Worship God UK – Some final reflections

I have in previous posts written synopses of each day of the conference (see Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 for more details!). In this last post I reflect more broadly on the WGUK 2015 conference as a whole. In particular, these are four things arising out of the conference which I thank God for.

1. “Beholding the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”

“Christ-centered” and “Gospel-centered” are labels which are often bandied about in evangelical circles without much thought; indeed, sometimes we use them as a kind of non-heresy indicator for a particular speaker/book/conference!

But when I say that WGUK 2015 was truly Christ-centered, what I mean is this. From start to finish, from every song that was sung to every seminar taught, from each speaker to every member of the worship team, there was a tangible emphasis on the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the phrase above — “beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” — was a slogan that was oft-repeated by every speaker at the conference. (2 Cor 4:6)

This is perhaps something that — to our shame — one may not always associate with a conference on worship! Too often there is a focus on techniques (e.g. “how to mix the sound well”) or experience (e.g. “how to encounter the Spirit in our worship services”). That is not to say that these are unimportant things, but they pale in comparison to the glory of the gospel. If our worship services do not emphasise the glorious work of Christ in ransoming sinners, why do we bother with corporate gatherings at all?

To quote the Apostle Paul:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)

The power is in the gospel: the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Our corporate gatherings must be drenched in this good news. Seekers who visit need to hear it to be saved. And believers must be reminded of it so that we may repeatedly behold the glorious grace of our Saviour and be turned more into his likeness (2 Cor 3:18).

2. God’s Glory is Revealed in God’s Word

A second thing which I was so thankful for was the commitment to Scripture’s authority as the Word of God. The songs we sang were drenched in the richness of Scripture and the teaching too was heavily anchored in Scripture.

In particular, we were exhorted to delight in Scripture. Tim Chester said it really well: “The Spirit at work in the hearts of the Bible writers is the same Spirit at work in the hearts of Bible readers, ensuring that the words we read are the Words of God.” Though the daily reading of our Bibles seems unglamorous, even mundane, it is far from it — when we do so we are communing with the very Creator of the Universe Himself, the one who created all things just by speaking His Word.

Indeed, we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ when God speaks to us by His Word. During the Q&A, Tim Chester pointed this out which I found so insightful: when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face was shining not because he saw God, but because God had been speaking to Him (Exodus 34:29). And we present-day Christians under the new covenant can expect to behold even more glory than Moses, as we have seen Christ by the power of the Spirit:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:7-11)

3. Love for the local church

Thirdly, I was so encouraged by the love that the speakers in general had for the local church. Much of the teaching, especially in the small group seminars, was aimed at equipping pastors and leaders (and volunteers!) to serve their local congregations better.

Often after the spiritual high of a conference, one dreads returning to the “real world”. During the Q&A, however, it was emphasised by all of the speakers that no matter how beautiful the worship could be at a conference like this, it cannot compare to the worship at your local church. Why? Because it’s in the “real world”, in the grimeyness of real lives, that God’s glory is displayed all the more. To borrow an example — when you see a single mother whose child is stricken with cancer continue to sing of God as her ever present help in times of trouble, you see the greatness of a true and living God up close.

4. Fellowship of the saints

Finally, I was so thankful to meet and spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ from across the world. As the only participant from my church, and not a naturally outgoing person, I arrived with the apprehension of a schoolboy on the first day at school (“will I make any friends?”). But I didn’t just make “friends”; I found saints whose company I will enjoy in eternity.

Saints’ Selfie (left to right: Tom McConnell, Andy Rouse, me)

I was also deeply encouraged by the passion of my fellow brothers and sisters for the kingdom of God. We might hail from different churches with different backgrounds, but we were united as one body around the beautiful gospel. God is really doing a work in His church here in the UK. (Please Lord continue to deepen our love for you and our boldness for the gospel!) In particular, I was so encouraged by the number of songwriters passionate about writing songs to serve their local churches — not for their own fame or hits on Spotify, but the fame of Jesus’ name.

Last words

In short, I was really refreshed at WGUK 2015, and captivated once again by the glory of God. In many ways the teaching was exemplified by the conference itself — not only were we taught to “behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, but I believe that we have left having beheld this glory in the wondrous cross of our Saviour. May we never be the same.

