On Becoming the Person I Didn't Want to Be

I like to ponder from time to time about things that I didn’t think I would ever do that I catch myself doing. It’s a sobering thought really. You have such a perfect view and understanding of normal that only a teenager, just out of college, recently engaged, or recently married person could discern. Wisdom is ancient. Being teenage and young is fleeting. I do things I didn’t think I would ever do. I’ve become that person. 

I want to be comfortable in my clothes much more than I want to be fashionable.  

I’m almost completely out of touch with pop culture, and my reasoning for being out of touch would give my younger self a grand opportunity to boast: I just don’t understand what is going on. 

I don’t like volume really loud. In fact, my understanding of loud volume is totally different than it was 15 years ago. 

I don’t go to many concerts, but when I do I prefer one that starts on time, ends early and require very little standing. 

I talk to my kids in a really excited tone when they wake up and I’m almost certain they hate it as much as I used to. What I didn’t understand, nor do they, is that like me towards them, my mom really enjoyed my company and was delighted when I came in a room. Only some age and experience will explain this. 

I take delight in having no plans on weekend evenings, which was a living nightmare to me when I was 17 

I love to wake up early. 

I love to go to bed early. 

I love to sit in a quiet room. 

I value being educated formally much less than I ever thought I would. It is certainly important, but I value having a trade, wisdom and experience much more. 

I’m more concerned with what people become, than what they intellectually adhere to. 

Going on a road trip, or to a conference isn’t that appealing to me. But when I go, I enjoy the drive and talks in the car, meals and the time in between sessions of a conference much more than the actual conference. 

Traveling the world, seeing different places and experiencing different cultures was a tremendous experience, but they can’t even come close to the experience of having a family. 

I get bored with watching sports rather quickly. 

I enjoy talking about the past, reliving old memories, and hearing others do the same. 

Yes, I’ve become that person I didn’t want to be in many ways, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Ironically, I still have many of the same interests, but my affection and approach towards them is what has changed. I enjoy watching a game, but I’m not emotionally invested. Where my emotions and affections are spent are doubly rewarding in satisfaction and delight, and yet costly in heartache and pain.  

Matured delight and heartache has taught me this above all: I am finite and limited. What I do with my time and what I give myself to is also limited and finite. This leaves me with little time, and little interest in some of the things I previously highly valued. I’m more interested in my friends’ job than I am the economy. I get more excited watching my son, niece and other friends children playing soccer than I do about any professional sport. I enjoy playing baseball with my kids much more than watching the Yankees. Baseball is more of game to me than its ever been. What I'm learning that I didn’t I understand when I was a teenager, or in my early twenties was how the proper value of things. Music, television, sports, and traveling are becoming to me what they should have always been: recreation, accessories, an added bonus. They don’t make a life, they only add flavoring and color in high spots. 

What I thought about myself 15 years ago is what I am today, and what I wasn’t then. I’m more seasoned, more experienced. I haven’t arrived, but that’s part of the experience, learning you’ve got a long way to go. Which means this: I’m going to become that person again one day: the person mid-thirty year olds don’t want to be. 

A Critique of Being Missional & Gospel Centered

This post is written to explain practices that stem from a theological perspective. I write this not as an exegetical, theological rebuttal filled with quotes and references, but as to the consequences of theology and philosophy. Today’s topic of being missional, being on mission and the broadly used term gospel centered, depending on who you are is either outdated, or timely. 

For quick reference, I am referring to a movement and way of thinking about the gospel and the mission of the church that believes that the primary purpose of Christians and the local church is to be missionaries within its local context. It believes that all Christians are in some sense missionaries, and have a duty to view their life and work as missionaries, and in so doing will bring the gospel to bear on all of their life. In summary, the church is a mission sending agency and also a gathering of missionaries. A missionary isn’t limited to someone who lives in an un-evangelized foreign country, but includes all Christians. The end goal of this movement would be to see the kingdom of God bear on earth. Thus, an accountant, urban farmer, teacher, lawyer, artist, etc, are missionaries and have missionary endeavors.

