Our Own Tools

My dad loves working on engines. And, by extension, he loves his tools. I never once saw my dad put a tool away without wiping it off and storing it in its proper place.

In Lectures to My Students, C.H. Spurgeon wrote of ministers:

We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order.

Ministers can only preach with their own voice. They can only reason with their own brain. They can only feel with their own heart. As much as I love my books, my fountain pens, my Logos study software, the greatest natural resource God has given me is my body.

Pastors, are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Are you reading books, or are you training your mind? There is a difference. Ministry isn’t made for the body, but the body for ministry.

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Communion Meditation: Seated at the Table

We do quite a bit of standing and sitting in our service. And I want you to know that we do it all for a reason.

Earlier in the service we all stood to hear an assurance of pardon. Think about what’s happening at that moment of the service. We’ve just confessed sin. We’ve come, as it were, into the courtroom of the cosmic judge and we’ve pleaded guilty to all the charges of breaking his law. And once guilt has been established in court, the defendant stands. We stand in order to hear the verdict of the judge.

Two things never change in God’s courtroom—our plea is always guilty—and God’s verdict in Christ is always that we’re pardoned if and only if we’ve placed our faith in him. 

But here, at Communion we always receive the bread and the cup seated. Why don’t we stand for communion? It seems like a solemn enough time. Wouldn’t it be better to stand? In short, no it wouldn’t. We don’t stand as we come to this table for the same reason that we don’t stand at Christmas dinner.

You’ve already stood and heard your sins forgiven. Now you sit, as a member of the judge’s family. He’s come down from the stand and taken his seat at the head of the table. And, this table is solemn only because it’s a shadow of the true table of joy and feasting in the coming kingdom.

This table is for sinners—but it is for repentant sinners who have come to lay their sins on Jesus by faith. If you have done that—then sit and enjoy the feast that Christ has prepared for you. And know that after a lifetime of eating only a cracker and a sip of juice—one day you will sit and eat and drink to your heart’s content.

So come, and welcome to the table of the king.

Exhortation: Love Jesus With Everything

EXHORTATION

The Christian faith isn’t just a faith of ideas. It’s also a faith of practices. And that’s because human beings aren’t just brains on sticks. There is more to us than our minds. We have bodies made up of hands, eyes, ears, and stomachs.

God isn’t just out to form your mind. He wants to conform every part of your body to the image of Christ. And one of the ways he does this is through the classic spiritual disciplines.

As Christians, you are believing Jesus with your eyes when you read the Bible. You are trusting him with your mouth when you pray. You are living out your faith then you listen to sermons. You are devoting your stomach to Jesus when you take the Lord’s Supper and when you choose to fast. You’re submitting to God with your schedule when you make a habit of meeting with his church every Lord’s Day. You love God with your hands when you greet a brother or sister in the Lord.

If the church will change our community, we can’t just be Christians in mind only. James tells us to love one another in word, and deed. Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The spiritual disciplines are physical practices that remind us that our only hope in life and death is that we are not our own, but belong, both body and soul, to God. So, it’s not enough to just believe Christian things, we also have to practice Christian living. We have to learn to love God.

This reminds us of our need to confess sin, so let’s go to God now.

CONFESSION

Holy Father,

You have called us to love you with heart, soul, mind and strength. And we know that the blood of Jesus didn’t just save our souls… it saved even our bodies. 

And yet, we are guilty of holding back. We have not loved you with all our being. Father, we confess that we fool ourselves into thinking that you only care about what’s in our heart. That you don’t care about what our eyes see, our hands touch, or our ears hear.

We confess that we’ve kept back portions of our schedules and our wallet. There are fears that we are holding on to and there are hopes and dreams we have not submitted to your authority.

Father, we are sinners. And we humble ourselves before you. We want you to deal honestly with our sin. Please, Father, be gentle with us—but do not allow us to live in self-deception.

And we know that if we in the church say amen to this prayer while still holding back—this prayer will have no effect, and so we confess our individual sins silently to you now. Receive our prayers.

