Take Up and Read

Jesus told his disciples to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). We call this statement the first of two great commandments. The second follows it, as Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

In the first commandment, Jesus notes three sources of our love for him: our heart, soul, and mind. In short, Christian affection for the Lord is to be truly triune, never compartmentalized. However, we do well to consider each source individually that we might learn well how to love
our Lord.

The Mind
Where, then, should one start? Perhaps it would be advantageous to start with the mind. Your mind matters, and it matters to the Lord. Discipleship is surely volitional and emotional, but it is first intellectual. Those who teach will tell you, in order to get to the heart and soul, you must first go through the mind. Christians are to love the Lord with their minds. Scripture is replete with instruction for our thought lives (Philippians 4:8, for example). Thus, Christians are called to think and think well.

Reading to Learn
One of the ways we love the Lord with our mind is that we commit to a lifetime of learning. And in particular, we commit to a lifetime of reading. We could venture to say that Christian growth is contingent upon our ability to learn and apply Christian truth. That is, reading is learning, and learning is growing. Though Solomon gives us due warning against too many books on the brain (Ecc. 12:12), Paul is quick to request his books and parchments from young Timothy (2 Tim. 4:13). That’s one reason we give away books on Sunday night. A growing church is a reading church.

Christians may say, “I don’t like to read.” Understood. Few of us are naturally drawn to reading. One must develop both the taste and skill to read and read well. However, it is still right to always exhort one another to pick up the page—for how does one expect to learn without
reading? We may not all read the same, in pace and practice, but learning assumes some level of reading. In short, it’s hard to understand how someone will grow in Christ without the discipline of reading. Christian living without Christian reading is a hard sell.

And frankly, if I might insert a point of personal, pastoral anecdote — we all read, and we all like to read, but what we are reading is whatever comes across our screens. I digress.

Learning to Read
You are what you read, which means you must read with purpose and intentionality. Start therefore by reading your Bible. A regular intake of Scripture must be a devotional rhythm of our Christian lives.We are not simply reading our Bibles to feed our souls but also fuel to our minds
(cf., Romans 12:2).

Supplement your Bible reading with a steady stream of healthy Christian literature. Keep Christian classics close at hand. I typically read 5-10 pages each morning as a spiritual “choke” for my soul before beginning my Bible reading. We need these works. Keep in mind that we do
theology in community, both in person and in print. We learn from people who have gone before us and who walk beside us. Church history, we remember, affirms the power of print.

Theology matters. Just read the news. Therefore, read strategically around topics that will develop your theology and make application to life. Every Christian needs to be working through at least one theological work a year. Something on the image of God, Christology, or the
doctrine of Scripture, to name a few. We are all theologians. What kind and caliber theologian you will be is largely determined by what you read. Do so with great care.

Last, sprinkle in works on subjects of your own interest. A healthy dose of secular reading reminds us that we are human and live between two worlds. From biographies, to novels, to contemporary works, each is helpful in their own right. I particularly like reading works from Civil
War history to the influence of media on our culture. To each his own.

Wherever you are in your journey with Christ, take baby steps toward a lifetime of learning. Start small, both in content read and time spent. Set daily and weekly goals for yourself, instilling a sense of Christian discipline. Learn, indeed, to live by grace as you pursue the God of grace with all of your mind. Keep thinking. Now let’s get reading.

Sample book recommendations
To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson
The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Battle Hymns of the Republic by S. C. Gwynn
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
Lit!: A Christian’s Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle

One last book recommendation, one of my favorite books on my shelf and something that would make a nice Christmas gift —You Must Read published by Banner of Truth. It’s a compilation of short summaries by contemporary authors on timeless Christian classics. It serves as a quick reference guide, but also just the right amount of material to stir my soul in a short sitting. Buy, read, and be blessed.

The Return of the Choir

October 31, 2021 at Coats Baptist Church (CBC) is Homecoming Sunday, and it’s a “big deal” for several reasons. We’re gathering together for ONE service, sharing a lunch together, having a fall festival of sorts with games and activities for families, and putting a bow on our October series about the purpose, mission, vision, and strategy of the church. Personally, there’s something else that makes this Sunday a “big deal”: the return of the choir!

Due to the pandemic, it’s been over a year and seven months since the choir has led worship during a worship service at CBC. That was eighty-six weeks ago. Eighty-six! It’s time. The choir resumed Wednesday evening rehearsals in September to begin preparing for Christmas at Coats, in addition to singing in a few Sunday morning worship services along the way. We’re very excited about Christmas at Coats 2021. I encourage you to mark your calendars for December 12 and 13. Then look forward to more Sundays with the choir in 2022.

