Finding a Treasure In an Unusual Place

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31)

Around sixty percent of the COVID deaths have been in people over the age of 70. As that statistic has been discussed, the dialogue has been discouraging. Some have argued that we are disrupting lives and the economy for people who would have likely died soon anyways.

This should upset a follower of Jesus.

First, the most vulnerable are the most protected. They are never disposable. Second, all life is valuable because we are made in the image of God. We must protect both the unborn child AND the older saint.

Lastly, the wisdom for living is a treasure that is given to the aged.

Wisdom is the ability to navigate life according to God’s creation design. Wisdom is essential to human flourishing. Thus, wisdom is a treasure:

“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.” (Proverbs 3:13-16)

When a younger woman is overwhelmed with raising kids, running a household, being a wife, and possibly managing a business — she needs wisdom to navigate life.

Where should she get that? From an older woman (Titus 2:4). An older woman should mentor a younger woman. The Lord has stored up a treasure of wisdom in that older woman, and that treasure is not meant to be hoarded.

If we are dismissive of our older saints, we are throwing away a storehouse of treasures. The Lord has stored up a vast cache of treasure, and hidden that cache in the hearts and minds of the older saints.

Paul Tripp writes:

“The Bible looks at youth and aging in the exact opposite way from our culture. While the Bible esteems the vigor of the young, it views old age as a sign of blessing and repeatedly calls on us to honor the aged (Isa. 46:4, Lev. 19:32, Prov. 23:22, 1 Tim. 5:1). The tendency of modern Western culture to despise aging and to worship youthfulness is one subtle indicator of how far it has moved away from a biblical perspective on life. In Scripture old age is a sign of God’s covenantal faithfulness. It is also connected with functional wisdom. We, on the other hand, crave youth, dread getting old, and quickly put out to pasture all those who have lived long enough to have acquired some functional life-wisdom. This ageism is part of the oxygen of our culture. We all breathe it in daily, and it has affected the way each of us views who we are and where we are going.” (Tripp, Lost in the Middle, pg 83)

Worship In My Pajamas

I get the draw to online worship.

For the last two weeks, we were in Corona Quarantine, so we experienced a casual Sunday morning. We rolled out of bed and got to watch online. There was no fighting to get the kids ready and no running late. We didn’t have to get dressed, and when we were done, we got to return to our casual Sunday morning.

It was easy, and it was comfortable.

When we got done, I turned to Jill and said, “I get why people could get used to this.” And I fear that many of us have gotten used to it.

I know for some of us, you need to stay home. You have a family member who is in the high-risk category, and you want to be able to see them. I also understand the temptation to stay away because it’s tough to have your kids in worship. For some, it’s cumbersome to be in worship because of the masks.

But we belong to a Savior who gave up comfort to take up discomfort for our sake – “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

His people are told to have the same mindset (Philippians 2:5). Comfort and the Christian life are often at odds with each other.

Throughout redemptive history, the Lord has used plagues to both cull and refine his people. What comes out of the plague is a more faithful remnant.

I think one of the idols he is going after is our love of comfort and ease.

My family will tell you that it is one of my core idols – probably the one that causes the most pain in our family. At the heart of most of our hearts is the belief that my life is supposed to be about my pleasure. And instead of Jesus turning that over in our hearts when we come to him, we expect him to fit into that narrative.

But the gospel is about death and then life. We are to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23). We are to crucify the passions of the flesh (1 Peter 4:1). We are to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Now let’s circle back to worship. Worship is not primarily for what we get but what we give. We give glory and honor to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. And we do this together. Corporately. God has made a people for his own possession (1 Peter 2:9).

We have to gather in person. This is a command (Hebrews 10:25). When the people of God gather together for worship, a time and space hole opens in the fabric of the universe — heaven and earth meet.

“But you [plural, “y’all”] have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)

You do not get the same reality at home in your pajamas. You may get something good from it, and good is better than nothing. But let’s not think that FaceTiming a relative into the dinner table is the same thing as having that family member at the table.

