Westminster Standards in a Month

Westminster Standards in a Month

I have completed a project that I have wanted to finish for a long time. Years ago, I developed a monthly reading plan through the Westminster Standards based on the Harmony of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms written by Dr. Morton Smith. Since then, I wanted to create an audio version of that reading plan. Today it is finally done. You can access the necessary files here:

The Monthly Reading Plan of the Westminster Standards – PDF file.
The Audio Edition of the Monthly Reading Plan – ZIP file containing all thirty audio editions.

If you upload it to your favorite music service (YouTube Music, iTunes, etc.) it should automatically create the album “Westminster Standards in a Month” with the cover art:

I hope this is useful to many. Please report any mistakes to me. Thanks.

A Pastor’s Lament

A Pastor’s Lament

There are times in my life as a Christian and pastor when I sit, observe, think and take in the state of our world. Frankly, it is disturbing. It saddens me to see so many people (in the church and out of the church) gripped by the perishing values of this world. It grieves me to see men made in the image of God behaving as though he is not there watching everything they are doing. It saddens me to witness the rebellion, wickedness, and the exercise of their depravity. The name of God is being trampled underfoot by wicked men, and it seems that nothing is happening to stop it. 

It further saddens me to see how little I progress in the Christian life. The effects of sin are not a stranger to this pastor. I feel the weight of my own failures even as I lament the church’s failures in general. 

I am reminded of the words of Habakkuk: 

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.

“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told. (Hab. 1:2-5, emphasis added)

Theologically we know that God is working, and he is accomplishing his purposes. We also know that those purposes are designed for the good of his people, the church. We also know that Christians are not disembodied spirits. Sometimes we feel like the prophet. Sometimes we wonder what is going on and when God will break through and end this misery that sin has accomplished in people’s lives (WSC 17). We look around and see rioting, tyranny, wicked and rebellious leaders, the plague of abortion, and homosexuality. We look around and take notice of depraved men seemingly exercising it without restraint. We look around and cry out, “how long, O Lord?” (Ps. 13).  As Christians, we don’t live in an ethereal place with little or no connection emotionally to these things. They grieve us because we are not merely intellectual creatures, but we are emotional ones as well. Frankly, it hurts the soul to watch. 

When we read through the Psalms, we take notice of the laments of God’s people. Perhaps that is something the church needs to do. Perhaps they need to lament their own sin and then lament with deep-seated agony the sin of our culture. Perhaps the church needs to stop building its own kingdom and resolve to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). God’s Word is clear, and it tells us that this life is passing away (1 John 2:15-17). A brief survey of the church results in the following grievous things: a low view of the Lord’s Day resulting in one worship service. A low view of prayer resulting in the loss of corporate prayer meetings. A low view of holiness resulting in a church that is not much different from the culture they bemoan. A low view of God’s Word and its preaching resulting in weak-minded Christians who are unchanged Sunday to Sunday because they do not take advantage of this primary means of grace. The result of these disastrous actions leads to the mess of our world. The church is salt and light (and that is not optional — the Lord states it as a fact “Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς· Matt. 5:13 BGT). Yet, the church appears to be very weak because it has not labored to seek God’s kingdom before its own. The church needs to conduct a deep, internal survey and heal itself. The church needs to cry out to the Lord for the grace it needs to accomplish its mission in this world. What’s the mission: To glorify God, proclaiming the hope of the gospel to a dying and perishing world. 

Prayer: Our God in heaven, the one true God who is alone sovereign and true, we bend our knee before your majesty and cry out to you, lamenting the sins of your people. Just as the people of old perished in the wilderness because they would not heed your voice, pursue your righteousness, follow your will, uniting with people who hate you, we also will face your rod of discipline if we do the same. We mourn our own failures and sin. We look at ourselves, and we confess that though we have received an abundance from your hand, we use it for our own selfish gain. We confess that we fail to spend our time and efforts to exalt you and your Son. We confess that we do not pray nearly enough. Instead, we spend our days arguing on social media instead of seeking your face. We confess that we are often hearers only and not doers of your Word. We confess that we do not pursue your kingdom and righteousness, and we are ashamed because you have given us all we need to do so. Forgive your church, Lord. We know that you are the King and head of the church, and we know that you are leading her and guiding her. We also know that we have wandered from what you have commanded us. Therefore we pray that you would cleanse your church, removing the chaff from the wheat, perfecting her from the evils of this world and the tendency of our own hearts to wander from your Word. 

