Why is corporate worship vital for the church?

For the last few weeks, Sundays have meant closed sanctuary doors and remote broadcasts of the Knox Church worship service. While it’s great that we have these tools to share the sermon online and bring us together virtually, I think we have learned that there is no substitute for getting together, in person, for the worship of our Lord and Savior. The convenience of accessing the service in your home is not worth the absence of the body of Christ.

This is what we call corporate worship, where Jesus’ followers come together in one place to pray, sing, learn, and worship together. There’s something we get with corporate worship that we don’t when we’re apart, even if we are hearing the same message or reading the same Bible passage, and that “something” is dearly missed by many of us at this moment. I’m not just speaking of fellowship, but of the benefits that corporate worship brings to our faith.

In Acts and the epistles, we see that the early church was faithful in coming together in a shared space for corporate worship, even if persecution was rife and it was safer to stay home. Corporate worship ran through the entire Old Testament and in the gospels as well. It was a design that God instituted from the early days of the Law, that he didn’t just want people to worship him; he wanted them to worship together. Probably the most famous image of Christian corporate worship comes from Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

So why do we get together, especially if it’s more convenient to stay home and “watch church” over a bowl of cereal or in your living room? First of all, we come together because we are commanded to by our Lord. It’s something he wants us to do. “Do not neglect in meeting together,” says Hebrews 10:25. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching,” writes 1 Timothy 4:13.

Second, we engage in corporate worship because this is when and where the Holy Spirit shows up to teach, inspire, and interpret. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” Matthew 18:20 promises. The Spirit is what draws out the truth from the sermon and applies it to our hearts. The Spirit blesses the elements of communion (which is something we can only partake of together, by the way) and nourishes our souls with it. And we can sense the Spirit among us as we gather, which is a tremendously exciting thing. Jesus rallied us behind this concept when he said, “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.” We worship a God who comes to be with us when we are together.

Third, it’s just more engaging to do worship together as a group. For example, you can listen to music by yourself, but there’s a special energy and a presence when you go to a concert and hear the music live with other fans. We’re all “fans” of Jesus who get to build off of the energy of others singing, praying, and worshiping alongside us. “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up,” said 1 Corinthians 14. “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” writes Ephesians 5.  We are sharing our joy together, and it magnifies because of it.

Fourth, corporate worship helps to train us to let someone else lead worship. Worship is an exercise in call-and-response, and when you are worshiping together, we learn to respond to the scripture, the sermon, the prayer, and the songs. That’s not something you can do when you’re off on your own. We respond to what God is saying to us, and that’s a good discipline to learn.

Finally, we come together because we need to see that we are not alone. That reassurance of the body of Christ surrounding us, encouraging us, and praying for us is something we all need as we struggle and stumble in our faith journey. We help each other grow in this. Christians aren’t meant to be isolated in their lives with Christ. One day, we will worship God as the church universal, and it will be awesome.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

How to join Knox Church this week

The church doors at Knox may be closed right now but our hearts are open to praise God! Here’s how to get connected to what’s going on at Knox right now:

Sunday Worship: Currently taking place live online at 10:30 am Sundays. You can either listen to the audio broadcast (click this link to tune in) or watch on the Knox Facebook page (click here, you don’t need to have a Facebook account to view). If you missed the sermon, you can listen, read, or watch it on the sermons page.

Sunday Evening Bible Study: We are continuing a six-part series looking at Jesus, with the next examining at “Jesus the Teacher.” This meeting will take place on Zoom, March 29 at 6:00 pm. To join, you either click this link or head over to Zoom and enter in the meeting ID of 783-320-508.

Wednesday Early Bird Bible Study: Scott’s leading this meeting on Zoom at 6:00 am. To join, you click this link and enter in the password of 552344. If you’re using the Zoom app, you call this number: 888-699-634. Attendees should email Scott at sabowman1@gmail.com to get you notes about the Bible study.

Wednesday Evening Prayer Group: Join us in a conference call to pray at 6:30 pm together over the phone. Call (978) 990-5000 and use the access code 533819 followed by the pound # sign.

