Not Ready for Church – J. Thorn

The title above heads a weekend devotional written by pastor Joe Thorn and published in the June 2016 issue of Tabletalk.

churchatsunriseThe following is taken from this profitable article and contains Thorn’s counsel for those times when we do not feel ready to go to church and worship. His thoughts are based on Psalm 73:16-17:

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Here are some of thoughts:

…There are those Sundays when we feel as though we are not ready for worship. Our hearts are cold, our week was fraught with failure, and the idea of ‘going to church’ seems to be an exercise in futility if not an act of hypocrisy. Somehow, we believe the lie that it is better to stay home and try again next week when our hearts will be right. But the troubled soul is meant for corporate worship, and that is exactly where we need to be [At this point Thorn quotes Ps.73:16-17).

…The person who is slow to draw near to God because of sin or doubt is the person who will not find hope. Such is the man whose faith only continues to wither and whose strength continues to weaken, for in pulling back from the Lord and the means of grace, we deny ourselves access to the primary way in which God speaks to our hearts and lives. Staying home and licking our wounds does not heal but callouses the soul, making us increasingly less sensitive to the truth we need to hear.

The local church assembled for worshiping our triune God is the place where God’s Word and Spirit are at work to move us to repentance, revive our hearts, instruct our minds, and reveal to us the plan and purpose of God in all things.

…When we are not ready for church, we must remember that the church is ready for us. Jesus is ready for us. And grace abounds for the sinner who is willing to come to Christ (p.57).

God’s Gracious Call to His Weak and Sinful Worshipers – C.Griess

In the most recent issue of The Standard Bearer (June 2016) Rev. Cory Griess has a concluding article on his series on the public worship of the church in the rubric “O Come, Let Us Worship.”

SB-June-2016-cover

In this final article Rev.Griess finishes an exposition of Psalm 50 under the title “God Judges the Church’s Worship.” As we prepare to enter God’s covenantal assembly today, we do well to read Psalm 50 with care and prayer, applying our God’s Word to our hearts and minds.

Here is part of what Rev.Griess has to say by way of explanation of this passage, especially verses 14-15, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: and call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”:

…Worship is not thinking that God needs us; worship is recognizing how much we need Him. What glorious words are spoken in this verse! The Israelites were to see their own need for the sacrifice they were bringing, not to think that their sacrifice was a work to earn God’s favor. What the text is saying is that consciously and experientially realizing one’s need for God is worship!

Instead of coming to church because we think we are pacifying Him or earning something from Him by giving our worship, we come to tell Him, ‘Lord, I have come from a week of trying to obey Thy law, and I have in some points, and even then imperfectly; but I have also failed in so many points. And, Lord, I am struggling with the burdens in my life. I am not able to carry on alone. And because of it, I am in my day of trouble. Deliver me from my sins in the blood of Thy Son. Speak to me Thy gospel. And in this covenantal meeting, receive me on the basis of the One who died for me. Speak peace to me. Convict me, encourage me, that I might carry on.’ This, God, says, is worship (p.406).

The Great God – Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionBookFor our meditation and reflection this Lord’s Day, we post another prayer from the book The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth, c1975). This is taken from the first section of the book, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

May it lead us into pure and powerful worship of our great God this day.

O FOUNTAIN OF ALL GOOD,

Destroy in me every lofty thought,
Break pride to pieces and scatter it
to the winds,Annihilate each clinging shred of
self-righteousness,
Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,
Abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence,
Open in me a fount of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up;

Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling
for my God;
Then can the Father take up his abode in me,
Then can the blessed Jesus come with healing
in his touch,
Then can the Holy Spirit descend in
sanctifying grace;

O Holy Trinity, three Persons and one God,
inhabit me, a temple consecrated to thy glory.
When thou art present, evil cannot abide;
In thy fellowship is fullness of joy,
Beneath thy smile is peace of conscience,
By thy side no fears disturb,
no apprehensions banish rest of mind,
With thee my heart shall bloom with fragrance;
Make me meet, through repentance,
for thine indwelling.

Nothing exceeds thy power,
Nothing is too great for thee to do,
Nothing too good for thee to give.
Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,
limitless thy grace, glorious thy saving name.