Thanks for reading my posts. To be honest when I started blogging about the conference I didn’t think anyone would read my ramblings. I hope that they have encouraged you, and maybe I’ll see you at WGUK 2016!

Soli deo gloria.

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Worship God UK – Day Three

Today was the last day of Worship God UK 2015. Like most Christian conferences, it was difficult to leave — we want the spiritual “high” to be prolonged as much as possible. It is similar to what the Apostle Peter felt when he saw the transfiguration of Christ — he wanted to make three tents to house Moses, Elijah and the transfigured Jesus, because he didn’t want them to leave! (Mk 9:5) In the same vein, we can’t bear to go because we’ve savoured something so sweet; but if we do not go out, we will never fulfil God’s purpose for us to serve the church and the world.

Which is why the themes of today’s sessions were so timely and on point. The first main session was on “Gathering to Edify” led by Nathan Smith, and the second was on “Gathering to be Commission” led by Rick Gamache.

Gathering to Edify

Nathan’s main point was simple and clear: “The finished work of Christ in the Gospel calls us together as the church to live a life of faith, of endurance, and of mutual edification for the glory of God.”

From Hebrews 10:19-25, he noted 3 exhortations, with 2 motivations behind them. The 2 motivations:

  1. We have confidence to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus; we have a way to God by the flesh of Jesus (through the curtain).
  2. We have a great high priest — a mediator — who grants us permission to draw near to God.

We have this remarkable access to God by the sacrifice of the sacrificer, our great High Priest whose name is Love. In light of this:

  1. We are called to faith: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (v22)
  2. We are called to endure: “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (v23)
  3. We are called to edify: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (v24-25) 

Our local churches should be communities of faith, endurance, and in particular, mutual edification. Nathan poignantly pointed out: “you can find better preaching than the pastor of your local church on the internet; you can find better music than the worship team of your local church on iTunes; but you cannot find the mutual encouragement that you need on your own.” Are we consumers or contributors in our local churches?

Cultivating a fruitful life in God’s Word

In between the two main sessions, I attended a smaller group seminar with the above title, led by Tim Chester.

Tim exhorted and encouraged us to see the Word of God as more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). I found three things particularly helpful.

First, I was so struck by Tim’s candour. To paraphrase Tim: “Don’t you think the Bible is a weird book? If you or I were writing a book, we certainly wouldn’t structure it this way! Why are there all these histories and genealogies? And then we gradually make our way through the Bible and all of a sudden we get to Proverbs — what are we to make of Proverbs?!” Tim really identified with how I often feel about reading the Bible — it is hard work, and it’s often difficult to see how a particular passage is relevant to my life. Which is why the next two points were so helpful.

The Spirit at work in the hearts of the Bible writers is the same Spirit at work in the hearts of Bible readers, ensuring that the words we read are the Words of God. So when we open the Bible to read even the most obscure of passages, we can trust that God is speaking to us through His Spirit. Think about that — God’s Spirit was at work in the writer who wrote the words thousands of years ago; and these words still endure today.

Thirdly, reading the Bible is not about information acquisition, but about communion with God. Tim introduced a very helpful analogy with marriage (or any intimate human relationship). In a marriage, not all our communication is going to be “fireworks” or “candle lit dinners”. A lot of it is going to be ordinary, even mundane. But it is about spending quality time and listening to the other person which deepens the relationship.

So it is with communion with God as we read his word. The Bible isn’t primarily a doctrinal book — it’s a covenantal book. “Just like the voice of a father to his frightened daughter who wakes up in the middle of the night, so the voice of our Father in the Scriptures is the reassurance of His presence with us.

The marriage analogy was particularly helpful when thinking about the practicalities of day to day quiet times. When we’re talking with our spouses, we don’t consciously ask ourselves, “Am I communing with her/him right now?” Likewise, don’t fret about whether or not you’re “communing with God” during your quiet times. Just pray, read, and trust.

This second illustration was even better. Say you’re away from home from Thursday to Saturday and you promise to call your wife every night. So you call her on Thursday, but on Friday you’re completely swamped and aren’t able to call her. On Saturday you manage to call her. After talking to her for a while, would you ever say to her, “Hey give me a moment, I’m going to hang up and call you back, so I can call you twice today to make up for yesterday.” No! In the same way, we shouldn’t be enslaved to our plans for bible reading — it’s not about ensuring we read X amount every day, and catching up on the days we’ve missed; it’s about communion with God.

