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What Your Pastor Sees In Worship

The following is an open letter to the saints I serve at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis:

Dear Saints,

The way you worship matters. You do not see everything I see in worship as your pastor, and so today, I’m writing to tell you some of what I see.

It starts in the hour before worship. I gather with ESL (English as a Second Language) students who come for worship along with one elder’s wife who brings her large heart and multilingual abilities. You know these students through your work with them in the Wednesday evening ESL classes. In the hour before worship, they read the Scripture passage through which I will preach and we work through the text. Though most have advanced degrees, they have very little experience with English. They usually have even lesser knowledge of the Bible. For instance, few begin with the understanding that the Bible is a single story, rather than a collection of wisdom literature is the case with most religious texts.

So, through language barriers and against the pressure of the ticking clock, we labor for the hour to understand the gist of the text and the central point of the coming sermon. We read together, explain […]

Real-Life Narnia

“The stories of Narnia seem childish to some. But to others, they are utterly transformative. For the latter group, these evocative stories affirm that it is possible for the weak and foolish to have a noble calling in a dark world; that our deepest intuition will point us to the true meaning of things; that there is indeed something beautiful and wonderful at the heart of the universe, and that this must be found, embraced, and adored….(Lewis) borrowed and scripted (a story) that he already knew well, and had found to be true and trustworthy – the Christian narrative of Creation, Fall, redemption, and final consummation… the Narnia stories allow us to step inside and experience the Christian story” (Alister McGrath 2013)

Have you ever wished you could be transported to Narnia? Or at least be transformed by it as you step inside and experience the Christian story – and then see that worked out in real life? Well, it is happening in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Greg Enas and Don Palmer are calling Christian brothers at a common stage in life to do the same through an invigorating group named Narnia Indiana. Narnia gathers men from around the city who are mostly in […]

Parent Worship Day

Does your God have the power to rise up himself, or do you have to put him in a high place?

Ten days ago, several of us from our local church zig-zagged through the local international marketplace here in Indianapolis to hang posters and distribute flyers for our English as a Second Language program. Within a few hours we had interacted with people from some fifteen different countries as we made our way to a few dozen restaurants, markets, tire shops, and hair-braiding salons.

On the community board in the Indian plaza, a poster (pictured above) caught my eye with the title “Parent’s Worship Day.” A Hindu activist group has begun promoting Parent Worship Day as an alternative to Valentine’s Day. Next to the poster was a sheet with an eleven-step guide to worshiping your parents. Step number one was: “Make parents sit on a clean and high seat.”

Unsurprisingly, the remaining steps involved forehead markings, garlands of flowers, lamps, incense, circling the parents, bowing to them, recognizing their divinity as the givers of life, and vowing to serve them. Of course, nothing was said of sin, or guilt, or death. No solution was proposed for them. No hope was given that parents […]

The Psalter: Smartphone of the Soul (revisited)

Note: This article was originally posted over three years ago here at Gentle Reformation. It is re-posted to compliment several of our recent articles on the place of the Psalms in human life.

Smartphones order our lives helpfully, or at least they can. In one tiny device, we carry a phone, a camera, an alarm clock, a web browser, an atlas, a notebook, a mailbox, a calendar, a library, an audio and video player, and a million apps that do everything from forecasting the weather to finding a spouse. Yet, their small screens and tiny keyboards limit their usefulness. These devices certainly fall short of desktop capacity. On the other hand, their portability makes them far more powerful for the user than a desktop most of the time.

These tools enrich life and make it more efficient. Like every great human idea, they simply copy God’s pattern. God gives us everything we need for life and godliness in his book. But, it’s hard to memorize the whole thing, and it’s not always portable. It’s the desktop. So, the Lord placed the smartphone of the soul right in the center of Scripture.  It’s 150 chapters long, and touches every human need. It does not […]

Let Us Love One Another

Recently, one reader wrote to Gentle Reformation giving thanks for the teachings, exhortations, and analyses. The reader went on to suggest that more stories from the battlefield – accounts of what Jesus is doing – might encourage to our readers further.

The difficulty is that Jesus always ministers personally, and many if not most accounts of what he is doing should not be told on the internet. But the Lord has been pleased to provide a testimony in our local congregation that may encourage you.

The Lord has sent a slow but steady trickle of international people into our midst. They come for ESL classes, English Bible classes, church social events, or to worship and join the church. Some are Christians and others are not yet. Most of what is happening is quite small – a ride here or there, a meal in a home, babysitting, help completing documents, discussions of cultural events and the like. More often than not, the context involves multiple people from the church.

