Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2009

Well by now you should be anticipating what the next topic for my “pastor’s ponderings” will be, if you have not figured it out yet, I’m going in order through our order of worship and commenting on each of the things we do in worship.  For this Beacon I’m going to discuss the Scripture reading that comes immediately following the assurance of pardon. 


Why do we read Scripture in the worship service other than what is going to be preached?  That is an excellent question that I have been asked before and I’m going to do my best to answer it in the following few paragraphs.  There are those who would argue that reading a whole chapter of Scripture that stands alone without comment or exposition is tedious and unfruitful.  Yet I disagree, because the word of God says of itself in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

This word of God is, in-and-of-itself, powerful as it is applied to our hearing by the Holy Spirit.  That is summed up nicely in the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 155: How is the word made effectual to salvation?  Answer: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.


Now, I realize you may be saying, “wait a minute, that is talking about the word read and especially the word preached.  We are talking about the word read only.”  Yes that is true, I’m speaking of the word read only, however, let me point out to you the fact that I do not have the luxury of time to preach long sections of Scripture as I would like.  I only preach to the congregation one time a week and I do my best to bring you sound biblical exposition of the book that we are going through.  It took us almost two years to get through Acts.  It has been a year since I began preaching through John and we are just now on chapter 8.  Frankly, I don’t think that is enough exposure to the Scripture in the worship service.


It may surprise you to know that in the past three years we have read through the book of 1 Samuel, all of the Pauline Epistles (13), Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter.  Before long we’ll have been through all the books of the New Testament with the exception of the Gospels and Revelation.  That is a significant chunk of Scripture.  It is good for you to be exposed to it.  Why?  One, it builds your ability to listen and focus.  Two, to a lesser degree than preaching but still in a very powerful way, it does all the things spoken of in the catechism question above.  Take some time to reread that question and answer. 


In the Directory for Worship which our church has adopted as part of our Book of Church Order, the public reading of Scripture is described as follows: “through it God speaks most directly to the congregation, even more directly than through the sermon.”  Wow, that is a strong statement.  If that is true, then of course as a pastor, I want you to get good doses of the public reading of Scripture each week.  When we finish our New Testament readings we will go back to the Old Testament and pick up our reading there.  The desire is that we be well-rounded, biblically literate Christians.  You cannot be that if you are not well familiar with Scripture.  To that end we will continue our weekly reading and I encourage you to spend time in the Scriptures daily.  You may do well to prepare for worship by reviewing the Scripture reading for the day.  Bathe yourself in the word of God and you will not be disappointed, soak up all you can, it will serve you well.


Pastor’s Ponderings: August 2009

What are your highlights of worship?  Every person has their favorite parts of the worship service.  Some love the hymns, some are moved by the corporate confession of sin, some long to hear the word preached and there are those that love the benediction because that marks the end of the service.  I’ll share with you one of my favorite parts of the worship service.  It is one of the shortest parts, but I hope by the end of this article you will understand it is also one of the most important parts.  I’m speaking of the Assurance of Pardon.  It comes right after the corporate and silent confessions.  During the confessions of course we are confessing our sinfulness before a holy God, both as a people and as individuals.   After having focused on our sinfulness the Assurance of Pardon is a proclamation of the Gospel reminding us of God’s response to our sin.


What is God’s response to the sins of His people?  Pay close attention to that question because I worded in a particular way.  Notice I did not ask, what is God’s response to sin?  God hates sin and will bring His wrath and curse against it.  Exodus 34:7b says the Lord will not allow the guilty to go unpunished.  Those who sin against God will be held accountable.  However, for those who are God’s people, those who confess their sins and repent there is something else in store from the Lord.  Look at what Psalm 130 says about those who belong to God. 

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;

2 O Lord, hear my voice.

   Let your ears be attentive

   to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,

    O Lord, who could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness;

    therefore you are feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

   and in his word I put my hope.

