Learning the words

When I was in college, I took modern Hebrew as my foreign language. I had it in my head that this would give me a head-start on seminary (and it did, to a degree).

As a result, I learned a lot about the Israeli and Hebrew culture. For one thing, my university required that we take a history class that was related to one of our disciplines-- and I chose a “History of Judaism” class that was taught by one of the local rabbis. For another, my Hebrew teacher was an Israeli herself-- she married an English Literature professor when he was doing a sabbatical in Jerusalem-- and she had a good sense that the connection between learning a language and learning a culture was essential.

One of the key “meta-lessons” I learned from this (apart from the interesting stuff about the culture of the Hebrew-speaking people) was how important it is to learn the “language” of a culture. By this, I mean the words, phrases, and concepts that have particular and special meaning to that culture.

This is as true in the church as it is anywhere. The church is a culture (and sometimes it degrades into a sub-culture; more on this another time), and the people of that culture have their own language. Sometimes this is almost comical, but in the ways that it is serious and important, we must learn the language of that culture.

I’m thinking about terms and phrases like these:
  • Justification
  • Salvation by grace alone
  • Atonement
  • Propitiation
  • The inerrancy of Scripture
Are these familiar to you? Can you offer something in the way of a basic definition of these?

Here’s the thing: these are words taken straight out of the Bible. They aren’t just lingo for stuffy theology professors, but are supposed to be the stock-in-trade of the Christian. There are others, too-- and you ought to learn them.

No one takes up a hobby without expecting to learn some new terminology. If you know what a Birdie is to a golfer, if you can describe a car’s differential, or if you understand what RAM does in a computer, then you bothered to learn terms that were, previously, esoteric and irrelevant to your life. Why would you treat your
faith-- which is what grants you eternal life and security-- with less appreciation for the terms and language that accompanies it?

Along those lines, Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul discuss this idea briefly in part of their conversation from a recent episode of the
White Horse Inn, a (normally) audio resource that is available in podcast form. Here is the interview:


More on the Lord's Supper

Following up (again) on my recently completed series on the Lord’s Supper, I thought this brief (< 1 min.) video from Tim Keller might be another helpful summary of what happens in the sacrament of Communion.


Application summary from the Lord's Supper series

As I wrapped up a brief sermon series on The Lord’s Supper yesterday, I thought it may be helpful to summarize the applications, or “answers” to the questions I posed about the sacrament (which were, “what is it?” “when is it?” and “how is it?”):
  • The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal, which means it is a family meal-- thus, it’s not primarily an individual thing, but much more of a group thing, and in a mysterious spiritual way, it is a time of true, living fellowship with God Himself, through which He nourishes our souls with grace.
  • The sacrament is something that we should be devoted to doing: devoted to doing it in the context of worship, accompanied by Word and prayer, because these are the spiritual food that God has given us for nourishment; and devoted to doing it often-- as often as we are able-- because we long to be fed and nourished all the more on the grace of God.
  • The sacrament is something for believers gathered together, not for unbelievers: if we know salvation through Christ alone, we are welcomed through the Gate to take part in this spiritual feast; but if we approach it wrongly-- in an unbelieving way, whether because we misunderstand what the sacrament is for, or because we presume on it meaning that it doesn’t have-- then we are warned of the consequences of judgement being increased on us.

Sermon texts for March (updated)

I have been finding such delight in this series on the cross. I hope you have been, as well.

As we approach Easter, I am all the more encouraged as I see how the sequence for these sermons, which was determined by an orderly approach to understanding a theology of the cross (not simply by what message seems appropriate for a certain date), nevertheless is so fitting for this season of our year. As you'll see below, the sequence fits perfectly with Easter meditations (FYI, Palm Sunday is the 3
rd Sunday in March this year, and Easter is the 4th Sunday).

Here are the texts for the month of March:
Hosea 11:1-11-- The price of our sin
Exodus 12:1-28-- God's substitutionary atonement
Galatians 3:21-29-- Salvation for sinners through the cross
Luke 24:13-35-- God reveals himself through the cross (UPDATED 3/17/2008)
Colossians 2:13-17-- Evil is overcome through the cross

Liturgy and colors

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wear a stole over my Geneva gown for worship. There are lots of stoles, though-- and most of them have a particular meaning. What about the stoles I wear?

My stoles follow the traditional colors that correspond to the
liturgical seasons. Clothes are inevitably colored; the historic church took advantage of this fact to bring symbolism and reminders into worship in new ways, though we often take them for granted. In liturgical observance, there are four basic and traditional colors:
  • Purple signifies wealth, power, and royalty-- primarily because the dyes required to make purple were very expensive until more recently. Thus, purple is a kingly color, and signifies a celebration of the coming of the King. The seasons of Advent and Lent are times of preparation for the King, so purple is worn during these times.
  • White is used throughout scripture to signify purity, and especially purity in Christ. It is also a color associated with angels, as well as resurrection. White is the color that is appropriate during the seasons of Christmastide and Easter.
  • Red is also a color that is found throughout Scripture, signifying blood, sin, and death. It has also been a color associated with martyrdom and fire. Thus, red is the color for the last week of Lent, also known as Holy Week, and for Pentecost Sunday (when fire descended on believers as a sign of the Holy Spirit).
  • Green is the "default" color, and is worn during the days following particular days (that is, ones that have a definitive day where the celebration takes place; the Sundays in these seasons have no particular names, just numbers) such as Pentecost and Epiphany. These days are sometimes called "ordinary days." Green is an earthy color, and as the color of vegetation has always been regarded as a color signifying life and health.