We also lament the state of our world. We look around, not as blind people, but as people who have been given eyes to see through the blessed work of your Spirit. What we observe shocks us, and it grieves us. We see wicked men trampling underfoot your holy name. We witness media that is abominable and wicked. We see a nation that murders the unborn in the place you made to be safe. We see men promoting and parading the evil of homosexuality (and we see it making inroads in our churches). We see rioting and lawlessness in our streets. All of these things drive us to distraction emotionally. You made us that way. Like the prophet, we sometimes wonder what you are doing. We know you are working for your people and your glory. We plead with you, Father, to penetrate the dark hearts of wicked people with the glorious truth of the gospel. We beg you to vindicate your name if men will not repent of their wicked behavior. We desire revival, but you must be just and punish evil if you are not pleased to grant it. Please, Lord, open the eyes of our leaders. Cause them to see that they will have to give an account for their actions. Please bring them to a place where they understand that they will bow the knee to the true King. We pray for the unrest in our cities that you would bring calm and protect those you have placed in authority over evil people. We ask that you would restrain evil and promote good as offered in your Word. 

Most importantly, we pray that you would be glorified and that your name would be exalted. We know that you are our refuge and strength, and we ask that you would watch over your people with a ready sword to defend them from the evil one. We pray these things in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[Featured image by Janez Podnar from Pexels]

Pagosa Springs Vacation: A Learning Experience

Pagosa Springs Vacation: A Learning Experience

Yesterday I wrote a brief blog post about my vacation in Pagosa Springs, CO. Today, sitting at the same place I wrote yesterday, I want to expand more on the week and highlight some of the things I have seen — things that I do not normally see in my hurried up life of Evansville, IN.

For instance, I have never seen a pack of Elk gathering and running in wide-open fields. They seem to be oblivious to the chaos of life that is part and parcel of human life. I have witnessed deer playing by jumping back and forth over a fence, frolicking in the new-fallen snow. I have witnessed weather that changes from one minute to the next. As I began writing this post, it was cloudy. Now, ten minutes later, the sun is attempting to make its presence felt. In short, I have slowed down long enough to watch and observe and then think about what all of this may teach me. What does it teach? 

It teaches me that life does not always have to be in a hurry. My usual routine finds me moving from task to task, thing to thing, email to email, and call to call. It isn’t easy to slow down long enough to take in life and simply sit and think about it. This vacation has allowed me to stop and watch and enjoy. It isn’t that this cannot be done every day. It should be. It means that there are unique times to simply jettison the normal routine, being content to do that long enough to observe and enjoy all that life offers. God’s creation offers me much to enjoy if I would only slow down long enough to enjoy it. 

I have also witnessed the complete impossibility of man to control the weather. I have never seen things change so quickly and so dramatically. One minute the sun is shining, the next, the sky is pouring forth snow so thick you can hardly see a half-mile in front of you. Something is unsettling about that, but there is something to learn as well. What can I learn? I learn that I am an utterly dependent creature. Though I know that, the weather has a way of reinforcing that truth and place one in a position of total dependence on the God who calls the sun to shine and the snow to fall. As I write, my rental car is trapped five miles off the concrete, on a dirt-filled muddy road filled with snow. On Monday morning, I am scheduled to leave for home. Yet, the weather will determine my ability to get the car to the nearest paved road. I have no say in the matter. Instead, I learn (again) to trust the God of the weather and trust that he knows my needs and will accomplish his purposes. 

See what happens when one simply slows down long enough to think about things? There is much one can learn. 

Pagosa Springs Vacation

Pagosa Springs Vacation

This week I am on a much-needed break from ministerial life, enjoying a week with my wife and youngest daughter in Pagosa Springs, CO. This small town is in the area of the Rocky Mountains, and the views are breathtaking. One of the things that this town is known for is the hot springs scattered around the San Juan River that runs through town. There is what is known as “The Mother Spring” in the center of town that reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The spring is very deep, yet no one knows how deep. They have attempted measurements, but the instruments melt, not allowing any accurate record. There are warnings all around it to not enter, yet some people try, and some have died as a result. 

