Personal Worship




“We must remember that God will never drag us along the path of true-hearted discipleship. This would greatly lack the moral excellency which characterizes all the ways of God. He does not drag, but draws us along the path which leads to ineffable blessedness in Himself; and if we do see that it is for our real advantage to break through all the barriers of nature, in order to respond to Gods’ call, we forsake our own mercies. But alas! Our hearts little enter into this. We begin to calculate about the sacrifices, the hindrances, and the difficulties, instead of bounding along the path, in eagerness of soul, as knowing and loving the One whose call has sounded in our ears” (C H Macintosh).

Having consistent times of private worship can be challenging in our fast passed, distracting world.  Yet, the reward we get from spending time with the Father is well worth overcoming any obstacles.  As an encouragement and challenge to make this a high priority in your life, here are some suggestions from my routine,

1)      Find a time the works - Blocking out a time on calendar is essential.  It needs to be a time where you are alert and not overly distracted.  Though David rose early in the morning, that doesn’t mean you need too.  Remember, he started his career as a shepherd, so he lived by the rising and the setting of the sun.
2)      Find a place that works – You need a place where you can be alone, and where distractions are kept to minimal.  Starbucks is not that place!  I do my best study in places where there is a lot going on around me, but it is a horrible place for a personal worship!  Getting beyond the distractions, I am not sure it would go over well if I started to sing, pace, or lay on the floor to pray!  You get my point!
3)      “Be Still and Know that I AM God.” – Take time to quiet your heart and mind.  Ask God to help you lay aside the many distractions and give you focus.  Confess any sins that are tugging at your heart.  Turn the sound off on your phone, I-Pad and computer, so you don’t hear texts or e-mails when they come in.  If you remember something important that needs to be done, make a record of it and let it be. 
4)      Read Devotionally – This is not the time for academic study of Scripture.  Until you are fluent in Greek or Hebrew, just use your favorite translation.  Read slow and reflectively.  When your mind wanders, stop, go back and read again.  Let it sink in.  My pattern for Scripture reading for the last twenty years is that I read through the Psalms and Proverbs every month and then work through the rest of Scripture at a rate of 2 to 5 chapters a day.  .If you prefer using a devotional book along with the Bible in your quiet time, I recommend Spurgeon's Morning and Evening.
5)      Reflect – Once you are done reading, take time to reflect on what you have read.  Let the verses sink deep and be a means of grace for you.  Remember, don’t rush through this!
6)      Pray – There is no magical formula for a fruitful prayer life… it is hard work!  I like to prayer through the Lord’s Prayer as it keeps balance to my prayer life.  When I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, at “Our Father” I start with a season of praise and thanksgiving.  In addition, I make it a point to not skim through “forgive us our sins.” Confessing to God what He already knows, and basking in His grace is always refreshing.   I have also made it a habit to be sure to pray both morning and evening. 

Happy New Year!


It is time once again for the often-superficial commitment to change something about ourselves: The New Year’s Resolution.  According to a recent Marist Poll, “being a better person and weight loss share the top spot as the most popular New Year’s Resolution for 2018.  Among Americans who plan to make a resolution, 12% say they want to be a better person, and the same proportion (12%) say they want to lose weight.  Exercising more, eating healthier, and getting a better job garners 9% while 7% want to improve their overall health.  Six percent of U.S. residents resolving to make a change want to kick the smoking habit, and another 6% plan to spend less and save money.  30% mention another resolution altogether.”[1]

There is no harm to making a New Year’s Resolution, though I must confess “being a better person” is quite ambiguous.  Nevertheless, making a commitment to change is not only good, but it is Biblical, as we are to be committed to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).  Paul clearly made a resolution when he wrote “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2 Cor. 2:2).   Growing in Christ, knowing Him in deeper and fuller ways should be every Believer’s year-round resolution. 
Taking from our study of Hebrews here are a couple of suggestion that will assist you in a resolution to growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  

 Draw near to God (10:22).   Don’t sit back and let your faith happen; actively move toward God.  Remember that as a Believer your sins have been paid for and you can confidently come to God as your daddy who loves you more than you can comprehend.

Hold on tight to your faith (10:23).  When tough times, doubts and discouragement, come your way, grab hold of your faith and don’t let go!   Remember your confidence is not in your ability to keep your faith, but in the reliability of the Promiser: because He who promised is faithful.