I believe this is a good time to discuss vision for the Worship Ministry and hopefully answer a few questions along the way. I’ve heard questions about the involvement of the choir in worship and the songs we sing. So let me address where we’ve been, where we are, and where we may be headed. In addition, and of greater importance, I’ll address what has not and will not change about our worship.

Where we’ve been

While I certainly can’t speak to the worship services and styles at CBC from a historical perspective as well as some members with greater longevity, I can share a few tidbits about where we’ve been. I know there is a rich history of choral singing in conjunction with piano and organ accompaniment. The Joyful Ringers Handbell Choir and Children’s Choirs have been well led. Various praise team and other instrumental ensembles have paved the way to introduce a greater variety of worship styles. Former Ministers of Music have led from a posture of humility and excellence. We’ve had multiple Sunday services for quite some time.

I was called to Coats Baptist Church in late 2015 and began serving as your Worship Pastor on January 1, 2016. Sunday mornings consisted of a “traditional” service at 8:30am and a “praise” service at 11:00am. I quickly began referring to both of the services as “worship services” because I sure hoped people would be praising the Lord during the first service. I’m aware that some people think it’s beneficial to have the option of attending a worship service based upon the style of worship and their personal preferences. I’m not one of those people. More on that later…

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve worked alongside the choir, praise team, and instrumentalists to serve CBC through music and worship together. The whole Worship Ministry began leading together at special events such as Easter, Christmas, and Homecoming services. Does anyone remember Together Sundays? We would gather together in one service whenever there was fifth Sunday in a month. In the year leading up to the start of the pandemic, we were having identical service Sundays once per month. Then COVID hit.

The pandemic caused churches across the world to pivot. And pivot quickly. In March 2020, I led worship from behind the keyboard to viewers at home watching our livestream only services. Obviously, there was no choir, organ, band, or praise team. In June 2020, we re-opened and began holding identical worship services led by a praise team and band. This band includes piano and organ. This is essentially where we’ve been for the past year.

Where we are

It’s now October 2021. We’ve successfully remained open and have become accustomed to a revised Sunday morning schedule. The services are identical and are led by a praise team and band as aforementioned. And this Sunday, we reintroduce the choir! So now what?

Where we’re headed

In case my joint efforts with the Worship Ministry team over the past five years haven’t provided you with enough clarity, here’s the plan in writing: I believe that God called me to Coats Baptist Church for a variety of reasons and in His perfect timing. One of those reasons was to encourage unity in the church through worship and music. CBC has been through a lot in the past. I won’t linger there, but I know that music in worship has unfortunately been a cause of division. My goal has been to bring us to a place of unity and one means of accomplishing that was to bring all musicians and singers together as worship leaders. We’re there!

As we do move forward, and hopefully begin to see the pandemic in our rear view, you’ll be led by our Worship Ministry team that includes the choir. In many churches around the world, the choir is making a comeback with purpose: worship over performance. While you can anticipate moments where the congregation is seated to listen to a “choir special”, you’ll experience more occasions of the choir modeling participatory worship from the platform alongside the band and praise team. I believe this maximizes their purpose.

You’ll also continue to see and hear the Joyful Ringers Handbell Choir and Children’s Choir. You’ll actually hear the handbells next Sunday, November 7, during both morning worship services! Here’s another chance to mark your calendars: December 5 is the Joyful Ringers Christmas Concert. The children will be leading during Christmas at Coats. Multigenerational worship is also important to me. I thank the Lord that CBC is a multigenerational church. That said, there is great value in having generations lead worship together. That’s why you’ve seen (and will continue to see) the children and adults sing together on occasion.

Identical services also mean identical song sets at each service. For some, this may seem like a big change. Let’s discuss that more below.

Here’s what has not and WILL NOT change:

1. The worship of God

The purpose of the Church is to worship, glorify, exalt, and make much of God. Not ourselves. Not a style of music. Not a song. GOD. I believe that to be true at Coats Baptist Church. Sure, there have been and will be moments of being human (sinful) along the way. But I believe that God has rightly been worshiped by His people for over a century at CBC, and my prayer is that He will be for many years to come. We often say, “it’s all about Him”. I challenge you to make that true in all areas of your life of worship, both personally and as a part of the body of Christ during corporate worship services at CBC.