The weather is amazingly different from what I am used to experiencing. It changes from minute to minute. One minute the sun is shining, the next, the clouds accumulate, and it begins to snow. The town is at an elevation of about 7100 feet, with the Rockies visible in every direction. The beauty of God’s creation is wonderful to behold, and the display of his glory is truly unmistakable. Sadly, so many see the same things yet never give glory to the One who made it all for us to enjoy. 

I am thankful for the time away from the normal routine of ministry. I was more tired than I realized and am settling into this calm, peaceful week. Though my heart is never far from the people I pastor, I am grateful they afford me time away to recharge my batteries and enjoy the time with family. 

I am posting pictures on Instagram if my readers are interested. You can follow me there (@re4med).  I will try to write more about this week later. 

Our Reformed Worship – Music

Our Reformed Worship – Music

NOTE: This is the first of a series of planned articles on worship that I wrote for the church I pastor at Providence Church (PCA).

The Word of God makes it clear that we are to worship the living and true God corporately each week (E.g., Ps. 100). As we gather, we come to meet with him as his people called out from the world. Our goal in worship is to honor and adore him. We do so with the means that He has given to us in his Word. At Providence Church, we worship according to the regulative principle — that is, we worship by doing what God commands as we approach him. As we gather, we must worship him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Sometimes people worship without a full understanding of what they are doing. Over the next few articles, I want to briefly highlight our liturgy and why we are doing what we are doing. This inaugural article on the topic will discuss the importance of music in worship.

God’s people throughout all ages have used music in worship. One of the best examples is given to us in Exodus 15. The location of this passage is vital to understanding why we sing. Exodus 15 follows on the heels of God’s people’s glorious rescue from the onslaught of their enemy. God has redeemed his people from slavery (Ex. 12) and brings them to the shores of the Red Sea. There they face impending doom from the armies of Pharoah. It is there that they see the love, kindness, mercy, and protection of God when he brings them across the waters and drowns their enemies (Ex. 14). Exodus 15 is a response to God’s redeeming work. They sing, as we sing, because of God’s loving-kindness in redeeming a people to himself.

Scripture also makes it clear that we sing to instruct. The hymns and psalter selections are designed to teach sound theology within the confines of the corporate worship service. We read in Colossians 3:16 that we are to “[l]et 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.” One way to teach one another in worship is through song — songs that edify and uplift and encourage one another. Thus, the hymns and psalter selections are specifically chosen to assist the worshiper in accomplishing these things. We sing as an expression of joy in our hearts because of what God has done. We also sing to edify and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith. Music is a powerful tool and, if used rightly, can help others as we sing.

Our hymns and psalter selections are also designed to focus the worshiper’s attention on the preaching of God’s Word. Thus, we begin each worship service with a selection oriented around praise and adoration to God. We have gathered to exalt him. We teach one another when we lead off the worship service with a selection that focuses our minds and hearts on this simple truth. The next selection focuses the attention of the worshiper on God’s grace and mercy. After confessing our sin, we hear from him through the assurance of pardon and then sing joyfully to him because he has forgiven us and shown us his kindness. Knowing that we have not been treated as we deserve, we gladly lift our voices in adoration for his redeeming mercy. Immediately after the sermon and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we sing in response to these means of grace. Usually, the music selection will be oriented around what we have heard in the preaching of God’s Word. It is a response to the living voice of Christ speaking to his people. We have listened and, now, we respond in song.

Music is a wonderful gift, and our music is specifically designed around an atmosphere of worship. The psalter and hymn selections are carefully chosen each week to benefit the worshiper and praise the triune God. It is not a mere afterthought, but it is vital and central to our expression of worship each week.


COMING UP:

  • Our Reformed Worship: Responsive and Active Worship.

  • Our Reformed Worship: The Call to Worship and the Benediction.

  • Our Reformed Worship: The Scripture Lesson.

  • Our Reformed Worship: Prayer (Invocation, Confession of Sin, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Pastoral Prayer).

  • Our Reformed Worship: Confession of Faith.

  • Our Reformed Worship: The Preaching of God’s Word.

  • Our Reformed Worship: The Sacraments.