6 My soul waits for the Lord

   more than watchmen wait for the morning,

   more than watchmen wait for the morning.

7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,

   for with the LORD is unfailing love

   and with him is full redemption.

8 He himself will redeem Israel

   from all their sins.


There are wonderful promises made in that psalm that tells us there is redemption for God’s people, the forgiveness of sins.  Elsewhere in the Psalms we are told that God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve.  We are talking about grace here.  The Assurance of Pardon is a reminder of that grace.  This is all about the gospel.  A holy God is reconciling to Himself a people to be His very own and redeeming them from the penalty of their sin.


Some of you very observant folks might have noticed that when we have communion the order of service is changed to move the corporate confession to be part of the introduction to the Lord’s Supper.  The confession moved but where is the assurance of pardon?  We don’t have a printed assurance of pardon during the Lord’s Supper because the sacrament itself serves as the assurance of pardon.  That is what it is all about.


So what should be our response to the assurance of pardon?  Having confessed our sin and having been assured of its forgiveness, in Christ, there should be a response on our part.  Your response to the assurance of pardon will say a lot about who you are in Christ.  If you are truly receiving the assurance as your own then you are free from sin and guilt.  You are free from the things that would serve to hinder your worship of the living God. The assurance of pardon contains all that is necessary to drive our heart-felt thanks to the Lord for what He has done for us through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Our response should be one of deep joy and freedom.  Are these things yours?  Do you regularly experience these in worship?  If not, ask yourself, why not?  Next Sunday when you hear the assurance of pardon, soak it in and rejoice in the promise of right relationship with through Jesus Christ.

Pastor’s Ponderings: June 2009

As we continue our odyssey through the order of worship that we normally observe here at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church, we have reached the point of silence.  That does not mean I do not have anything to say, it simply means for this Beacon I’m writing about silent confession.  In the last Beacon I wrote about the corporate confession where we join together as the people of God to confess our sinfulness.  The time of silent confession is, just as its name implies, a time for individuals to confess their sins before the Lord.  Corporately, we confess that we are sinners together and then in silence we are given the opportunity to confess our own private sinfulness.


It is interesting to me, as I write this article, there is a headline on that reads, “Vatican laments drop in confessions.”  Apparently the Roman Catholic church is experiencing a downturn in the number of people who feel it necessary to confess their sins.  Now, it is far beyond the scope of this short article to look at the Roman Catholic “sacrament” of confession and what we as “Evangelicals” mean when we speak of confession.  However, we do want to think clearly about why we have a short few moments of silence, in the middle of the service, dedicated to the confession of sin.


There is very little in our worship service that is focused for or on the individual and that is very purposeful.  We gather on Sunday mornings for corporate worship as the family of God to honor and praise God together.  However, we praise Him together as a corporate body made up of individuals.  Each of us is unique and our temptations and sins are unique.  That is not to say that the temptations we face are not common to all, but that when we sin those sins are our responsibility.  So we see there is both a corporate and an individual need for us to confess our sins before the Lord.  The beauty of all of that is spelled out very clearly in 1 John 1:8-10 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  The Scriptures could hardly be more clear about our need to confess our sin and the blessedness of doing so. 


We have a couple of options before us.  The first is to deny our sin and say we are without sin.  The answer there comes quickly and is given twice in the 1 John passage above.  This is the option of the arrogant and ignorant who are desperately seeking to avoid the truth.  This is the path of one the Bible would refer to as a “fool.”   The next option is to not say anything which is little better than the first option.  Some people refuse to confess their sin because they feel such overwhelming guilt and shame.  They end up wallowing in that guilt and it poisons who they are.  Eventually, in a perverse way they become comfortable in the misery of their unconfessed sin and stunted lives.  The third option is to confess the sin and receive God’s forgiveness.  Unlike the other two options, this third option is the only one that promises life and hope and peace.  Confessing our sin is about being brought into right relationship with the Living God. 


