The Tyranny of Pop

My favorite living philosopher, Roger Scruton, has a fascinating piece on the potentially corrosive nature of pop music. Listen to it (with an open and humble mind) below. His description of background music is particularly delightful.

Then check out this series from Religious Affections on the importance of distinguishing between high, folk, and pop culture. I’m not principally opposed to people listening to pop music or anything like that; but these are important and helpful distinctions to make, and we must not be mindless and undiscerning in our consumption of pop culture.

 

 

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Praying the Psalms

Prayer has always been a difficult thing for me… not that I struggled to see the importance of it or anything, but I struggled to actually come up with things to pray about! Prayer isn’t really that complicated. It’s simply talking to God. There’s praise, thanksgiving, and supplication, and we don’t have to try to make it complex. The problem for me has always been that I pray for the same things in the same way.

Now, I actually don’t think that simply any hint of repetition is necessarily bad. I think evangelical Christians often search too intently for fresh, spontaneous, authentic, raw… in every area of their Christian life—especially prayer. And because of the modern evangelical worship of authenticity, we’ve learned to despise tradition, custom, liturgy, habit, and to downplay their significance in spiritual growth. And I think that’s unfortunate. However, it does get discouraging if there is no variety whatsoever in your prayers, and it’s always the same thing in the same order, with the same wording.

I hope to return to the topic of prayer several more times, because there is so much to talk about, and it’s liberating and exciting to study the topic for both your own spiritual edification as well as to give helpful counsel to others. Today though, I simply want to share a rubric for praying through the Psalms that I learned from Donald S. Whitney in his book, Praying the Bible.

In his book, Whitney recommends a practical method of guiding your thoughts in prayer, so as to call to mind angles you may not think of yourself, and also to season your prayers with the language of Scripture. The book of Psalms served to teach the people how to worship Yahweh, and Whitney recommends (and I highly commend the practice to you as well) that you often turn to the Psalms as the actual outline or rubric for your prayers. This isn’t the same as lectio divina or anything mystical. It’s also not directly for the purpose of learning the context and intent of the original author as such. It’s a way to allow the Psalmists to teach you how to pray, and direct your thoughts in prayer. This is actually a pretty old way to direct one’s thoughts in prayer. Martin Luther recommended this same method while using the Lord’s Prayer as the outline.

It’s hard to explain, so let me just give you a simple example. Take Psalm 23. To use Psalm 23 as a rubric for your prayer, you simply read the first sentence, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Remember, think of it simply as the first point on the outline to direct your prayer. So now you praise and thank the Lord for the realty that He is a good shepherd, that He has provided for you in the past. Thank Him for specific needs He has met that day, that week, that year… Ask Him to provide for your needs in any specific upcoming situations that are causing you concern. Ask Him to enable you to continue to trust in His goodness and sovereignty as you face the uncertainties of the future. When you’ve exhausted that point on the outline, move on to the next sentence: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.” Pray about your weariness, ask for peace and rest in specific situations in your life, ask the Lord to help you consistently look to Him and rely on Him for rest and security, etc. When you’re done with that point, move forward in the Psalm.

This method of praying, simply using the Psalms as a rubric—an outline—to direct your thoughts, and the language of the Psalms to season your words in prayer, has been a monumental encouragement in my own prayer life, and hope it might be of help to you as well. That being said, the other issue in using the Psalms in your prayer life is the matter of picking which Psalm to use when. The book of Psalms is organized in an intentional way, and it’s a fascinating study. But it does make it less conducive to this practice of prayer if you plan to simply read through the Psalms. Sometimes you’ll be reading Psalms of lament for day on end, then you’ll be in imprecatory Psalms, then it will be all Psalms of praise.

So, to avoid that and add a little more variety and balance to it, Whitney suggests the following plan for going through the Psalms in prayer. If you count by 30s, such that you pray through Psalm 1, then jump to Psalm 31, then 61, etc., it will give you a good spread of Psalms of lament and of praise, so that you’re not in Psalms of all one theme for a while, and then all another theme for a while, but rather are touching on all the different kinds of Psalms each time. Sometimes I’ll only go through one Psalm in a few minutes, sometimes I’ll spend some time in two or three. So, I leave you with this rubric, and an encouragement to simply try it out one day. I think you’ll find it simple, encouraging, and engaging.