Gathering to Commission

The final session of the conference was a clear exposition of the letter to the church of Philadelphia in Rev 3:7-13. Like the church in Philadelphia, we have received a similar commission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus — an “open door” to do ministry (cf Acts 14:27; 1 Cor 16:9; Col 4:3).

But also like that church, we need a distinct reminder of who Jesus is and what He has promised us, if we are to withstand persecution and trials.

Our local churches are outposts of the kingdom of light interspersed throughout the domain of darkness. And even though we seem so small, and the odds so overwhelming, Jesus says:

Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

We may be weak, but we have a great God. He promises to vindicate us (v9), protect us (v10), and to hold us fast and secure in Him (v12).

And what a wonderful note to end the conference on. We are fallen and weak individuals, but we serve an awesome God who chooses to display his manifold wisdom through our feebleness (cf Eph 3:10). We are powerless, but He is powerful. And He will one day put all things under the feet of Jesus.

Isn’t that something worthy of our worship?

Isn’t that something worth singing about?

Worship God UK – Day Two

If I could summarise the conference thus far in one song lyric, it would be hard to find a more suitable line than this: How sweet the sound of saving grace — Christ died for me!

The line is from the bridge of Now Why This Fear, one of the songs which we sang to open the morning session. Indeed, it has been so so sweet to hear the sound of saving grace resounding throughout this conference — in the sound of the saints singing and admonishing each other with songs of God’s great salvation, and in the sound of the gospel message of God’s goodness and grace being preached.

Gathering around the Word

There were two sessions of teaching in the morning. First, Kevin DeYoung encouraged us from Psalm 119 to treasure and delight in the word of God. Kevin started by reading verses 129-136 of the psalm, and noted 131 and 136 in particular:

I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments. 

My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.

When we read these verses, do we feel embarrassed at the unadulterated exuberance with which the psalmist displays his seemingly heady love for God’s word? Do we feel cynical — maybe he’s just engaging in hyperbole?

No, this should be the ideal to which we strive. Indeed, if the Bible, if the Scriptures are the very words of God, then how can we not delight in them; how can we not feel indignant at their rejection?

Gathering to Rehearse the Gospel

The second morning session was a brilliant, soul-stirring exposition of Isaiah 6 by Jeff Purswell. Isa 6 is one of those passages that churchgoing Christians tend to be (overly) familiar with. But this usually means that said Christians — myself included — don’t really understand it all that well! So I was very grateful for Jeff, who by the illuminating power of the Spirit, helped us to see more clearly what Isaiah saw in that glorious vision of God.

I was particularly struck by Jeff’s observation in verse 1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah sees the thone of God, but immediately afterwards he notes this interesting detail — the train of his robe filled the temple. Did Isaiah not notice anything else? No; rather, our God is so big that when we catch a glimpse of Him we can only see the train of his robe. (cf Exodus 24:9f where Moses and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel” — the sapphire pavement under his feet!)

Jeff helpfully pointed out that:

  1. All Christians at some point have a vision or glimpse of God;
  2. When we see his utter holiness, we realise that it can only be an act of mercy that can bring us into His awesome, terrible presence. For Isaiah, it was the burning coal which touched his lips, and the pronouncement that his guilt and sin were atoned for. For us on this side of the cross, it is the loving sacrifice of God’s own son which atones for our sins.
  3. We then respond to God’s grace. “When we are captivated by God, we are then unleashed into worship, and into His service.”

True worship is a response to the grace of God, with adoration for God, and service to God.

When we gather in our churches, do we gather to rehearse this great gospel? That we have a great God who forgives great sinners? That we have a God who cannot tolerate our sinful rebellion; that in His great wisdom He sent His Son to take our rightful place on that cross of Calvary; that because of his death and glorious resurrection three days later we can have been reconciled to Christ?

If we don’t rehearse the gospel in our “worship” services, we are really worshiping ourselves or the world. If we do not magnify the gospel, we will inadvertently either magnify ourselves (and our self-righteousness) or belittle our great God.