2. The singing of truth

Here’s where I address the songs we sing. I love hymns written hundreds of years ago as well as hymns that are being written today. I love modern worship songs. I love the Psalms that were written thousands of years ago that we set to music today. But what we sing isn’t (largely) about what I love. My primary responsibility is to choose singable, well-written, theologically accurate songs that magnify Christ, feed our souls, and teach what we believe. The mode (style and instrumentation) is secondary. So we’ll sing hymns, old and new, alongside modern worship songs that help us accomplish our purpose as a church.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17

3. The stewardship of His people

While I believe the mode of worship is secondary, it is still important. What am I talking about? Do we sing with choir, piano, and organ? Do we sing with a band? Do we sing a cappella? Yes, yes, and yes. I am very blessed to lead a Worship Ministry that is chock full of creative and musical talent. I believe one of my other primary responsibilities as Worship Pastor is to steward the gifts and passions within the Worship Ministry. At CBC, there are singers who are comfortable singing in a choral setting and others who are not. There are “classically trained” singers and musicians who read sheet music and others who are not. There are organists and pianists, drummers and guitarists, and handbell ringers. What do I do with all of these people? Bring them together for God’s glory and their personal edification. While the gifts, talents, passions, and desires of individuals are different, it’s a beautiful thing when they all come together to make much of Christ and less of themselves.

As an aside (that I hope isn’t even necessary), I believe every voice and every instrument can be used to praise the Lord. Read Psalm 150.

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

I’m really not sure how to end this blog post besides encouraging you to be encouraged. God has always had His hand on the music and worship at Coats Baptist Church. I hope you can agree that there’s nothing wrong with where we we’ve been, where we are, or where we’re headed. God is good at using flawed people to perfectly exalt Himself. I’m thankful for the faithful leaders and servants who have gone before me. I am thankful for a worshiping church. Pray for me as I continue to aid CBC in the right worship of God through the singing of truth and the stewardship of His people.

Be Reminded

Three years ago, I started using pre-written prayers in my personal time with God. Quickly, this became one of my favorite ways to pray. It was amazing to see how these prayers moved from words on my lips to intentions of my hearts before God. I would like to share a prayer with you that has become one of my favorites. I find myself returning to this prayer consistently as I come before the Lord. I hope the Lord blesses you as we reflect on this short prayer from the Book of Common Prayer.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

I would like to reflect upon three truths in this short prayer.

  1. God is our Heavenly Father.

This portion of the prayer echoes our Lord’s model prayer given in Matthew 6:9, “Our Father in heaven.” For many of us, this is an elementary principle in our Christian faith. Many are taught to recite the Lord’s Prayer as a child and therefore grasp the declaration that God is our Heavenly Father. Yet, mental assent and true understanding are two completely different things.

I am a relatively new dad. My son is 14 months old at the writing of this post. This new stage in life is radically reshaping my understanding of fatherhood. Before having my son, I struggled with picturing God as a disappointed dad in the sky. I was constantly failing him. I was constantly disregarding his commands. My prayer life struggled because of this. It is difficult to want to talk with someone you think is always disappointed in you.

Now, having been a dad for 14 months, I see my heavenly father in an entirely new light. I find myself thinking, “If God loves me even half as much as I love my son, He must love me a lot.” Yet, the truth is God loves me infinitely more than I could ever love my son. You see, my love for my son is limited. It is bound by space and time. It is still tainted by sin and selfishness.

God’s love is not bound by the same limitations as my love. He is my heavenly Father. He does not have any limitations. He has loved me from everlasting and will love me to everlasting. His love is absolutely pure. In fact, he is the definition of love.

Therefore, if you are a Christian, you have a Heavenly Father. He is not the father that looks down on you with disappointment. He is not a mad dad in the sky. He is a God with limitless love for you and He has chosen to reveal Himself to us as our Father. Enjoy this truth. It will enrich your prayer life this week.

  1. God is our Sustainer

The next section of this prayer quotes the apostle Paul from Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being….” Acts 17 is an amazing passage of scripture. The apostle Paul is in Athens and his heart is deeply distressed because he sees so many idols in the city. Therefore, he begins to share the gospel with the people. The people of the city had never heard Paul’s message, so they take him to a place called Areopagus. Areopagus was a place where new ideas were exchanged and debated.

With this hearing, the apostle Paul speaks about God as the creator and provider of all things. He begins by telling the people that the creator of the universe does not live in shrines made by human hands. He continues by telling them that God does not need the service of human hands either. God is the one that gives humans life. It is not the other way around. After this, Paul shares the phrase that is quoted in the prayer above. Paul is helping the Athenians understand that God is the giver and sustainer of life. We live because He grants it to be. We move because He allows it. We have our being because it is part of His design. About this verse Matthew Henry writes, “There need not a positive act of [God’s] wrath to destroy us; if he suspend the positive acts of his goodness, we die of ourselves.”