Next Sunday, when we have a time of silent confession and the sanctuary falls quiet, focus your attention upon your own heart and bring those things which the Spirit reveals to you before the Throne of Grace for cleansing by the Almighty.  Think about what is taking place in the midst of that silence.  It is a truly awesome transaction that God is hearing your confession of sin against Him and He is bringing cleansing and restoration.  It is beautiful and it is amazing.  In days to come, I hope this element in our worship service becomes one that you look forward to with great eagerness and hope.

Pastor’s Ponderings: March 2009

Since this is the Pastor’s Ponderings article, you may well expect me to continue focusing my comments on the elements we have in our corporate worship services.  I don’t plan to disappoint you, or I might, depending on what you have thought about my previous articles.  In this edition of “The Beacon,” I’m dealing with the Corporate Confession.  I have heard people say corporate confession is one of the most important elements of worship for them.  I have also heard some people say they don’t understand why we do a corporate confession because they do not agree with confessing other people’s sin.  I even heard one man in Christian leadership (you would not know him) go so far as to say, “I don’t like confessing sins I haven’t committed.”  Needless to say I was shocked at that person’s lack of a biblical understanding of sin and community.  Volumes could be filled and have been filled on the topic of sin, so do not expect an in-depth study on sin in this article, but I would like to try to give you a brief overview of why I think the Corporate Confession is so important as to warrant a place in corporate worship.


Let’s begin with sin.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”  If by any means we fall short of God’s Law or miss the mark in keeping it, we are in sin.  James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  Romans 14:23c says, “and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”  1 John 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  Romans 3:23 makes it quite clear for us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  These verses don’t even begin to scratch the surface of biblical content on sin.  The Bible makes the inescapable conclusion for us that we are sinners.  Sin is pervasive, all-encompassing, it taints every aspect of our being. 


Therefore we need to repent of our sin and confess it.  The wonderful promise of God is that He will forgive.  1 John 1:9-10 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  So we can see that how we deal with our sin is really a life and death issue.  It is our sin that separates us from God and it is the atoning work of Christ that pays the penalty of sin and reconciles us to the Father.  Decisively dealing with sin is one of the things about Christianity that is totally unique among all the religions of the world.  Now I don’t know any person I consider a Christian that would not agree with me that we are sinners in need of forgiveness for our sins.  So what does that have to do with Corporate worship and specifically the Corporate Confession?  Bear with me a bit longer.


Consider for a moment how God deals with people (community).  He deals with people as individuals; that is undeniable, but He also deals with people as corporate entities.  Notice how often in Scripture God deals with an individual for the sake of that individual.  It doesn’t happen very often.  When God dealt with Abraham, why did He do it?  Was it to save Abraham?  What is the promise of God to Abraham?  God’s covenant purpose is to set a people apart for Himself.  God raises up Abraham to follow Him and He makes of Abraham a great nation.  Why did God raise up Moses?  It was to use Moses to bring deliverance to Israel.  What about David?  What about the Apostle Paul?  Why was Paul converted?  He was converted in order to be an apostle to the Gentiles (read “really big” people group).  When the Lord speaks of the redeemed He speaks of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  The Lord has established His people the Church.


Now the flip side of that is how the Lord brings judgment upon peoples.  I immediately think of the Lord’s reasoning for not giving “the land” to Abraham during his life time because “the sin of the Amorites is not yet full.”  Yes God does deal with individuals, but if you take a big picture look at the Scriptures you will find it is with peoples and nations where He does His big work.  The nation of Israel was judged many times for its rebellion.  What about Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, etc.?  There are two kinds of people, the redeemed (the Church) and the lost, yet we still see nations that are blessed and those that are not.  Think of God’s dealings with our own nation.  For a long time we have reaped the benefits of His blessings (believer and non-believer alike).  Now we are beginning to reap the curse of our rebellion.  Even the godly among the nation suffer when the hand of God brings judgment.  If you don’t believe me, read Jeremiah.


