RSS feed for this section

Archive | Worship

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 […]

What do mad Christians sing?

Awhile back, Carl Trueman wrote a great little article titled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing.” Here’s a summary, in the author’s own words:

“My thesis was very simple: there is nothing in the typical book of hymns or praise songs that a woman who has miscarried a baby, or a parent who has just lost a child to cancer, can sing with honesty and integrity on a Sunday.

“The desperation and heartache of such moments are things which we instinctively feel have no place in a religion where we are called on to rejoice in the Lord always.  Yet there is a praise book which taps such emotions and gives the broken-hearted honest words with which to express their deepest sorrows to God.

“It’s called the book of Psalms; and its recovery as a source of public praise in the Christian church can only help the church overcome its innate triumphalism and make room for the poor and the weak; that is the very people that Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians which are the normal kind of church member.

Appreciating the Trinity

I don’t know if I’m allowed to write what I’m about to, but I will anyway. I’m sometimes disappointed by the way many of us identify ourselves as “Christians.” Can I say that? No, it’s not because I’m seeking some existential freedom from labels. I happily own all kinds of different –isms for myself. Nor is it because I think “Christian” is an unbiblical word. On the contrary, it was in Antioch “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Rather, it’s because I have the sneaking suspicion that many of us have reduced this term “Christian” to identify ourselves only in relation to Christ. To be sure that’s incredibly important. Our union with Christ is the backbone of salvation. But I wonder, when you identify yourself as a “Christian,” is there a self-conscious Trinitarianism behind that label?

The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t a marginal or secondary doctrine appended to our belief in Christ, as if we can remain neutral to the Father or the Spirit. One writer was so bold as to assert, “Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice.” Is he wrong? I don’t think so. A non-triune God is not the God of the […]

A Cure for the Prayerless Heart

Are you having trouble in your prayer life? Do you feel as though your heart is hardened soil as you pray? Sing the psalms!  Wilhelmus a’Brakel gave this encouragement to his readers over 300 years ago when he wrote:

Singing will move a heart which frequently remains unmoved during prayer. It can be that while singing the tears will drip upon the book. Have you not frequently experienced this? Have not you been stirred up by hearing the singing of others? Others will therefore also be stirred up by your singing.

The Papists in France knew this, and therefore they strictly forbade the singing of psalms and meted out cruel punishment for this—even prior to massacring the church.

Therefore, no longer be silent, but lift up your voices—in spite of the devil and all the enemies of God—to the honor and glory of your God, as this has done you too much good already (and still does) than that you would refrain from thanking the Lord with songs of praise. You must furthermore do so in order that you might stir up others to serve the Lord with gladness. It will then become manifest to all […]

What Must I Be To Pray?

I trust you won’t hold it against me if I told you that I’ve often wondered what makes someone a good prayer. I know, I know, that sounds awfully critical and judgmental—two sins I’m often prone to. But I must admit that I’ve heard people pray in such a way that it has made deep and lasting impressions on me.

I remember one prayer from a man I greatly admire that adored God for his Triunity. God in unity, God in plurality, simple in substance, undivided in nature yet distinct in person and indivisibly united. The content was so rich a theological treatise could have been written from it, and it moved me to worship. But I have also heard profound prayers from the lips of children who, without care or concern for what others would think or say, converse with God with such blessed simplicity I blush that I don’t approach the Throne of Grace with likewise child affections. So, if I’m allowed to ask, what makes a man, woman, or child a good prayer? If it’s not eloquence, wordiness, age, experience—what is it?

I think the answer, or at least one of the answers to that question, is character. The […]