  1, 31, 61,   91,  121
  2, 32, 63,  92,  122
  3, 33, 63,  93,  123
  4, 34, 64,  94,  124
  5, 35, 65,  95,  125
  6, 36, 66,  96,  126
  7, 37,  67,  97,  127
  8, 38, 68,  98,  128
  9, 39, 69,  99,  129
10, 40, 70, 100, 130
11, 41,  71,  101, 131
12, 42, 72, 102, 132
13, 43, 73, 103, 133
14, 44, 74, 104, 134
15, 45, 75, 105, 135
16, 46, 76, 106, 136
17, 47,  77,  107, 137
18, 48, 78, 108, 138
19, 49, 79, 109, 139
20, 50, 80, 110, 140
21,  51, 81,  111, 141
22, 52, 82, 112, 142
23, 53, 83, 113, 143
24, 54, 84, 114, 144
25, 55, 85, 115, 145
26, 56, 86, 116, 146
27, 57,  87, 117, 147
28, 58, 88, 118, 148
29, 59, 89,  119, 149
30, 60, 90, 120, 150
31, 119

A few other passages to pray through: Matt. 6:9–13; Eph. 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Phil. 1:9–11

 


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“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”

Here’s a remarkably helpful truth that gets pointed out once in a while in the biblical counseling world… but rarely sinks in and affects the way we think about the temptations we face.


There are basically three complaints, or excuses, people have when they face temptation:

  1. No one knows, or can understand, what I’m going through.
  2. This is too much for me to handle.
  3. There’s no way out — I have to sin.

How do you respond to someone who believes one or all of these excuses? Or how do you deal with these thoughts in your own soul? Well, you turn to Scripture and allow it to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (our youth camp’s theme verse this year!). Did you know that there is one Bible verse that answers all three of these excuses?

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13

Look at what this verse tells us about temptation. First, you’re not facing anything new (“except what is common to man”). Second, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to resist and escape (“he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”). Third, God Himself will provide you a way of escape from that temptation (“He will also provide the way of escape”), so that you can endure the trial and not succumb to sin. 1 Corinthians 10:13 systematically refutes every excuse people give for giving in to temptation and following their flesh, and verse 14 tells us that the fundamental issue is idolatry. The solution then is to “flee idolatry” and worship the one true God.

So, why do we still sin? If it’s not something we are powerless over (as 1 Cor 10:13 makes clear), why do we still choose to follow the flesh rather than follow Christ? Well, there are only three fundamental reasons believers don’t obey Christ at any given moment, but we’ll look at that another time!

virtus et honos

A Brief Statement on the Nature of Church Ministry

Jesus Christ, in His matchless grace, came into the world to die in our place in order to deliver us from the penalty, the power, and, one day, the presence of sin (Eph 2:1–10; Col 1:12–14), so that we now can develop in knowing Christ, in loving Him, in becoming more like Him, and in living in obedience to His Word (John 17:3; Rom 8:29–30; 2 Cor 3:18–20; Eph 2:10; 4:11–15; Col 3:5, 25). Christ, in His sovereignty, has chosen to use the local church as His primary means to evangelize the lost in order to deliver souls, and to disciple believers in order to develop them in their knowledge of, love for, and glorifying of Him (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18–20; Eph 4:11–15).

Thus, God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble together and associate themselves in local churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him (Acts 2:37–47; Heb 10:22–25). The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership (1 Thess 5:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 13:17), and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to become fully committed and competent disciples of Christ (Matt 28:19–20).

The one, supreme authority for the church is Christ — the head of the church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). Church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. I hold, somewhat cautiously, to a version of the regulative principle (oddly enough, perhaps, considering my background). This basically means that we are not at liberty to ‘do church’ in any way we see fit. We have only the authority to do that which Christ has authorized us to do. Jesus has authorized the local assembly (the church) to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom (1) (Matt 16:15–19).  The assembly exercises the keys of the kingdom by declaring, upholding, and proclaiming the Word of God, by officially affirming one another’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom by the ordinance of baptism (Christ’s ordained means of public identification with Him, and the distinguishing line between the church and the world), and by overseeing one another’s discipleship through the teaching of God’s Word, and admission to and exclusion from the Lord’s Table (Matt 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:41; 8:12; 1 Cor 5:4–11; 11:17–34).