There are other colors that are used less frequently, and these also have significance (though they are not required as replacements of the traditional four colors): gold and ivory are accepted alternatives to white, rose (a color associated with joy) is sometimes inserted for the third Sunday in Advent and, occasionally, for the fourth Sunday in Lent; natural (un-dyed) or "hemp" colors are sometimes used on Maundy Thursday; blue is a color of hope, and is used by some during Advent; and black is used, though very infrequently, on the most solemn days.

Likewise, there are special days when colors change: white is used for weddings, for any secular holidays that the church might observe, and also for funerals (think resurrection)-- though some will use black for funerals instead. Black is also occasionally used on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and All Souls' Day. Red is used for ordinations and installations, as these are times of particular recognition of the Holy Spirit's presence.

As we move through the seasons, the colors we use are helpful reminders of the many seasons and emotions of life. I hope you will find them a useful addition to our worship in these ways.

Why a robe?

Now that I'm ordained, I'll start to wear a robe for worship. Some will inevitably wonder why... so I'd like to pre-emptively answer that publicly.

Why wear a robe? There are several reasons:
1. It fits our worship style. We have a fairly traditional worship style at Hickory Withe. It isn't stuff or overly formal, but it is traditional and a little bit "high church." A ministerial robe fits into this worship style well.
2. It serves as a sort of "uniform." Many professions have their uniforms-- doctors wear lab coats or scrubs, lawyers wear suits, Uniforms distinguish people in their particular roles. What is the uniform for pastoral ministry? Some would say it is a robe.
3. It fits a long-standing tradition. Not only have pastors, priests, and bishops worn robes for centuries, but many of the pastors of Hickory Withe have, too. I get to participate in a great heritage when I wear mine.
4. It eliminates concerns about wardrobe. With a robe, it removes the distractions and concerns of other wardrobe options. I'm not distracted by the fact that I have limited options, or whether my shirt is untucked, etc. My congregation isn't distracted by whether my tie is too loud or whether I'm wearing the same suit two weeks in a row.
5. I like it. I was given the generous gift of an ecclesiastical robe as a seminary graduation present, and I like it.

What sort of robe do I wear? Some would argue that the proper robe for a Presbyterian pastor to wear is a white one, also known as an alb. (As
Ken Collins said: "people in robes are dressed like Calvin. People in albs are dressed like Jesus.") Personally, I never saw a white robe on a pastor growing up in the south, and most Presbyterian Pastors I know who wear robes wear black ones.

On the other hand, I appreciate the (probably apocryphal) story of how John Calvin re-introduced the robe to worship in Geneva: his pulpit was drafty, and he was cold, so he grabbed his academic gown before leaving his study and wore it! What IS known is that Calvin established the practice of wearing robes for protestants, and wore an academic robe because he wasn't ordained.

In light of that (and because I love its simplicity), I asked for a Geneva Gown when picking out my robe. It is all black, with a plain, pleated front (no velvet bands as some black robes have). And I wear a stole with it, with appropriate colors, to mark the
liturgical season.

Sermon Texts, January 2008

Here is a list of the sermon texts for January, 2008:

1/6-- Luke 2:39-52
1/13-- Luke 3:1-22
1/20-- Luke 3:23-38
1/27-- Luke 4:1-13

Why amen?

Why do we say, "amen?" We read it in the Bible. We say it when we pray privately, and when we pray together. We find it many times in our worship service. It used to be common to end every hymn with a sung "amen." Some might even be inspired to shout it in response to part of the sermon! What does this mean?

Literally, the word "amen" means "truly" or "verily." When we say this in response to something someone else has said, it means, "I fully agree" or even, "may it be for me as he has said." It is as if someone has issued a statement and we are, so to speak, signing our name to the bottom to demonstrate our agreement.

Interestingly, Amen is more appropriate as a response by others than as simply a conclusion by the one speaking. If someone is praying, we might agree with them in prayer by saying, "amen" when they have concluded (or even during their prayer, in a subtle and quiet way). If someone proclaims a needed or particularly poignant word in preaching, someone might call out, "amen!" to show their embrace of that word. It is an act of participation. This is why those leading a group in prayer might conclude with an invitation to the group to say, "amen" by saying, "and all of God's people said..."

Sermon Texts

Lou asked me if I would publish a list of my sermon texts for upcoming sermons. I think this is a great idea-- that way, as you are preparing your hearts and minds for worship in the days prior to Sunday, you might read through the text I'll be preaching on.

Here is a brief list of what I'll preach through in December:
12/2-- Luke 1:39-56
12/9-- Luke 1:57-80
12/16-- Luke 2:1-7
12/23-- Luke 2:8-20
12/23 (evening)-- Matthew 2:1-12
12/30-- Luke 2:21-40

Song from Sunday's worship

One of our members asked that I post the lyrics to the song I sang as my opening illustration in Sunday's sermon. Here they are.

Show the Way by David Wilcox

You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason we should dream
That the world could ever change, you're saying love is foolish to believe
Because there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream, and put the fear back in your life.

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify what's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage to look as if the hero came too late?
He's almost in defeat, it's looking like the evil side will win
So on the edge of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins.

It is love who makes the mortar, and it's love that set these stones
And it's love who made the stage here, although it looks like we're alone.
In this scene set in shadows like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us, but it's love that wrote the play
And in this darkness, love can show the way.

So now the stage is set, you feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life's not over yet, so we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear, we play against the reasons not to try
Playing for the tear that is burning in the happy angel's eye.