Gentleness and Respect

Posted: July 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

My wife and I just came back from a music festival where we went to see our favourite band perform in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. Ironically, this also happened to coincide with the US Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, something that was openly celebrated by 99% of those in attendance. Which got us thinking, I wonder what would happen if anyone here found out that we were in the 1% who held a very different belief?

The truth is, the more I talk to people, the more I realize that this is a very common experience for those who hold to a biblical view of marriage. Whether it is at school, work or among friends and family, many Christians are feeling unwelcome. Even though we as Canadians have been living with the reality of same-sex marriage for years now, this recent shift in US law has certainly brought the issue to the forefront, often leaving those who oppose it afraid to speak their minds.

Part of this reminds us of something Jesus said:  “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19 (ESV) If we are going to stand firm on our theological and moral convictions, the reality is that we should expect animosity. The question is, how should we respond?

As professor Denny Burk explains,

The video above is from a Roman Catholic group, but I can testify that many evangelical Christians are feeling the same way these folks are. I am a pastor, and the testimonies in this video look very similar to what I have been seeing with the folks in my church. Our members by and large don’t have questions about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage. They get that. Nor do they have questions about their obligation to love their neighbor, to seek their good, and to be at peace with everyone (Mark 12:29Luke 6:33Rom. 12:18). They get all of that. Their question is how to live out what Jesus has called them to be when folks treat them with hostility.

Now to be sure, the kind of cultural animosity we may encounter is nothing compared to the persecution many Christians face throughout the world. Still, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think carefully about the context we live in and the way we in the church today are being viewed and treated here in North America. Because it certainly seems like we are entering a season of increased hostility and rejection but hopefully this will lead to greater humility and increased wisdom as we seek to find some common ground with our neighbours.

Pastor Gavin Ortlund recently shared some very helpful thoughts on this…

Many younger people seem to intuitively sense that accepting gay marriage is tolerant and compassionate, and opposing it is narrow and mean. That instinct is not incomprehensible. There is indeed a lot of bigotry and homophobia in the world, and there has been a lot of downright meanness directed toward the LGBT community. I grieve and oppose this as much as anyone. It is wrong. Christ has called us to love our neighbor, whatever their sexual identification, and the gospel calls us to be more concerned about our own sin than anyone else’s.

But many prominent voices in our culture regard all opposition to same-sex marriage as bigoted. There is an aggressive, “take-no-prisoners” mindset that—all in the name of open-mindedness and tolerance—sweeps away any space for principled disagreement. There are only two options on the table: the celebration of gay marriage, or “nonsense … absolute stupidity” of the kind that is comparable to denying women or black people the right to vote and can only be met with exasperation and disbelief.

But if we are really seeking to advance the cause of tolerance, shouldn’t we be willing to tolerate persons who hold to the traditional view? If we are really seeking to advance the cause of open-mindedness, shouldn’t we be willing to distinguish between more and less thoughtful expressions of the view we oppose?

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:14-15 (ESV)


John Wesley once said. “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.”

Here is an excellent post from Courtney Reissig over at the Gospel Coalition that reflects on the unique joys and challenges of motherhood…

Becoming a mother changes everything. There is so much they don’t tell you when you sign your discharge papers at the hospital. Of course they prepare you for things like feeding, changing a diaper, and general hygiene. But they don’t tell you how exhausted you will feel in those early days, or how uncertain you will feel about your skill as a mother, or how lonely you feel when your every day suddenly feels like Groundhog Day.

Motherhood is the most exhilarating experience. But it is also extremely isolating. You can go in short order from a vivacious social butterfly to a homebody who goes three days without changing her clothes. Everybody gets that motherhood changes them. But no one is quite prepared for how motherhood changes them.

Purpose of Loneliness

It’s hard to see a plan for our circumstances when they are clouded by tantrums, spit-up, and other mundane realities of motherhood. But that doesn’t deny that a sovereign hand guides it all. In the all-consuming days of being a mother it can often feel like the loneliness we feel is just the icing on an already bitter cake. Elisabeth Elliot said about our loneliness:

Loneliness is one kind of “dying” most of us learn about sooner or later. Far from being “bad” for us, a hindrance to spiritual growth, it may be the means of unfolding spiritual “blossoms” hitherto enfolded. The full-blown beauty of the wild rose, its very “fulfillment” depends on its continuously dying and living again. . . . In God’s economy, whether he is making a flower or a human soul, nothing ever comes to nothing. The losses are his way of accomplishing the gains.