Youth Group and AMP: Steve is posting videos during the week on Facebook for both of these groups. Check them out!

From the Pastor: I’m continuing to post weekly articles on the website (this week’s was going through the 10 types of Psalms) as well as at least one “Snapshots from the Bible” video on the Facebook page.

Tithes and Offerings: Be faithful in continuing to worship God with your tithes and offerings. You can mail in a check to the church (2595 Elmwood, Kenmore NY 14217) or submit your offering online (it’s easier than you think!). Remember that the need for ministry in this area is needed right now more than ever, and God uses your offering to great effect.

Due to the government guidelines recommending continued “stay at home” social distancing, Knox Session voted to keep the church doors closed through the end of April.

That’s it for this week! Make sure you stay safe, minister to others however you can, and stay spiritually fed. See you on Sunday

In Christ, Pastor Justin

The 10 types of psalms

As we continue our series called “Learning to Love the Psalms” in Knox Church’s worship, it’s important to understand that not all psalms were written alike. When I was a kid, this is what I thought: That all the psalms were just praise songs to God. But even a cursory glance through the book reveals a wide array of poems in both tone and focus.

Some of the psalms make things interesting by blending more than one category into it, holding elements of two, three, or four types. Keeping that in mind, here are the main types of psalms that you will encounter among the psalter!

Praise: A psalm of praise is pretty self-explanatory. It focuses on praising who God is and what He has done (for example, Psalm 1). We even see praise psalms in other places, such as 2 Chronicles 20.

Hymns: These are songs of joy from people who are happy with God and their circumstances. They often urge others to sing to God as well (see Psalm 98).

Laments: On the flip side of joy is distress, and that results in the lament psalms. These express emotional and spiritual suffering with a plea to God to intervene and help (such as Psalm 88).

Imprecatory: The most difficult type of psalm to understand, imprecatory psalms call for God’s judgment upon enemies. They use striking images and ultimately leave justice and vengeance to God alone (such as Psalm 69).

Thanksgiving: While these psalms are full of joy, they are more specific in the reasons why one is joyful. As the category indicates, thanksgiving psalms thank God for blessings and provision (see Psalm 30).

Prophetic: Many of the psalms hold prophetic oracles where God is the speaker rather than the subject. Psalm 50 would be your go-to example of one of these.

Confidence: Instead of falling into despair like a lament, confidence psalms see opposition coming but they rise to state their trust in God and His guidance (Psalm 23).

Wisdom: Some of the psalms share traits of other biblical wisdom literature with practical guidance and warnings (Psalm 119).

Remembrance: This is a psalm that looks back at what God has done in the past and seeks to remind everyone of these acts and promises (Psalm 136).

Royal: Any time a psalm dips into regal imagry — of kings, processions, thrones, and the like — it’s most likely a royal psalm either from a king, about a king, or about God as king.

Covenants Part 6: The Covenant of Grace (Moses)

A quick recap so far in our journey through the covenantal framework of the Bible. Originally, God instituted a covenant — a sacred bond in blood, sovereignly administered — with humanity charged to perfectly obey God. This Covenant of Works was broken by Adam and Eve, bringing upon them the curse of death and separation from God. In response to that, God began to roll out a new Covenant of Grace that encapsulates the rest of the Bible, with the aim of redeeming and restoring a fallen humanity. The Covenant of Grace was administered in several installments, starting with a promise of a Messiah to Adam, a promise of preservation to Noah, and a promise of land and people to Abraham. This brings us beyond Genesis and into Exodus for the next part of the Covenant of Grace’s development.

By this time, Abraham’s descendants were in slavery in Egypt and feeling both alone and abandoned. However, God had not forgotten them nor the covenant He made with them: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.” (Exodus 2:24) In the first dozen or so chapters of Exodus, God delivers his people from bondage and out of Egypt, providing for their physical needs while upholding the promises that he made in the Covenant of Grace to date. But it is on the slopes of Mount Sinai that God brings clarity and definition to His covenant by delivering the Law to the people. It is here that God goes into the legal details of what would be required from the people to uphold their part of the Covenant of Grace.

