Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

It has been an unusual month as I have preached in 4 very different congregations.  Obviously each has its strengths and weaknesses, but all were meaningful times of worship.

The first was a suburban church that has been struggling the last few years.  The facaility was built in the 1990’s.  The congregation was about 130 or so.  They were mostly empty nesters, with a few families with children.  The worship style was blended, with an emphasis on the 1970’s and 80’s.  They used a piano, guitars, saxophone and song leaders.  They had some traditional elements as well- call to worship, pastoral prayer, responsive reading from the Westminster Catechism and a benediction.

The second was a smaller suburban church of about 50.  There seemed to be a relatively even age distribution.  Musically they were also blended, but drew from the 90’s and 2000’s.  The only instrument was a piano and they had some song leaders.  They had similar traditional elements.  Though smaller, they sang louder (or at least it filled up the room better).  They were a bit less reserved, yet more formal in their dress.

The third was an urban church of about 100 that met in an old theater.  The building had lots of character with the old brick walls.  It was darker, with lights on the stage area.  It was decidedly upbeat, with more of a free church worship style.  The worship band was very good and included keyboards, electric guitar, bass, and drums in addition to the song leaders.  The congregation was multi-ethnic, but the songs drew largely from the last 2 decades.  The people tended to be younger.

The fourth was also an inner city church of about 50, which met in an old church building.  It had lots of character, like a small cathedral.  It was nice to sit in pews.  It was also multi-ethnic.  It was also a less structured service, but they also recited the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer to keep in touch with our heritage.  The worship team was a guitarist, electric bass and 2 singers.  The music focused primarily on the holiness and grace of God, drawing on music from the last decade.

It is wonderful to see the rich variety of congregations, facilities, and worship styles.  Too often we get stuck in our own little world.  I’ve enjoyed being enriched by the Body of Christ as I sought to enrich them with the Word of God.  It is encouraging to see God at work in a variety of situations.

Read Full Post »

Polemical Theology, whether in written or verbal form, can quickly descend into some ungodly places.  Name calling, anger and refusing to listen to what another actually says are evidence of a lack of love.

Another form of “unfair” dispute is the use of the straw man argument.  Here is a good, quick definition:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

You can tell that Dr. Roger Nicole & J.I. Packer are such good friends.  At times their counsel is so similar.  How to engage in theological debate is one such area.  Dr. Nicole told us to read our opponents, not only second hand sources, so we might truly understand their arguments.

Dr. Packer inserts this wonderful little sentence in the midst of Keep In Step With the Spirit:

“But all positions should be judged by their best exponents.”

He applies this to the various proponents of the views of sanctification.  It is unfair to argue against something by using either a straw man (which doesn’t exist) or its worst example.  You may win the argument, but you defeated a foe that either didn’t exist or rarely exists.  It would be like beating the Bad News Bears, yet claiming to be MLB World Series champions.

I see these arguments regularly in books by authors who should know better.  Sometimes these arguments are used by men who place themselves in the bounds of either Reformed Theology or Calvinistic soteriology (they embrace the 5 points but not a covenantal view of Scripture or other distinctives of Reformed theology).

For instance, one book I read argued against contemporary worship songs.  It did this on the basis of the worst examples of contemporary worship songs.  It brought up the most pathetic, insipid, meaningless songs as if they were representative of contemporary worship songs.  This author may have convinced many people he was right, but he never dealt with the real deal.  Missing were interaction with the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty, the songs of Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin or any other songs that seek to communicate biblical theology (Sovereign Grace or Indelible Grace would be other examples).

Another highly respected author attacked the charismatic movement on the basis of its worst excesses.  There was no interaction with sane, thoughtful charismatics who share his Calvinistic views like John Piper, Wayne Grudem or C.J. Mahaney.  All were lumped in the same heretical basket, ready to be tossed out &  burned up.

We who understand the doctrines of grace should be more humble & loving in our disputation.  We should argument against real people holding real positions.  And the best representatives of that position- not the Single A or college team.

Read Full Post »

Many a tree has been killed over the topic of the proper mode of baptism.  I am not referring to the use of the trinitarian formula.  I am referring to whether or not one must be immersed or if sprinkling and pouring are also legitimate modes of baptism.  For some people this is pretty much a hill to die on.  For others, this is not an essential of the faith and they permit some flexibility in the matter.

As a credobaptist (believer’s baptism) I often heard that the Greek verb means “to immerse, to dip.”  The total argument was based on the “meaning of the word.”  Let’s briefly investigate this claim.