Like so many other difficult things we face in the Christian life, loneliness is part of God’s loving plan to work all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). So the days where the only human being you converse with talks in two-word sentences or baby babble is not a loss to God or you. It is preparing for you a weight of glory beyond comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

This daily dying to ourselves is not unique to motherhood, either. As Christians, we are called to die to our own glory and desires on a regular basis. The Son of God’s lonely, painful death secured our life. So every little death to our own desires in our mothering journey allows us to share in the suffering of our Christ (1 Peter 4:13). Our death to social interaction and variety in our day means life for our children. And it is never in vain.

Hope for the Lonely

On paper it seems noble to say we are daily dying for our children. But it doesn’t feel so wonderful when they cry out for us before the sun even rises. Or when we have to miss another Sunday at church because our child is sick or needs us in the nursery. In these moments we don’t often care if loneliness means life for our child. We just want to talk to our friends for a change. Thankfully, we can rely on more than our feeble efforts to endure such loneliness.

Christ was alone so we would never have to be alone. And he ensured that even when we respond sinfully to our loneliness, he will give us the grace to repent and respond better the next time. Even on the most isolating days, where all you do is feed, clean, and hold a baby who you aren’t sure even knows you are there, you are not alone. The loneliness you feel can be swallowed up with the amazing reality that Christ will never leave your side. He is our comfort when we are shedding nearly as many tears as our colicky baby. He is our strength when we feel like we can’t get out of bed for one more middle-of-the-night feeding. He upholds us when we collapse on the couch after another long day of caring for little ones. And he is our righteousness when we fail our kids in a moment of sleep-deprived frustration.

I’ve learned in only a few short months of motherhood that I can’t fool anyone into thinking I have it all together. I’ve also learned that even in my frazzled, sometimes lonely state of new motherhood, I am being held by the loving hands of my heavenly Father. He has ordained these long days for my good and my ultimate joy.

Yes, motherhood is hard work. It’s lonely work. It’s a work that doesn’t always yield results for all of the input. But it’s a Christ-like work. Every day we die to ourselves whether through lack of sleep, time, or social interaction, we are taking on the form of a servant in the spirit of our Christ (Phil. 2:7). And it’s beautiful to God.

Children are a precious gift. There is nothing more amazing than staring at the life God created inside of you (or inside someone else). The long days we spend mothering our children have eternal significance that will, Lord willing, one day reap many rewards. Until then, we labor. We wait. And we cry out to the only One who truly understands what it means to lay down his life for his own.

Courtney Reissig is a writer, wife, and mom to twin boys. She is married to Daniel, and together they live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and serve at Midtown Baptist Church. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Rejoicing in Lament

Posted: April 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

Here is how J. Todd Billings, Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, begins his new book…

“Get well soon! Jesus loves you! God is bigger than cancer!”

My tears started to flow as I read these words. They were from a fifteen-year-old girl with Down syndrome in my congregation. Less than a week earlier, the doctor spoke the diagnosis to me, about which he had no doubt: a cancer of the bone marrow, multiple myeloma—an incurable cancer, a fatal disease. I had been in a fog ever since. How was I to face each day when my future—which had seemed wide open—had suddenly narrowed? My “world” seemed to be caving in on itself with fog in each direction I turned, so that no light could shine in.

While I had received many cards in the previous days, this one was different. “God is bigger than cancer!” Yes. She did not say, “God will cure you of this cancer,” or “God will suffer with you.” God is bigger than cancer. The fog is thick, but God is bigger. My cancer story was already developing its own sense of drama. The sky was closing in, enveloping my whole world so that nothing else could creep in. But God’s story, the drama of God’s action in the world, was bigger. The girl in my church wasn’t denying the fog or the loss but testifying to a God who was greater, the God made known in Jesus Christ, who shows us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). In my tears, there was not only grief but also joy that in the body of Christ theological truths are not a commodity tracked and controlled by professional theologians. God’s story in Christ is bigger than my cancer story, period.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7 ESV)

The Church and Mental Health

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

mentalhealthSomeone once asked Jesus, what is the greatest commandment? He said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt 22:37) Part of what this reminds us of is that as human beings, created in the image of God, we are more than just a collection of cells. Rather, we are made mind, body and soul, intricately woven together by God. (Psalm 139) Meaning that when it comes to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, we must acknowledge that there is no simple solution.