So is it appropriate that we as God’s peculiar people in this particular place come together and confess our sins as a corporate body?  Of course it is.  Together we are sinners who have all broken the law of God.  Together we as Americans are responsible for the sins of our nation: materialism, abortion, homosexuality, and other idolatries of every kind.  When we confess our sins together we are simply following in the footsteps of the millions of saints that have gone before us.  Both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to that truth.  Go back to Joshua 7, Ezra 10, even the pagans of Niniveh confess together in Jonah, the church at Corinth repents.  The Psalms are full of examples of corporate confession.  In our culture, individualism is so strongly stressed that it is hard for us to think in terms of worship as corporate.  I come to worship and I evaluate that worship by my own experience.  However, that is not what is happening.  The individual members of God’s church are gathering together to worship as one body.  In corporate worship it is right and proper for us to come before God and confess together our sins that our hearts may be right before Him and that nothing would hinder our worship together.  Keep those things in mind as we confess our sins together in worship.

Pastor’s Ponderings: December 2008

In the last few months I have given you some of the rationale behind what we do in our corporate worship services.  So far, I have discussed the prelude, the Welcome & Announcements and the Call to Worship.  What is next, well check last week’s bulletin and you will find that it is time for me to address the “Songs of Praise” or, if we are having communion, the first “Hymn” (commonly known as the Hymn of Praise).  The question I would want you to ask about the first corporate music we have in the service would be this: “What goes into choosing the first thing we sing?”  Well that is a great question and I’m glad you asked, let us take a moment to explore that together.

As has already been alluded to a couple of times is that fact that our first corporate musical expression in worship should be a song of praise to our God.  Always remember that when we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we are singing our prayers and praises to God.  When we pray it is very appropriate to follow the acronym A.C.T.S.  which stands for “adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.”  Notice the “A” is what we should pray first and that is “adoration.”  Is it not appropriate to come to God in worship first with adoration and praise?  Of course it is!  He is worthy of all our praise and it is fitting for us to sing it to Him.


Most of the time we begin our corporate worship services with two songs led by the Praise Team.  These are to focus our attention on our great God.  We try to choose music that is at once Christ-centered, biblical, and singable.  We want to the entire congregation to be able to sing the music and fully participate in the praises of God.  On the first Sunday of the month, we typically begin with a hymn accompanied by the organ.  When this is the case we usually pick what I would refer to as a “big hymn.”  I think when we start with a hymn it should be a rousing hymn of praise which should be sung in a robust manner.  Music is powerful and it sets the stage for what follows in worship.  If we sing half-heartedly with a lackadaisical approach, that is the attitude we’ll bring into the rest of worship.  If we sing with joy and strength with our hearts fully-engaged that is how we will continue as a congregation into the rest of worship.


As your pastor, the most common compliment I get from visitors is that we sing well.  That is always so encouraging to me because good singing is usually a reflection of a good heart attitude toward the Lord.  Even though we do sing well as a congregation, there are those that choose not to sing.  If you are one of those people that will not sing, I would first  challenge you to make a biblical argument for not singing during the corporate worship of God.  Refusing to sing God’s praises for whatever reason is indicative of a heart that needs to be examined before the Lord. 


I have heard some people say they are not capable of singing well so they don’t sing at all.  Again, singing is a reflection of the heart’s attitude toward God.  I often jokingly say, “If you can’t sing well, sing loud.”  The Lord delights in a believer making a joyful noise out of a love for Him.  God is not so much concerned with your technical ability as He is with your heart attitude.  Conversely, the Lord is not pleased with the person, who may sing beautifully, but sings without any heart commitment to Him.