The local church exercises this authority of the keys under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. The congregation is to be led by these elders, who are commissioned by Christ to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the spiritual well-being of the local church (Acts 20:28–31; 1 Thess 5:14; 1 Tim 3:2, 4–5; 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim 4:1-2; Heb 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet 5:2). These leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ, and should always remember that they too are sheep, and are accountable to God for the manner in which they lead (Matt 20:25–26; 1 Pet 5:2–3; James 3:1). The office of deacon can also be filled to minister to the financial, physical, and practical needs of the church, so as to allow the elders to devote themselves fully to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1–4; 1 Tim 3:8–13). Although the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers (Matt 27:51; 1 Cor 12:12–27; Eph 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 4:14-16; 10:11–25).

The church, then, is to commit to regularly assemble in Christ’s name for the purpose of discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. The church is to commit to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, thereby developing one another to better know Christ, love Him and love others, and live in obedience to His Word and for His glory.


Footnotes

(1) For a full explanation and discussion of the keys of the Kingdom, see:

– Chapter 5 of “Going Public,” by Bobby Jamieson
– Chapter 4 of “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love,” by Jonathan Leeman
– Chapter 6, part 2, of “Political Church,” by Jonathan Leeman
Church Discipline: The Missing Mark by Al Mohler, in “Polity,” edited by Mark Dever
The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d (1697), by Benjamin Keach, in “Polity”
A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church (1743), by Benjamin Griffith, in “Polity”
Summary of Church Discipline (1774), by the Charleston Association, in “Polity”

A Definition of the Local Church

I recently sought to develop a carefully worded definition of the local church in fulfillment of a requirement for an apprenticeship I had over the summer. I consulted and leaned on a number of definitions already in existence, especially from the folks at 9Marks; but, ultimately, I wanted to pull the best from each definition and end up with my own wording. Here’s what I’ve landed on for now:

A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word of God and to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Christ and His kingdom through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.

It will perhaps be noticed immediately that I have left out a few elements that may seem essential, or at least expected, in a “baptistic” definition of a church. For example, I do not say that a church is a congregation of baptized Christians. I also have left out any statement regarding the autonomy of the local congregation, or the two offices of elder and deacon. All three of these are intentional omissions. The reason is that I have sought to include in my definition only those elements without which a church is no longer a church.

A Presbyterian church may not have a single member who was immersed as a believer, and while that church may be unhealthy in that regard, it does not cease to be a church. A Methodist or Anglican church may not have any semblance of real congregational autonomy, yet it can still be a church. A church may experience a season in which there is no pastor or elders. Again, while I believe this makes for an unhealthy church, I am not convinced it ceases to be a church. Thus, I have sought to include in my definition those elements which are essential to the existence of a church: (1) believers in a local community, (2) intentionally committing to (3) regularly assemble together, (4) in Christ’s name, for the purpose of (5) interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming the Word of God, (6) affirming one another’s profession of faith in Christ, (7) overseeing one another’s discipleship, (8) worshiping God corporately together, and (9) observing the ordinances.

So, what do you think? Do you have any questions or need any clarifications? Did I miss any essentials? Is this definition a new way of thinking about it for you? Have you found a better definition you could share?

Guard Your Steps

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, Solomon says,

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God… Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be quick to utter a word before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few.”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary has an excellent summary of this passage. He says:

“Address thyself to the worship of God, and take time to compose thyself for it. Keep thy thoughts from roving and wandering: keep thy affections from running out toward wrong objects. We should avoid vain repetitions; copious prayers are not here condemned, but those that are unmeaning. How often our wandering thoughts render attendance on Divine ordinances little better than the sacrifice of fools! Hasty words, [and irreverent worship], show folly in the heart, low thoughts of God, and careless thoughts of our own souls.”

To fail to come to the place of worship (within our own hearts and also to the physical place of worship), with an attitude of reverence, and sobriety, and a yearning to glorify God, to praise Him, to encourage His people, and to learn from His Word, is to greatly dishonor our God and King, and to violate His purpose for our time of worship. We come to church to praise the living God, to fellowship with His people, and to learn from His Word. Let’s remember — consciously, intentionally remember — that the focus of everything is to be on Christ our Lord, on His grace, on His holiness, and all for His glory.