From The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged):

The Meaning of

baŒptoµ and baptéŒzoµ. baŒptoµ, “to dip in or under,” “to dye,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown,” “to bathe,” “wash.”

I don’t know about you, but I do not often immerse myself when I wash.  I essentially pour water over my hands, or body when I shower.  Such an understanding would be within the semantic range of the verb.  Immersion is a legitimate mode of baptism, but possibly not the only legitimate mode of baptism.

So far, not very convincing.  Right?  What if I pointed out an instance in Scripture where baptism did not mean “immerse”?

There are 2 parallel passages that help us to see the fulness of the term found in Scripture.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 1, NIV)

Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The disciples were going to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This event takes place in Acts 2, and Peter offers a biblical theological explanation for what the people just experienced, or witnessed (in the case of the crowd who did not yet believe).

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Acts 2, NIV)

Peter informs the people that God promised this would happen.  It was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2).  This “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is described as God “pour(ing) out (His) Spirit.”  The semantic range is more limited- “to pour out, to shed (as in blood).”  We are not immersed in the Spirit

Using this parallelism, in which one verse helps us to understand another (called the analogy of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith & the London Baptist Confession).  This is also part of how we do theology in Scripture.  You include the range of meaning, look at synomyns, other grammatical concerns and historical context.  Here we see that baptism can also mean “to pour.”

If you want to immerse when you baptize- have at it.  But it would be biblically improper to limit the proper mode of baptism to immersion.  Those who have been sprinkled and poured by legitimate churches are just as baptized as you.  The issue is not how much water touches your body.

Read Full Post »

In listening to some Tim Keller sermons there were a few leads I wanted to follow up. If you are like me, you might think “I really need to find that”, but aren’t really sure where to find it.

Tim is fond of mentioning Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in connection with idolatry.  I’ve been wanting to read it for myself.  I figure there is quite a bit I could learn.  Perhaps you are like me and aren’t sure where to look.  Well, it is part of the Book of Concord.  So, here is the Large Catechism.  Enjoy!

Keller also mentions a Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection, in connection to sanctification.  I’ve been wanting to read this sermon, but was not aware of any Thomas Chalmers’ collections.  He’s not the most famous of the Puritans.  Thank God for the internet.  Someone has put The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection online.  Justin Taylor notes how Sinclair Ferguson makes use of this same sermon.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

The basic point is that our desire for particular sins will be lessened or removed only by having a greater affection for something or someone else.  We must love Jesus more than we love our favorite sins.  This is what Samuel Storms discusses at length in Pleasures Evermore.  It is what lies underneath John Piper’s Christian Hedonism.  Some great stuff- as I shared with someone caught in an addiction.  Avoiding our addiction can be a new idol- a mere replacement idol.  This person needs to meditate upon the work of Christ that he might grow in his love for Christ and be able to put this sin to death.  Otherwise we are using worldly means to deal with our sinful desires and habits.

Read Full Post »

All that work to go nowhere!

All that work to go nowhere!

Nothing excites me more than to hear a friend say that they want to be more like Jesus.  Too often they end up frustrated and dismayed.  Unfortunately we think that by following certain steps, rules or principles that we will magically become like Him.  The question nags at us each day as the sweat of our brow profits naught.  Try as I might, I fail.

Paul reminds us that if works cannot save, neither can they change us (Gal. 3:1-5).  This pilgrimage which begins with faith is not maintained by human efforts and schemes.  Rather, the same regenerate heart that produces justifying faith also produces sanctifying faith.  Such a faith believes that obedience prompted by love is more satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of sin (Heb. 11).  This is a faith that relies upon God’s promise to change us through the mundane events of everyday life (Rom. 8:28, 29) instead of spectacular experiences or ceremonies.  The focus is on God’s promises to us, not our promises to God.  It is a faith that expresses itself through love, fulfilling the very law that we are unable to keep by nature (Gal. 5:16).

This is not to say that we are inactive.  We are responsible to make use of the means of grace.  Faith is sustained through reading the Bible, prayer, public worship and evangelism.  Here we learn of God’s promises and His faithfulness.  As we fulfill these duties, trusting that what He says is true, our faith in Him is nurtured.  Performing these duties without faith only hardens our hearts.