At the core of the Law was, of course, the Ten Commandments — ten overarching rules for God’s people to live by. “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments,” says Exodus 34:28.

This Law was a summation of God’s divine will for his people and a demand for them to conform to it. Whereas the Covenant of Works addressed an unfallen humanity with instructions to obey, the Law part of the Covenant of Grace addressed a sinful humanity that had no ability whatsoever to fully obey these laws. The laws would be broken, and to avoid inflicting the penalties of the curse of the covenant, the people would have to continually atone through animal sacrifice substitutes. These animals functioned as a sort of object lesson, taking on the death due for the people failing to uphold the covenant. Every time an innocent was sacrificed in the place of a person, the community had this concept of a substitutionary atonement drilled into their heads.

Much later on, Paul would clarify that Israel could not have followed the Law of God and been saved by their own obedience: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

The Law was not a path to salvation. Instead, the Law shone a bright spotlight on the ugliness of humanity’s sin and revealed the dire need for salvation and the Messiah. Even Christians in the New Testament era (i.e., you and me) continue to use the Law (although in a different relationship) for three things: to restrain the sin in our lives, to lead us to Christ, and to instruct us in godly living.

So how did Old Testament people become saved? Simple: They “believed the Lord and he credited it to [them] as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) Faith in the promises of God and the Messiah yet to come was enough to bestow upon them the righteousness of Christ.

Yet even with a faith alone that saved in the Old Testament, the Law demanded obedience from Israel, provided a framework of life, and gave an insight into the heart and mind of God. It upgrades the second covenant party from a family (which we see in Adam, Noah, and Abraham) to a nation. The Law would keep the people dependent on God for salvation rather than their own (unobtainable) perfectionism and looking forward to the promised Messiah.

When Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” he’s telling the people that the old use of the Law is over. It has been fully consummated in Christ, as Jesus fully achieved everything the Law set out to accomplish in the Old Testament. He fulfilled all of the righteousness and perfectly obeyed in a way that Israel could not.

An important announcement about Knox Church

Dear Knox Family,

These are extraordinary times — but we serve an extraordinary God who is sovereign and supreme over all. As the world comes to a halt to help slow the spread of the virus, we here at Knox must be vigilant in our prayer, strong in our faith, and eager to share our witness. This is the hour of the Church, called to be a signpost pointing to God in the middle of a fearful society. We do not fear death, because our Jesus conquered the grave and gave us a spirit of boldness.

This week, Knox session met and voted that the wisest thing to do to safeguard the flock here and obey the government’s recommendations (Romans 13) that no more than 10 people meet at a time will be to shut down the church for two weeks to help “flatten the curve” of the virus. On April 1st, the session will reconvene to examine the situation, make further decisions, and contact the church family. We know you must have many questions, so this letter aims to answer as many as possible.

What is shut down? The church building and anything that takes place inside of it, including public worship, youth group, community dinner, playgroup, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and Sunday School. The doors will remain closed until April 1st (at the least).

What about Sunday worship? Knox will be moving to online worship for the next couple of weeks as a way to “worship alone together” in our homes. Worship will take place as usual at 10:30 am on Sunday with music, prayer, and a message, and we strongly encourage you to attend. You can do so in one of two ways:

  • Watching the video stream on Facebook: Simply go to facebook.com/knoxepc and at 10:30 am you will get a notice saying that a livestream started that you can watch on your computer or tablet.
  • Listening to the audio livestream by going to knoxchurch.myl2mr.com — If you want this set up as an app on your phone, call Scott Bowman for help.

How can I give my offering? Even with the church building shuttered, there is still a great need for regular tithes and offerings. You can mail them in to the church or make an online offering at knoxepc.wordpress.com/contact-us/giving

How can I stay in touch with Knox? Make sure that you are on Knox’s email and text lists. If you do not get emails or texts from the church, call Pastor Justin at (734) 968 1847 and I will take care of it. The church website (knoxepc.com) will post important notifications.