Dr. Bob Kellemen, a licensed clinical professional counsellor in the state of Maryland and member of the Biblical Counselling Coalition, asks two very important questions:

1. How do we speak compassionately and comprehensively about mental illness and about the complex interaction of the brain/body/mind/soul?

2. How do we address any concerns about root causes of life struggles without being heard to say that we are ignoring the whole person or lacking empathy for social factors and physiological issues?

Today is the annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign which is aimed at “opening the national conversation about mental illness.” To be sure, this is something we in the church can certainly learn from. There is a need for us to talk openly and compassionately about this topic. And so, how do we do this? How do we open the conversation and as a church model Christ-centred biblical counselling to one another both formally and informally?

Here, in part, is how Dr. Kellemen answers this…

Biblical Counseling Must Be Founded in Love    

We believe that Christ’s incarnation is not just the basis for care, but also the model for how we care (Hebrews 4:14-16; John 13:34-35). We seek to enter into a person’s story, listening well, expressing thoughtful love, and engaging the person with compassion (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The wise and loving personal ministry of the Word takes many appropriate forms, from caring comfort to loving rebuke, from careful listening to relevant scriptural exploration, all while building trusting, authentic relationships (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 1 John 4:7-21).

Wise counseling takes into account all that people experience (desires, thoughts, goals, actions, words, emotions, struggles, situational pressure, physical suffering, abuse, injustice, etc.) All of human experience is the context for understanding how God’s Word relates to life. Such awareness not only shapes the content of counseling, but also shapes the way counselors interact so that everything said is constructive, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to the hearer (Ephesians 4:29).

Biblical Counseling Must Be Comprehensive in Understanding

We believe that biblical counseling should focus on the full range of human nature created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). A comprehensive biblical understanding sees human beings as relational (spiritual and social), rational, volitional, emotional, and physical. Wise counseling takes the whole person seriously in his or her whole life context. It helps people to embrace all of life face-to-face with Christ so they become more like Christ in their relationships, thoughts, motivations, behaviors, and emotions.

We recognize the complexity of the relationship between the body and soul (Genesis 2:7). Because of this, we seek to remain sensitive to physical factors and organic issues that affect people’s lives. In our desire to help people comprehensively, we seek to apply God’s Word to people’s lives amid bodily strengths and weaknesses. We encourage a thorough assessment and sound treatment for any suspected physical problems.

We recognize the complexity of the connection between people and their social environment. Thus we seek to remain sensitive to the impact of suffering and of the great variety of significant social-cultural factors (1 Peter 3:8-22). In our desire to help people comprehensively, we seek to apply God’s Word to people’s lives amid both positive and negative social experiences. We encourage people to seek appropriate practical aid when their problems have a component that involves education, work life, finances, legal matters, criminality (either as a victim or a perpetrator), and other social matters.

Biblical Counseling Must Be Thorough in Care

We believe that God’s Word is profitable for dealing thoroughly with the evils we suffer as well as with the sins we commit. Since struggling people usually experience some combination of besetting sin and personal suffering, wise counselors seek to discern the differences and connections between sin and suffering, and to minister appropriately to both (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Biblical counseling addresses suffering and engages sufferers in many compassionate ways. It offers God’s encouragement, comfort, and hope for the hurting (Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 1:3-8). It encourages mercy ministry (Acts 6:1-7) and seeks to promote justice. Biblical counseling addresses sin and engages sinners in numerous caring ways. It offers God’s confrontation of sins, encourages repentance of sins, presents God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ, and shares God’s powerful path for progressive victory over sin (1 John 1:8-2:2; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Colossians 3:1-17; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

These are the “lenses” through which we need to address the vital issue of mental illness and the church. Let’s carefully and compassionately define what we mean by mental illness from a comprehensive biblical perspective that includes wise assessment of valid scientific research. Then let’s biblically and lovingly interact about what it looks like for the church to minister well and wisely.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12 ESV)