We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

What is the Gospel?

What is the gospel? It’s such a simple question, but answering it correctly is essential to healthy church ministry. Simply put, the gospel is the news of what God has done to save sinners in the death burial and resurrection of Christ.

Tim Keller says, “All human problems are ultimately symptoms, and our separation from God is the cause.” (1)

So, let’s get this straight: racism, poverty, and homelessness are all symptomatic. None of them is the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is that human beings are separated from God because of their sin.

And this means that the only thing that can rescue humanity is to be made right with God; to be reconciled to him. And here’s the rub: nothing we do can reconcile us to him. This means we can’t be saved by housing the homeless or feeding the hungry. A man cannot reconcile with his brother enough to get himself reconciled with God too.

I’m not saying those things are unimportant. I’m saying they are so important that we must defend a clear definition of the gospel because the moment we water the gospel down into social work is the moment any hope of mortifying racism and pushing back poverty vanishes. 

The center of Jesus’ first appearing wasn’t social justice, it was to come and bear the wrath of divine justice as a payment of sin. When Jesus Christ ascended there were still poor people in Jerusalem and Jewish-Gentile relations were strained. But, there wasn’t a single person who couldn’t be reconciled to God. Jesus did what he came to do. He came to reconcile us and, having ascended, he has given the ministry of reconciliation to his church.

So, where does doing social good factor into all of that? This is where we have to differentiate between the gospel (we can be reconciled to God through Christ) with the effects of the gospel (our new life in Christ makes us reconcile with our brother, feed the hungry, etc.). 

John tells us that Christians who claim to love God but hate their brother are lying, and this ought to cause us to consider whether we’ve believed in the true gospel if our lives remain unchanged. But, on the flip side, those who redefine the gospel along the lines of doing social justice have left the true gospel. In other words, they no longer believe in justification by faith alone. Now, justification is based on works. And once that happens to a church, put a fork in it. It’s done. 

So, let’s ingrain the true gospel so deep that nothing will dislodge it. Let’s preach Christ and him crucified so that sinners can be reconciled to God. And let’s not be those who claim to love God while hating our brother, or despising the poor.

(1) Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 29). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Family Worship

One of the great holes in our discipleship today is family worship. Husbands and Wives, Fathers and Mothers ought to lead their families to adore our Heavenly Father. God has made his desire for family worship clear enough:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, …You shall write them on the doorposts of your house

So, what then should family worship look like? How do you do it? Stick with this next sentence:

If the command is to love the Lord with all our being, then family worship should incorporate all of the appropriate forms of worship prescribed to us in the Bible. In other words, family worship is learning to love God within the home through:

  • Reading and Listening to His Word
  • Singing His Praise
  • Confessing Our Sins and Forgiving One Another
  • Offering Prayers to Him
  • Using Our Gifts to Serve One Another

As I’ve been learning more about the subject, I want to tell you how we do this at my house. After dinner, we gather in our living room. Dad, mom, kids. My children are all 6 years old and under so my expectations on their attention spans are quite low. We shoot for 10 minutes of family worship. Within those 10 minutes, I’ll include a couple elements of worship. Sometimes I’ll read from a children’s Bible and the kids will listen. Other times (when they have the wiggles) I have them act the story out. We almost always sing and currently, I close family worship by having them repeat the Lord’s Prayer after me.

I’d love to say this happens every single night without fail. That certainly is my aspiration. But, just like your family sometimes kids are worn out and falling asleep. Sometimes dad is tired and gives in to his own weakness.

God has called me to disciple my wife and the children under my roof. He hasn’t placed that burden primarily on the church I attend. When I stand before him on the last day he won’t turn to the children’s pastor to give an account of my children’s’ discipleship. If you are a husband or father, God places that responsibility primarily on you. (Ephesians 5:22-6:4) Wives and Mothers (especially single mothers) God has given you the responsibility and will equip you with the grace to do the same in the absence of a godly man in the home.

