Archive for January 2008
This post on how I became a singing man will take me all the way through college, seminary, and into ministry. So far I’ve tried to show you–through my own experience–that a Christian man will praise Jesus in song to the degree that he understands what Jesus has done for him. My own growth in grace exemplifies this fact. When I saw song as a superfluous worship tack-on for the emotionally biased I was at the same time woefully deficient in my understanding of the gospel. I was truly converted but was ignorant about the glorious salvation I had in Christ.
I return to this fact over and over again. I can clearly remember sitting in worship services and saying to myself, “You should sing more. Everyone around you is singing. What is the matter with you?” I was putting guilt-fuel into the engine of my own self-righteousness. The answer is not to suck it up and belt Amazing Grace. The answer is to believe Amazing Grace. You will sing what you believe. A singing problem is a symptom of spiritual heart disease. And that brings me to the first of two vocal awakenings in my life.
The first four years after my conversion placed me in parachurch ministries with no firm connection to a local church. That changed my sophmore year of college as I began attending a presbyterian church in Charlottesville, VA. By my third year of college I was discerning a call to ministry. A godly pastor took me under his wing and shepherd me towards seminary. After my graduation from college, I attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. It was also at this time that I married my beautiful wife.
That is a brief summary of an intense time of growth in my life. That growth occurred in too many ways to chronicle here. However, one area of profound growth was in my theology. Through that church in Charlottesville and through my three years at seminary, I gained tremendous insight into the Bible. God’s attributes, the plan of redemption, the person and work of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the purpose of the local church were all subjects that became food and drink to me. I couldn’t get enough them. I had to have them to live. And they made me sing.
In worhip–at church and in seminary chapel–they made me sing. And it was real singing–hearty singing. It was no that my singing drew my heart out. It was that my heart was overflowing with praise. Jesus had made the stubborn rock in my chest to sing. I couldn’t help it. I was gripped with the majesty of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He became utterly beautiful to me. That subterranean joy-pressure had to find a way out to the surface. It finally burst out through the fissure of song into the joy of praise.
This is why I can’t be too upset as I look out on a Sunday morning at tight lipped men. I pity them. And I condemn myself. I am their pastor. It is my job to preach the glories of Christ to them. They desperately need to sing. More accurately though–they need something to sing about. It is my job to tell them.
A man will not sing unless he has something to sing about.
I can’t help but close by quoting the Medieval Latin carol that exhorts,
“Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice, now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”
Good Christian men rejoice!
“And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings to whom he will, and at what time he pleases; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. ‘How then shall they call on him in who they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Rom 10:14-15)”
- The Canons of the Synod of Dort, 1.3
There are a number of exciting things coming up for me in the near future. Hear are just a few of them:
- We are 24 hours into our second “man” weekend. Hallie–who never gets to travel–is in our home state of Virginia for her second family event in a month. Our three oldest boys and I are having a great weekend. We went to a Matthew Smith–Indellible Grace rocker–concert last night. I love the extra time I get to spend with my boys. It already feels like their childhood is passing me by.
- In a week I’ll be in Belize. I have the privilege of teaching in the Presbyterian seminary there. I’ll spend six hours on Saturday teaching on the first and second epistles of Peter. Most of my lecture material comes from my sermon series on 1 Peter that I preached a year ago. It has been a pleasure to work back through Peter’s letters in preparation for this class. Peter is absolutely infatuated with the glory of Jesus, interpreted in the OT, displayed in the cross.
- Upon my return I’ll begin a Sunday evening preaching series working through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It is an often neglected letter that brims with encouragement for the local church. It has been a few months since I’ve lasted preached. I didn’t realize that I would miss it this much.
That brings you up to speed on this weekend and beyond. If you have any prayer time to spare I would appreciate you prayers for my sons, the seminary students in Belize, and my church. Ask our God that he would give them all a deeper knowledge of his love for them shown in the cross of Jesus Christ.
“The sword of justice was in a manner asleep before, in all the terrible judgments which had been executed on the world, but now it must be awakened and roused up to pierce the heart of the blessed Redeemer.”
-Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (1853; repr., Tentmaker Publications: Stokes-on-Trent, 2002), 1:108.
Today the United States marks 35 years of tragedy. On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court decided to overturn all state and federal laws that outlawed or restricted abotion in a way that was inconsistent with the finding of the court. This decision is still producing untold devastation on our country through the sanctioned murder of our own children.
Make 2008 a year that you pray for the end of legalized abortion in the United States.
See the following links for more resources.
Last post left me an unconverted Episcopalian high school student. The most terrifying moment of the first day of school was always the first five minutes of the lunch hour. It is at that moment a crucial, life altering decision must be made–which lunch table to sit at. Only the social pariah changes to a different table after day one.
With this monumental choice before me I entered the lunch room on the first day of my sophmore year. By the grace of God I sat down with a group that I knew from various classes. Like me, most of my new lunch time friends were on the cooler end of the nerd scale. Unlike me, they were Christians who were involved in a ministry to High School students called Young Life. Not far into the new school year I had accepted an invitation to one of these Young Life meetings.