I first encountered being missional and gospel centered teaching while in seminary. Being honest, I was a rather bitter person for various reasons that are for a different time and article. I mention bitterness first because I want to let you know what was happening with me personally, and that in no sense am I blaming my prolonged bitterness on any missional minded church or teaching. If missional thinking creates bitterness, that’s for another writer to discern and explain. I can only speak to the time at which I began to read and consider these things.

At any rate, I became attracted to the missional, gospel centered movement because it was saying many of the things that I was feeling about the church, my seminary and fellow students. The bitterness, combined with the intrigue of the writings drew me into a large amount of reading and thinking about the mission of the church and the role of the gospel in the Christian life. I read quite a bit of the writing, and was energized and hopeful about being missional and gospel centered, believing it was the thing that would change the church. Being missional, I felt, was better able to give weight and value to the calling of Christians and to the things we do in life. I had previously believed that most activities were considered less than valuable to many in my circles if they weren’t directly tied to evangelism, pastoral ministry, church growth, etc. As well, being missional was clearer as an application of theology rather than a call to do Christian work. There is a lot of talk of theological doctrines and application in missional and gospel centered circles, and this was important to me because the thing I felt most embittered about was arguing with those I felt had no theological thought or understanding. This is a discredit to me, because many of those people understand well their traditions and theological basis. While I still disagree in many ways, the real problem was me, which leads me to how I moved away from the missional movement and thinking.

Three very important things happened for me to begin to change. First, the Spirit of God through friends and pastors made me aware of the deep sense of bitterness, self righteous, entitlement, and pride that was in my heart and spewing out of my life. Second, I was ordained and serving in my first non-student minister role of pastoral ministry. Thirdly, the birth of our first child. Combining my sin being exposed and subsequent repentance with full time pastoral work with adults, and having to consider things in light of having children to raise and care for, the missional, gospel centered thinking began to unravel. I began to reconsider the doctrinal teachings and practices that gird and come forth from being missional, I read older traditions that were steeped in a different application of some of the same doctrines I previously thought were misunderstood, more study of Christian history and practices, and asking questions about the long term consequences and confusions I was seeing, and how that would affect my family. When I considered all these things, I came to understand that the missional, gospel centered movement, while not all incorrect, often doesn’t and can’t accomplish the things it desires. Allow me to address some particulars.

1 Incorrect application of the doctrine of the incarnation
As a note, my critique isn’t to say all missional, gospel centered teachers and pastors aren’t orthodox in their belief about the nature of Christ being fully God and fully man. I don’t recall knowing personally one person in this movement and stream who denied the historic doctrine of the incarnation. My critique is over their application of it. The belief follows: as Jesus himself came amongst us and was sent on mission from God to seek and save the lost, so the church finds its missional nature to be incarnation, to the degree that we are encouraged to “be Jesus,” “live the incarnation” and “embody the gospel.” While we can find mission encouragement from the incarnation, the incarnation is never meant to be seen as something we can do. You can’t be Jesus because you aren’t Jesus. The incarnation uniquely belongs to Him and no other. The incarnation is something we are to stand in awe of, and invoke gratitude in us that God would come and live amongst us. It is mean to show the glory of Christ, not to show us how to live in the world. It is meant to show us the degree to which Jesus understands us, to which he suffered, the degree of our depravity, the wonder of His deity to never sin, and many other things. While I can find encouragement to sympathize with someone those outside of God’s atoning work in Christ and to care for them in a uniquely Christian way, the incarnation isn’t meant for me to embody or live. It’s meant to show that only Jesus is the mediator between God and man, that only God could save me and only a man like me could bear the wrath of the sins I committed in the flesh. A spirit can’t do that. I’m not to be Jesus, I am to imitate Jesus.