The difficult part is how God makes our faith in Him grow.  Adversity and temptation stretch, deepen and purify our faith (1 Pet. 1:6, 7).  we slowly learn to love nothing more than Christ.  What obedience to the moral and ceremonial laws could not do, the Spirit produces through the providential events of life.  God slowly transforms our character in ways we cannot perceive through the blessings and hardships of life.  Our recognized need for Jesus and all that He has done grows.  We are responsible to avail ourselves of the means God has ordained for our growth, but He alone can make us grow.

This path is unique for each of His children.  It is not a novel program, but a call to trust that all that God commands you to do and brings into your life is designed to make you share in His holiness (Heb. 12:1-12).  Through faith we receive sanctifying grace.  He asks you to trust Him to bring you home safely.  The heart that truly believes will also be busy acting upon His sure Word.

(This was originally published in the May 1996 issue of Tabletalk Magazine [p. 43], published by Ligonier Ministries.)

Read Full Post »

My, he's a squirmy one!

My, he is a squirmy one!

It was long overdue.  This is what happens when you don’t have a call and you are a Presbyterian.  My membership is with my Presbytery, not a local church.  This complicated & delayed the process of baptizing CavSon.  [I have a few posts on the Reformed position on baptizing infants- not all views on infant baptism are the same.  I forgot to put a post up about mode of baptism.  This week, Lord willing.]

Amie has now joined the local PCA church in which we worship.  Yesterday morning we had him baptized.  Our friend Danny, who is the Associate Pastor, handled the explanation and vows.  I handled the squirming son, and the actual baptism.  It took quite some time as Danny kept losing his place due to the side show going on around him.  CavSon kept wanting to play with the ear piece from the wireless system I had on since I was preaching.

May blessings break upon his head.

May blessings break upon his head.

He did much better when I actually poured water on his head.  He seemed to like that.  Of course, he had been working up a sweat.  Afterward he wanted to play with the rest of the water, which was not a surprise to either of us.  It was great for CavDaughter to watch this.  She was up there with us initially, but she was quite antsy too, so we had her sit with friends.  She’s on the video.  We talked with her a little bit about it the previous day or two.  She knows she has been baptized, and we should show her that video.  She’s fascinated by pictures of herself when she was a baby.

We received word while we were in Jacksonville that his new birth certificates had arrived at the lawyer’s office.  I picked them up this morning.  Now we can work toward his U.S. citizenship.  But he is now part of the visible church, which is great news in my book.  May his adoption into our family eventually result in his being adopted into God’s family.

Read Full Post »

After Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he led the rebuilding of the city wall.  As the people gather to express their thanks for God, a revival breaks out.  First, I’ll mention the elements of revival and then on Nehemiah’s prayer as part of the public worship among these revived people.

The odd part of Nehemiah 9 is that first they read from the Book of the Law for a quarter of the day.  Wow!  Imagine that today- there would be a mass rebellion which indicates just how much we need revival.  We get ticked if the sermon is a few minutes too long.  Another quarter of the day was spent confessing their sins and worshipping God.  Half a day was spent listening to God and then responding to him with confession and adoration.

Then the Levites lead the people in prayer, and a significant prayer it is.  It reveals a depth of understanding in who God is and how he works among is people.

  • He is the exalted above all else!  The host, armies, of heaven worship him.
  • He is Creator!  He made heaven, all the heavenly host (armies), the earth & all that is on it, the seas & all that are in them.
  • He is the Preserver of creation!
  • He is the God of promise and covenant!  He chose Abram, changed his name and cut a covenant with him.
  • He is righteous, keeping his promises!  The reason given for keeping those promises was his righteousness.  God is a promise-keeping God.
  • He is Redeemer!  He saw the affliction of his people in Egypt, heard their cries and set them free with signs and wonders to humble the Egyptians.  He brings judgment to Egypt and salvation to Israel at the Red Sea.
  • God is Sustainer of his people!  He leads them in the pillar of cloud and fire until he brought them into the land of promise.  He provided manna and water during the 40 year wilderness wanderings.
  • God is the Law-giver.  God guides our behavior by his laws (and humbles us greatly by revealing our sinfulness).

In their prayer, they are retracing the history of redemption.  Their focus so far has been who God is.  There is going to be a slight shift in focus.  This prayer is to honor God, but also to instruct the people.  It reflects what they have just read in the Scriptures.  Our prayers could be more grounded in the history of redemption.  Our prayers could benefit from such a focus on the nature and character of God.  We would probably experience a deeper spiritual life.  They are about to introduce a new theme!

