the story of Jesus’ life did end with the closing of His tomb?  What if His body decomposed and turned to dust?  The great English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon called the bodily resurrection of Christ “the keystone of the arch of Christianity” and said that “if that fact could be disproved, the whole fabric of the gospel would fall to the ground.”   The linchpin that holds together all Christian beliefs is the historical resurrection of Christ. 

      The fact that Jesus conquered death is the only hope for sinners to know God.  There are two important things that anyone can know from casual observation of the world around us:  first, that a world this complex and beautiful must be the creation of a good, wise, and powerful God; and second, that this world is full of evil and suffering.  And then there is a third truth that we all know at a gut level – somehow, we are to blame.  The evil isn’t just out there; it’s also in us.  We may outwardly deny our guilt, but our consciences are not easily silenced.  And death is our unavoidable sentence.

      No matter what incessant advertisements may tell us, our basic need in life is forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  That is what will bring us peace and satisfaction… wholeness.  

      Famous psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that they were forgiven, seventy-five percent of them could walk out of the hospital the next day.   But all of us are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually damaged by our inability to forgive and find forgiveness.  It’s just a matter of degree.  We all need to be made right with God.

      Jesus was a good man; as a matter of fact He was perfect.  But the example of His life cannot take away the guilt of our sins; nor can it change our sinful, rebellious hearts.  That’s why the purpose of Jesus’ life was not to teach, lead a movement, or perform miracles.  He came to die.  He was not a victim or a martyr. He willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for sins.

      That’s why His resurrection was necessary.  It proved that His perfect life, offered on the cross, was an acceptable sacrifice to God, in the place of ours.  The penalty for our sins has been paid in full, once and for all.  Forgiveness is available to all that believe.  The Bible makes it clear:  “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

      Here’s what the Bible tells us that we can know for sure, because these things are proven by His resurrection:  that Jesus is the unique Son of God (Romans 1:4); that Jesus is the one who will return someday to judge all people (Acts 17:30,31); that Jesus is the Lord over all (Romans 14:9); and that those who put their trust in Him will also be raised after death to live with Him (John 14:19).  That is good news, the best news.  That is worth celebrating!

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with