2 Incorrect understanding of the identity of the church
Because the incarnation is applied incorrectly, this often leads to an incorrect understanding of the identity of the church. Missional thinking sees the identity of the church as mission, and thus all the members are missionaries. This is a kissing cousin of highly evangelistic churches that view one to one witnessing as the highest calling of the Christian. Missional thinking calls all Christians to embrace their identity as teachers, bankers, architects, real estate agents, waiters, mechanics, farmers, and all other vocations as the avenue in which God has you as a missionary to your community, town or city. As the thinking would go, whatever your vocation, don’t identify yourself as that first, but as a missionary from God. You are to be Jesus to those people, to embody the gospel to them.

But the church should not understand itself primarily as a mission, or as a people on mission first. We are to understand ourselves first in terms of our identity as the people of God, as those in the world in union with Christ. The language of the Scriptures is filled with this: adoption, children, reconciled, family, people, bought, chosen. These are all titles that reflect our nature as a people who belong to God.

Further, for the church to understand its identity as mission over being a people of God, then our identity is in something we do, and not what we have received. We have received the gospel. We have been brought into the kingdom, into the family of God. That defines us above all other things. The gospel is precisely about what God has done for us. If you want people to be on mission, then they must know who they are before what they do. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know what you are to do? Fundamental to reform in the church is knowing our identity. This will in turn shape how we see our mission to the world. 

3 An incorrect use of, and watering down of the term gospel
Often in this teaching, nearly anything can be classed as gospel work or gospel ministry. If the mission is a gospel mission, and all of our life is mission, then the natural result has been the overuse of the term gospel. Gospel driven literature, Gospel driven teachers, Gospel based coffee shops, Gospel based views on political issues such as immigration, social security, taxes, gospel based urban renewal, not to mention that everything we do is based on the gospel and asking, “What does the gospel say about this?” The gospel message of the life, death and resurrection Christ and his ascension to the right hand of the Father doesn’t provide the answer to every single thing. It is a specific message that is uniquely Christian. A good correction here would be to speak of common grace, wise practices and Christian principles that have long been held and taught, such as the Christian understanding of tyranny, depravity, the love of neighbor, good of creation, sphere sovereignty, the kingdoms of the left hand and the right hand, etc. 

While there may be other theological flaws in missional, gospel centered thinking and the movement overall, It seems to me that these three doctrinal errors tend to produce the negative consequences that come with missional thinking. While there has been good fruit and work coming from this, there have been unintended consequences that I think are much worse than a theological critique. So what are the errors and consequences of the missional and gospel centered movement?

Corporate worship has been devalued because the missional activities of the church become primary over the gathered worship of the church.
Small groups, outreach efforts, service projects and the like have become the main duty of the church. This can be tested by asking what missional churches, pastors and teachers emphasize and desire for their members: small group attendance or corporate worship, and which ones are you warned to never forsake? What meal are you encouraged to participate in more, the Lord’s Supper, or the dinner at small group?

Corporate worship changes from being a time to meet and fellowship with God and be renewed in His grace, to a time for missionaries to be equipped and/or to be an event to invite non-Christians to help them understand Christianity.
While guests should be welcomed, the purpose of gathering and the intended audience need not change for the sake of mission. Worship is for the gathered congregation, the body of Christ and to feed their souls with His gospel of grace, and this will naturally feed into the normal lives of the congregation.

Cultural importance becomes improperly emphasized.
Missional thinking places cultural importance and change over the change and growth within the church. This is a direct consequence of the misunderstanding of the doctrine of the incarnation. The culture is important, but the health of your local church and the wider Christian church is more important. We ought not want a healthy city over a healthy church. But if you want a healthy city, then you must have a healthy church.