Help other people grow in grace (10:24).  A lack of concern for the well-being of other Believers is symptomatic of self-concern and egocentricity.  The fastest way to hinder your growth in grace is to be self-absorbed in your own spirituality.

Attend Worship on Sunday (10:25). The New Testament knows nothing about solitary Christianity.  Meeting together for worship is essential for growth in grace as it is the place where we practice faith, hope, and love first to God and then in our encouragement of one another.  The Lord’s Day worship is a gift from our Father, where we receive special grace through Word, prayer and sacrament. 

I trust you will join me in this resolution, as together we discover more and more the “incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7b).

“. . . there is no favoritism with Him.”


We all have favorites: favorite flavor of ice cream, favorite food, favorite restaurant, favorite article of clothing, and yes, your favorite place to sit in church!  Having “favorite things” is a normal part of life.  However, when favoritism moves from food, clothing, places and such, to people, everything changes. Truth be told we have all benefited from favoritism or felt the negative effects of it.   

Favoritism, or partiality, is preferring one person or a group of people over another.  Much of this happens without us being aware of it as we naturally gravitate to certain people over others.  However, the “ugly” side of favoritism is when it is done on purpose and at the expense of others.  This often causes pride in the one favored and shame in the one who is not.  For example, favored students get more attention and leniency in the grading process, while neglected students suffer with poor self-esteem and poor grades.  The examples go far beyond childhood as we see those who are considered beautiful, handsome, thin, smart, successful and yes, white, experience benefits of being favored. While those who are not find themselves marginalized. 

Yet the Gospel screams the radicle and comforting message that “there is no favoritism with God” (Eph. 6:9b).  That’s good news! In writing these words Paul is telling “masters” that they should not threaten their bondservants.  There was a deep social chasm between these two groups of people.  The master was powerful and affluent, while the bondservant had few rights and had gotten into that position because they were in debt.  Yet Paul tells them that the Gospel turns the normal status quo on end by reminding the master that he is indebted to the Master who is heaven: The same Master as the bondservant! Therefore, do not show favoritism.

The Greek word Paul uses in this verse literally means “to make unjust distinctions between people by treating one person better than another.” [1] Peter uses the same word after seeing God bring the Gentile Cornelius to his door (Acts 10:34).  James warns against it in the church (2:1,9), and Jude uses it negatively to call out false teachers (v.9). 

As Believer’s we have been adopted by a God who is not partial (Dt. 10:17) to His children.  He does not show favoritism!  We all started out dead in our sin and trespasses, “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:1,4,5).  We all receive the same favor and as His children “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

I find these words very encouraging!  God doesn’t have a favorite preacher! God does not play favorites despite of how it may feel.  It’s a fact, the Bible says it clearly, God delights equally in all His children!  That’s good news! 




[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). 

Priceless

Several years ago, I was given a Mont Blanc pen from a friend which at that time was valued at several hundred dollars.   As you may have guessed, it is not a pen that I carry around in my pocket, and unfortunately, because of its value I never use it.  It seems absurd that I wouldn’t use the pen for the very purpose it was designed for.  What good is it sitting in a drawer?
We also have a couple of containers in our house stuffed with cheap pens of an assorted variety.  Most were purchased in bulk for just a few cents apiece.  Some work and some don’t, but most write poorly and pale in comparison to my Mont Blanc.  But they are easily accessible, so I end up using them despite their poor quality.
Believers have been given an extremely valuable gift that is often relegated to a coffee or bedside table.  That gift is the Word of God found in our Bible. Like a Mont Blanc pen, it comes in different translations and assortment of formats, but its value is too high to place any dollar amount.   Though we may be fortunate enough to have several Bibles around our house its value remains.  In fact, there are many in the world who would give everything they own to be able to have just one! 
Unfortunately, we do not read the Bible as we should and resort to booklets, articles, devotionals, blogs, podcasts, and radio programs where we get bits and pieces of the Bible.  Like my cheap pen collection, they work sometimes, and can be helpful, but never comes close to the real thing!  In the end, we fall into the habit of substituting what is expedient for what is truly beneficial and life changing.   
The Bible is priceless because it is the Word of God.  It is how the God of creation speaks to us.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit it is a living document that actively works God’s grace into us: It changes us!  Like a surgeon’s scalpel, it cuts deep and exposes our thoughts, intentions, doubts and fears.  That means spending time in God’s Word helps us sort out our own feelings and struggles.  It does not leave us exposed, or in shame, but points us back to Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” where we always find mercy, forgiveness, and strength for whatever trial we may be facing.


