Earlier this week, while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my family, I was reminded of the fact that no matter how dark things are in the valleys, the sun is always shining above the clouds. Anyone who has ever flown in an airplane knows this, of course, but we don’t often have the opportunity to experience it in a car. With the temperature hovering around 30oF and a thick fog settling over the park, it was not a great day for scenic views. In the morning we drove over 75 miles through dense forest on a road that ran along a swiftly flowing stream. We could see the stream, the trees, and the landscape around us but, looking up, we could not see the hilltops or the sky or the sun. In fact, the cloud-cover was so dense at higher elevations that everything was covered with a heavy layer of hoarfrost. Although eerily beautiful, it was as if all the colors were muted and the world was dominated by grays, browns, and whites.
Need a break from election-season stress? How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning? The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God. Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week. This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate. We need a break.
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…)?
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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 […]
Have you ever noticed that almost every letter in the New Testament–James, Hebrews, and 3 John excepted–opens with the words “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or a close approximate? Its’ easy, isn’t it, to just pass by those words. After all, sometimes we view them as being a mere formality, equivalent to our own modern, “I hope you are well.” Who cares about mere pleasantries when the body of the letter is what contains the “good stuff.”
Well, it’s true that the Apostles borrowed from the common practice of their own day when they wrote letters. After all, letter writing isn’t a unique Christian endeavor. But it’s far from the truth to think of these greeting only as a matter of custom. Rather, as a part of God’s Word, they’re transformed and given significance. Here’s two ways to think about these greetings—“grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
First, we need to remember that this is an inspired greeting. Though the Apostles wrote the letters, they did so as those who were inspired. Their letters, to be sure, bear their trademarks—their personality and characteristics. The letters […]
If I’m honest, I think one of the downsides of being a pastor is that I don’t often get to sit in the pews. I know pews aren’t always the most comfortable and the sweat stains on the back of ours may cause some people to wonder why sitting in them would be such a blessing. But there’s something about standing side-by-side with the people of God as they worship. There’s a certain connection that can seem lacking when you’re standing alone at the pulpit.
I was thinking of this when I attended a funeral at our church a couple of weeks ago. I was able to sit in the pews; something I hadn’t done since becoming pastor. And it was a blessing. But what really left an indelible impression on me was the singing of the Psalms. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). The Puritan Thomas Manton observed that we sing Psalms primarily to glorify God, but also to mutually edify one another. He wrote, “It is not meant of teaching from the psalms, but teaching […]