Let angels sing for
sinners repenting,
prodigals restored,
backsliders reclaimed,
Satan’s captives released,
blind eyes opened,
broken hearts bound up,
the despondent cheered,
the self-righteous stripped,
the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,
the ignorant enlightened,
and saints built up in their holy faith.

I ask great things of a great God.

On the music side of things, it may interest you to know that this book has also become the basis of an album by Sovereign Grace Music under the same title. And this particular meditation is the basis of a song titled “O Great God.” The new album coming out soon by the Voices of Victory contains this song. It has quickly become a favorite.

Here is an early version of it that we did, when we were still learning it:

Seriousness in Worship – J. Helopolous

TT-May-2016This month’s issue of Tabletalk (May 2016) centers on the theme of the Reformed theology of John 3:16, with eight articles devoted to explaining the glorious gospel of that text. We hope to reference a few of these articles yet this month (for now, you may read editor Burk Parsons’ introduction).

In the back of this issue is a hidden gem on the subject of worship written by Rev. Jason Helopolous, assistant pastor to Rev. Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in Lansing, MI. The title, as you will see above and below, is “Seriousness in Worship”, and on this Lord’s Day when we are participating in this holy activity of worship, it is good to read some of this thoughts.

I encourage you to read the entire article at the link below, but this is how Helopolous ends:

Remind Yourself

Third, in worship, tend to your heart. As your mind drifts in the service (which happens to the best of us), remind yourself of the great privilege of corporate worship. My friends, we are meeting with the triune God of the universe—never lose sight of this. The Lord of glory is speaking to us and the grace of Christ is being extended to us. Nothing in all the earth is more significant, monumental, and remarkable than the reality that God chooses to meet with us week in and week out.

Reflect

Finally, reflect on the worship service afterward. Ask each family member on the drive home to explain what they heard in the service, how the Lord convicted them, and what delighted their soul. Use the Lord’s Day afternoon to reread and pray through the passage preached. Plead with the Lord to reveal your own sin, teach you new truths, uncover your weaknesses, increase your faith, and bind your wounds.

Worship is one of the greatest gifts we enjoy. Attending to it with seriousness is paramount. That does not mean moroseness or in some kind of stiff formality, but rather with intention, attention, and delight. God chooses to meet with us. That reality should rattle the Christian’s soul with joy.

Source: Seriousness in Worship by Jason Helopolous

Family Worship: Read, Pray, and Sing – D.Whitney

family-worship-whitney-2016In the last few months we began to exam a new publication of Crossway that I requested for review. The book is Donald S. Whitney’s Family Worship (2016, 80 pp.), and after tracing the history of family worship (to inspire us to continue a long-standing tradition!), the author takes us into the elements of family worship in chapter three.

Whitney gives to this chapter the title that covers the three main elements of worship in our homes: read, pray, and sing. Allow me to give you a few of his brief but beneficial points in this section (pp.44-51).

First, about reading the Bible, he says:

Chapter by chapter, read through the books of the Bible together. The younger the children, the more you will want to use narrative passages and read shorter sections. As the children get older, set a goal to read through the entire New Testament, and later through the entire Bible.

Read enthusiastically and interpretively. In other words, don’t be one of those people who reads the Bible as apathetically as if reading a phone directory out loud. It is the Word of God – read it to the best of your ability.

Also, explain any words the children may not understand. Clarify the meaning of key verses. To improve their understanding, perhaps ask the children to choose a verse or phrase to explain to you, and then have them pick one for you to explain to them.

Second, about praying, Whitney offers this good idea:

    Some families, regardless of where they were reading in the Bible, always go to the book of Psalms when it’s time to pray and turn the words of a few verses there into a prayer. If praying through Psalm 23, for instance, after reading the first verse you might thank the Lord for being your Shepherd, ask him to shepherd your family through certain events or decisions, and so forth. And as you have time, continue through the passage line by line, speaking to God about what comes to mind while reading the text.

And, thirdly, concerning singing, he writes in part:

    Some people sing a different song each time; some sing the same song for a week so that they can learn it. As to music, some families sing along with recordings, while others use family musicians. My perception is that most families – even when it’s only a husband and wife – simply sing without accompaniment.

One more thing of profit I want to reference yet from this chapter. Toward the end of this chapter, Whitney has a section headed by “If Time Permits…”, and here he speaks of time for three other things during family devotions: catechizing (yes, how practical and profitable is this?!), memorizing Scripture (again, a great opportunity to do this!), and reading other books.