For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

“No One, None, Nothing.”


My wife and I enjoy our walks.  It is good exercise for my worn-out knees, a chance to enjoy the changing seasons, see the deer and turkey, get caught up on the day’s happenings, and to pray.   Always along on our walks is our dog Simba who probably enjoys the walk more than we do.  On most days, he strides between us as we make our circuit.  Aggressive dogs, garbage trucks, speeding cars, and other potentially intimidating things don’t seem to bother him.  If you were to join us on one of these walks you would notice that he regularly looks up at me and “checks in” by touching his nose to my hand or leg.  As long as I am there and not concerned, neither is he.
            
Jesus was very specific when He said “Do not be anxious.”  In fact, He said it 3 times in Matthew 6!  The apostle Paul picks up the same theme in Philippians 4 where he writes “do not be anxious about anything.”  Literally, that means the Believer should not “have an anxious concern” about “no one, none, nothing.”
            
Unfortunately, a command like this can cause our anxiety to spiral out of control as our inability to stop worrying or being anxious fuels a new anxiety that God will be mad at us if we cannot stop worrying!  Please understand that this is a command, but it is one that is given by the One who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11;29-30).   You see it is not a command to try harder, but a command to worship!

God’s people were designed and created for worship, but the sin the still surges in us causes us to make secondary things in our lives primary.  When we do that, we stop worshiping God, and in essence start worshiping whatever we are worried about.  Jesus is not calling us to a lackadaisical lifestyle as there are legitimate concerns in life, but a call to loosen our grip on what we worry about and spend time with the Savior who is only fully in control – there is “no one, none, nothing” that He does not have His hand on.  And He loves and cares for you!

Worship is a gift that we take for granted.  It is not simply another ritual “good” Christians do, but a time when we seek the LORD and find deliverance from all our fears, anxieties and worries.  David understood this truth and wrote this Psalm,
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:4-8).

Make it your ambition to spend time in daily in personal worship, and weekly as God’s people worship together.  It is a precious gift, that time in our walk with the Savior when we “check in” with Him, taste His grace, and are reminded that He is still walking with you in this journey of life, still carries His “rod and staff,” and you are safe!  “Be anxious for nothing” and enjoy the walk!   

Thoughts on Worship

One of my earliest recollections of a worship service was one held under an enormous Mango tree behind our house in Bwiru, Tanzania.   Yes, you read that correctly, worship under a Mango tree.  The large tree with its wide spread branches provided shelter from the late morning African sun.  Several rows of wooden benches lined neatly in rows faced a primitive pulpit.  Looking back, I am surprised that my parents allowed it, but on one occasion I had a seat in the balcony. . . one of low laying branches.  Another unique aspect of worship under a Mango tree was that my golden Rhodesian Ridgeback dog was also able to attend.  No, this is not an argument for covenant animals in worship, but an example of worship conducted before the eyes of the unbelieving world.  As we sang, prayed and heard the Word preached, young heard boys paused their herding, and passersby stopped and observed.   

Obviously, there is a lot I liked about worshiping under the Mango. What child wouldn’t enjoy sitting on a branch with his loyal dog lying below!  Nevertheless, looking back after serving as a pastor for over 30 years, what I now appreciate was the opportunity for God’s people to do transcendent worship before watching eyes, and seeing them drawn in to what was going on.  It was a not revival under the Mango tree, it was God’s people gathering for worship.

Because worship is God’s people gathering to celebrate Him, it makes sense that we do it following what is given to us in Scripture.  Or put another way, God is the one who gets to make the decision on how He is worshipped.  If you are tempted to think that regulating worship, is narrow, outdated, or foolish, please know that buried beneath these simple requirements there awaits a precious gem of grace: a means of grace.  The Reformers described it as “ordinary” realizing it is not the only way God works, but it is the normal way that He provides spiritual nourishment.   

Far too often we look for God in the extraordinary, thinking that the transforming power of God is only found in the unusual, spectacular, or what stirs emotionally.  On the contrary God’s normal or “outward and ordinary” way of working is “the Word, sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism), and prayer.” (WSC 88)[1].  This has its foundations early in the life of the New Testament church where Believers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). Word, sacraments, fellowship, and prayer where the focus of worship and vital to God’s blessing. 