  • We are stiff necked.  The people of Israel acted presumptuously, and did not obey God.  They stiffened their necks and chose someone to bring them back to Egypt.
  • God is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”  This only makes sense in light of the repeated rebellion and stubbornness of Israel.  Even when they made the golden calf, he showed mercy.  Despite their rebellion, he continued to provide manna and water.
  • God gave his Spirit to instruct them!  He sustained them in the wilderness, multiplied their children and gave them the promised land.  Israel became fat and happy.
  • Israel continued to disobey, even killing the very prophets God sent to warn them to repent!
  • ABCD!  Apostasy => Battering => Crying Out => Deliverance cycle.  God gave them over to their enemies, and then provided saviors to deliver them when they cried out.  According to his great mercy, he delivered them many times.  Are you catching the theme here?
  • They stiffened their necks when his messengers came.  He warned them repeatedly by his Spirit through his prophets.  But, they wouldn’t listen.
  • God still didn’t forsake them, for he is “a gracious and merciful God.”

Their view of God was one of “the great, the mighty and the awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love.”  We might look back and think he is a God of wrath (sin does anger him), but the message is really about his mercy and grace.  Despite their stiff neckedness he loves them and works among them.

Finally they come to supplication!

Don’t think lightly of our hardship, even though we deserved it!

Look upon our plight today- slaves in our own homes.  We are in great distress.

Then Nehemiah notes that they renewed the covenant.  Revival should include a fervent commitment to begin to obey, turning away from our stiff neckedness and beginning to listen to his gracious words and be thankful for his steadfast love.

God corrects his people when they become stubborn and rebellious.  He does not destroy them (though it may feel like it to us), but lovingly gets their attention.  I find I have to raise my voice, and sometimes to my hand, to get my children’s attention to call them back to the right path.  God loves us enough to do this lest we destroy ourselves.  Thank him for his persevering grace.

Read Full Post »

We are back in the Whinery after a few days sans kiddos.  CavWife and I flew the coop to visit with a search committee, and I met with the elders.  The kids got to stay home with a friend of ours.  They did very well.  She was a bit sad Friday night.  He was clingy before we left Friday morning, but we were able to slip away, and heading into our friend’s pool was distracting enough for him.

We flew up Friday afternoon.  We had a slight delay in our flight departure time.  A mere 20 minutes or something.  Oddly, it continued to say “On Time” even a few minutes after our departure time came and went.

A few members of the committee picked us up at the airport and drove us to town.  We were free to have dinner on our own, so we got a recommendation for a local establishment.  It was a very nice place.  We ate outside and enjoyed some of the local sights, and sounds (particularly the motorcycles).  Then we took a spin to see some of the local geography.  We located the YMCA (since CavWife is certified for spinning, and in process to be certified for step- and has a class 2x/week at the local Y), the movie theatre, library …  We also drove through some subdivisions near the church.  We aren’t sure if they will be in our price range, though.  The area looked far more beautiful than it did in March.

Exhausted, we crashed at the hotel.  We were up early the next morning, as I met with the Session all morning.  One of them saw my post on Adam Again, and gifted me with his copy of 10 Songs by Adam Again.  It got a good listen this morning!  Quite thankful.  Hmmm, I wonder if he has Outdoor Elvis by the Swirling Eddies….  Great to ponder having elders who have actually listened to some of the obscure bands I enjoy.  CavWife got a tour of the area by a committee member and talked about some of the pragmatic stuff about living in that community.


Read Full Post »

John Newton has a few hymns based on Hebrews 4.  I wish we could have sung them when I preached on this text.

Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat where Jesus answers prayer; there humbly fall before his feet, for none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea; with this I venture nigh: thou callest burdened souls to thee, and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin, by Satan sorely pressed, by war without and fears within, I come to thee for rest.

Be thou my shield and hiding place, that, sheltered near thy side, I may my fiercest accuser face, and tell thou hast died.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die, to bear the cross and shame, that guilty sinners, such as I, might plead thy gracious name!

 Here is the RUF arraingment of the song by Kevin Twit.  They have some chord charts and piano music available.  Here is a quote they have from Luther about the content of the hymn:

“You should tell the devil “Just by telling me that I am a miserable, great sinner you are placing a sword and a weapon into my hand with which I can decisively overcome you; yea, with your own weapon I can kill and floor you.

For if you tell me that I am a poor sinner, I, on the other hand, can tell you that Christ dies for sinners and is their Intercessor… You remind me of the boundless, great faithfulness and benefaction of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The burden of my sins and all the trouble and misery that were to oppress me eternally He very gladly took upon His shoulders and suffered the bitter death on the cross for them.