Eternity Amnesia

Posted: December 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

nasaThroughout his letters to various churches the Apostle Paul repeatedly calls believers to look beyond their present circumstances and to set their minds on things above. Why? Because he understood how damaging it can be to lose sight of eternity. In fact, CS Lewis once said that “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

With this in mind, Paul Tripp offers seven effects that functional eternity amnesia can have on your everyday life:


Why are our expectations unrealistic? Because we often suffer from an eternity amnesia that causes us to ask this present world to be what it simply will never be. We want our “here-and-now” lives to behave as if it’s our final destination, when actually what we’re experiencing is preparation for the destination to come.


Human beings were created to live big-picture, long-view lives. We were created to live with something bigger motivating us than this moment’s comforts, pleasures, and successes. Eternity confronts you with the fact that you’re not in charge, that you don’t live at the center of your life, and that what you’ve been called to moves by the will and purpose of the great eternal Lord. You see, eternity always confronts us with realities that transcend our momentary struggles, dreams, wants, feelings, and needs.


When we fail to live with our final destination in view, we’ll unwittingly and consistently ask the people around us to provide the paradise that our hearts crave. The people around us don’t have the ability to give us that constant inner peace and satisfaction that we’ll only ever experience in eternity. Asking your spouse, children, pastor, or friend to give what they cannot give ends in disappointment, frustration, conflict, and division.


Why do we tend to swing from fear to control and back again? Because, in our eternity amnesia, we feel as if somehow, some way, life is passing us by. It’s important to remember that our unfulfilled longings don’t so much announce to us that this world has failed us, but that we were designed for another world. Peace in our present life is found only when we live with our final destination in view.


Many of us are discouraged. Many of us are bitter. Many of us wonder why God has allowed our lives to be so hard. When you allow yourself to forget God’s agenda, you’ll begin to question his character. Unless we live with the daily knowledge that God’s promises only reach their complete fulfillment in the world to come, we’ll feel as if we’ve been hit with a cosmic bait and switch. The taste we get of God’s good gifts in the here and now are meant to keep us hungering for the full meal that’s waiting for us at our final destination


Unrealistic expectations always lead to disappointment. There are many Christians who are disappointed – not because God has failed them, or because they have suffered much, or the people around them have been particularly difficult. Rather, they have approached life hoping that it will deliver things that only come on the other side. Perhaps our disappointment reveals more about our eternity amnesia than it does about the life we have been called to live.


All of these consequences of eternity amnesia work to weaken our motivation and hope. The reality is that this world is not an endless cycle of dashed hopes and dreams. No, we live in a world that is marching toward a moment when all that is broken will be forever restored. This fact can fill you with a reason to get up in the morning and press on even when life gets hard. Eternity confronts any thoughts of impossibility and futility by reminding me that what I’m experiencing is not permanent.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

Why am I here?

Posted: November 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

purposeWhat is the meaning of life? Why am I here? For some it comes down to an issue of design while others see it as some kind of cosmic accident. If, for example, your perspective on life is that we are some sort of highly evolved primate with no hope for living beyond this world then life will seem pretty meaningless. If, on the other hand, you believe that God created this world for a reason, then your life will have a sense of purpose.

“Little in life is as important as finding purpose.” argues author and pastor JD Greear. “If you know a certain experience has a purpose, you can endure all kinds of hardship because of it. But if you don’t see a purpose, any hardship—however small—feels like drudgery.”

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. (Psalm 57:1-2 ESV)

Dr. Greear goes on to explain…

David understands that God is a perfectionist: when it comes to his purposes, he will not let anything come in the way of what he is doing.

Here’s the irony: only when you say, “I don’t want to be the center of the universe,” will God reorder all things in the universe to fulfill his purpose for you. Make yourself the center of the universe, and nothing will work for you. Make God the center of your universe, and the entire cosmos is realigned for God to fulfill his purposes for you.

Once you’ve surrendered to God’s purpose, you’ll be able to lie down and sleep even in the midst of “fiery beasts,” and rise up with joyful song even in the midst of heartache.