Further, the missional and gospel centered movement is often unable to provide clear answers to cultural problems and will at times echo popular culture talking points. In fact, much of the talk feels like a Christianized version of popular discussion, such as urban renewal, caring for the poor, marginalized and hurting, the opportunity to open borders as a Christian mandate, the value and beauty of multiculturalism, police brutality, systemic injustice, and a few other things. Certainly all of these points have Christian answers and response to some degree or another, but my emphasis here is to see how similar the language is of that in the culture. Christians certainly may speak about these issues and form opinions, but it is no mere coincidence that the language in these circles is eerily similar to those in the main stream culture. While that may not be inherently wrong, it is inherently inconsistent to speak with such similarity to the culture on many important subjects, while also emphasizing the need to change the culture.

Improper emphasis of mission and being gospel centered have led to improper critiques and expectations of Christians and “Christendom”
In many gospel centered places, the problems of our culture are laid at the feet of the old Christian culture, or there are sharp critiques of Christians for how we have mishandled the current social problems. While I said previously that a healthy city is linked to a healthy church, this doesn’t necessarily follow that all the failings of the culture are laid in the old Christian way, nor that the church has failed the culture by not solving a particular problem, or supporting a particular proposal or cultural change. We are told from this movement that we should want the old Christian way to be gone. I understand the sentiment. Christians and churches who have lost their way may need to be reshaped or simply disband. However, what is often missed in these circles is that the church becoming worldly is fundamentally different from a unique Christian church and society founded on true Christianity. The problem is that the world is in the church, and thus the church is sick and needs healing. But make no mistake about it: while the church may have approved, adopted, and welcomed many of the sins and morals of the world, it isn’t true Christianity, the old Christian way that is referred to at times as Mayberry, that brought these problems. Marxism, socialism, liberalism, perverse sexual practices being approved, redefining marriage, abortion, redefining gender, feminism, slothfulness, massive debt, worship education, broken families corrupt police forces, Donald Trump, deep seeded racism, social justice warriors, rampant violence, a love for the foolish and banal, and I’m sure a few other things don’t flow naturally from the old, true Christian way. The true, old Christian way isn’t Mayberry and is better than Mayberry, but it didn’t produce those things: Babylon did. Our problem isn’t that we are Mayberry or Babylon, but that we are committing adultery with Babylon. But if I had to pick between Mayberry and Babylon, I think the choice is clear. Christendom didn’t create the mess we are in, and often missional and gospel centered folks will critique the church for things that simply aren’t our fault, or presume upon all Christians what is the true gospel answer to issues. 

Cities and urban life are given an unnecessary, heightened importance.
Once mission and cultural change is the top priority, then where do you go to make the most impact and change? According to missional teaching, you go to cities. Biblically, this is not only a far stretch, but inherently prideful. God does not love cities more than small towns and suburbs. God is not urban in His sensibilities. Because cultural change is so important in missional thinking, urban emphasis becomes more important because cities tend to be the places where the stream of culture happens. Thus, if you live in a city, you are inherently affecting cultural change in small towns and suburbs more so than those who live there. This creates an unnecessary division on what is important and right use of time and resources for churches and Christians. Rarely is a Christian encouraged in a missional or gospel centered church to move to a farm to raise crops.

Impact becomes more important than faithfulness in daily vocation 
This follows from the previous point. If urban life and work is inherently more important because it shapes the culture, then certain urban places are inherently more important. This creates an unneeded tension in Christians, because the desire to be impactful creates friction with the desire to be faithful. Christians should desire faithfulness wherever they are over impact. Let the incarnate Lord decide the impact of what we do, and this goes for all vocations.

An over heightened sense of vision and calling for ministers Pastors are expected in this movement to be called to a certain place, which means they must have a certain plan, a vision for the work they are doing that is unique to their calling. Knowing what you are called to do is important, but a call to pastoral ministry should have significant overlap, no matter how urban or rural. An unintended consequence is that seasoned ministers may not be seen of value because they haven’t been in the context of what your calling and vision is.

So if this is what led me away from the missional movement and being on mission in this sense, what did I begin to see that was better? I’ll share them quickly.