To Him I direct you. You may accuse and condemn Him. Let me rest in peace, for on His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins and the sins of all the world.” Martin Luther

Behold the Throne of Grace!

Behold the throne of grace!  The promise calls me near: there Jesus shows a smiling face, and waits to answer prayer.

My soul, ask what thou wilt; thou canst not be too bold; since his own blood for thee was spilt, what else can he withhold?

Thine image, Lord, bestow, they presence and thy love; I ask to serve thee here below, and reign with thee above.

Teach me to live by faith; conform my will to thine; let me victorious be in death, and then in glory shine.


As I said, great stuff which we should sing fairly often.  Newton had a good grasp of grace, and it is evident in his hymns.  It is this grace-centeredness that needs to be a bigger part of our worship services.

Read Full Post »

I was doing some work on a liturgy today.  Among the tools I used was D.A. Carson’s book Worship by the Book.  He is the editor and contributed the first chapter to the book.  From there it explores different worship traditions in chapters written by advocates/participants in those traditions.  Mark Ashton and C.J. Davis explain the liturgical tradition as expressed by Thomas Cranmer and the Episcopal church.  R. Kent Hughes contributes on the worship of the free church.  And last is Tim Keller explaining the Reformed heritage and how it can be expressed in the global city.  Each chapter also includes some sample liturgical patterns so you get a feel for how they might be expressed.

I went back over Tim Keller’s chapter and found many helpful things there.  He begins with the unfortunate reality of the worship wars.  Keller is not an advocate of a purely contemporary or purely historical form of worship.  On the one hand, we don’t want to

“… break our solidarity with Christians of the past.  Part of the richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people.  An unwillingness to consult tradition is not in keeping with either Christian humility or Christian community.  Nor is it a thoughtful response to the postmodern rootlessness that now leads many to seek connection to ancient ways and peoples.”

On the other hand, Historic Worship people have to grapple with some tough problems.  Whose history?  Often these people put a very strong emphasis on 16th-19th century Europe.  How much education?  Often higher forms of art need time for appreciation to be nurtured.  Simple people won’t naturally worship in such complex forms.  And …

“Those who argue against cultural relativism must also remember that sin and fallenness taints every tradition and society.  Just as it is a lack of humility to disdain tradition, it is also a lack of humility (and a blindness to the ‘noetic’ effects of sin) to elevate any particular tradition or culture’s way of doing worship. … While CW advocates do not seem to recognize the sin in all cultures, the HW advocates do not seem to recognize the amount of (common) grace in all cultures.”

So, Tim Keller encourages us to consult “the Bible, the cultural context of our community, and the historic tradition of our church.”  This means no 2 churches will worship the same, though there may be many similarities.  He continues to give a very short history of the variances in Reformed Worship.  He, like R.J. Gore, prefers Calvin’s continental view over the Puritans’ more rigid view.  He had far more singing than the Puritans would.  Calvin also thought exaltation, evangelism and edification were not mutually exclusive concepts.

Keller summarizes Reformed worship as simple (substance over style), emphasizing God’s transcendence, and an order that re-enacts the Gospel to create a grace-orientation.  It is a sort of middle road between the fixed liturgy of Rome or England and the free worship.

He has a helpful section on leading corporate worship.  He talks about demeanor: aware of God’s holiness we will not be overly familiar; aware of God’s grace we will not be nervous or self-conscious.  We should be authentic and humble.  He talks about emotion, neither hiding it nor given free rein so as to manipulate.  Language should not be too archaic or artificial.  It should not be overly mundane or technical either.

All in all, this is a good chapter to prompt worship leaders and pastors to think more profoundly about worship.  He tries to get beneath the rhetoric to the heart of things.  As a result, I find it helpful (but then I usually do find Tim Keller helpful).

Read Full Post »

I have not played much guitar since the adoption.  Foolishly, I have kept it at home since I sometimes play at our Family Small Group.  But there just doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to play.  Can’t play when the kids are awake, and if they are asleep….

Well, last night I needed to play.  I needed some truth in my head, and that is a great time for me to ponder lyrics and try to draw near to God.  It’s been a long week, and I needed some of that time.  So I played after the kids went to bed, but before they usually drift off to sleep.  And I played this morning after they all went to Bible Study Fellowship.  Ah, if only my callouses weren’t so thin.  Then I would have played longer.  Here’s part of my “song list”:

Blessed Be Your Name, I Need Thee Every Hour (Jars of Clay version), O Worship the King (Passion verison), Here is Love, Beautiful, Scandalous Night, Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) [still learning this one], A Shield About Me, Guide Me, O Great Jehovah, Be Thou My Vision, From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee.

