Why Heaven requires new songs

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).

John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.

At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.  Who was and is and is to come!”

This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom.  We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).

Imagine that. An endless song.

Either seraphim are amazing singers or the Lord’s patience with the same song over and over knows no limits.

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My biggest problem in worship

I can worship anywhere, and often have. A creekbank, a busy sidewalk, a shopping mall, or anywhere in my house.

I can worship alone or with one or two or with a crowd.

My opinion is that I worship best in a crowd of God’s people. I sing better and louder, am inspired by the devotion of others, and enjoy hearing God’s preaching more while I’m with the family.

Our Lord Jesus knew we worship better with our brethren than alone. He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

I cannot explain how the Lord is more present when I’m with the family of believers than otherwise, but there it is.  I’ve found that to be the reality.

I love to worship with the Lord’s family.

And that’s the problem.

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The church’s dirty little secret

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there…” (Ephesians 4:14).

“Church is the only place on earth where people can throw hissy fits and get away with it.”  –a friend serving his first church after seminary.

I told my minister friend I was sorry he had to learn this dirty little secret about church life.

I asked for his story.  He had two.

A church member attending his class complained because she could not find her workbook. The pastor told her he had borrowed it for another class, and she was welcome to use his.  She said, “Okay. I’ll go home then.”

And she stalked out.

The minister said, “Would she have done that at work?  At the doctor’s office? I think not.”

But she had no problem with putting her immaturity on full display at church.

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When someone mystery-worships your church

A number of years ago, a college classmate contacted me to see if I would be willing to serve as a mystery-shopper for Seiko watches.  His marketing firm had with a contract to see that salespeople in jewelry stores put Seiko ahead of the competition.  So, I would enter a store and tell the clerk “I’m looking for a man’s watch in a medium price range.”  If I was taken immediately to the Seiko display, I’d say, “Congratulations. I’m the Seiko mystery shopper and you just won 10 dollars.”  (This was back with 10 dollars was maybe 25.)  Then, I’d get their signature and fill out a report.  For each store, I was paid 5 dollars.

Mostly I did it for the fun of it.

A few weeks ago, when we mentioned mystery worshipers on this website, a number of readers wondered if I had a list of questions for people enlisted for this role.  I didn’t.

But now I do.

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To anyone mystery-shopping my sermon

Over the years I have benefited from the occasional helpful criticism of my preaching.  And, may I add, my preaching was not helped at all by the sniping from another segment of the audience.

Smiley-face here.

Mystery-shoppers are people who, with the pastor’s full acceptance, visit your church as first-timers and later file complete reports on a hundred aspects: Their impression on arriving at your campus, whether the signage was adequate, if someone greeted them in the parking lot, whether they spotted trash or clutter on sidewalks, the friendliness of your people, condition of the bathrooms, and of course the service itself: the choice of music, the flow of the service, the arrangement of the platform, and the sermon.

Ah, the sermon.

It’s a rare pastor who wants you to unload on him about his preaching.

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Lies the enemy whispers during worship

“We have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The devil’s first plan of attack is to get us to worship him.  He tried that with our Lord, as recorded in Luke 4:7. “All these things will be yours if you will worship me.”  He soon found the futility of that.  Not then and hardly at all since has anyone wanted to bow down and worship this foolish fallen angel.

But such a persistent enemy always has a backup plan. Plan B is to interfere with our worship of the living God.  Satan will do anything to throw a wrench into the works and shut down or hinder our daily submission to the Lord Jesus and all that involves (prayer, commitment, study of the Word, service, etc).

Not long ago, while sitting in church listening to a friend preach, I began a list of the lies Satan whispers to God’s people who gather to worship Him….

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The pastor is the worship leader

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

(Note: I write as a Southern Baptist with little familiarity with how other denominations do their worship services.  Therefore, what follows may be of limited value to some of our readers.)

Some tasks we cannot shunt off to someone else. Some key responsibilities we cannot hire others to perform for us.  Leading the worship service is one of the pastoral essentials. The pastor is the leader.

This is not to say the minister will physically lead the hymns.  (In some churches, he does, but in most someone else does this.)  He will not pray every prayer or be the only one reading the Scripture or promoting upcoming events.  But ultimately, it all goes back to him.  The pastor is like the stagecoach driver.  He does not pull the coach but holds the reins to the six horses that do.

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What audience feedback means—especially to preachers

Billy Joel gets it.

This veteran entertainer does something I find fascinating.

According to The New Yorker (October 27, 2014), Joel “grew tired of having to look out at the fat cats in the two front rows, the guys who’d bought the best seats, and then sat there projecting a look of boredom that (says)…’Entertain me, Piano Man.'”

It was dampening his own enthusiasm, and that of his band, to have the non-responsive on the front rows. He wanted the fans nearest him to be enthusiastic participants in the evening’s activities.

That’s why “Joel’s people stopped selling the two front rows and instead send the crew into the cheap seats before the show to hand out tickets to people of their choosing.”

“Joel believes it helps buck up the band.”

I can believe that.

Every preacher knows.

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The clue that tells the story on you

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

We are reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never forget this for one minute.

–The chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus, but “they were afraid of him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

–The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Even the Lord’s closest friends were filled with fear.

 Nothing speaks so eloquently about who you are as what you fear. And whom you fear.

We are literally defined by our fears.

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Answering questions no one is asking; curing illnesses no one has

The first thing a salesperson seeks to do, whether standing at your front door or staring out of your television screen, is to convince you that you are in trouble without this product.

The opening lines of all those fund-raising letters we receive through the mail are phrased to alarm us. Something is bad wrong and here is the solution and you should do something about it. The recommended solution is to buy this product, subscribe to this service, or hire this attorney. Or, of course, send your money!

Sound familiar?

The September 22, 2014, issue of TIME features on its cover an arm with a computer display giving the number of calories consumed that day, one’s pulse,  conversations since climbing out of bed, and even how many steps the individual has taken.  And that’s just for starters.

The issue celebrates (and worries about) the new “Apple Watch,” the latest thing from those people who gave us the smartphone in my pocket at this moment.  This latest high-tech doodad hits the stores early in 2015 and will be all the rage, no doubt.

The text beside the cover picture reads: “Never Offline.  The Apple Watch is just the start. How wearable tech will change your life–like it or not.”

One paragraph in particular has stayed with me ever since reading the issue.

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