We have begun to have occasional hymn sings and during those times I have asked Jane Page to give some basic instruction in singing.  I encourage you to come and participate in those events, especially if you don’t think you sing very well.  If you will pay attention to some of those very basic principles and apply them, you will be amazed at the difference in your ability to sing well.  Let us together make the most of every opportunity to praise the Lord together in song for His glory and for our good especially as we come before Him in corporate worship.   

Pastor’s Ponderings: October 2008

I have locked myself into a series here in the Pastor’s Ponderings on the order of worship we typically follow in our corporate worship services. So far, we have considered the function of the Prelude and how it is designed to be a time of preparation for corporate worship. (I hope you are using that time for such an important purpose.) We have also looked at the Welcome and Announcements time and the importance of those elements in our worship as a gathered body. The next thing we need to consider is “The Call to Worship.”

In considering The Call to Worship we must first consider a foundational principle that guides how we approach worship from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective. The fundamental principle of worship we find in the Scriptures is what is called, “The Regulative Principle.” Simply put, the principle is this: People have no right to approach the Holy God in worship in any manner they choose.

It is God who determines how He is to be worshiped, not sinful men. It is God who initiates worship and men respond. In all spiritual things in life this is the flow: God begins the process, by His grace, and men respond as they are enabled by the Holy Spirit. Worship is no exception. God “calls” us to worship Him in His Word. We respond to that call with singing, praying, giving, confessing, professing and preaching. We draw near to God in worship because He invites us to draw near to Him in Christ. God calls us from our earthly cares and relationships to focus on Him and His Kingdom.

Robert Rayburn describes the call to worship this way, “The call to worship summons the people to a consideration of that exalted purpose for which they have assembled. The minister calls them on behalf of God, and this introduces the divine-human dialogue. We must always remember that no one is fully ready for the high and holy experience of united corporate worship…The call to worship must, just as far as possible, secure their attention for the all-important activity of the precious hour of corporate communion with God in which it is each one’s individual privilege to participate.”

This call from God to worship is no small thing. It is not something to take lightly. The Triune God of the Universe is calling you from His Word to come to worship. The call is a command to be obeyed not an option to be considered. That is not to say that we are to dutifully come to worship like a child being called home from play. Just the opposite is true. Like children released for recess we should run with our hearts flung open wide to embrace the opportunity to worship our Holy God. He deserves nothing less than our whole hearted devotion and love.

God’s attributes are the main theme of the call to worship. So next time you hear the call to worship, pay attention to the excellencies of our God and know that it is God Himself calling you to worship from His Word. God calls you to come into the very throne room of heaven to commune with Him as His dearly loved child. How could you ever refuse such a priceless invitation.

Pastor’s Ponderings: July 2008

There is an old pastor joke that tells of a pastor that preached a sermon one Sunday and then preached the same sermon the next Sunday.  The people in the congregation spoke amongst themselves and figured that he was very busy and just ended up preaching the same thing twice.  The next Sunday the pastor again preached the same sermon.  This time on the way out of the church one of the elders mentioned to the pastor that he had preached the same sermon three times in a row.  The pastor calmly responded, “When the congregation learns the lesson from that sermon then I’ll preach something else.”

Every pastor gets that joke, unfortunately not everybody in the congregation gets it.  I am reminded of that joke whenever I have put forth clear teaching and yet things do not change.

There is much talk of change these days.  Many cry out for change in our nation.  The scope of those changes spans the spectrum of our society.  However, the changes I am speaking of in the church are changes in people.  The Christian life is about change.  The Holy Spirit’s mission is to take sinful believers and change them to make them more and more like the Lord Jesus.  That means change for you and me.  Sometimes I don’t want to change, but God’s will for me is change.  We call that sanctification.  As we grow in sanctification, we grow in our relationship with the Lord and we become better worshippers. 


I say all that to get to my subject for this edition of The Beacon.  Last time I wrote about the first part of our worship service, namely the prelude.  Pay attention during the next prelude and see how we are changing (growing) in our worship as a congregation.  Remember the prelude is a time to prepare our hearts, not a time to chat and catch up.  The next thing after the prelude is the “Welcome and Announcements”.  Many people would ask what do announcements have to do with worship?  Well, we will seek to answer that question right now.