  • That the gospel is a message proclaimed and received, not something you do or create. 
  • That being a child of God is what identifies me most.
  • That corporate worship is the height of the Christian week.
  • That faithfulness to God is more important than impact.
  • That obedience to God is desired more than creating culture.
  • That faithfulness and obedience in small things does more to create culture than any missional activity.
  • That being rooted in a tradition creates culture and stability.
  • That I’m brought into God’s kingdom. I don’t bring God’s kingdom.
  • That fellowship in Jesus is different from creating fellowship around a mission.
  • That I’m not a visionary, I’m a pastor.
  • That preaching to the people in front of me is more important and fulfilling than who hears my podcast.
  • That the Christians I preach to first are those in front of me, not the church or Christians I hope hear the podcast.
  • That historic, simple Christianity has often been marginalized and deemed irrelevant and still changed the world.
  • That the culture around me is inferior and always leaves me wanting.
  • That true Christianity never leaves me wanting, no matter how bad it may seem.

13 Thoughts of Gratitude on Mondays

1. If all of my days were like the last few, where I spent much time with friends, family outside playing games, reading, writing and finishing up projects that I worked hard on, then was able to see presented and delivered, watching a little baseball and eating good food, then I suppose I would understand Heaven better than any who hadn’t been there.

2. Not all days are like this, but by God’s grace I get these often due to the wonderful folks in my life

3. Waking up early enough to see the sun rise and sit in a quiet house can be a real treat

4. My distractions from my office today are lots of birds chirping, and my kids playing outside. Some distractions are worth the interruption.

5. Mondays aren’t that bad because I get to plan out my week, which means I get to use my moleskin journal

6. My wife cooks breakfast similar to my mom and grandad, which means I eat a good breakfast most days of the week.

7. I have an elders meeting tonight, which means root beer out of the bottle

8. I have an elders meeting tonight, which means I get to spend time with some of my best friends.

9. After having to drink a Dr. Pepper for dinner, I’m thankful for real Cokes

10. After yesterdays presentation from Wycliffe Bible Translators, I’m grateful for the written word more than I knew

11. 1 Peter 2:17 is helping me keep things in perspective lately on whom I serve, and whom I love

12. I’m grateful God works little by little, like yeast in a loaf.

13. What would any of your ordinary things matter without God’s Beloved Son? Yet it all matters because of God’s Beloved Son, doesn’t it?

We ought not allow ourselves to casually pass by the small moments and things. Most of your life is filled with things liked I mentioned. Gratitude causes joy, and this leads to a full life, even when we don't think possible or even desirable.

Homosexual Marriage & Children

Before and since the full legalization of homosexual marriage there has been much discussion as to whether such a thing can or does exist. While this is a sensitive subject, the aspect I want to address with Christians could be more sensitive. Before I begin, let me state that I do not believe that homosexual marriage is in fact marriage, nor do I believe it should be the law of our country. However, this post isn’t intended to be a refutation of homosexual marriage, nor is my target audience those who support homosexual marriage. I am writing to Evangelicals who do not approve of or support homosexual marriage. I want to address my own stream because I have a concern over the inconsistency of the arguments we often make against regarding this topic. Evangelicals often disapprove of homosexual marriage for many reasons, primarily because the idea of homosexual marriage is inconsistent and incompatible with the nature and purposes of marriage from the Bible. Biblically speaking, here are the purposes for which God created marriage.

First, God created marriage for companionship. Marriages need many things to be healthy and God honoring: good communication, proper understanding of marriage roles, quality time, etc. What is often overlooked is the need for companionship. God created us to have meaningful relationships with other people and this is especially true for marriages. While Adam was content in the Garden because The Lord himself was present with him, God said of Adam “it is not good that the man should be alone.” God blessed Adam with a wife, a helpmate and a friend, all in one person. Evangelicals rightly recognize that this companionship is a "like me and unlike me" relationship. A woman is like a man in the sense that they are both human beings and yet they are very much different. As Adam would see the animals in the garden with a mate that was like them and yet unlike them, he had no one simultaneously like him and unlike him. God then blessed Adam with Eve, a woman who is like him yet unlike him. Biblical marriage is meant for companionship with someone who like us and yet unlike us, similar to being in covenant with God. God is nothing like us, yet He became like us in the incarnation. Homosexual marriage can not by definition have this and Evangelicals all agree to this point. 