God has a purpose for you. He wants to use you to exalt his name in the earth and he wants to teach you to trust him. Whatever situation you find yourself in right now, know that it’s okay—even good—to pray for God to change the situation. But God’s first purpose is that you would be able to pray, “God, glorify your name through me in this.” “Help me know you more.” Don’t waste your pain, and don’t squander your blessings: they’re both gifts from a good God who has a purpose for you life.

Read this post in its entirety HERE.

The Lion & The Lamb

Posted: July 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

lionThis summer we have been going through a sermon series on finding balance. For example, we began by looking at what it means to be in the world but not of the world. We have also considered the relationship between law and gospel. And recently we thought about how our belief in the Trinity should affect our worship and prayer life.

This past Sunday we turned our attention to the opening chapter of the Gospel of John in an effort to reflect on the fact the Jesus is fully God and fully man. That, as John puts it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV) Christ humbled Himself and took on flesh and walked this earth to give His life as a ransom for many. He knows what it is like to experience temptation and loneliness and grief.

Well this morning I read a devotional that really dug down deeper into the mystery of the incarnation and reflected on this idea of Christ being both a lion and a lamb. In his book, Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ, John Piper writes…

A lion is admirable for its ferocious strength and imperial appearance. A lamb is admirable for its meekness and servant-like provision of wool for our clothing. But even more admirable is a lion-like lamb and a lamb-like lion. What makes Christ glorious, as Jonathan Edwards observed over 250 years ago, is “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” For example, we admire Christ for his transcendence, but even more because the transcendence of his greatness is mixed with submission to God. We marvel at him because his uncompromising justice is tempered with mercy. His majesty is sweetened by meekness. In his equality with God he has a deep reverence for God. Though he is worthy of all good, he was patient to suffer evil. His sovereign dominion over the world was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission. He baffled the proud scribes with his wisdom, but was simple enough to be loved by children. He could still the storm with a word, but would not strike the Samaritans with lightning or take himself down from the cross.

The glory of Christ is not a simple thing. It is a coming together in one person of extremely diverse qualities. We see it in the New Testament book of Revelation: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5). Here is the triumphant lion-like Christ ready to unroll the scroll of history. But what do we see in the next verse? “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (verse 6). So the Lion is a Lamb—an animal that is weak and harmless and lowly and easily preyed upon, and sheared naked for clothes, and killed for our food. So Christ is a lamb-like Lion.

The Lion of Judah conquered because he was willing to act the part of a lamb. He came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday like a king on the way to a throne, and he went out of Jerusalem on Good Friday like a lamb on the way to the slaughter. He drove out the robbers from the Temple like a lion devouring its prey. And then at the end of the week he gave his majestic neck to the knife, and they slaughtered the Lion of Judah like a sacrificial lamb.

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” – John 1:35-36 (ESV)

Freedom Fighters

Posted: June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

freedom fieldI wonder how often we think about or experience the Christian life in terms of a struggle or daily battle? In fact, I would argue that as you read scripture and try to apply it to your life, you could easily conclude that this means war! That coming to Christ by grace through faith involves entering into these constant battles against your enemies. Fighting for freedom with the truth of God’s word.

Now I say this as I prepare to preach another sermon in our summer series. This week we will be looking at finding balance between our enemies: the world, the remaining sin in our lives and, as Paul puts it, the powers of darkness. Realizing that to many, this idea of having enemies, not to mention the thought of taking up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17) to fight them, sounds very strange. After all, we live in an age of tolerance and have been led to believe that it is the height of arrogance to hold to any expression of absolute truth. Which is why I found Stanley Hauerwas’ essay so helpful during my sermon prep.

Here is part of his conclusion…

Humility derives not from the presumption that no one knows the truth, but rather is a virtue dependent on our confidence that God’s word is truthful and good. Ironically, in the world in which we live if you preach with such humility you will more than likely be accused of being arrogant and authoritarian. To be so accused is a sign that the enemy has been engaged. After all, the enemy (who is often enough ourselves) does not like to be reminded that the narratives that constitute our lives are false.