Yes, not surprisingly, that last is the one I want to key in on:

Again, time permitting, you might begin your family gathering with some general family reading, after which you enter family worship. Or, at the close of family worship, you might take advantage of the opportunity to read a Christian book or biography to your family.

You’re probably aware of studies which demonstrate the many benefits received by the children whose parents read to them. For many families, there’s no easier way to ensure a family reading time than by attaching it to another daily event for everyone in the household: family worship.

How is your practice of family worship going? Are you reading, praying, and singing together?

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship – D.Hyde

Psalm122The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has a new aspect to its Internet witness and that is “Meet the Puritans,” a brief daily article highlighting Puritan teaching and practice. In a recent post, pastor Danny Hyde (a URC minister whose name many of you may be familiar with) wrote about the importance of having and attending BOTH services on the Lord’s Day.

After a quote from John Owen, one of the great Puritan preachers and writers, Hyde points to a recent note he gave his congregation about being faithful in attendance at the evening service. While not everything he communicates matches our own (PRC) experience, we can certainly appreciate his ten practical reasons for maintaining our own attendance at the second service on Sunday.

A while back in my weekly email to my congregation, I gave my people my “Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship” in an ongoing effort to educate, encourage, and exhort. They are not exhaustive and they apply to my context, in particular, but the principles should be applicable to any who reads this. May God move his people in our time to sanctify the Christian Sabbath, leading to a renewal of evening worship.

  1. God promises to be present in our midst unlike anywhere else in public worship.
  2. This is a practical help for us to sanctify the Lord’s Day with morning and evening bookends.
  3. This lays a foundation for our children to be evening attenders as well when they grow up (and not what the Dutch call a “oncer”).
  4. Since the Word of God is the food for our souls, we get “breakfast” and “dinner” every Lord’s Day with two sermons.
  5. We also read through the Old and New Testaments in evening worship with a chapter from each.
  6. We sing through the biblical Psalms together with two Psalms a week [we’ve done this 10+ times in 15 years].
  7. Our evening service is based on the historic form of evening prayer from the Protestant Reformation, thus giving us a sense of the communion of the saints through the ages.
  8. We pray biblically-saturated, ancient prayers together at evening worship, thus giving us a sense of transcendence.
  9. We get to bear each other’s burdens as we lift up prayer requests in each other’s midst.
  10. Since there is no Sunday school after, we have more time to fellowship and enjoy each other’s presence after the evening service.

Source: Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship – Meet the Puritans

Prayers of the Reformers (15)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this first Lord’s Day in May we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

These prayers (slightly edited) are taken from the section “Prayers for Baptism” and, as you will note, accord with the Reformed, covenantal (biblical) view of children.

For sanctification

Almighty and everlasting God, who of Thy infinite mercy and goodness hast promised unto us that Thou wilt not only be our God, but also the God and Father of our children: We beseech Thee, since Thou hast vouchsafed to call us to be partakers of this Thy great mercy in the fellowship of faith: that it may please Thee to sanctify with Thy Spirit and receive into the number of Thy children this infant, whom we shall baptize according to Thy Word.

May he, coming of age, confess Thee as the only true God, and Him whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ, and serve Him and be profitable unto His church, in the whole course of his life. After this life be ended, may he be brought unto the full fruition of Thy joys in the heavens, where Thy Son our Christ reigneth, world without end. In whose name we pray as He hath taught us…. Amen.

For the Spirit of light and grace

O Almighty God, which in commanding us to pray hast assured us that we, believing steadfastly in Thy promise, shall have all that we desire, especially concerning the soul, wherein we seek Thy glory and the wealth of our neighbors; our humble petition to Thee, O most dear Father, is, that forasmuch as this child is not without original sin, Thou wilt consider Thine own mercy, and according to Thy promise send this child thy good Spirit, that in Thy sight it be not counted among the children of wrath, but of light and grace, and become a member of the undefiled church espoused to Christ, Thy dear Son, in faith and love unfeigned, by the means of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (attributed to M.Coverdale)

 

The Prayers of J. Calvin (27)

JCalvinPic1On this last Sunday of April 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-sixth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 6:24-7:1-4, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:1-4:

Now the object of his sermon was, to exhort them seriously to repent, if they wished God to be reconciled to them. So the Prophet shews, that God did not regard their sacrifices and external rites, and that this was not the way, as they thought, of appeasing him. For after they had celebrated the feast. every one returned home, as though they all, after having made an expiation, had God propitious to them. The Prophet shews here, that the way of worshipping God was very different, which was to reform their lives.

