52 weeks of communion


In the last year, I’ve taken communion more times than I had in the prior eleven. The churches I attended back in Canada participated in communion, of course. It’s just that they offered it on a different rhythm.[1. Roughly every 8-12 weeks is what it wound up being.] When we first moved, one of the things I was concerned about was whether or not it would begin to feel unimportant, even as I was looking forward to it feeling normal.

Since then, I’ve taken communion 50-ish times since then. And every time it feels as important as the last. Here’s why:

I still need be reminded of the gospel as much as I ever did.

That’s really what it comes down to. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t need to remember the gospel. To remember that Christ’s body was broken for me. To remember that his blood was shed for me. To have someone speak these truths to me as I tear off a piece of bread and dip it in a cup filled with grace juice.[2. Or, unfermented wine, for all you purists out there.]

That’s what communion offers. It tells me that the live I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). It’s hard to imagine that ever feeling routine or unimportant.

Emotion, emotionalism, and glorifying God

Hand raised in worship

A few years back, I read a book trying to share a vision of a God-focused, “vertically-oriented” church. Its author described this sort of church as one “where people line up at the doors long before the service starts and rush to the front to get the best seats for passionate, expressive worship where the voices are loud, hands are raised, tears are flowing, minds are expanded, and hearts are moved as Christ is adored by every one in every corner of the room, from the very first note.”[1. James MacDonald in Vertical Church.]

One of the things that I appreciated about this was a desire to see churches appropriately embrace emotion, which has often been held in a weird tension.[2. Even though there’s a ton about it I find problematic.] As though somehow emotional expression is the first step down the road to apostasy. But this tension is, generally, a fear of something else: emotionalism.

So, what’s the difference between the two? Martyn Lloyd-Jones offered a helpful definition:

Emotionalism is a state and a condition in which the emotions have run riot. The emotions are in control. They are in a kind of ecstasy. And if emotionalism is bad, how much worse is a deliberate attempt to produce it. So any effort which deliberately tries to work up the emotions, whether by singing, or incantation, or anything else, or, as you get it in primitive people, in various dances and things like that, all this, of course, is just condemned by the New Testament. The mere playing on the emotions is never right. It is something which is condemned right through the Bible. The emotions are to be approached through the understanding, through the mind, by truth. And any direct assault upon the emotions is, of necessity, false and is inevitably bound to produce trouble. So emotionalism, and especially any artificially produced emotionalism, is undoubtedly a great hindrance to revival, because it brings it all into disrepute. (Revival, 75)

If there’s something to be feared about emotion in our worship, it’s the deliberate attempt to produce an emotional response, which is often just emotional manipulation. A song might elicit tears, but the heart may still be far off from the Lord, after all. But we shouldn’t let this cause fear in us, either. Our emotions are a good gift from God, and through them we have an opportunity to give him glory.

Theology, worship, and rabbit trails


Not too long ago, I started working my way through John Frame’s Systematic Theology with a group of folks from my church. And by not too long ago, I mean about a week ago. This book is an absolute beast, and not just because you can use as a home security system. It’s a big book, a meaty book. I’m only about 100 pages in and there isn’t a single page where I haven’t underlined, marked, or commented on at least one entire paragraph.

(Seriously, outside of my Bible, this stands to be one of the most marked-up books I own.)

Part of this is because I love how Frame takes readers through his thought process. One paragraph, commenting on Isaiah 25 and angels and demons in the context of the universal covenant[1. In a nutshell, God’s lordship over all creation and the covenant between the persons of the Trinity to save sinners.] vs the Edenic covenant, was fascinating to me, particularly because of where he ended. After working through a couple of options, he comes to a fairly simple conclusion: it doesn’t really matter anyway because all the covenants are applications of the universal. (Actually, you probably have to read it to get why I enjoyed this.)

Rabbit trails aside, I think the thing I most appreciate in this giant book so far is the sense of worship that comes through on every page. This isn’t a dry read—it is devotional. Frame is in awe of his Lord and Savior as he explores the incredible truths of God. And that’s what good theology should inspire. Theology should always lead to worship, both in the one writing and in the one reading.

C.S. Lewis understood this well. In God in the Dock, Lewis shared that he often found doctrinal books more helpful than devotional books for this very reason. There was something about sitting down with a book of this nature, “working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hands” would make the heart sing.[2. Thanks to my friend David for bringing up this quote in the discussion group he’s leading through Frame’s Systematic Theology.]

That’s what I love about good, biblically faithful doctrine. Exploring it leads you down some interesting rabbit trails, without question. It makes you wrestle with hard questions. It forces you to confront your own “smallness” in light of God’s “bigness”. It always brings you to the place God intended—to your knees in praise to him.