Moreover, you had better be ready for a fierce counteroffensive as well as be prepared to take some casualties. God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Kingdom. That seems to me to be great good news in a world that is literally dying of boredom. God has entrusted us, His Church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed, with the aid of much theory, to make that story boring… theories about meaning are what you get when you forget that the Church and Christians are embattled by subtle enemies who win easily by denying that any war exists. God knows what He is doing in this strange time between “worlds,” but hopefully He is inviting us again to engage the enemy through the godly weapons of preaching and sacrament. I pray that we will have the courage and humility to fight the enemy in Walter Rauschenbusch’s wonderful words, with “no sword but the truth.”

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 (ESV)

Why We Sing

Posted: May 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

basics 2014For six years in a row now I have had the privilege of taking a group of our men down to the Basics conference at Parkside Church in Cleveland OH. There are three main reasons we do this. The first is for the incredible teaching. What a blessing it is to spend time soaking in gospel-centred, Christ exalting, biblical truths that both engage the mind and stir the affections! And this is further complemented by one of the best books stores I’ve ever been to.

The second is for the fellowship. Want to get to know a group of men? Spend nine hours driving in a van together! Not to mention that then when you get there, they feed you like kings… perhaps the real reason we go 😉

But the third reason, which I want to focus on here, is for the worship. There is nothing quite like joining a choir of over 2000 men focused on praising their saviour in spirit and in truth! In his book, A Heart for God, Sinclair Ferguson argues that “The foundation of worship in the heart is not emotional but theological. Worship is not something we ‘work up’ it is something that ‘comes down’ to us from the character of God.” In many ways, that is what this conference does. It serves to bring us back to the basics of the gospel and remind us of the character of the great and awesome God we worship!

Which of course speaks to the issue of why we sing together as a church family during our Sunday morning services. Have you ever thought about that? Why do we sing? Well here are three reasons Jonathan Leeman offers over at 9Marks

1. We Sing To Own and Affirm the Word

Singing is how the congregation owns and affirms the Word for itself. In the Bible, singing is one God-ordained way for the members of a congregation to respond to God’s revelation. It’s how they raise their hand and say, “Yes, I believe and affirm these truths with my whole person.” For instance, the Psalmist tells God’s people to proclaim God’s Word to others: “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day” (Ps. 96:2). Singing of his salvation means we’ve owned it as our message.

2. We Sing to Engage Our Emotions with God’s Word

Singing is how the congregation particularly engages its emotions and affections with God’s Word. When we sing, it’s hard to remain emotionally disengaged. Just as the sense of smell can evoke strong associations and memories, so the sound of music both evokes and provokes the heart’s joys, griefs, longings, hopes, and sorrows. Jonathan Edwards proposed that God gave us music “wholly to excite and express religious affections.” The Psalmist seems to embody this idea when he writes, “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme” (Ps. 45:1).

Singing, I’d say, is the medium by which God’s people grab hold of his Word and align their emotions and affections to God’s.

It’s not surprising therefore that Paul would command churches to sing the psalms, and that the Psalter would be referred to as the church’s hymnbook. John Calvin called the Psalms “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul” since it offers readers words which they can place into their own mouths for properly expressing the whole range of human emotions. In the preface to his commentary on the Psalms, Calvin writes, “for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.” How can Christians express grief in godly fashion? Or sorrow, fear, and doubt? By echoing the Psalms, like Jesus did again and again.

Yet even if churches don’t take their lyrics directly from the Psalter, they should consider the Psalm’s balance of confession, lamentation, exaltation, and thanksgiving, and seek to mimic something similar in their own hymnody. Do we know how to lament in our churches through music? Or confess?

In seminary classrooms, budding preachers are sometimes warned, “A congregation will only be as careful with the Word as you are in the pulpit.” The same is true, I’m convinced, of our singing in church, and our ability to emotionally encounter God throughout the week. A congregation which learns to sing in church with robust confession and contrite praise better knows how to sing to God with their hearts at home, whether they do it to melody or not.