In the coming days, I’ll write posts on trustworthy resources that I like to use, questions I’m regularly asked about the subject, and a few other odds and ends. If you don’t currently observe family worship in the home let me encourage you to turn your Bible to Deuteronomy 6 and memorize verse 4-9. Let God’s command to you sink in and transform your leadership in the home.

Exhortation: Clean the House

One of the secrets to having a loving and peaceful family is regular repentance. Regular admission and confession of sins. Regular forgiveness.

Imagine two identical families. In each family, there’s a father and a mother. Both families have two children. Now imagine that these identical families live in two identical houses. Same square footage. Same layout. In both houses, you have the same number of dirty dishes, the same number of dirty clothes, and the same rooms to clean. But one of these houses is constantly in disarray while the other is relatively clean and put together. But it’s not because one family uses more cups, or changes clothes more often.

The difference is that in the clean house, whenever someone uses a cup they put it in the dishwasher, and whenever someone sees clothes in the hamper they run a load of laundry. In the other family, the father uses a cup, but he leaves it on the counter. The daughter changes clothes, but instead of putting her dirty clothes in the wash, she kicks them under the bed.

What’s the secret to the first family’s clean house? It’s not that they have fewer messes. It’s that they are constantly putting dirty things where they need to go, and they’re doing it right away. They don’t let filth build up.

Every family commits sin. Father’s sin against daughters. Son’s against mothers. But what is your family doing with its sin? Are you putting dirty sins where they belong? Don’t leave them sitting on the counter overnight. Don’t kick them under the bed. When you sin, tell it to the person you sinned against. Turn away from it and ask for forgiveness. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Say, “I sinned against you. Will you forgive me?” If your family member has sinned and is asking for forgiveness, give it right away. Don’t just say, “It’s ok.” Say, “Yes, I forgive you.” Then, when sin is confessed and forgiven, the dish is cleaned—you can’t pull it back out to look at the dirt again.

“Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” 

Husbands, keep short accounts with your wives. Wives, keep short accounts with your husbands. Parents, keep short accounts with your children. Children, keep short accounts with your parents and your siblings. Clean your house.

(This exhortation is based on an illustration I once heard from Pastor Doug Wilson at Christ Kirk in Moscow, ID)

Stop Explaining the Liturgy!​

Most of you know that liturgy is a favorite topic of mine. Over the past few years, I’ve read numerous books, engaged in hundreds of conversations, and worked hard to craft Christ-centered liturgies for the church I pastor, Lake Wylie Baptist.

It may come as a shock, then, to see a blog post exhorting you to stop explaining the liturgy, but let me explain. By the title, I do not imply that ministers ought not to talk with one another about liturgy. Here’s what I mean:

Stop explaining what’s happening while the liturgy is happening. Stop acting as the narrator or expositor of the liturgy when it’s in progress. Stop MC’ing the service every single week. Nothing bores a congregation more than to be treated like toddlers and have a minister give a comprehensive explanation of every element of the worship service.

  • Instead of saying, “Now we will sing…” just sing.
  • Stop saying, “We will now observe the public reading of Scripture,” and just read the passage in power.

I know what you’re thinking. “But I want the congregation to understand what we’re doing!” Yes, yes. I do too. This is why I do the hard work of making sure the liturgy is Christ-centered, thoughtful, and sincere (to the best of my ability) so that they can come in and simply put their feet on the pedals and ride.

In his philosophy of worship for Bethlehem, John Piper placed the highest priority on the vertical focus of Lord’s Day worship. In describing that priority, Dr. Piper sought to remove horizontal intrusions between vertical acts.”

Piper encourages pastors to cut out anything that disrupts the “flow [of the people] in a sustained godwardness and vertical attentiveness.”