We will start with the welcome.  If you pay attention you will notice that we always begin the welcome with a word from Scripture.   This way the first thing you hear from the pulpit is the word of God.  The welcome is important because we want it to do two things.  First, we want the gathered congregation to recognize that we are not just a collection of individuals that will be going through the motions of the service all at the same time.  We want the congregation to recognize that indeed they are to worship God as the gathered body of Christ.  This is something we do together in unity.  Secondly, there is an outreach aspect to the welcome.  We want visitors to our worship to feel welcome and to invite them to be part of the gathered body of worshippers with us.  We also want them to take the time to fill out a visitor card so we can follow-up with them.


If you have ever been to summer camp you probably are familiar with some version of an announcement song sung to the tune of “the farmer in the dell” that goes something like this:  “Announcements, announcements, announcements, a terrible way to die, a terrible way to die, a terrible thing to be talked to death, a terrible way to die.”  I will spare you the rest.  Announcements are kind of universally understood as the time when you can tune out.  So, we are left with a question.  How can the mundane announcements of what is going on in the life of the church be a significant part of worship?  Well, think about that question.  It answers itself.  What is more important than the life of the church?  Therefore, announcements are important because they tell us what is going on so that we can participate in the body of Christ of which we are a part.  Corporate worship on Sunday cannot give you all you need to be a growing, productive member of Christ’s body.  You need more than that and you find out about growth opportunities beyond the Sunday worship service, in that service, during the announcements.


So what am I asking you to do with all of this?  I am asking you to be in the sanctuary for the prelude and focus during that time on preparing your heart for worship.  Then pay attention as we go through the welcome and announcements so you can know what is going on in the life of our church.  Then you will be participating and better equipped to participate as we grow together in Christ.  


Pastor’s Ponderings: May 2008

When it is time to sit down and write my “pastor’s pondering” for “The Beacon,” it is always a challenge. There are so many different things I have to say. I find myself wanting to talk about discipleship, worship, outreach and more. There just isn’t enough time or space to write all I would like to say so I must choose carefully. I have been wanting to do some teaching on worship. As a congregation, I think we would really benefit from a study in worship. I am prayerfully considering preaching a series on worship this Fall. I was planning to go from 1 Samuel straight into the Gospel of John, but I may take a detour into the Psalms for a short while first. The Session has approved a Wednesday night study of a book entitled Worship By The Book. We will begin that study on Wednesday, July 2nd. It will meet every other week for four meetings. This will be a study for those with a real interest in corporate worship.

I realize I’m digressing so back to the focus of what I want to say in this article. There are many aspects of worship to be discussed and considered. In fact worship in its fullest sense touches on every aspect of our lives, it is not just limited to the short while we spend each week gathered in the sanctuary. So in essence we have an elephant to eat. Have you ever wondered how you eat an elephant? I often ask that question in counseling. The answer is, one bite at a time. So if we are going to focus on worship, the prelude is as good a place as any to start. There is something about starting at the very beginning, its a very good place to start…

As you look at the order of service in the bulletin you will notice that it is broken up into several sections, these are: Praise, Consecration and Communion (as applicable). The first thing under the praise section is the Prelude. So what is supposed to happen during the prelude? I’m sure various people will give you various answers. How many of you would give the answer that is printed clearly in your bulletin at the very top of the order of service? That answer is, “During the Prelude, prepare your own heart for worship by reading and meditating on Psalm…” The prelude is a time usually when the accompanist plays giving the congregation time to sit quietly and pray or read from the selected Psalm for the day. This time is set aside for the very crucial task of preparing our hearts for worship.