Second, God created marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The husband is called to display Christ as the head in marriage as Christ is the covenant head of His relationship to the church. A husband displays Christ to His wife through self-sacrifice, humble leadership and dependence on God alone for wisdom and guidance. The wife is called to display the church, by her submission and willingness to follow her husband wherever he leads, just as the church follows Christ wherever He leads, trusting Christ alone for protection, provision and care. By doing this the wife displays Christ, as He humbly submitted to the will of His Father in all things.

Third, God created marriage for sanctification. There is no other relationship that God uses to sanctify us more than marriage, because in marriage two sinful people enter into a relationship where selfishness isn’t an option. The “like me, not like me” component of marriage is also for our sanctification. God uses our spouse to grow and nurture us godly character and where we are weak is seen most with the person which is like me and also not like me. It takes Spirit-filled love to love our spouse as God calls us to. Ephesians 5:21 tell us that we are to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. It is not our natural instinct to live for the betterment and sanctification of another person and to place their needs above our own. But this is how God sanctifies us. He gives us a relationship where we seek to serve another person. By doing this, our need and dependence on the Lord grows each and every day.

Finally, God created marriage for procreation. After God created mankind, He sent them out with His blessing to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Children are a blessing from God because it is His desire to see the earth filled with worshippers and image bearers and this comes through procreation. Children are a physical expression of the phrase, “the two become one flesh.” The two come together and produce another person as God gives this blessing. Child bearing then is one of the purposes for which God created marriage and it is physically impossible for a homosexual couple to procreate. Homosexuality is completely dependent on heterosexuality in this sense.

This the point at which Evangelicals are often inconsistent. In the same way that homosexuals change the definition of marriage by making it between two people of the same sex, heterosexual Evangelicals have assumed the same language and thought in how we believe, speak and act towards the biblical purpose of procreation in marriage. On what grounds can we condemn homosexuals for wanting to change the definition of marriage when we do the same thing in regards to procreation? Evangelicals are among the largest group of supporters and participators in pregnancy preventions and in giving approval of marriages that aren intentionally free of children. We support most means of pregnancy prevention in equal measure to the culture. We speak negatively and cower just like the culture when we see a family with more than 4 children. We encourage young couples to put off having children for reasons of convenience rather than medical reasons or difficult circumstances. We encourage couples to limit their number of children to one or two for reasons of inconvenience rather than medical reasons or difficult circumstances. I fully recognize that there are times and circumstances in which a married couple cannot or even should not have more children. This is not inconsistency nor the inconsistency that I am speaking on. The inconsistency referred to are Evangelicals speaking this way of children while condemning homosexuals for their redefining the institution and definition of marriage. For Evangelicals to oppose homosexual marriage and support pregnancy prevention as described above is an inconsistent argument of the same nature as that of supporting a new and expanded definition of marriage to include a homosexual couple. God's purposes of marriage go far beyond it being for one man and one woman. It is for our sanctification, fellowship, gospel displaying and procreation. God made marriage for a husband and wife but He also made it for children.

The family is the most important institution on earth outside of the church. We spend most of our time with our families and have a deep rooted loyalty to them. If the church is salt and light for a society, the family is the primary place where our salt is tasted and our light shines brightest. As Christians, we must reclaim our love for God’s great gift of children. By doing so, we will be salt and light to a culture that says that children are a burden and a curse by displaying to them that none of God's good gifts are a burden but are a great blessing. All that God would bless us with and in this case, all the children He would give us, let us receive.