Good for the soul.

In the quiet home this morning I read some more of In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.  Actually, I read some last night too.  I try to read 2 chapters a day and am moderately successful.  I finally finished Part V- A Life of Wisdom.  Great stuff in there about discernment and character.  The material I read this morning intersected with my sermon.  We focus on circumstances, but God focuses on character.  My choices flow out of my character so my choices have to be focused on how God transform my character (truth and trial).  The chapter in question was on contentment.  Character traits like this must be learned through experience, as we bring truth to bear on them.

“Christians must discover contentment the old-fashioned way: we must learn it. … It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us.  It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. … This seems a difficult principle  for Christians today to grasp.  Clear directives for Christian living are essential for us.  But, sadly, much of the heavily programmatic teaching in evangelicalism places such a premium on external doing and acheiving that character development is set at a discount.  We live in the most pragmatic society on earth (if anyone can ‘do it,’ we can).  It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.” 


Read Full Post »

This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

Read Full Post »

Somehow I missed this episode of “Flip that Church”.  I’ve got a post on what the Reveal survey revealed and that Willow Creek admitted they’d misjudged things.  I missed the follow-up, what they were doing differently.  It really sounds like a complete change of ministry philosophy.  Sounds like they discovered the “traditional church” had the right ideas.  Hmmmm.

Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they’re making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it’s the mature believers that drive everything in the church—including evangelism.

Hawkins says, “We used to think you can’t upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we’ve really upset the Christ-centered people.” He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they’re not being challenged enough.

Because it’s the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, “Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow.”

Mature believers matter?  How very interesting.  This is a weakness of the “church plant craze.”  I am pro-church plant; don’t get me wrong.  But some planters completely dis’ established churches.  They want to reach the unchurched, which is awesome, but they often begin to too few mature Christians in the core group.  As a result they are like the parents on octuplets, over-burdened and wishing they could bail.


Read Full Post »

Our family worship is a “work in progress”.  We are seeking to raise our kids in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” 

We’ve been praying with our daughter at meals and bedtime for quite some time.  That time has also included some songs she knows from Bible Study Fellowship, as well as a few simple songs from church like the Doxology.  Now our son joins us for those times.

The kids like it when I play my guitar, but since I can’t sing I don’t lead us in songs.

It has only been in the last couple of months that she has wanted us to read from her Bible before going to bed.  Sometimes she wants me to read from it other times during the day.  We really like the Jesus Storybook Bible.  All the stories connect to Jesus in some way, shape or form.  I’m not too keen on teaching her morality, but encouraging her to love and serve King Jesus our Great High Priest.  We’ve begun to give it as a gift to some of her friends.  You can see some sample pages.  CavSon has begun to sit still for those stories as well, which is progress.

I feel like slacker dad, but we have finally begun to catechize her.  She actually brings the booklet to me sometimes, asking me to read the questions to her.  Here’s what she knows so far.

Who made you?  God.

Of what were you made?  Dust.

What does that teach you?  To be humble (and mindful of death, but we haven’t really stressed that part).

Why were you made?  To serve God (I add to enjoy/love Him)  She often answers “because he made me” but we are getting there.

Next is- Why should you serve God?  Because He made us, saved us, and keeps us.

I will probably pick up a different children’s catechism.  I’m not wild about how this one is set up.  The number begins again with each section.


Read Full Post »

In my earlier post on With One Voice by Reggie Kidd, I summarized Bach, Bubba & the Blues Brothers.  I wanted that to function as a book review of sorts.  Now I want to expand those summaries of Reggie Kidd’s ideas and play with the concepts abit.  I’ll interact with material from the book and throw in a few ideas of my own.

Bach- Some Christians have the time, aptitude and resources to fully appreciate classical culture.  I say fully because I appreciate classical culture though it is not where I live.  It is like a vacation spot where I am spoiled at times by Mozart, Bach, Rossini, Tchaikovsky and others.  I haven’t spent the time to study their background and the origins of the various pieces.  I enjoy them, but I don’t have a full appreciation of their work.  But some of my fellow Christians do fully appreciate them.

Classical culture points us to the transcendent.  It is largely about the quest for truth and beauty.  It requires the highest of skills to play/perform.  This is what makes it beyond the reach of most congregations except on special occasions (like a “vacation”).  We need to venture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah periodically to get a taste of beauty and transcendence.  Some of the greatest hymns have been set to music by these musical giants as well.