In the last few months, their independent testimony has captivated me with one common theme. It is something like, “We have never seen people love each other like this in our culture.” These comments have come from […]

Christ Gives Peace

From Jonathan Edwards in a sermon on John 14:27 – preached August 1750:

Christ gives peace to the most sinful and miserable that come to him. He heals the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds. But it is impossible that they should have peace, while they continue in their sins, Isaiah 57:19-21. There is no peace between God and them. For as they have the guilt of sin remaining in their souls, and are under its dominion, so God’s indignation continually burns against them, and therefore there is reason why they should travail in pain all their days.…

I invite you now to a better portion. There are better things provided for the sinful miserable children of men. There is a surer comfort and more durable peace: comfort that you may enjoy in a state of safety, and on a sure foundation: a peace and rest that you may enjoy with reason, and with your eyes open. You may have all your sins forgiven, your greatest and most aggravated transgressions blotted out as a cloud, and buried as in the depths of the sea, that they may never be found more. And being not only forgiven, but accepted to favor, […]

The Battle of the Psalter

Have you ever heard of the The Battle of the Psalter? Perhaps our generation has been so busy waging the so-called “worship wars” that we have often forgotten our history. Take a moment to enjoy the story of Columba and The Battle of the Psalter:

Columba (c. 521-597 A.D.), known as the “apostle of Scotland,” was born of royalty in Ireland in the generations following Patrick (c. 390-461 A.D.). Most of what is known of Columba has been passed down in Adamnan’s Life of Saint Columba and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. These histories are full of legend – a mix of truth and error. Some modern historians question whether Columba’s missionary significance has been overrated simply because he had biographers while many of his contemporaries did not. In spite of our uncertainty of the truth of all the details, the story of Columba and the Battle of the Psalter is worth retelling.

He was raised in Ireland until he went to Scotland in 563. Legend has it that when Columba was a child, Cruithnechan, the man who had baptized him, was called on to recite Psalm 101 at a public festival. The boy Columba barely knew his alphabet, but when the old man’s voice faltered, […]

Praying for Your Leaders?

It is easy to become frustrated with politics and government. It is easy for us to throw up our hands as Christians and say, “Well, politics is not the essence of Christ’s kingdom, so I’m just not going to invest much (if any) energy there.” Some find it discouraging because it seems that we are often “losing” political battles. But friends, we are only really losing when we are unfaithful to Jesus. Even the martyrs know that they won even though they lost in the face of persecution from earthly authorities as they stood for truth (Revelation 6:9-10). If we are being faithful in Christ, then we are always winning. So, it might be a good time to ask if you are being faithful to God’s call on your life with respect to your leaders, especially as lawmakers take up their work afresh across our land in the month of January.

There will always be considerable debate about what God requires of us as we relate to government. But we are all to pray for our leaders; that is one indisputable truth. Paul urges in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and […]

Exploring Our Identity

Many of us have gone to our ancestral homes – or are still there – over the holidays with extended family. These can be wonderful, and sometimes less-than-wonderful, times of discovering something of our identity. It could be something about the origin of simple traditions that make life colorful – like this year learning about the great-great-great-aunt who bequeathed us the recipe for biscuits that we still use on Christmas Eve. My grandmother told us that Aunt Mary was a “short lady who was pretty good sized and really liked her biscuits!” That’s the kind of ancestor you want to learn biscuit recipes from…and the kind of ancestor you want to learn to learn moderation from.

Or, we might ask deeper questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is in our background? It helps us understand who we are in the present. If you are with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, you might be asking some of those kinds of questions about your identity this year.

Jesus identity mattered too. When Jesus was born, he came into the world through his ancestral home of Bethlehem. Caesar Augustus may have thought he was directing the census recorded in Luke 2, […]

Sabbath School Teacher Appreciation

The following are inexact excerpts from an informal address delivered last week at a Sabbath School teacher appreciation banquet in the congregation of my youth, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Indiana. Names in selected personal stories have sometimes been altered to protect the guilty, the victims, and the bystanders:

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Good evening and thank you for inviting me to be with you tonight. I do appreciate your labors in the Lord as you teach the children week by week. Having grown up in this congregation, I can appreciate the price you pay.

One of my earliest memories of Sabbath School class here came in the northwest classroom on the second floor of the old church house on Hays Street. I was probably four years old. Billy, John, and I were students in the preschool class – there might have been a fourth, I can’t remember. Two Purdue University graduate students, Mr. Ford and Mr. Bond, served our teachers. The ratio of two teachers to three or four students gives you a sense of how the Christian Education Committee had sized up the student body. Apparently, on this particular week, we were a bit rowdy at the table as the class […]