What should I be doing for the church? In addition to worship and giving, we encourage you to pray for Knox and its people, pray for the community and its leaders, and make an effort to reach out to others over the phone and online. We will try to set up an easy-to-use Bible study over the phone in the coming days as another way to bolster our faith and keep us connected.

How can I contact a Knox elder? If you need someone to talk or pray with:

Please be safe and let us know if there is anything we can be doing for you! And remember, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)

In Christ, Pastor Justin

What Knox Church is doing about the coronavirus

I want to start this unusual pastor’s note by reminding us all of Philippians 4, in which Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we look around us, we see a “Spirit of Fear” gripping the world concerning the spread of the coronavirus. Anxiety and worry is on the rise, especially among those who do not worship a sovereign king. But we DO worship that King, and He does not call us to be frightened but rather to pray and receive His peace. As with all else, God has this situation under His control, and we can trust in Him for the duration of this event.

That said, there is a difference between acting out of fear and acting prudently and wisely to safeguard the flock of Knox Church. The Knox session met on Monday to discuss what we should be doing to help keep people healthy in the church. After talking it through and examining what other churches are doing, we have decided upon the following:

1. While we will continue to hold worship services and other group meetings, we are asking all attendees to refrain from physical contact for the time being (most likely a couple of months). We will also replace the “Passing of the Peace” part of the service for now. This means to hold off on those handshakes and hugs, and instead warm up those smiles as we greet each other!

2. We want everyone to feel safe when they attend, so there will be hand sanitizer available in the welcome center. Also, we have plenty of space in the sanctuary (including three balconies!), so feel free to spread out during worship. You won’t hurt my feelings!

3. If you are feeling ill or sick, please stay at home and attend church through the website (we livestream the service on internet radio and have the sermons available afterward). Don’t forget that we have online giving as well!

4. We will also be taking additional steps with our snacks and communion so that there aren’t shared plates that everyone is touching.

Again, do not be afraid. We have a spirit of “power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7) that can be an example to the world in a time like this. We will keep worshiping and praising our Lord every Sunday here at Knox and hope that you join us for that.

Gathering the Harvest

Let’s talk very plainly here: We all here at Knox would love to see the church filled up with people. Some remember much bigger crowds in the past, while others want to see a thriving congregation to ensure a healthy future. All small churches struggle with the issue of attendance, especially as we try to resist making that what we are all about.

Knox Church isn’t about numbers. We’re about glorifying God through worship and spiritual growth. Part of Jesus’ Great Commission was to disciple those who have already been found and saved, and we will continue to strive to do that here.

But the other part of the Commission was to GO into the world with the gospel — to reach out to the lost, in other words. Jesus encouraged his followers for this task in Luke 10:12 when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

This idea of a plentiful harvest — of crowds of unchurched people who are hungry for the truth of God’s Word and the message of grace — fills me up with a desire to act. Right outside our doors here at Knox are many, many people who do not go to church or know Jesus Christ. This is our harvest to which we’ve been called to gather. But how are we doing that?

I think that we’ve done great at opening up our doors and inviting people in as service, particularly with the toddler playgroup, youth group, and community dinner. But we aren’t doing much to go out and actively gather that harvest.

It’s been on my heart to start an initiative to go door-to-door in Kenton and invite people to church. I’m calling it Harvest Hikes, and I’m inviting you to come join me once a month to blanket a street in prayer and practical evangelism. Our first one will be on March 21 at 11:00 am (meet in the church parking lot) to cover the streets next to us.

Basically, our monthly Harvest Hikes will consist of an hour of the following:

  1. Praying together over the streets and people we are about to engage.
  2. Going to each house in pairs to meet our neighbors. We’ll introduce ourselves, ask what we can pray about for them, and ask what they think we as a church can be doing to help the community.
  3. Leaving a postcard with a simple gospel message and an invitation with each house, whether they are there or not.

For many of us, this kind of activity might seem scary and out of our comfort zone. But if we want Knox to ever grow, we need to invite. And if we want to be faithful to Jesus’ call for harvesters, we need to get out there.

Remember what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up!”