So, for the time being, some may need to settle for the substitute. I get that, and God in his kindness will sustain you in these extraordinary times. Please do not forsake the Lord’s Day worship all together. If necessary, watch the live stream. That is why we are giving it as an option.

But if you are just staying at home and watching because it is easier and more comfortable. Well…we need to repent.

We need to be willing to put our love of comfortable to death, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus by attending to the work of corporate worship.

Why Unhealthy People Crave Controversy

“To be sure, controversies happen in every era since people will have differing views on important issues, and sometimes even disagreements about how important those issues are. But Scripture speaks repeatedly about those who have what the apostle Paul calls “an unhealthy craving for controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4). Of course, Paul was more than willing to speak into controversies himself—from opposing Peter to his face for refusing to eat with Gentiles to some of those fiery letters to the Corinthians. But this was as different from craving controversy for the sake of controversy as conjugal love is from an orgy.”

From time to time, we will post from other blogs. Here at The Gospel Coalition, Russell Moore posts a helpful article: Why Unhealthy People Crave Controversy.

One Reason Why We Aren’t Doing Well

I’ve been on a mission to install this baseline in all of our lives: None of us are doing well and nobody realizes it.

We all hate the masks. Nobody likes them. They are uncomfortable. They remind us that things aren’t normal. They hinder us from seeing each other’s expressions.

Every interaction and every decision is incredibly complex. Unfortunately, the masks have become a shibboleth for your political views. What once was a routine stop at the store to get a few items has turned into a very complicated ritual.

We have to navigate questions like:

Do I wear a mask? (which usually necessitates a return to my car because I forgot my mask).

Is that person that I cut off with my cart mad? I’m not sure. I can’t see their facial expression.

What are others going to think if I don’t wear a mask (or if I do wear a mask)?

Then with every allergy sniffle, you wonder if you are supposed to get tested for COVID.

Plans are interrupted at the last minute because of a concern over a possible infection by someone we had contact with.

The list goes on and on and on. Every decision is complicated, and we just were not designed to have to think through little things.

One author compares this to what missionaries go through when they enter a new culture:

When someone moves to a completely new culture, many of the ‘autopilots’ your brain uses for thousands of small decisions every day become ineffective. In a similar way, your current environment has likely changed sufficiently enough that many of your own ‘autopilots’ are no longer working. When this happens, the next remaining option for your brain is to use a second decision-making process that requires far more effort and energy (glucose) to operate. Your body can only supply glucose to your brain at a certain rate – a rate far below what would be required to use this kind of thinking continually. Thus, additional thinking about routine matters has likely left you with a chronically depleted level of glucose in your brain. All to say: You are experiencing “culture shock”.

These times are frustrating and exhausting. Therefore, none of us are doing well, but nobody realizes it.

We need a better outlet for our frustration. We need to send the roots of our hearts deeper into the God who loves us in Christ.

Turn it off and turn to the Lord. Psalm 1 describes a person who is like a firmly planted tree that bears fruit year-round (instead of seasonally).

The key to this kind of thriving?

his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. – Psalm 1:2

Here’s the reality. We are so caught up with constant stimulation, news, and social media that we simply cannot meditate on God’s Word. Meditation requires some downtime. Meditation requires mulling over God’s Word until you start to appreciate the nuances and beauty. Meditation lets God’s Word marinate in our hearts until they are seasoned by his love.

But this is difficult to do when we are constantly stimulated.

So, turn it off. Turn off the news (hint: there’s no life and hope on CNN and Fox News, they are not going to give you Gospel news). Turn off social media.

Instead, just sit and meditate on God’s Word.

Embrace the grief before the Lord. This is a time of grieving. Acknowledge that this is a time of exhaustion. Because every decision is laden with weight and difficulty, we are more prone to frustration. And when frustrated, little things become big things. The kid’s toys on the floor aren’t a big deal, but I make it into a big deal when I’m tired and frustrated. Small things explode into big things. And right now, we are all physically and emotionally exhausted.

