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Archive | Worship

Why We Sing

Of all the things we do in worship, singing is the most mysterious to me. That’s probably not a great statement about my theology, but it’s accurate. I understand the why of our singing less than the other elements of worship. Why do we sing? Why not just recite Scripture out loud? Or why do we sing together? Why not just let one person sing (this tempts me sometimes…)? 

Children in Worship

An article yesterday over at Reformation 21 on family-integrated worship caught my eye. I enjoyed the historical peek at a time period in Scotland when the church was wrestling over having children in worship. Though Dr. Denlinger is not speaking against family-integrated worship per se, he is sounding a note of caution to advocates who assume that the church has always welcomed children in the sanctuary until modern times. As an added humorous bonus, he also linked to this Lutheran Satire video on the subject which I had not seen.

Just as the questions of whether children should be baptized or should come to the Lord’s Table are often matters of discussion in pastoral theology, so too is the subject of children in worship. As I worked through a position paper a number of years ago on this issue, I thought I would republish it here for any help it might give to others. Please note that I write this as a Presbyterian pastor, so my views of the covenant sign of baptism greatly impact my understanding of this subject.

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Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

An increasingly common practice found in […]

Preparing for Our Heavenly Union with God

In his beautiful tribute yesterday, James shared the news that a dear friend to a number of us at Gentle Reformation, Pastor David Long, passed into glory on Saturday evening. When I received the news, I had just said “Amen” following a quiet, tearful time of singing and praying with my family for Dave and Jenny and their family. Dave, my spiritual father, is now with the God he knew so well, served so faithfully, and told others of so sincerely.

At a conference last fall at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on “Experiencing the Fullness of Our Union with Christ,” providentially I gave the final talk on preparing for heaven. At the start of my message and in the journal being published this week, I dedicated this talk to Dave as follows.

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At the time of my study and writing of this article, I have been emotionally walking with a lifetime friend and mentor as he fights a battle against a serious form of cancer. Observing someone close to you preparing to meet God moves a discussion such as this one out of the realm of the merely academic and speculative to that of pastoral and personal. So this article is dedicated to Pastor […]

Call the Sabbath a Delight

In Isaiah 58.13 we have laid out for us the chief purpose of the Sabbath day: …turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable… honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly…

The central thought here is that we are to delight in and honour the Lord’s holy day. The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’, and that in two directions: on the one hand the Sabbath is to be set apart from the rest of week—we are not to use it to gratify our own desires and preferences. But at the same time, the Sabbath is set apart for God. In other words, the reason for setting it apart from other six days is so that the Lord will be the focus of the day. We abstain from the work and leisure pursuits of the other six days not so we’ll be bored for a whole day, but so we can concentrate on the Lord without distraction.

Isaiah spells out three things involved in honouring the day:

Not going your own ways. This probably refers […]

Missing Jesus With Thomas

On the evening of the first Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas was absent. The other disciples were gathered together when Jesus came and stood among them displaying his nail pierced hands and feet and speaking “Peace” to them, but Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24). It wasn’t until the following first day of the week that Thomas would have the benefit of seeing Jesus. Now, we don’t know why he was absent. Matthew Henry suggests, “Perhaps it was Thomas’s unhappiness that he was absent–either he was not well, or had not notice; or perhaps it was his sin and folly–either he was diverted by business or company, which he preferred before this opportunity, or he didn’t come for fear of the Jews; and he called that his prudence and caution which was his cowardice.” Whatever his reason was–and we don’t know–we do know that because he was not gathered with the disciples he neither shared in their joy or the blessing of meeting with the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Sadly, Thomas’s experience is all too often the experience of many Christians who, for whatever reasons, absent themselves from the gathering of saints on the Lord’s […]

“Not In Our House!!”

Have you ever tried to resist the inevitable?  I do this whenever I sit down to eat.  No matter how much I try to avoid it, my superlative skills in unintentionally creating social awkwardness will kick in, and some of my food will end up on me rather than in me.  Sometimes I think I should purposely dump the contents of my plate on my lap as soon as I sit down, just to kill the anticipatory tension.  Either way, wearing my food is an unpleasant inevitability.  But have you ever tried to resist something that is inevitable, but also absolutely wonderful – in fact, the very best thing that could ever happen to you?  I have, and if you are a Christian, you have, too.     

What Your Pastor Sees In Worship

The following is an open letter to the saints I serve at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis:

Dear Saints,

The way you worship matters. You do not see everything I see in worship as your pastor, and so today, I’m writing to tell you some of what I see.

It starts in the hour before worship. I gather with ESL (English as a Second Language) students who come for worship along with one elder’s wife who brings her large heart and multilingual abilities. You know these students through your work with them in the Wednesday evening ESL classes. In the hour before worship, they read the Scripture passage through which I will preach and we work through the text. Though most have advanced degrees, they have very little experience with English. They usually have even lesser knowledge of the Bible. For instance, few begin with the understanding that the Bible is a single story, rather than a collection of wisdom literature is the case with most religious texts.

So, through language barriers and against the pressure of the ticking clock, we labor for the hour to understand the gist of the text and the central point of the coming sermon. We read together, explain […]

Mercy and the Westminster Publick Directory of Worship

In teaching on mercy ministry in Reformed settings, I often use the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) to make a point. The RPW teaches that we are only to worship God as He commands us to do so in Scripture. In considering matters of worship, many Reformed Christians, rightly so, insist on regulating carefully by the Word of God what takes place in the church’s worship of God.

So as I address mercy and worship, I like to say there is another RPW.  Not only must we be careful to regulate our worship according to God’s Word, but we must also be diligent to insure that God’s Word is regulating us, especially in the area of mercy. Repeatedly, God’s Word emphasizes as we come into His presence that He is examining us to see if we are caring for the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan as we ought.  Just two samples among dozens that could be given:

God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.  Rescue the weak and needy; […]

The Christian Use of the Imprecatory Psalms

Last week an interesting article appeared on one of my favorite blogs, Reformation 21, entitled “ISIS and the Imprecatory Psalms.” Excited to see how the Psalm portions that involve praying the covenantal curses against the enemies of God would be treated, I eagerly read it.  Author Carleton Wynne, using the fullness of the revelation given to us in the New Testament, makes many good points about the historical rootedness of these prayers, wrongful applications of them, the ultimate fulfillment they will have in the final judgment, and the Christian spirit in which they should now be prayed.  The article is well worth a read.

Providentially, I just completed a teaching course on preaching, where one assignment the students had was to develop a sermon from the imprecatory Psalms.  As we discussed this article, we felt that one thought that runs through the article was a bit unsatisfying.  Though he makes some concession to praying for justice in this life, Wynne seems uncomfortable with prayers for imminent justice when he asks and answers the following question at the end.

So may we pray the imprecatory Psalms today? No, in the sense that Christians today may not pray the imprecatory Psalms with outstretched finger, identifying enemies who do them […]