I became a regular attender to Young Life–meetings that bordered between Christian worship and silly-string wars. It was over these first few months of my sophmore year that I became a true believer in Jesus Christ. I cannot pinpoint a certain day or moment at which it happened. Nevertheless I began to understand rightly the guilt of my sin, the offer of Jesus Christ to pay for that sin, and the faith to receive this salvation through the Holy Spirit.
I was now a Christian. I had something to sing about. How could I not sing? Jesus rescued my soul out of the trash heap that had become my life. He was altogether amazing to me. Words spoken would not do. I had to sing. And sing I did.
In addition to other things, Young Life meetings were places for singing the praises of God. Not only that, the guys there sang just as loudly as the girls. There were even songs that had guy and girl parts–shocking to my Episcopalian upbringing but altogether exciting to my new life in Christ.
There was only one confusing part. We also sang other songs–like Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl minus the troublesome third verse. You see, Young Life was an outreach. The thought was that if you could get a kid to sing Van Morrison they might be more comfortable with singing about Jesus. Without commenting on the validity of that method, I can say that my earliest memories of Christian worship were interwoven with Van and his mocha-eyed girlfriend.
The worship of Jesus Christ got implicitly connected to vapid fluff during those formative days of my Christian adolescence. This was not all Young Life’s fault. I knew enough about the gospel to know that I was saved but nowhere near enough to fuel my desire to worship Jesus. I was converted, ignorant, and untrained in the Bible. I knew that my sins were paid for at the cross but I had no idea how deeply profound that Roman cross had changed my life.
I now had salvation to sing about I just didn’t know all that much about what that salvation actually was. This produced true but shallow singing in me as I ministry-hoped on into college.
I still remember when I used to sing, Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da…
But ‘in this the love of God was manifested, that he sent his only-begotten Son into the world,’ ‘that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ (1 John 4:9; John 3:16)
- The Canons of the Synod of Dort, I.2
My earliest memories of church place me in a dimly lit Episcopal church. Whatever you are now envisioning of an old Episcopal church is exactly what it was including the smell of End-Dust.
I quickly learned the stand-sit rhythm that marked the spiritual progeny of high Anglicanism. There was a red book and a blue book. The red was for singing the blue was for praying. Simple enough. Since my father was usually absent from my Sunday morning memories, I took my mother’s cues for how one was to sing in church. And sing I did–kind of.
I learned to mouth the words to hymns that I now know to be drawn from the waste basket of mediocre theology. It wasn’t that the singing was uninteresting. It was that the notches in the rope above the preacher crusher–which we affecitonately called the dome hung over the pulpit–was more interesting. How it never fell on Rector-who-ever was a childhood mystery to me.
Two things should be noted. First, my ears were thoroughly dampened with my own impenitent sin. At that point, I was what the Apostle Paul called “a child of wrath”. I was unconverted, dead in my sin, a stranger to the promises of the gospel. I had no idea who Jesus was–the real living Jesus. For that reasons and others less important I had no true knowledge of the contents of the red book. Which meant the red book was boring. Second, I don’t recall anyone ever challenging me to think otherwise. I don’t ever remember being told what the gospel was or why my own empty hypocrisy might be damaging to my soul. My own spiritual deafness would have kept me from hearing the gospel but I honestly do not remember it ever being spoken.
I relate these early childhood memories–that would mark my youth till the age of 16–because they evince the truth that I am trying to explain. I did not know the gospel and I did not see any value in singing. I was far from the cross of Christ and found in the red book Jesus jargon set to 19th century tunes.
Whether it was that these years marked my entrance into manhood or my own father’s absence from the pew, I quickly equated singing–especially singing about Jesus–to femininity. Singing in worship was not for me and apparently not for any of the other men I knew.
I didn’t sing because I didn’t have anything to sing about. But Young Life would change that during my sophomore year of High School.
Every Sunday morning I stand before 200 people. It is my responsibility to lead them in worship–the singing and praying of the people of God. It is a sobering and joyful task. But one thing pains my soul. It is a weekly tragedy. Men who don’t sing in worship.
What shall I do with you, hordes of silent men? Your wives and children stand next to you singing away. Looking at you, we might assume singing is the sinking ship of worship-women and children first.
Why don’t I fuss? Afterall, I am the one standing behind the pulpit. Sometimes I do, though never red faced. Occasionally I choose a subtle rebuke warning you not to neglect the privilege of song or the majesty of a particular hymn’s theme. Why not a more stern exhortation? Because as I look out over you tight lipped men I see myself-yesterday, last month, two yeas ago, ten years ago-wrestling in my own heart with the question, “Is singing masculine?”
It’s taken me years to answer that question. I came slowly and I offer you the same benefit. Now, I answer that question with a “yes, singing is masculine” that grows more hearty the nearer I am to the cross of Christ.