I think we have lost the discipline of lament. We need to learn to recognize our pain and pour out our grief to the Lord. The psalms can help us here:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV)

The Lord wants us to bring our dark emotions to him. As a discipline, before we turn to our issues or our loved ones, we probably should turn to the Lord and pour out our laments to him. I think this will help us think more clearly, carefully, and lovingly.

Finally, this has become a promise from Jesus that I repeat to myself almost daily now:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)

Encouragement for the Hour

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing… And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14

Courage might be the greatest need of the hour.

More than sympathy and compassion, we need courage. Compassion is wonderful for a moment but it always needs to be married to something else — an action. For instance if a friend has compassion and that’s it…well, you will eventually need them to do something for you. Compassion is most stark when it is lacking and when it is alone. When someone acts and has no compassion, the action feels harsh and unloving. But if it is alone, compassion feels useless and tepid.

So more than more compassion, we need more courage.

But what is courage? Maybe we can think of courage this way, “the willingness to take the next step in light of overwhelming obstacles.”

Courage is the recently widowed woman who is willing to open her house up to a hurting friend even though she has no emotional margin. Courage is the faithful mom who has one more conversation with her addicted child even through every other conversation has fallen on deaf ears. Courage is Winston Church bombing Germany even though Britain was greatly outmanned and underfunded. But courage is also sometimes just getting up out of bed amidst debilitating depression.

But if we assume that courage will arise from within ourselves, we will find that well dry.

Courage is something that comes from another. The English language reflects this. To “encourage” in the English language means to “give someone courage.” Likewise, to “discourage” means that we take courage away from someone.

In Biblical Greek, the word that often gets translated as “encourage” (parakaleō) has a wide range of meanings. At times it means “exhort” and at times it means “comfort.” At first glance, those seem to be widely different experiences. “Exhort” in most ears carries a negative connotation — it is an unpleasant experience. While comfort is pleasant. We exhort someone who has done something wrong, and we comfort those who have been wronged.

But parakaleō literally means to “speak (or call) alongside someone” (para is the prefix for “alongside”). In this sense, parakaleō is when someone speaks in a way that calls you to something greater in light of God’s promises. Now you can begin to see the wide range of translations: comfort, console, encourage, exhort, and appeal.

In Psalm 85, David uses a Hebrew equivalent when he says:

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86:17

Similarly, in Psalm 94:

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. – Psalm 94:19

The “comfort” of the Lord is not like the comfort of sitting in your recliner after a long day’s work. It is the “comfort” of a deliver who has come alongside you and helped you. That is why God’s “consolations cheer my soul.” The Lord coming along side a helpless person like myself is en-couraging. Knowing that the Lord in his gracious power is both able and willing to help a poor sinner gives me courage to go after the next thing he asks me to do.

This is similar to what “encourage” means in the New Testament. If you want to “encourage” someone remind them of the great promises of God, his tremendous grace, Jesus overwhelming power to deliver us from sin and its consequences, etc. In other words, summon them out of their affliction and weakness to rely on the grace of God. This is what Paul means in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 when he says, “encourage the fainthearted.”

This is why Paul send his fellow pastor Tychicus to the Colossians church,

I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts. – Colossians 4:8 (he says a similar thing to the Ephesian church about Tychicus (Ephesians 6:8)

So with the Lord Jesus, compassion and resurrection power become a courage giving combination. The courage comes from his throne of grace, but it comes through his word. And it comes to weary wanders that we might return to him, rely on his promises, and go after the next step of faithfulness.

Stand besides someone who is unable to take the next step, and call out God’s promises to them. Give them courage. They are likely fainthearted because the circumstances are greater than their ability or strength. But to call in God’s Word — to encourage — remind them that they belong to Jesus who is interceding on behalf of his people. Call them to a life of faithfulness in light of the power of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them with the gospel and toward the end of gospel faithfulness.

I Want Normal Worship Back

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. – Psalm 27:4

In a previous post I wrote about the centrality of worship in God’s plan of redemption. A Christian who does not gather for worship is like a fish out of water. There is no possibility of thriving without the context in which it was designed to live.