3. We Sing To Demonstrate and Build Unity

Singing is one way of demonstrating and building corporate unity. Once again, it’s not difficult to imagine how Israel used the Psalms to demonstrate and build the unity of their hearts with one another. Some psalms make this explicit:

[Call] Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

[Response 1] Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

[Response 2] Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

[Response 3] Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-4; see also 124:1; 129:1; 136)

The psalmist makes a declaration, and then he asks three groups of people to echo him: the nation, the priests, and then all who fear God (including any foreigners and Gentiles in their midst?). The words “his steadfast love endures forever” is the source of unity, but the poetry and—perhaps—music encourages the people’s hearts to embrace, own, and rejoice in this glorious truth.

The context of Paul’s command to sing is worth noticing as well: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:15-16). Notice the train of thought: We’re to let peace rule, since we’re called to one body. We’re to be thankful. And we can do all this by singing Christ’s Word together. Again, the Word is the source of unity; but the music gives expression to that unity.

No doubt, this point can be combined with the last one. Singing God’s Word is how a congregation tunes its heart together across the whole range of biblically-driven affections.

What should be clear in all three reasons for why we sing is that singing in church should be about the church singing—congregational singing. Perhaps choirs and soloists can be carefully used to call the church to respond, as in the Psalm above or as an exercise in “speaking to one another in song.” And musical performances outside the gathered church are wonderful. But God has given music to the gathered church so that the people together can own, affirm, rejoice in, and unite around God’s Word. Far better than the sweet harmonies of a few trained singers is the rough and hale sound of pardoned criminals, delighting with one voice in their Savior.

The most beautiful instrument in any Christian service is the sound of the congregation singing.

“Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” Psalm 33:1-3 (ESV)

Struggling With Hope

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

mr messyWe need something more than rules. We need something far more than spiritual entertainment. In the midst of our daily struggles with sin, we need the hope of the gospel. And that is exactly what the church is called to be, a gospel centered light in an otherwise dark and fallen world. The church needs to be a place of hope where messy people can come and find encouragement, healing and a genuine community of believers who extend Christ like humility, grace and patience toward one another.

Pastor, author and musician Stephen Altrogge explains…

Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

  • I’m talking about the couple who is seeking the Lord, and yet their daughter is not a Christian, and is living with her boyfriend.
  • I’m talking about the young man who is following Jesus, yet also deals with deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • I’m talking about the woman who loves Jesus, yet also finds herself regularly struggling with homosexual desires.
  • I’m talking about the teenage boy who is trying to live for Jesus, yet also struggles with cutting himself.
  • I’m talking about the woman who has followed Jesus for many years, yet can’t come to church anymore because she is racked with arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • I’m talking about the older single man who is faithfully following Jesus, yet regularly struggles with despair because he isn’t married.
  • I’m talking about the woman who walks with Christ, yet can’t seem to overcome her struggles with being overweight.
  • I’m talking about the young woman who is new to following Christ, and isn’t quite sure how to handle her struggle with bulimia.

How can we serve “messy” people? How can we make “messy” people feel welcome in our churches? Several ways.

Don’t act shocked when we see sin. Unfortunately, we tend to act shocked when certain sins or struggles come to light. We aren’t surprised by pride or anger or impatience. But we are shocked when someone says they struggle with suicidal thoughts or homosexual desires or the desire to cut themselves. We are shocked when someone’s child gets caught with drugs. But we shouldn’t be shocked. Even as Christians, we still have a sinful nature. That sinful nature manifests itself in many different ways. We shouldn’t be shocked when we see sin. If we are shocked, it means we haven’t come face to face with the depravity that lurks in our own hearts.

Regularly acknowledge our own sins, failures, and weaknesses. The truth is, nobody has it all together. All of us are desperate sinners in need of a mighty Savior. All of us are sick patients in need of a wise physician. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, but I sure as heck have a whole lot of other struggles.

Regularly revel in the mighty power of Jesus. We should talk about our sins and struggles, but we can’t stop there. We are weak and empty, but Jesus is mighty and full of grace. There is no struggle bigger than Jesus. There is no sin that cannot be conquered by the risen Savior. There is no failure that cannot be covered by the blood of Christ. We need to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus is bigger and better than we can imagine. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification.

Would “messy” people feel comfortable in your church? Or would they feel like there are certain struggles that they need to hide? The gospel allows us to openly confess our struggles. The gospel also gives us hope that our struggles will not define us. The gospel allows us to be “messy” and hopeful at the same time.

” I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” Ephesians 4:1-4 (ESV)