Afternoon seminars

After lunch we broke into smaller groups for seminars. I attended “Cultivating Godliness in Musicians” run by Bob Kauflin and “Encountering God’s Presence” by Nathan Smith (of Grace Church Bristol). Both sessions were really practical and helpful. However given that this post is getting quite lengthy so I might share what was taught some other time. I shall instead post a photo which I am quite happy about:

Gathering to Sing

The final teaching session of today was entitled Gathering to Sing. Bob Kauflin posed the following question: “Why do we worship God in song at all?” Now, given that we were at a worship conference, I thought this an important question worthy of extended meditation. Why do churches all over the world gather together on Sundays to sing praises corporately to God?

From Colossians 3:12-17 (especially vv16 and 17), Bob explained that the imperative “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” was to be accomplished by these two means:

  • By teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom
  • By singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs

Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our minds. Somehow, humans are wired to remember truths better when combined with music — singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another is a form of teaching and admonishing one another.

Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our hearts. Bob quoted Jonathan Edwards, who said: “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections.” What a great gift God has given us, that through singing we might fan the flame in our hearts which burns for Christ.

Singing engages our minds and our hearts; doctrine combines with devotion, intellect with emotion. The best songs, therefore, contain both truth and tunes.

Finally, we ended the night just how we started in the morning — singing praises to our glorious King. To quote Calvin (who was in turn quoted by Bob in the afternoon):

We should consider it the great end of our existence to be found numbered among the worshipers of God.

How true indeed! Lord, we long for the day when we finally unite with the saints throughout all generations, in the glorious new city of our God, where we will finally see you face to face.

Worship God UK – Reflections on Day One

Phew! What a way to start a conference!

So I’m at Worship God UK, “A conference to equip pastors, worship leaders, service leaders, musicians, singers, songwriters, tech people, and anyone who wants to grow in worshipping God.” (see website here) While I guess I’m primarily a musician, I think I am best described by the last clause — I just want to grow in worshipping God. The conference will span three days, and I hope to write some reflections at the end of each day.

The conference kicked off today with just a wonderful time of worship led by Bob Kauflin and the team from Sovereign Grace Music. I have been so blessed by the songs of Sovereign Grace over the years, and was especially moved when Bob led worship at New Word Alive in 2011. He is just so astute at making the truths of God’s word and God’s character come alive in music and in song, and tonight was no exception.

We started by reading the first 9 verses of Ephesians, and sang the anthem Come Praise and Glorify which is based on that passage. It was such a strong reminder that our salvation, the fact that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, was to the praise of His glorious grace! We also sang my favourite hymn, which speaks of the assurance of our salvation because of our great High Priest:

When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there, who put an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me

Mike Reeves then kicked off the teaching at the conference with his talk entitled Gathering to Behold. He preached on 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. What really struck me was his explanation of 3:18, which I don’t think I’ve ever read this way before. The text reads:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

To be human is to be created in the image of God. When we behold Christ, we are becoming truly human, for are being transformed into his image. Our minds, our faculties, are only made truly right — what they were meant to be — when we behold Jesus.

Mike, in his typically contagious way, urged us to making the beholding of Christ the centre of all our worship/music ministry. Behold the God who died to embrace us! God displays His glory by forgiving great sinners – so don’t try to steal his glory by covering up our sins by human effort. Let Him prove Himself as the glorious redeemer.

Musician, worship leader, pastor — stop casting shadows, step out of the way of the light of Christ’s glory. 


 

Finally, I also attended the a pre-conference “intensive” for songwriters — essentially a condensed songwriting workshop run by Steve and Vikki Cook. I have to say I was just so blessed by them. (Incidentally this was when I found out that they were the ones who put the lyrics of Before the Throne of God Above to the modern tune which we all sing and love!)

They went through some practical steps on songwriting, and I find myself really inspired to get started writing some stuff. I have some ideas floating in the ether, so lets see how that goes.

What I found most encouraging from that session though, was the amazing contributions from some of the other workshop attendees. God is doing a work in the local churches in the UK (and Denmark and Austria too), raising up men and women on fire to “sing to the Lord a new song”, to write truth for their local congregations. I am indeed privileged to have met and befriended some of them.