Worship is about movement. God > Man > Christ > Response. Move. Move. Move. Every time you interject exposition of an element of the service movement stops. When Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord on the throne, the seraphim didn’t stop their antiphonal chant to exposit the meaning of “holy” for Isaiah. That would have broken his gaze upon the Lord. He was in the temple. He could see it. There’s a time and place to explain holiness. Do it in a sermon. But be very selective of when to interrupt the vertical gaze of the congregation

Imagine having your best friends over for a meal. You prep the meal with intensity, care, and an eye towards the beauty of the presentation. The friends gather around the table, grab a fork, but before they take the first bite of salad, you stop and begin explaining why you arranged the tomatoes next to the peppers. Then, as the fork moves to the chicken, you give them a small lecture on why the chicken is the centerpiece of the salad.  Do you see where this is going? None of us want meals explained. We just want to eat them. We just want to taste and see.

This is not to say that you should never explain the liturgy to the church. You should. I’m simply advocating that you don’t do it every Sunday between every element. Work for sustained vertical attention.

This post is being filed under “If I Were a Pastor.” I intend these posts to speak to brother pastors who are seeking to reform their church. Whether it’s liturgy, ecclesiological practices, preaching or some other topic, these posts will be fairly unfiltered comments about how we’ve done things at LWBC. Feel free to dialogue with me, I’d love to share my foolishness and maybe even some wisdom.

Exhortation: Disruptive Silence

EXHORTATION

Psalm 62:5 says:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, 

for my hope is from him. 

As Christians in America, our faith runs the risk of being colored and shaded by the values of the culture we inhabit. If culture loves excess, the unconscious church will value self-indulgence. If culture worships success, a blind church will begin promoting growth and numbers more than holiness and true proclamation.

Our culture is obsessed with noise and busyness. The apps on our phones constantly ding, flash notifications, and vibrate. The watch on our wrist begs to show us texts, our heart rate, and the current state of the Dow Jones. We scroll down the social media rabbit hole flicking from a political article to pictures of our cousins, to a viral video about why Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza. It doesn’t, by the way. Yesterday was National Ice Cream Sunday day, today is National Mac N Cheese Day and tomorrow will be National Tapioca Pudding day.

Our culture has gladly given up the ability and responsibility to sit in silence and deeply reflect on what matters most. Everything in our culture seeks to distract us. It seeks to prevent us from giving our full attention to what matters most.

And into this distracted world, Psalm 62 commands: For God alone, O my soul, wait… in… silence.

Christians, and the churches they belong to combat distraction through cultivating disruptive silence. We bring our phones under the mastery of Jesus Christ and his gospel. We submit our smartwatches and surrender our social media addictions to the Creator King.

In our gathered worship we limit the use of our screens and videos. We obey Psalm 62 several times through scheduled silence. We force our hearts, which are so terrified of the emptiness silence might reveal to come to grips with who we really are so that God can remake us in the gospel of Jesus.

In this age of noise, one of the greatest ways you can take a stand is by cultivating moments of silence before your God.

This reminds us of our need to confess our sin, so let’s bow in prayer now.

CONFESSION

Our Father,

You are great, and your throne is exalted. In your hands are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks are yours as well. You made the sea and you formed the dry land with your hand. In response to your majesty, we come and worship. We bow down. We kneel before the Lord, our God, our maker. 

We know that your majesty demands silence, yet we live in a world of noise. Your beauty commands our gaze, but our eyes wander. Father, we live in a distracted world. We rarely break away from our digital routines to enjoy silence before you. We impulsively open our phones, but we neglect your Word. We fill up our days with busyness and crowd out prayer. Indeed, Father, we suppress the truth in unrighteous distractions.

Lord God, we are sinners. And you know all of our sin. Nothing is hidden from you. We know that you are the forgiving God and so we ask that you would bring to mind anything we have not yet made right with you so that we might do so. 

We confess our individual sin to you now. Hear our prayers.

We ask all this in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The Lord is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:8-12

If you have placed your faith in Christ, then in Christ your transgressions have been removed from you, and your sin is forgiven.