I realize that we are in weird times and deciding whether to come to worship is incredibly complex. I also realize that in weird times, we tend toward extremes. So I wanted to address something that I have heard some people say. By “some people,” if you think I mean you…I might. But I have heard it from other pastors around our area and around the nation. You aren’t alone in the sentiment.

The thinking goes something like this, “I don’t want to come back until worship is normal.

I get this. I’m not a big fan of what COVID has forced us into. But I wanted to speak a little into this discussion too. Here are some thoughts. These are not meant to be the definitive end all of the issues. They are just meant to offer some biblical truths to consider.

Why come to worship when it’s like this?

First. Because God commands you to gather for worship.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

The word that the writer of Hebrews uses for “gathering together” has “synagogue” as its root. The official gathering of God’s people on the Sabbath at the time. He is not simply saying, “Don’t stop getting together.” He is saying, “Don’t forsake the official gathering of God’s people.”

Certainly “because God commands us to be in corporate worship” is an adequate reason. But, let me give us some more.

Second. Remember the great discomfort your Lord endured so that you make little of the discomfort of the current worship situation. If we start with where we once were, the current situation will feel much worse. But if we start with the terror of the cross that Jesus endured to bring us into the presence of God…well, a mask and social distancing and a gym gets a different perspective. The little discomfort required for worship pales in comparison to the great discomfort our Savior endured to present us holy before the Father with great joy.

Third. There is a greater reality that should be defining our experience. In Hebrews 12, the writer contrasts the experience of ancient Israel with the experience of the church.

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18–24, ESV)

Do you catch the incredible reality of what he is saying? When the people of God gather in Christ for corporate worship, we are no longer worshiping on earth. Rather, in a mysterious way are transported into the throne room of God.

So, would you rather be in your living room in your pajamas without a mask? Or would you rather be in the throne room of the King of creation?

Also, that sort of unmasks the frustration of masks. Certainly it is better to wear a mask and be in God’s glorious presence than it is to be at home.

Fourth. Worship isn’t primarily about what you get, but what you give. I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but worship is giving God his worth.

Thus, the subtle shift that can happen in our hearts is that what we are experiencing in worship becomes more important than who we are experiencing. “As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (Carson, 31)

Fifth. A hungry man doesn’t complain about how the bread is sliced, and if he does, its not about the bread. Imagine giving a homeless refugee a nicely prepared meal. You have done everything in your power with all of your resources to prepare something remarkable for him. It isn’t perfect, but he is hungry and you have given him something good. And then he complains about the way that you sliced his bread, “It isn’t thick enough, and is a little uneven.”

There may be things we don’t like about worship (trust me, as a pastor there are always aspects of worship that don’t suit my preferences). But I’m starving for God’s grace. Throughout the week, I feel my weakness and sin. The temptations of the Evil One overwhelm me. I need worship. And so do you. God is present in worship in ways he is not present at other times (see point 2 above).

When hungry men complain about the way you have sliced the bread, its no longer about either his hunger or your slicing technique. It is about his heart.

Sixth. Have you considered how others may benefit from your presence. Or, what others are losing when you stay home? Perhaps we have put our desires before others needs.

In his section on unity in Colossians 3, Paul writes about one of the ways that we help the word dwell richly with each other:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16

We need to hear each other sing. Worship is formative too. When we sing, God works to the hearts of the people next to us. We need to hear you and see you.

Lastly. If you need to stay home for health reasons – don’t think twice about it. Stay home. If you can’t come because wearing a mask interferes with your health – stay home. If it is too complex to have your children in worship, perhaps staying home is better (though, the crying and fidgeting children aren’t a distraction – they are a glory!).

In fact, there are a number of really good reasons that you may have to be absent from corporate worship. I just want to make sure that you are also considering these things as you make your decisions.

These decisions are so complex, that there is a lot of latitude for each other right now.