This truth should make us feel utterly dependent. I am currently writing this post because God is sustaining my life. You are currently reading this blog because God is sustaining your life. Honestly, this truth might even make some of us feel nervous and vulnerable. It can send “what if” questions running through our minds. This is why the first truth is so important. The God that is sustaining my life is my Heavenly Father. He is sustaining my life so that I might experience another day of His love for me. He is sustaining my life so that I might share that love with others around me.

Now let me ask a question, “Do you pray like God is the sustainer of your life?” This question leads us to our last truth in this prayer.

  1. We are Forgetful People

The remainder of the prayer is a request that God would guide our minds to remember the truths mentioned above, throughout our cares and tasks of the day.

Why is this prayer so important?

We are forgetful people!

It is so easy to go throughout an entire day without thinking about God. It is so easy to go throughout an entire day without acknowledging that God is present with us. The cares and tasks of our days have a great ability to draw our thoughts away from Christ and to so many other things. This is something I catch myself doing regularly. Yet, if the above-mentioned points are true, our heavenly Father is the reason we can participate in our daily tasks. He is sustaining us another day. In His love, He is giving us another day to accomplish our cares and occupations for His glory.

Unfortunately, our daily cares and occupations often cause us to depend upon ourselves and not upon the sustaining power of our heavenly Father. We trust in our skills and planning abilities rather than God’s ever-working presence in our lives. I am not advocating we sit around and let God handle everything. I am not saying we should, “Let go and let God.” I understand that we are going to be the ones that perform our daily tasks. Yet, there is a difference between accomplishing our daily tasks with self-dependence verses God-dependence. There is a difference between a daily task done trusting in the ever-working presence of God and one that forgets to think about God.

This is reality: our lives ARE sustained by a loving heavenly Father.

This is true, whether we acknowledge it or not. I have found that I have much more joy in life when I live in light of this truth. I have found I have much more peace when I recognize this truth. I have also found that my prayer life is abundantly better through an understanding of this truth. If we are absolutely dependent upon God for all things, it seems natural that we would pray for all things more fervently.

My 14 month old son depends upon his mother and I for almost everything. Therefore, when he wants anything, he runs to us and asks. He makes sure we are near by as he explores. He wants to share he newly found treasures with us. Why? Because we are his loving parents, and he depends upon us. Similarly, we are absolutely dependent upon God for all things. Let’s treat Him as so.

Therefore, I challenge you to make this prayer a regular part of your prayer practice. It is amazing to see how God will answer it. It is a wonderful life to be mindful of the ever-working presence of a loving heavenly Father. May God bless you as you enjoy Him in prayer this week.

A Plea for Wisdom

As you might recall from my last blog post, I am in a season of change. Things have calmed down as I have gotten into some daily routines and slowly navigated new relationships and responsibilities. This past month I have prayed for God to simple give me wisdom. It’s one thing to have the knowledge of how or what to do, but do you practice wisdom in those things? In the present day it seems that knowledge has become separated from wisdom. God commands us to be wise in our thinking. Don’t just do what is popular. The Holy Spirit is identified as our Helper, Teacher, and Counselor in the New Testament, and will also instruct our hearts day by day as we meditate in the Word of God and apply it to specific, sometimes tangled circumstances and relationships where we need wisdom the most. 

Wisdom is not something that occurs naturally in your day to day actions. Wisdom must be prayed for and sought after with diligence. It takes time and effort to truly seek and ask the Lord for the wisdom to navigate even the smallest things in our lives, that we feel like we can do on our own. That’s why it’s not till our lives are spiraling out of control that we stop, throw our hands up, and look to Jesus to restore order in our situation that we thought we had the knowledge to handle without His wisdom.

The book of Proverbs was intended to create a group of people with wisdom who were skilled at living life consistent with God’s law. In Proverbs 9:10 it states “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So if you are sitting there wondering where to start, there it is. Fear the Lord. To fear the Lord is to have an awe or sense of respect for Him as the holy one. If you respect someone, you most likely listen to that person or go to them for advice. The Proverbs is telling us to first go to Christ and ask for wisdom. In Proverbs 24:30-34 — Solomon, the man known for his wisdom given to him by God, “saw and considered it, looked and received instruction.” It spoke strongly to him about being more disciplined and diligent. It warned him about becoming careless, apathetic, or negligent about the important things in life. 

As a whole, we are all responsible to God’s laws and principles. We are not able to do this on our own. The world tries to do it without Christ and they continue to spiral more and more out of control. The more knowledge the world seems to obtain the less wisdom they seem to use. Wisdom from Christ restores order. The book of Proverbs shows us the contrast between a life lived skillfully in the Kingdom of God and a life lived apart from the knowledge of God. 

I encourage you to add wisdom to your prayer list and bask in the knowledge of Christ.