In corporate worship we gather as a congregation before Almighty God to lift up His praises, to confess our sins, hear His word read and preached and to respond to Him in faith. Think about this for a moment. This is not something to be taken lightly. In fact this is gravely serious to present yourself before the Holy, Holy, Holy, living and true God. Serious yes, and at the same time sweet and awesome, joyous and triumphant. Worship is to be all of these things. You cannot just step into the sanctuary and flip a switch like you are turning on a light. Your heart doesn’t work that way. It takes time and focus to prepare your heart to come before the Lord. It really begins on Saturday night, but more on that later.

We typically begin the prelude a few minutes before the hour and it rarely lasts more than a couple of minutes. This is not a burden if you use it for its intended purpose. All those other important things that you would be doing otherwise can wait until after the service and if not, plan to get them done in time to spend a few moments silently reading the Scriptures, or praying so that your heart is ready to give your best to the Lord in worship. One thing I do know, He is worth it. Give yourself fully to the Lord in worship from prelude to benediction and you will find it a delight.

As a whole our congregation does a great job of singing and participating in worship and I as the Teaching Elder am encouraged by that. Let me encourage you to excel during the prelude, it is a little thing, but excellence in the little things will better prepare you for the big things.

Pastor’s Ponderings: March 2008

I am writing my column this issue about something that I believe is important to the life of our congregation. This is also in response to a request from the Outreach Committee of which I am a member (ex officio). So here we go.

In Mark chapter 12 Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment. His answer follows:

29Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

You may recognize the quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. These are very common verses to our ears because we hear them relatively often. Therefore, we must be particularly careful not to allow them to become mundane or common because Jesus says there is no other commandment greater than these.

In my “pondering” I would like to focus on the quote from Leviticus 19, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” I’m splitting the two quotes from Jesus’ answer, but always remember (this is critical) that loving God and loving neighbor are inherently interconnected. You cannot truly have one without the other.

Love your neighbor as yourself, what does that really mean? Before we go any further let me assure you that I understand many books have been written on the subject and I am under no delusion that I am going to add anything to what has already been said before. Now to answer the question, I think we first have to think about what it means to love ourselves. For many “reformed” believers there are red flags going up all over, as well they should. We have been told to die to self, to take up our cross (an instrument of death) and follow Jesus. That is a call to sacrifice ourselves so how does that fit with this situation? Well, Paul tells us we are called to treat others as better than ourselves. We are called to put our own selfish desires aside and follow Jesus and to do that we must first take care of ourselves physically and spiritually. If you are not active in the means of grace you will not have the spiritual strength to fulfill the call. If you do not take care of your physical needs you will not have the strength for living. We need these things for the benefit of our own lives, we also need them in order to benefit our neighbors.

So what am I getting at? I’m trying to encourage us as a congregation and as individuals to begin taking an interest in our neighbors, particularly a spiritual interest. There are a number of ways that this can manifest itself including talking with your neighbor about spiritual things and inviting them to church. It may be inviting them to a Bible study. There are any number of things you can do. I know some of you are thinking “o.k., the pastor is now officially getting into my uncomfortable zone.” I understand, I also understand that when I’m uncomfortable I do something about it. Now here is the challenge. You can do something to move back to your comfort zone or you can do something to change the boundaries of your comfort zone so that it embraces more godly action. So what will it be?

As your pastor I want to go on record as saying, I want you to be happy. I also want you to be fruitful for the Lord. I think ultimately these two things are interconnected. This thought struck me recently, “You can never be truly happy as long as you are focused on pursuing your own happiness.” I do not expect you to start being happy and fruitful tomorrow. In fact for some of you it may take years, but tomorrow you can take a definitive step toward your own happiness. The step I am asking you to take it to pick up a “10 Most Wanted” card in the Narthex and fill out the card with the names of people you know who do not know the Lord (or are at least unchurched). If you do not have 10, do not panic, just fill in as many as you have and start praying. How should you pray for these people?

  1. Pray for them to have their eyes opened to their need for a Savior.

  2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to the Gospel.