Exhortation: Don’t Grow Weary

Galatians 6:9 says, And let us not grow weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

When you’re trying to grow a vegetable garden you have to sow a lot of seed, you have to protect those seeds until they can germinate, then you have to constantly pull weeds, and water (but not too much). Your hands have to ache. Your face has to sweat. And then you have to wait, and wait, and then wait some more.

 There’s no other way to grow a garden— but make no mistake— ripe tomatoes don’t hang on vines because of anything the gardener does.

You can only sow. You can’t make the plant bear fruit. The field is tilled and left to grace.

The same is true in our relationships, our jobs, and our church. We are to sow the Word of God daily. We pull weeds as we confess our sin. We have to water relationships with works of love and kindness. And, more than anything, we have to wait. We have to till the field, and then trust the fruitful harvest to God alone.

And Paul tells us, don’t grow weary. Don’t give up. Even though you can’t make fruit grow, you shouldn’t stop sowing seed. Don’t stop reading the Word. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop treating others as Christ has treated you. When you feel like you can’t wait any longer, wait some more.

And there’s a promise— not that the harvest will be plentiful— but that there will be a harvest. You don’t know what kind, or how large— but you will reap if you don’t faint. You will see the fruit of your toil in the Lord.

So church, let’s keep pulling weeds. Let’s daily sow the Word into our lives. Let’s till the field, and then leave it to the grace of God.

Let’s go to God now and confess our sins.

CONFESSION

Almighty Father,

We come to you now and confess our weakness. We are beset with human weaknesses like the need for sleep and the ache of hunger. But we are also beset by the weaknesses of our sin.

Apart from your grace, our hearts do not desire to read your Word daily. We get tired of confessing sin and wish that our sinful temptations would just give up. We’ve grown weary in our fight with the world, the flesh, and Satan. 

Our eyes have grown heavy as we vigilantly watch over our children. Our patience has grown short as we’ve tried to follow Jesus at work. Our hearts are heavy as we continually offer up prayers that we fear go answered.

O patient Father, forgive our weariness. Remember us in your mercy. In your grace, renew our hearts, lift up our drooping hands. Help us to wait on the harvest of peace and righteousness that only you and your grace in Christ can bring.

Father, we come to you now to confess our individual sins. Receive our prayers.

We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, who died in our place, and was raised for our justification, Amen.

Please rise for the assurance of pardon.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

The good news of the gospel is that those who confess their sin and come to Jesus by faith are forgiven of their sin and given eternal life. Therefore, if you are connected to Jesus by faith, then in Christ, your sin is forgiven. 

Communion Meditation: The Wall Breaker

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

Sin divides man from God, and man from man. But, when Christ died for sin, he broke down the walls that divide us from God and one another. From the moment Jesus was crucified, Jews and Gentiles began worshipping in the same temple, and eating from the same table. But, if you go rummaging through the debris of that broken wall picking up pieces to rebuild it in places that suit your tastes and prejudices it’s an awful sin.

This table, where we encounter the broken flesh of Christ is a reminder that Christ has delivered us out of the foolishness of racism, from the idolatry of identity politics, and the darkness of only befriending those in our own income brackets.

When you were born into this world you didn’t choose who your siblings would be. And when you are born into God’s family you don’t get to choose your siblings there either. God has chosen your family members. Therefore, if a woman has repented of her sins and put her faith in Christ, she isn’t like a sister—she is sister. He isn’t like a brother, he is a brother. 

If God, through the shed blood of Christ has declared a brother “clean” then we cannot turn around and declare him “unclean.” 

If Jesus has preached “peace” to a sister and brought her near, then the rest of the family can’t preach “hostility” and drive her away.

If you have not trusted in Christ, then the only wall that stands between you and this table is your own sin, which you are called to place on Jesus as you trust his sacrifice.

So, as those who have been brought near take their seat at the table, look around the room. Notice who is here. Notice what has brought us together when so many things would otherwise drive us apart. Look at what broke down the wall of hostility. A piece of bread, and a mouthful of juice. Finite symbols that signify infinite grace and mercy. The broken body of Jesus, and his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sin.

So, come and welcome to Jesus Christ.