How To Properly Handle Your Opinions

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Romans 14:1, ESV)

Our time is a heated point in history. There are strong opinions about many things. This isn’t the first time this has happened in history. And it won’t be the last time.

But the people of the crucified Savior should not be people who weaponize truth against each other.

In the grand discussion about our opinions, we have neglected the larger concern about how to handle our opinions properly.

Powerful things need instructions. A lot of my people like to carry concealed weapons. Because of its power, they have to take a course on how to properly handle such a powerful thing in the face of adversity. When a heated situation arises, you want to be prepared so that you know how to handle the power entrusted to you.

We need a class on how to handle our opinions. We don’t want to discharge our opinions and destroy our brother and sisters.

The question Paul is begging in Romans 14 is, “what are you going to do with your opinions?” Unfortunately, we have often answered this question too late in the game. It is a maxim that technology usually moves faster than ethics. In other words, we first acquire a thing, and only after it’s been misused do we ask, “What is the best way to use this thing?”

Opinions, like all things a Christian possesses, should be used for the glory of Jesus and others’ good. Paul’s word for “opinions” in vs. 1 carries the idea of “reasoned ideas.” These are things we may have thought a lot about. Things we are probably passionate about. This is how ideas work. When we reason things out, we become passionate about them.

So during the Corona virus, we might rephrase Paul’s statement in Romans 14 this way.

“One person believes he is free to not wear a mask, while the weak person believes he is free to wear a mask. Let not the one who does not wear a mask despise the one who does, and let not the one who wears a mask pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:2–3, ESV)

We can change this up too. I’m not sure which one is weak, but it doesn’t matter for this argument’s sake. What matters is the principle, “If you think you are right, don’t weaponize your correctness against someone else.”

And the issues at stake are not inconsequential in Romans 14. There was disagreement over whether one should eat certain meats. The Jews who had put their faith in Christ were likely convinced that eating certain meats is still outlawed by God. While Gentiles, who had come to faith were convinced that eating meat was fine. These are two groups who are trying to follow God’s Word and have arrived at different opinions.

What Paul does is important — he demotes their opinions. He doesn’t call them unimportant. He does correct them in vs 14 (hint: its OK to eat meat). But it’s a throw off comment because it’s not the most important principle in play right now.

He employs a greater principle — hold your well reasoned opinions, but don’t hold them as more important than either the gospel or the brother/sister who is in front of you.

“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15, ESV)

And then he puts things in perspective.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, ESV)

So we can change this in our situation. If your brother is set on edge because you don’t have on a mask, you will not be walking in love. You are using your rights — the right to not wear a mask — to severely wound the one for whom Christ died.

Now, this mindset is only possible if you move yourself from the seat of moral judgment, and recognize that it is Jesus’ responsibility to judge his servants. He has not ceded that to you, so don’t take up his right. You are not the master of your brothers and sisters.

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”” (Romans 14:8–11, ESV)

We must remember that “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12, ESV)

This will help us to realize that everything cannot be equally important. We should not break fellowship over every aspect of politics (or even most political opinions). There is room in the church for people to have different opinions on economic policy, dealing with racial inequality, wearing masks, etc. Let’s quit elevating all of our opinions to the same level, and leave some room for people to disagree with your well-reasoned opinions.

It is possible to be right about something, but find yourself displeasing Jesus because of how you utilize that truth.

Truth that comes from the crucified Savior must be used in a cruciform way.

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:1–7, ESV)

Entering Into the Race Fray: Seeing

A lot of us are wondering how to process the racial tension that is boiling around us. The Scriptures are always are guide through complex issues, there is nothing new under the sun.

Where should we start? Let’s start with just seeing. It strikes me how often the gospel writers note that Jesus “saw” someone (Luke 7:13, 10:12). It’s a throw-off line. But it is the mark of the Man of Compassion that he notices faces in the crowd. He notices actual people in their problems.

So, when it comes to the complexities of race, just being willing to see is good place to start. Having the courage to explore the issues — to open your eyes to things we might not normally see. Let’s just call this the humility to open our eyes and shut our mouths.