…God indeed esteems as nothing this external worship, except it be preceded by inward sincerity, unless integrity of life accompanies your profession.

…We hence see that external rites are here repudiated, when men seek in a false way to gain favour before God, and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse (pp.362-63).

Calvin conclude this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we so abuse thy forbearance, that thou art constrained by our depravity to deal sharply with us, –

O grant, that we may not be also hardened against thy chastisements, but may we with a submissive and tractable neck learn to take thy yolk, and be so obedient to thy government, that we may testify our repentance, not for one day only, and give no fallacious evidence, but that we may really prove through the whole course of our life the sincerity of our conversion to thee, by regarding this as our main object, even to glorify thee in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Certainly fitting thoughts for us on this Lord’s Day as we gather for worship in God’s presence with our fellow saints. May we remember well the worship that alone pleases God and come with the pure sacrifices of penitence and praise.

Note to Self: Sing

      You really should sing more. You should sing more than at gathered worship with the church. You should sing in the car, while working in the yard, and in your home. And when you sing, you should do so with more than lungs and lips. You should sing with your heart, mind, and soul.

…People sing about the things that capture their hearts and things that give them joy. People sing of heroes, victory, longing, and hope. People even sing as a way to express their sorrow. Does anyone have more reasons to sing than you? As a sinner who has been forgiven, a slave who has been freed, a blind man who has received sight, a spiritual cripple who has been healed – all by the gospel – you have real reasons to be known as a person of song!

It is one thing to tell the world of God’s work of redemption in Jesus; it is another to sing of it. Anyone can parrot truth, but to sing of it – from the soul – reveals how you feel. Song is the natural and appropriate response to the gospel, because singing is one of the highest expressions of joy.

So why aren’t you singing ‘always, only for [your] king?’ Have the mercies of God grown small in your heart? Is there little joy, little gratitude, little wonder? Do you just not feel like singing? The confession of sin and gospel meditation will lead you to song, so start there. There are songs of praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, and victory that need your voice.

…So join the chorus of God’s people, who have always been known as a people who sing.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from “Part One: The Gospel and God” (Chap.4 “Sing”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.41-42.

Stir Up One Another – to Worship! Jon Payne

TT-March-2016As we pointed out  last week, the March issue of Tabletalk addresses the believer’s beautiful and blessed calling to live in the communion of saints and carry out the Bible’s “one another” duties toward his fellow believers.

We find another of these “one anothers” in Heb.10:24-25, where God’s Word calls us to stir up one another to love and good works, especially in connection with public worship. Dr.Jon Payne explains this well in his article “Stir Up One Another” (link found below).

Here are a few of his closing thoughts – good food for our souls this week:

While members of the body of Christ will possess varying gifts for graciously “stirring up” others to “love and good works,” the author of Hebrews reminds us of the most obvious way in which we all may spur on fellow believers: through faithful attendance to weekly Lord’s Day worship services. When Christians gather together to worship in spirit and truth—to hear the Word, confess sin, sing praise, confess the faith, witness baptisms, receive communion, take vows, and warmly greet one another in Christ—they actively and mysteriously foster Christian unity and “stir up” others toward godly living. Dear Christian, your active and joyful participation in Lord’s Day worship is integral to the spiritual encouragement and growth of others. Your absence, however, has the opposite effect.

Reformed commentator Simon J. Kistemaker notes that one of the first indications of a lack of love toward God and neighbor is for a Christian to stay away from worship services. Such a Christian forsakes the communal obligations of attending these meetings and displays the symptoms of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Steady devotion to corporate worship communicates not only a love for and dependence upon the triune God but also a love for and commitment to the body of Christ. To confess the “communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed is to affirm that every Christian “must feel himself bound to use his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and welfare of other members” (Heidelberg Catechism 55). Unless providentially hindered, therefore, make church attendance the highest priority in your weekly schedule, and thus “encourage one another … all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25b).

Source: Stir Up One Another by Jon Payne | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

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