A Typical Sunday

6:00 p.m. Saturday night
Sunday’s for us typically begin Saturday night with preparations. Having three kids five and under means we have to allow plenty of time. As the end of Saturday draws near, we begin with baths for the kids, laying clothes out and packing a bag of things to color, some picture books to look at and a few small snacks. During this time, Brittany and I double team the food preparation for the Sunday lunch that will follow the worship service tomorrow. This week we are making meatloaf, salad and some sweet tea. We Southerners fear running out of sweet tea at church lunch, similar to the fears of running out of bread during the depression. One of these fears is likely irrational, but nevertheless it’s real. This meatloaf isn’t the standard ketchup topping meatloaf, so it requires a few ingredients, sitting overnight and then being taken out to cool off before being put in the oven. The salad will await its preparation until morning, but the tea will be made tonight, to ensure its even sweeter by lunch. 

6:30 p.m.
The kids are bathed and ready for bed, but they will stay up another hour or so playing, reading an whatever else they want to do that doesn’t make a mess or hurt their father too badly. If all goes well, normally one of their parents (you can guess which one), will get them a light snack before bed. 

8:00-8:30 p.m.ish
The kids are taken to bed for a time to pray for tomorrow’s Lord’s Day, read a quick story and call it a night. Brittany and I will then gather our clothes for tomorrow or do one or two other things before we call it a night. We will talk, read a book, or something else for a short bit before we go to bed around 9:30

5:00 a.m.ish Sunday morning
I get up and ready first every Sunday. After getting dressed I make a cup or two of coffee, take the meatloaf out the fridge to thaw, and sit down to review my sermon notes one last time, pray, read over the sermon passage, the morning’s reading from the worship service and sometimes a book that encourages the mood to preach.

7:30 a.m.ish
I begin my Sunday’s in the living room until Brittany and the kids wake up and then I move back. Sunday is typically the only day of the week I don’t have breakfast with the family so I can gather my thoughts and prepare my heart to lead in worship. 

8:00 am
Brittany feeds the kids, bastes the meatloaf every ten minutes until ready and throws the salad together while the kids get dressed. I will come out around 9 to load the kids, bags and food in the car before and we head out around 9:15.

9:20 a.m.
We arrive at church as everyone else starts coming. We are currently meeting at 9:30 a.m. for Equipping Hour for further teaching of a different variety than what would come from the Sunday sermons. After the crock pots are plugged in, we settle in for Equipping Hour. I enjoy this time because it starts discussions and thoughts on things we might not have considered. It’s also helpful to slow down and not get to church feeling like we spent the first half of the service recovering from the rush.

10:30 a.m.
Equipping Hour ends and others begin to come with crockpots and drinks in hand. We will spend the next 15-20 minutes catching up with others, meeting new people, getting the elements prepared for the Lord’s Supper, Placing and passing out bulletins, giving assignments for the morning prayers, readings and confession. This also begins the inner church war for control of the temperature. I fight weekly for those who want to worship free of heat and in the bliss of cool temperatures.

10:45 a.m.
After the victor in the war of the thermostat is declared, one of the men of the church will come forward and lead us in our congregational prayer. Here we pray and offer praises and thanks to our Triune God, confess our sins privately and pray for each other collectively, while also praying for two households each week. If there are urgent requests we offer those up to God as well. We also pray for those who are serving in the mission field, and near the end a prayer is offered for the worship service, and finally for our town, society and country. It should go without saying that this portion of the service is highly important. Since my family is included in the collective prayers for our church, knowing I am being interceded for by the one offering the prayer and by those who give their AMEN is a blessing. God hears our prayers because we come in the name of Jesus and ask them according to His will. This allows us now to proceed forward with prepared hearts.