If we have a risen Savior, we have the one thing we need

I’ve been listening to Bruce Shelley’s excellent Church History in Plain Language during my commute recently.[1. By the way, as far as single-volume primers on church history go, they don’t get much better than this one.] One thing this book makes clear is the importance of history repeating itself, especially when it comes to heresy. Heresies are formed, denounced, revived, and then the cycle starts again. The most frequent to crop up all concern the person of Jesus. Was he a created being, whether a human being or demigod? Was he a spiritual being who merely seemed to be a human? Did the resurrection really happen or was it a spiritual event in the hearts of his followers? You’ve probably read some of these in the searchings and doubtings of many popular authors, in fact.

But I think what stood out to me this time around isn’t so much the nature of the heresies but their implications. All heresies leave us without hope. They’ve got nothing to offer because they leave us with a dead Jesus. A Jesus who isn’t really God doesn’t really have the power to forgive sin (and because of the redefinition of sin in these heresies, usually doesn’t need to). A Jesus who is a spiritual being only didn’t die at all. A Jesus who rose again only in the hearts of those who believed…  Well, you get the idea. We don’t have the thing we need: A rescuer.

And this is why we need the resurrection. This is why we need a real Jesus, one who is alive right now. Spurgeon put it well in All of Grace:

You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen again for our justification. You may go to Jesus at once as to a living and present friend. He is not a mere memory, but a continually existent Person who will hear your prayers and answer them. He lives on purpose to carry on the work for which He once laid down His life. He is interceding for sinners at the right hand of the Father, and for this reason He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by Him. Come and try this living Saviour, if you have never done so before.

We have a reason to worship today and everyday because this is the Jesus we worship. A Redeemer who lives even now. Who makes intercession for us before the throne of God. Who is coming again soon to make all things new. We have a risen Savior, and because of that, we have everything we need.

Praise God for an ordinary Easter

I had no expectations of attending an Easter service where anyone would be firing t-shirt cannons, performing backflips with cars, or giving away dinosaurs. This should surprise exactly no one who knows me or reads this blog. (Although, giving away a dinosaur would be pretty rad.)

But even so, I had no idea what to expect of an Easter worship gathering. Would it be a bit more of a grander to-do than the typical Sunday? This is what I anticipated because it’s what I’ve always experienced. Easter was an opportunity to not so much do things entirely differently, but to up the ante a little. That’s what I expected, and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had gotten it. But it’s not. Instead, the service at the church we visited this weekend was, more or less, exactly like any other time we’ve visited. My Easter was an “ordinary” Sunday, and praise God for it.

That might seem strange, but hear me out. Easter is an important day for all Christians. It’s an opportunity for us to invite non-Christian friends and family to join us (and sometimes they even come). Some choose to be baptized on this day.It’s a remembrance of a historic event—that on this specific day according to the Jewish calendar roughly 2000 years ago, Jesus’ tomb was empty, and it remains so. So please don’t hear me trying to diminish it’s importance. We should treat Easter Sunday with great care. But we should be just as eager to remember it next Sunday, too.

Each time God’s people gather, we’re to be celebrating this truth. We’re remembering that the tomb is empty and remains so. We’re remembering that death is dead in Christ. That sin has been defeated. That Jesus is the king of the universe, and someday soon, all things will be made new. This is good news—the good news. And good news that we can’t limit to one day a year.

That’s what my “ordinary” Easter reminded me of. And that’s what I want to remember every time my family and I gather with a body of faithful believers. Next Sunday, Jesus is risen. The Sunday after, the tomb is still empty. And the same is true of the next and the next and the next, right up until the moment Jesus returns.

Rejoice! We worship a God we can’t control

I was reading a really sweet book in a big box bookstore recently, considering whether or not it would be one worth bringing home for my family. It was a kids book, one written to tell children that God delights in them, which is certainly true. But it seemed to go a step further. It put the child in the center of all God’s hopes and dreams, as though the child is what God lives for.

Approachable or Safe?

This is not a “we should feel bad about the idea that God loves us” post, by the way. That’s not really my jam, anyway. God absolutely loves and delights in his people. But what stopped me from purchasing this book is that I want my kids to have a bigger picture of God than this book offered. I don’t want them to see themselves as being at the center of God’s dreams, because, frankly, that’s way too much pressure.

I want them to see God as approachable and as a God who delights in them and rejoices over them as Scripture says he does. But I want them to rejoice in knowing his happiness isn’t dependent upon them. That we don’t worship a God who can be manipulated or controlled in that way.