A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer, “Love God and love neighbor.” He was a lawyer, so he looked for the loop hole to get him out of trouble, “Who is my neighbor?”

But you can’t outwit the Lord of Creation, so Jesus tells him a parable. A man gets beaten by oppressors and robbed. Two religious leaders see him and pass by.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33, ESV, emphasis added)

It’s an intriguing introduction of a character. The Samaritan was a despised minority. An outcast. But, that position gave him an advantage toward compassion. He saw the oppressed man differently.

I am not expert on the complexity of race in our culture. I am a child of the suburbs and the 80’s — those are two strikes against racial awareness. I was blind. Not “unwilling to see” blind, just oblivious to a lot of issues.

Then seven years ago, we adopted a bi-racial child. I began to wonder what life would look like for her. We had a few other adopted non-white children in our congregation too. That started me down a journey with Taylor Branch’s three volume history of the Civil Rights movement. Being a child of the suburbs and the 80’s, I knew almost none of this history.

Why? Because we don’t talk about hard history in the suburbs. As a child of the 80’s we liked to believe we were just steps away from utopia. Finally, mainstream history is usually written by the victors, not the victims.

A few years ago, a couple of gracious pastors invited me into Stand Together Fellowship. A group of white and African-American leaders in town – pastors, law enforcement, community leaders, and politicians. We have done a few things to bring about change, but the most important thing that we have done is create a context for conversation.

I began to hear stories and perspectives that I had not heard before. I began to “see” things I had not seen before.

So, I’ve been on this journey for seven years now, and I’ve seen more than I have before. But to be honest, the more I see the less I see clearly.

So, if you want to begin the journey of seeing, let me suggest two books. These are books from people who see much more clearly than I do, and they can help us see too.

Dream With Me by John Perkins. Perkins was a Christian, black leader in Mississippi. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should be. He was a leading voice in racial reconciliation before racial reconciliation was a thing.

Heal Us Emmanuel, edited by Doug Serven. This is a series of essays by a number of PCA leaders.

Finally, find some minority friends and listen to them. Just listen so you can see. Ask them for their voice and give them permission to tell you what they want to tell you, not what they think you need to hear. Perhaps say, “If you could tell me anything about your experience of race and I promise not to respond, what would you say? I just want to listen. Help me see.”

Additionally: Watch Just Mercy, it is currently free to stream on most streaming services.

Some Thoughts After Restarting Worship

Yesterday was sweet and bitter. It was a tremendous blessing to have people back in the room again. I wanted to share some thoughts I had after yesterday.

Congregational singing is faith giving. One of our core principles is that the one voice of the congregation is the focus of our music. It’s our way of saying, the music team isn’t the focus. Their job is to assist the people of God in singing praises to their Savior and God.

But there is an extra benefit from this that is baked into the design by the Lord — our faith is strengthened when we sing together. When the music team stopped playing yesterday during the main service, and we just heard each other’s voices, I wept with joy.

But, there is a loss here too. There are many voices that we aren’t hearing because of their vulnerability to the Corona Virus. I miss looking out and seeing their hands raised in praise, or tears on their faces from the comfort the gospel brings.

We need to be together. It was tremendous to get to see faces again. The word for the church that the writers of the New Testament use mean “called out ones.” It’s a word that is loaded with theological meaning to a first-century Jew. The “called out ones” were the ones who were gathered around Mount Sinai after being called out of Egypt. The church is the official gathering of God’s called-out ones.

In God’s design of redemption, we are meant to be in an embodied community of other called out people. We need each other.

All of the pundits are saying that this is the time when the church will pivot to a fully online presence. Thankfully, Silicon Valley doesn’t write the script for what a flourishing person is. We are embodied souls — and we need to be in embodied communities.

But not everyone was there yesterday. Shepherd’s love their sheep. They love seeing their sheep. They love talking to their sheep. And they miss their sheep when they are not there.

So there was still a sense of loss yesterday. The plague of the Corona Virus has taken away our ability to all be together.