11:00 a.m.
Another man comes forward and leads the congregation in our reading and recitation of our faith from the Apostles Creed. Upon preparing to enter into the worship of God, we acknowledge who we worship, trust and put all hope and faith in. Reading this together is for us to remember that we aren’t alone, but have God’s people, both in the room with us, with all those around the world and for all time who have made this same profession from the same heart, with the same hope. This time has been particularly enjoyable for me since my children have been learning the Apostle’s Creed at home and can recite much of it in corporate worship. Their presence in worship is important, but their participation is the goal.  

We give our AMEN to this confession and then hear from the reading of God’s Word from the Old Testament. The reading will connect to the sermon text for the day and allow us to hear from the works and words of God that we may again say AMEN. After this reading we sing a hymn of praise to our great God that praises Him from what this reading has revealed. After the hymn, we hear the reading of a Psalm that connects with the sermon text. This Psalm reading is followed by either a Psalm singing which we have recently begun singing, or another hymn. Lastly, we hear a reading from the New Testament, that shows the work and person of Christ as we prepare to hear from the preaching of God’s word. This reading is again followed by a hymn of praise. Once the singing is finished, we offer praises and a prayer for the sermon.

Since I am the main teaching elder, The time of readings and singing are important to me because this is where I get to sit with my family for worship.

11:30 a.m.
I come forward and read the sermon text for the day. Today’s text is from 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, a great primer on the nature, power, historical acts, objective work and nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the resurrection being it’s foundation. While every Sunday is a day of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, this month we are focusing on it explicitly from 1st Corinthians chapter 15. My goal is to preach a sermon, not deliver a lecture. To do this, I must show how the Christian gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is central to every text, and why it is of utmost importance to this particular congregation, in this particular time and place in history.

When I finish, I try to allow some time to reflect and offer the assurance to all who have or would receive the gospel by repentance and faith that they are truly forgiven of their sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Upon this I offer praises to God for what has been revealed and prayers for the congregation. We then sing a hymn of praise and transition to partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Typically, I’m simultaneously drained, emotional and excited after a sermon. I delight the pause to sing praises to God with my family for a few minutes.

12:15 p.m.ish
I and four men come to the front and I give a short talk connecting the Lord’s Supper to the sermon text and extend the offer to participate to all baptized Christians in good standing with their local church to partake of the Supper. After the elements are passed I tell of what sins from this text we have seen that Christ broke his body and spilled his blood for to provide remission of sins. We then eat and drink the Supper, knowing that God has shown us again visibly, that what this meal tells us is as real true as the elements we held in our hands to eat and drink. Finally, the church rises to hear the benediction and receive a final blessing from God and from His word. As hands are opened and hearts prepared to receive, our God blesses us and then we end with a final praise to Him by singing the Doxology. From here, we go in peace and enjoy the gift of the grace of God in His Son Jesus Christ by sitting down together and enjoying the fellowship of the saints and their gift of grace in what they brought to the meal. This will go on for at least the next two hours and often three to four. We laugh, talk, encourage one another, discuss the sermon, things from our lives and the world, get to know those better than we don’t yet know very well, and other things that pop up. During this time the kids are playing inside and outside and enjoy a full day with their friends. This is Lord’s Day, a foretaste of that Great Day when we all sit with Him and He serves us the greatest fellowship meal we will ever have.

5:00 p.m.ish
Sometimes, we stay late enough that it’s time for dinner (or supper if you’re a true Southerner), and if we are feeling up to it, a couple of families will head to a restaurant, get a table for 15-25 and cap off the day with more good food and good company, filled with laughing, talking and hearts full of gratitude. 

Late eveningish
We leave the restaurant and the kids fall asleep before we get out of the parking lot. Brittany and I talk about the day on the drive home, and what might lay ahead for the week. We get home, grab the exhausted, dead weight little bodies and put them in bed, but not before they make one last request to stay up and have a snack. After being denied this grace of God, we put the kids in bed and they are out before we can leave the room. Brittany and I get in bed, talk for a few more minutes, tell each other good night, turn the lights off and finish off a typical Sunday, grateful that in seven more days, we get to do it again. This is the Day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.