This is going to be one of those, “Jesus is not safe” posts, isn’t it? Well, sure, but only because it bears repeating. There is a difference between approachable and safe. An approachable Jesus is the one we find in Scripture. The one who invites us to come boldly before the throne of grace. A Jesus who humbles himself and takes the form of a servant, submitting himself to obedience, even to the point of death. If one might be so bold, he is approachable because he approached us.

The God we can’t control

There is a difference between approachable and safe. An approachable Jesus is the one we find in Scripture. The one who invites us to come boldly before the throne of grace. A Jesus who humbles himself and takes the form of a servant, submitting himself to obedience, even to the point of death. If one might be so bold, he is approachable because he first approached us.

But a safe Jesus, not so much. And that’s good news for us because a safe god, a safe Jesus, isn’t one worth our time. A safe god is one we can control, usually by trying to make it happy in some way. And a god we can control isn’t a true god at all, but an idol. Drew Dyck makes this point well in his book Yawning at Tigers:

You determine everything about [an idol]: what it’s made out of, where it goes, and how it’s worshipped. Not so with the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, who alone dictates the terms of his worship. An idol is safe. It never challenges you. It isn’t threatening. It doesn’t judge sin or demand loyalty.

Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers, Kindle Location 287

The kind of God the Bible describes is one we would never in our right minds make up on our own. He’s the kind of God that, frankly, doesn’t make sense for us to worship from a human perspective. This God is one who challenges us, who doesn’t need us in order to be happy. “The Holy One of Israel is a jealous God—passionate and loving, yes, but unspeakably dangerous too,” as Dyck writes.  So rejoice, friends! We worship a God we can’t control, and that is really good news.

Photo: Freely Photos

Family worship is hard work

An open Bible being read

We are a family of tinkerers, especially when it comes to our habits around family worship and Bible study.

Sometimes we’re super-diligent with family devotions. But there are times when we do practically nothing together in this area. I’ll admit, I’m to blame for it. We used to use a really great book, but it was too much for our kids. Too advanced and took too long to finish. So we had to throw in the towel. For a long time, we didn’t have anything specific. We’d talk about what we learned in church, but that’s about it.

I’m trying to change that, but it’s not easy. There are some difficulties we just have to deal with:

  • My schedule can be a bit erratic as I travel a lot more now than I ever did previously
  • One of our kids easily becomes bored by repetition
  • The kids do get Bible study and theological training during their school day (yay!)

Finding material that works for an almost 10-year-old and a nearly five-year-old isn’t the easiest thing in the world, either.

So, yeah, it’s challenging. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. In December, we did all 25 readings from The Expected One, and it was wonderful. The kids enjoyed it, and our youngest wanted to start again the next day. We’ve added the New City Catechism[1. Which is very Baptist-friendly; no advocating for infant baptism in it.] to the kids’ curriculum, and it was cool to hear each of them answer the question, “What is our only hope in life and death?” with “That we are not our own but belong to God” (even if one child was muttering it, due to her having done it a whole bunch of times already this week). But we still have to find a solution for what we’re going to do as a family. So here are two options we’re considering:

  1. The Gospel Project. My colleague, Brian, has written a helpful article on how to use our curriculum in the family worship context. The idea here is to deepen the conversation that would have started on Sunday during kids ministry, rather than doing something completely unrelated. We’ve done this in the past and it’s been very enjoyable so we might go back to it soon.
  2. Big Beliefs! We’re also looking at a book by David Helm called Big Beliefs, which walks through a series of 33 lessons about core doctrines of the Christian faith. This could be a lot of fun because it’s very nicely structured and the content (based on the sample I’ve seen) looks terrific.

Honestly, either could work for a season. Or neither could. The point is, if I think family worship is a value, we’ve got to keep trying to make it a part of our family’s natural rhythm and exploring different options to make it a part of our day we all look forward to. Lord willing, one of these options—or something else entirely—will be a huge help in making that desire a reality.

Your heart matters more than your preferences

Hand raised in worship

Several years ago, Emily and I went to visit a small Baptist church in a town not far from Peterborough, Ontario, while on vacation. It’s a  moment that still stands out as a highlight because of the music. By this, I don’t mean the music was surprisingly spectacular… because it wasn’t. It was actually pretty bad from a technical perspective. But it was a beautiful time of worship through song. Why? Because of the evident passion of those who sang.

I’ve seen the same thing at a small church I had the privilege of preaching at about a year and a half before we left Canada. They had only a piano and hymnals. Their voices weren’t always strong or on key, but it was wonderful to sing with them because their love for Jesus came through so profoundly.

That’s the thing I really hate in any conversations I see going on about church music these days. Too often we get caught up in style and preferences and all this other stuff. Some of it is valid, without question. Lyrical content matters. Goofy and distracting “stage production” elements like smoke machines matters.[1. The fact that some might not have a problem using a term like “stage production” in the context of the local church also matters…] On and on I could go, so don’t think I’m ignoring those things.