But I love what Reggie says: “Now, Jesus loves Bach’s music and that of his aesthetic kin- of this I am certain.  I am equally sure, however, that he finds their most elevated and demanding stuff to be but nursery tunes.”  Even in our heights we fall far short of the bar set by our Creator.  Let us not think our worship is better because our songs are more elegant or deeper.  All our praises need to be purified by the blood of Jesus.

But the lush music is a pointer for our longings as well.  Reggie notes the disagreement between Ambrose of Milan and his disciple Augustine of Hippo (you may have heard of him).  Ambrose loved lush music in worship.  Augustine feared it, thinking it would distract him from the text.  They should work together!  A rich text may require rich, lush music.  Music is to capture the meaning of the text, amplifying it so we are lost in wonder at the Redemeer’s love for such as us.  Reggie puts it this way: “there is an expansiveness of spirit Christ would inculcate in us and which art of this kind fosters.”


Read Full Post »

Reggie Kidd was one of my professors at RTS Orlando.  He, like Dr. Nicole, is a first-class procrastinator when it comes to writing books.  Both men have so much the church needs to hear, but other duties and/or pleasures keep their writing to amounts far less than people like me would like to see.

Reggie is not one to overwhelm you with his charisma or sheer brilliance.  He is one who gently calls you to deeper places with the Savior.  He’s the professor you fondly remember because he exudes humility and character.  With One Voice is a welcome addition to my library which I’ve put off reading for far too long.

This book was a long time in being birthed, and one friend from another class recalls it originally being titled The Singing Savior.  This was a nod to his beloved professor, Edmund Clowney, whose idea he takes up for most of this book.  It is a worship book about Jesus.  In typical Reggie fashion, he takes his time to get to the point.  He works his way through Psalms to help us get a big picture view of its movement theologically.  In parallels David’s life in many ways.  He gets to the point when he gets to Psalm 22.  This Psalm is about David’s struggles, but also in a way that points to Messiah’s suffering and eventual exaltation.

Reggie wants us to see that Jesus is the Last & Greatest Lead Worshipper.  He is not only the object of our worship, but He sings over us and with us.  Those who listen find themselves transformed.  But Jesus is also building a new temple of singing stones (1 Peter 2), those who believe.  We sing because He sings.  He leads us in redemptions songs.

It is within this biblical concept that Reggie introduces us to Bach, Bubba and the Blues Brothers.  Building on Psalm 22, Reggie notes that though we sing with one voice, we sing differently.  The rich and the poor are welcome in His presence, and they sing different songs.  This section of the book is born from teaching Worship for years and being dissatisfied with thinking of culture simply in terms of classical culture & pop culture.  Reggie argued for the existence of folk culture as well.

Bach is for the rich & refined.  It is high culture.  There is nothing wrong with high culture.  It has its place at the table.  It has a rich heritage.  This music reflects Jesus’ “grandeur and royalty and urbanity” and gives “expression to Christ’s loftiness and majesty.”

Bubba is Reggie’s shorthand for folk music, the culturally less refined.  It emerges from the the NT vision of the Family of God.  It reflects Jesus’ humility in taking on flesh and bone, coming in the form of a slave.  It captures His suffering, and our longing.  We sing about our Brother who has come to deliver us.

The Blues Brothers reflect our voice as the Friends of God.  We enlist the dialect of our greater surrounding culture to serve redemptive ends.  Jesus is not averse to the hoi polloi- the masses.  He sings so they may hear as well.

The Worship Wars pit these 3 styles of music against one another.  Jesus has other ideas.  He longs to put all 3 at His service and reveal His redemptive purposes.  Each has a place in the living temple.  We mustn’t exalt our preferences in such a way that divides the City of God, the Family of God or the Friends of God.  While we may appreciate one more than the others, we are to affirm that Christ can transform all 3 to His glory- and does.  We need each of these, in my opinion, to keep us balanced in our focus lest we suffer from an over-realized or under-realized eschatology.

This is another gentle, humble call from my professor.  He points us beyond our preferences to Jesus, the One who sings and calls us to sing.  He is able to weave the various songs we sing into a beautiful symphony of redemptive sound.  Yes, Reggie takes the scenic route but it is a journey worth taking with him.

Read Full Post »

We sang this one 2 Sundays ago, and it fit in very well with my sermon.  And for my place in life.  It is on Chris Tomlin’s most recent album See the Morning, but was written by Brenton Brown and Ken Riley.  The song is Everlasting God, and it is a mediation on Isaiah 40.