The grace of saving faith that enables us to believe is the work of the Holy Spirit and ordinarily comes through the ministry of the Word.

Our faith then is strengthened by the same grace that comes only by His “Word and Spirit” as we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and live and live unto righteousness” (WCF 10:1; 14:1; WSC 35). Sadly, the very thing needed for spiritual vitality has become so “ordinary” that it is considered boring or irrelevant! I am however absolutely convinced a worship service formed around what Scripture teaches, screams the gospel and is powerfully transformative to the believer and unbeliever alike.  


In addition to Word, prayer, and sacrament, is the singing God’s people which ministers grace as we praise the Lord, call on his saving power, and encourage one another.  As Jesus sings with us, (Heb. 2:12) we are drawn to him as well as one another.  Here at Covenant singing is very important to us.  We also believe that God centered (means of grace) worship transcends style and trends and uses the best music and a variety of instruments. We also believe what we sing should be both formative (teach) and expressive (meaningful and emotional).  Therefore, our worship is neither contemporary nor traditional, but one that firmly grounds us in our Biblical Reformed heritage, yet invites and draws a diversity of cultures as well as the unchurched.



[1] WCF – Westminster Confession of Faith, WSC – Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Elisha

It took us longer than we wanted to collect our last two bags and get through customs and immigration at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya,  With the two hour delay we finally stepped outside the door and met up with my brother and his wife who had arrived shortly before us on another airline. Together we headed to a waiting van driven by a Kenyan named Elisha.  After squeezing all our bags in the vehicle it took us almost another hour just to negotiate the traffic fighting to get out of the parking lot!

On the one and half hour drive to Kijabe, Elisha negotiated stalled trucks on the road and a police stop where the officers where looking for a late night tip - "lunch money."  They didn't get anything from Elisha and we arrived safely at
about 1:30am.  We used Elisha's services three more times in the coming weeks and on each occasion he took great care to get us to our destination safely and graciously.  On the morning we left to return home, he picked us up at 3:45am, and as he delivered us back to Jomo Kenyatta Airport he told us his story.

Elisha who is now in his 60’s was the youngest of 14 children and grew up in an impoverished family.  By the age 2 his father contracted a disease that left him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to care for the needs of his family.  In an agrarian society this meant immediate poverty leaving his mother in a desperate struggle for survival.  Over the coming years she lost 7 of her children to malnutrition and illness. Elisha often went without food.

When he was eighteen he had a dream where he was told that he should go to Kijabe, because the missionaries there were kind and would provide him with food, education and a job.  Though he lived a considerable distance away, he obeyed what he was told in the dream and started walking.  The journey through perilous territory took him three months relying on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.

Due to security concerns a gate was in place at the entrance of the mission station and no one could enter who had not been invited by someone living or working there. Elisha knew no one!  He was obviously very disappointed.  Nevertheless, something inside him prompted him to ask if he could see the list of those who lived there.  As he read through the list a name jumped out!  It was his oldest brother whom he had lost track of and was now student a Moffat Bible School.  Elisha not was only permitted on to the station, but he had a place to stay!  

Several days later his brother took him to meet a missionary by name of Herb Cook – a close friend of my father – who had been praying for a young man to help at the Kijabe printing press.  Elisha was given the job and thrived!  Over the coming years he moved on to work in the operating room of the Kijabe Hospital where he sterilized surgical instruments for my childhood doctor, Doctor Bill Barnett.  Dr. Bill taught him to drive, and he eventually became the driver for the hospital.  In time he started his own business van service, transporting scores of people who come to work and volunteer at Kijabe.


Elisha prayed for a Godly wife and later married Esther, a jovial middle school teacher who radiates a love for people and the Lord.  He also prayed “Lord, I want my children to have a good education and not just any degree, but advanced degrees." He and Esther were blessed with four children: Three sons who are respectively, a lawyer, a research scientist, and in upper management with an MBA.  And a daughter who is a dentist and married to a pastor.  Most important is that his children all love Jesus. Elisha concluded his story by saying something like this, “All my life I say, ‘God this is job, this business, this money, is Yours and I am trusting You to bring business to me'.  This is His business.” An amazing story of God’s grace, by a man who genuinely gives God all the glory!