I’ll take the next few posts in this series to narrate my journey from an embarrassed non-singer to the singing man I now find myself to be. These posts will have nothing to do with the quality of my voice. There are still no musical bones in my body. Instead, I want to show you that you will sing in proportion to your understanding of what Jesus came to accomplish on your behalf. Singing has everything to do with the cross of Christ and nothing to do with gender.
The question is not, “Why won’t you sing?” It is, “What do you have to sing about?”
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:21
As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are obnoxious to eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish, and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God, (Rom 3:19)’ ‘for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, (Rom 3:23)’ and ‘for the wages of sin is death. (Rom 6:23)’
- The Canons of the Synod of Dort, I.1
“We long to see a renewal of the old evangelical alliances, around the Gospel, and a strong coalition of Bible-saturated, truth-driven, God-entranced, prayer-soaked, aggressively evangelistic, Christ-treasuring and exalting, Spirit-filled, sovereign grace-loving, missions-advancing, hell-robbing, strong-thinking, real-need-exposing, soul-winning, mind-engaging, vagueness-rejecting, wartime-life-style-pursuing, risk-taking, justice-advancing, Scripture-expounding, cross-cherishing, homosexuality-opposing, abortion-denouncing, racism-resisting, heaven-desiring, imputation-of-an-alien righteousness-proclaiming, justification-by-faith-alone-apart-from-doing preaching, error-exposing, complementarian, joyful, humble, loving, courageous, happy pastors working together for the Gospel. (Thanks to my friend John Piper for so many of these words and thoughts). And we want to see them leading strong evangelical churches who, while they hold as faithfully and biblically as they know how to certain doctrinal distinctives not shared by all other biblical evangelical churches, band together for the Gospel on a basis that is robustly doctrinal, historic, orthodox, reformational, world-opposing-while-at-the-same-time-world-serving, Bible-preaching, Scriptural-theology-inculcating, real-conversion-prizing, deep biblical evangelism-practicing, New Testament church-membership-and-leadership-implementing, church-discipline-applying, healthy and growing Disciple-making, – all for the display of God’s glory in the churches. May the Lord raise up such a ministerial fraternity – not on the basis of doctrinal minimalism but rather on the basis of shared conviction of the truth and Gospel forbearance in the areas where we differ; not to the detriment of our convictions regarding our distinctives in faith and practice in the local churches and families of churches we serve, but to their enhancement. And may the Lord raise up churches that are truly a witness to grace in this passing age, a display of the glory and power of God’s saving grace, outposts of heaven, suburbs of eternity. For the church is God’s strategy, and there is no plan B.”
— Ligon Duncan, From his introduction to the Twin Lakes Fellowship 2007
I’ve decided to post small sections of the Synod of Dort on Sundays. The term Synod of Dort is actually the name of a meeting that took place in 1619 in the Netherlands to refute some bad teaching on how someone is saved from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ. This meeting solidified the divide between the two different teachings on Christian salvation known as Calvinism and Arminianism.
If at this point you’ve begun to yawn and are about to switch tabs, wait and read on. I know that I have written a number of very boring and crusty words like Synod, 1619, Calvinism, and Arminianism. I promise, I won’t do it anymore. What I think you’ll find as you read successive portions of this document is how devotional the material is. Yes, it is the document from which we get the five points of Calvinism. Just remember that points, point somewhere. These five points point to the cross of Christ. As you read the conclusions of the Synod of Dort the Christian can’t help but cry out, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus!”
That is my purpose. That we would learn from godly men in the past on how to articulate the doctrines of grace in a way that humbles the sinner and exalts the Savior.
I’m not going to comment on each section. Rather, I want the work to speak for itself. But I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. We’ll being with Article 1 tomorrow.
My wife and youngest son are away this weekend at a baby shower for my very pregnant sister. For those of you who know my family and can count, that leaves me taking care of the other three boys until dusk tomorrow evening. Before you call the house to check on us, let me assure you of three things.
- We are all well fed. Hallie left plenty of food that only requires reheating to be eaten.
- We are all relatively clean. I do know how to bathe children, though it is more difficult without a garden hose.
- The house is in one piece.
Now given those things there are a number of things that have gone, shall we say, not according to plan. Two of the more humorous, though not at the time, were:
- My three year old thought his pocket was a great place to store chewed gum until he needed it again.
- My 2 year old, apparently studying physics, dropped his full cup to the ground. Gravity is still working in case you were wondering.
- Though we are still doing normal Saturday activities, they remain excited by the fact we are calling this, “man weekend”.
As I have taken over some of our family’s domestic duties two things have become apparent. First, I am a bad homemaker. Second, I love my wife.
You see, by the grace of God I have a wife who embraces the biblical view of womanhood. She especially holds Titus 2:4-5 dear. She understands that the cross of Christ has set her free to love me, love my children, and make my home a place of peace and ministry. As I place my pinkie toe in her shoes this weekend I see how important and difficult her job is. There is so much that she does that I never notice, much less thank her for. Those things, though unnoticed, enable my ministry. They create a peacefulness in my household that exudes Christ.
King Lemeul’s mama said it best when she told him, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10) I agree with her, especially after the past 24 hours.
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t”
- John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 43.