  3. Pray for the Lord to use you to show the love of Christ to them in your actions and with your words.

  4. Pray for the Lord to give you courage to invite these people to church.

  5. Pray for them to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This process should take you a few minutes a day. Maybe you could take one person a day from your list and focus your prayers on them. The key is you will be praying for the lost and in that process the Lord will give you a greater love for these people. You will be investing in their lives in a very powerful way and you will also be investing in your own walk with the Lord. It is a win-win situation. Please do not miss this opportunity.

Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2007

It was a real pleasure for me to have Dale and Kathy Hollenbeck worship with us on the 9th of September. Dale and Kathy are missionaries to Uganda and old friends from seminary. Dale is an MTW missionary and an instructor at the Uganda Bible Institute (UBI). UBI is a school for pastors serving to prepare men to lead in the many churches that have no pastor. It is hard for us to fathom the situation where 66% of the churches in Uganda have no pastor.

The Hollenbecks are supposed to return to Uganda near the end of September, but they still have outstanding financial needs. Support must be raised to cover those needs in order for them to return to the field. I do not bring that up in order to ask the church to support them. Whether or not we support them is a matter for the Mission Committee to decide pending approval by the Session. What I did want to do with this is to bring your attention to the fact that Dale was asked to tell about his mission work in conjunction with the sermon he delivered. He chose not to do that because (although being almost $1,000 a month short of his needs) he took the preaching of God's word as too important to be mixed with telling about his ministry and needs. For that, and many other things, I deeply respect the man.

Now let me encourage you with this, the real reason I am writing. The Hollenbecks have been back in the United States since May. They have been on the road most of that time trying to raise support. That means every Sunday trying to get to at least one if not two churches to report back to old supporters or tell new potential supporters about what God is doing in their ministry. Home missionary assignment is not a vacation, it is a grueling experience that has taken Dale, Kathy and their three little boys from Iowa to California to Mississippi and now back to Virginia. So you ask, “What is so encouraging about that?” Well I've painted the picture so far in order to tell you what the Hollenbecks shared with me about Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. Remember, they have never visited our church before and there is no guarantee that we as a church will have any further relationship with them. In other words, they have no vested interest in saying anything positive or negative about FRPC.

Having been in more than 20 churches over the last few months, the Hollenbecks thought our church was refreshing. Here are some of the things they shared with me. They were encouraged by the warmness with which they were received by the congregation. Dale said he was very impressed with the way people were paying attention during the sermon, even when he went past noon. He said, “They were up in their seats, really connected.” Both Dale and Kathy really loved the congregational singing. Dale said he felt such joy in the singing at one point he just had to stop and listen. They both spoke of the sense of really being engaged in the worship of God. If you were one of the many paying attention during the sermon you probably heard Dale say he was impressed with the concern for reaching out that was expressed in the leader's prayer time before the service. That continued after the service as the Hollenbecks watched how the congregation dealt with visitors and with each other. They said this is the kind of church of which they would want to be a part.

That said, I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised by what they shared. I was pleasantly surprised, but surprised none-the-less. Sometimes when we get close to something it is hard to step back and get a fresh perspective. If what the Hollenbecks were saying is true, then praise the Lord, we are growing! We are growing in our ability to share the love of Jesus with those that come to visit. We are growing in our worship of the living God. We have a growing desire to hear and know God's word. Nothing could be more encouraging to me. I hope you are encouraged as well. That said; let me tell you that I am not so close to the issue that I don't see the areas where we still need to grow. We cannot rest on one good testimony. Take it as a gracious providence from God for our encouragement to be spurred on to love and good deeds. Brothers and sisters let us love our God supremely and let us love one another and let that love spill over to those the Lord would be pleased to bring into our sphere of influence. Pray for our church's growth in grace and godliness. Pray for our growth in number, that the Lord would be pleased for the gospel to advance powerfully at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. Pray these things for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.