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord

We will wait upon the LordWe will wait upon the Lord. 

Our God, You reign forever

Our hope, our Strong Deliverer

You are the everlasting God

The everlasting God

You do not faintYou won’t grow weary. 

You’re the defender of the weak

You comfort those in need

You lift us up on wings like eagles.

This song has some great truths to keep in mind as you wait upon the Lord.  He does provide strength as we wait.  Our God does not change, and that means he continues to reign and continues to deliver his people from earthly and eternal trials.  Though we grow faint and weary, he does not.  Instead he continues to defend the weak and comfort us in our times of need.  In due time, we will be lifted up.  Some great truth to ponder while we wait.  And singing it helps!

Read Full Post »

Keith and Kristyn Getty (along with Stuart Townend) are among some of the best worship song writers today.  They write music that bridges the gap between traditional hymns and modern worship with what has been called “modern hymns”.

Keith: “I don’t think of music as only teaching, but I do think that what we sing profoundly affects how we think. It profoundly affects how we feel. It affects, therefore, our emotional and our didactic relationship with God. But what we sing is for people of all ages.”

This is what I like to hear from a musician- he senses a great need to be responsible for properly shaping the life of churches.  Music does affect us emotionally, and so should worship.  It is best to have our emotions stirred by deep truth (Edwards would call this religious affections).  The best church music stirs hearts AND minds.

Keith: “The radical thing about a church service is that people of every age and every wealth bracket and every background come together and sing together. So we write these quasi-folk melodies that everyone can sing, and we hope there’s an enduring quality to them.”

It is more than the “personal worship experience”, but corporate worship- adoring Christ together as the One who has brought us together in union with Himself by faith.

Kristyn talks about how they work with pastors and theologians so they don’t go astray theologically.  What a great idea!  It also shows great humility on their part.  They are the type of songwriters we need (and there are others out there) producing music for the church to use in its times of public worship. 

You might want to check out the rest of interview.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday’s chapter in Running Scared is in a section on money.  In an earlier chapter he was building the connection between our greed and our wavering allegiences between the 2 kingdoms.  He ends up talking about the tithe, which was something I’d been thinking about for the last week or so.  First Ed, and then me.

“If you don’t tithe, your faith is more than likely small.  You hoard because you don’t believe the Father is generous.  You don’t share in the king’s heart of self-sacrifice.  As a result, worry and fear will be an uneasy undercurrent in your life. … Giving is merely one response to his ongoing generosity.”

I appreciate how he ties this into God’s character and the gospel so it is an issue of sanctification, not justification, which God is working in us.

Here is how a sinner’s heart (like mine) is prone to think: If I didn’t tithe…


Read Full Post »

I’ve been making my way through John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.  It has been a good, readable introduction to systematic theology from a triperspectival perspective (say that 3 times fast).  Chapter 19 on the Task of the Church stood out to me this morning.

Frame begins by discussing the inter-relatedness of status (being) and tasks (doing) with regard to the church.  It is (exists) to do; if it isn’t doing, it is really a church.  As sinful people, we tend toward extremes so some stress being over doing with regard to the church.  Scripture, ever true, holds them both in tension.

After this he moves into a discussion of the kingdom which is sure to rankle a few people.  “The gospel, then, is the coming of the kingdom; that is, the coming of the King to make things right.  Incidentally, there is no dichotomy here between gospel and law.  The coming of the King means that he will enforce his law in the world, that he will bring righteousness.  That is the gospel, the good news.  It is important for us to distinguish between salvation by grace and salvation by works, but I don’t think Scripture justifies a sharp distinction between law and gospel.”

That’s a mouthful.  Jesus is subduing rebellious hearts by his grace.  Justified people are also sanctified people who are growing in obedience.  The Law is not null and void- but we aren’t justified by trying to keep the law.  This is important if we are to consider the tasks of the church.  Without law, there really is no place for doing but only being.

He then moves into the tasks of the church as revealed in the Mandates of the Church.  Frame addresses the Cultural, or Creation, Mandate.  It is broken into blessing (normative), filling (existential) and subduing (situational).  It is a good thing for people to multiply (contrary to the zero population growth people) and subdue the earth (not exploit it, but we do utilize it contrary to some environmentalists).  God empowers, or blesses, people to accomplish these tasks.  Frame notes that the creation mandate was given prior to the Fall.  The creation mandate is repeated in the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »