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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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