But here’s the thing that keeps me sane, and brings joy to my heart whenever the music starts at any church: when I hear people singing and their love for Jesus is in their voices.

And what I love about it is it reminds me of what I want more of. My heart can be strengthened by the hearts of others. Their love can strengthen my own. Their joy can add to my own. Whether I’m in a church with filled with strong musicians and singers, or I’m worshipping with a group of believers who can barely carry a tune doesn’t really matter because that is more important than my preferences.

If you don’t care, you should worry

Hand raised in worship

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian who doesn’t care about music, which I consider a wonderful gift from God.

I’ve met some who care too much in some ways. Or maybe it’s better to say they care but aren’t great at expressing themselves. (Which probably explains some of the emails worship leaders get.) And this, too, is something I’m thankful for. After all, as Luther once wrote,

Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching. . . I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.

That’s some pretty high praise, isn’t it? Next to theology, music has the highest place and greatest honor in Luther’s view. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, there’s something about music that gets to our heart in a way that nothing else can. It gets past our defenses. It makes us feel feelings, even.

Which is why it’s probably good to be persnickety about it, even if persnickety people need to be a little more gracious in how they (or, rather, we) communicate.

I’m grateful I can sing the songs we do with a clear conscience. I’m also glad I know some persnickety people (and, to some degree, that I am one, too). But sometimes I worry that I would become blasé about worship through song. That I wouldn’t have an opinion or a question to ask. That I stop paying attention to what we’re singing or not singing.

More simply, I worry that I wouldn’t care.

And that’s dangerous because if I don’t care, that means I don’t care, if you get me.

Sometimes it’s tempting for people like me—the persnickety ones—to check out for a whole host of reasons. You’ve asked your questions graciously. You’ve hopefully received answers. Things aren’t different this week, or next week, or the week after. I hope I can encourage you: keep asking the questions you need to ask. Keep being gracious. Keep being godly in how you express yourself. But most importantly, in whatever way you can, keep engaging with the music.

Keep caring. 

Your brothers and sisters need you to, probably more than you know.

I hope communion feels “normal”


Communion has always been special to me. The first time I participated was immediately after being baptized. I was soaking wet, but super-thrilled. Every time I took the bread and the cup from that first time forward, I did so mindful of its meaning—remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Remembering that my sin was paid for through his suffering.

But up until recently, I’ve never taken it every week.

In every church I’ve been a part of, communion was taken roughly quarterly (occasionally a bit more than). From what I could see in both instances, it wasn’t a lack of desire, it was just practical. Coordinating volunteers, resources and everything else that goes into something as “simple” as this ritual can be a nightmare, depending on how you’re doing it. And if you’re buying the pre-packed juice and wafers, sweet goodness, those aren’t cheap… All this to say, I hope that when you read this, you don’t hear me criticizing any church’s practice (especially not those I’ve been a member at).

With rare exception, whenever we had communion, it was an important moment of worship. But it didn’t seem “normal”, if you know what I mean.

Experiencing a different approach

On our first visit to a church here in Franklin, we took communion. I automatically assumed it was timed for the weekend. The way we did it was a little different than I’d experienced in the past, with stations for us all to go up and take a piece of bread, and dip it in the cup. Some consumed it at the station. Others took it back to their seats and prayed for a while beforehand. (I was one of the latter.)

There was a sense of familiarity among the congregation as they took part in this. Not in an “empty ritual” sense, mind you. But that everyone saw the act for what it was: a normal expression of worship.

How my appreciation for communion is growing

Three weeks and a whirlwind move later, we were back for our second Sunday. I looked around and saw the stations in place once again. Being a little slow on the uptake, I realized that we would be participating in communion each week. I once again took the bread and dipped it in the cup, and returned to my seat where I prayed and then ate. As we’ve been continuing to find a church to call home, communion has been a constant.

I did took it last week, and again yesterday. Lord willing, I will do it again next Sunday, too.

I’m excited. I’m excited, not because it’s novel, but because I can see a day coming where communion won’t be novel to me at all. It won’t feel like an event, in a certain sense. And I think that’s a good thing, at least for me. Because the more frequently I do it, the more it becomes a part of my worship. I get to rehearse the gospel, to preach it to myself in those moments leading up to taking it. To come before him in a worthy manner.

I’m not there yet, of course. Three weeks is hardly enough time to say “Look at this great spiritual insight or transformation”. But I’m looking forward to communion feeling “normal.” Eventually.

And I think it will, because I suspect it’s supposed to be that way.

Photo via Freely Photos