Worse — it has taken away the ability of our most vulnerable people to meet with us. These are the very people who we need the most in our midst. These are also the people that need to be back in worship, but shouldn’t be there. That is an odd tension.

Nimble is necessary. I said this yesterday during corporate prayer — 200-year-old churches aren’t known for being nimble. But we have been forced to adjust…adjust…adjust. I think one of the things that the Holy Spirit is doing is forcing us to demote our preferences and make decisions based on God’s mission in the world rather than on what so-and-so might prefer.

I welcome this change. But it is an exhausting change. We will probably run our current set-up for 4 weeks before we make any more major changes. There will be some slight modifications along the way, but no major changes for at least a month (unless the circumstances force us to change again).

The Lord’s Supper is received by faith. I was debriefing yesterday with one of our elders, and we both said that the Lord’s Supper felt sterile. Then we laughed because it is sterile! That’s the intention. We are trying to protect from the Corona Virus.

As we talked about how to fix it, he wisely said, “If we are receiving Christ by faith through these signs, then it really doesn’t matter. All of the benefits are still the same.” I thank God for wise elders like this!

Our felt experience is not as important as the objective reality. We are still receiving Jesus and the benefits of his work on our behalf when we peel back the bread and wine (that is a line I never thought I’d write).

Our faces are important. I long for the day when we can all be back together in the sanctuary without masks. Besides just being annoying and uncomfortable, it is difficult to have conversations with a masked person. You can’t see their mouths smile, grimace, turn downward in sorrow, etc. It’s just not the same because a level of intimacy is removed. I miss seeing everyone’s whole faces.

But even masked faces were an encouragement for me. I know that some of our people believe the masks are an unnecessary overreaction. But they still had their masks on out of love for others. When we do what we think is unnecessary out of deferential love and deferential obedience, we are taking up our cross and following Jesus. A cruciform community of called-out people is truly counter-cultural.

Our Liturgy Shapes Our Desires

We are not primarily thinking beings, we are primarily desiring people. In a previous post, we said that we become what we worship either for ruin or restoration (Psalm 135:15-18).

If we become what we worship, then how do our hearts get reshaped to worship the Lord Jesus? How do we reshape our desires?

In his provocative book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith suggests that our habits shape our desires.

Parents have lived this out, though they might not have noticed it. When you change the diapers of your children, or go through the daily routine of making meals, your affections for your children grow. Our bodies follow our hearts, that is true. Jesus says that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But it is also true that our bodily habits begin to shape our affections. Our desires are shaped by our liturgies.

What we mean by liturgy is “pattern.” I have a morning liturgy — check email (I’ll admit, it’s not the best way to start the day), drink coffee, and then read my bible. That is my morning pattern.

We have liturgies around seasons — Christmas has its liturgies, summer is for vacations, back to school shopping is a liturgy, etc. These are established patterns of living.

And if you reflect just a little, you will find that these liturgies shape your affections … your desires. There is always a little excitement and hope that comes with the liturgy of putting out your Christmas decorations. It’s strange, isn’t it, that the emotion of hope would arise from the act of pulling boxes of Christmas decorations out of the attic?

Every worship service has a liturgy. No matter what church you go to, there is an established pattern. It may be as simple as a welcome, three songs, sermon, and then a closing song. But it’s the same liturgy every week.

Our liturgy (pattern) has a few more elements than that — it is a little more robust. But we are following an ancient pattern of covenant renewal — we are rehearsing the gospel each week.

And our rehearsal of redemption — the pattern of renewal — is a conversation between God and us.

  1. God calls us into his presence.
  2. We respond with confession and repentance.
  3. He responds to our sin with an assurance of pardon in Christ.
  4. We hear God speak to us through his Word.
  5. We fellowship with Christ at his table.
  6. He sends us out with his blessing.

Interspersed throughout all of this is song (we will examine singing in a separate post).

We become what we worship either for ruin or redemption. God is descending to be with his people, and he is shaping us with his Word.