Pastor's Blog

  • Worship at Home

    A Father Reading the Bible to His Family | Art UK

    Note: This blog post is from our brother, Scott. Knowing that he has had a lot of experience with worship at home (both as a child and now as a father), I asked him to write out some thoughts about it. He graciously agreed. I've been helped by his thoughts. They are biblical and clear. I pray you will be helped by this, too. May God grow the gospel in our homes!  - Pastor Josh

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    I have been asked to share some thoughts with you concerning the concept of family worship. In this strange time of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been prevented from meeting together in the usual way. Many of you have been listening to the NCF services and worshipping at home. For some of us, conducting a “worship service” in the home is a foreign concept. This is not surprising, as we are all tempted to confine worship to Sunday morning services and small group meetings. My hope, however, is to encourage you to consider that family worship is not beneficial only in times when we are unable to meet as a local church. It is beneficial as part of our daily lives regardless of our circumstances, and it is our duty as children of God to worship Him together in our homes.

    I certainly would not claim to be an expert on the subject of family worship, but I was raised in a home where we worshipped together regularly. Likewise, I have been conducting family worship in my home for several years now. Undoubtedly, I have seen my family grow in grace as a result. Trust me, we have had our fair share of struggles along the way and, admittedly, we have not been as consistent as we should have at times. Nevertheless, God has blessed our humble efforts, because He is gracious and faithful to grow and sanctify His people.

    I would like to address the notion of family worship by answering the following questions:

    1. Why is family worship important?

    2. Why do many families in the church neglect to worship together at home?

    3. What does a typical family worship meeting look like?

    4. What can your family expect, as you embark on worshiping together in your home?

    So, let us now consider these individually.

    1. Why is family worship important?

    As members of Christ’s church, we all agree that worship is important. We meet regularly to do so. We may often vacillate between worship from a sense of obligation and worship from sincere, Spirit-filled desire, but we know from God’s Word that the corporate worship of God is a vital part of the life of a Christian. We read the following in Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We understand from passages like this that worshipping with other believers is essential.

    But what about worshipping together within the context our individual families? Why is it important? Is it as important as going to church? Is it described in the Bible? Is it something God requires, or is it optional?

    The concepts of family worship and its importance are certainly found in the Bible. One such passage is found in Psalm 78, a Psalm of Asaph. The first seven verses read as follows:

    “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

    This passage emphasizes the general importance of family worship and our instructing of our children. Also described are the what, how, and why of our instruction to our children. What we are to teach our children is found at the end of verse 4 — “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.” How we are to teach them is observed at the beginning of verse 4 and the end of verse 6. Statements like “We will not hide them” and “arise and tell them to their children” imply that we should be forthcoming and unceasing in our praise to the Lord as we teach His word to our children. Why we should teach and minister to them is observed in verse 7 — “so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

    Psalm 78 is specifically about the ministry of parents, especially Fathers, to their children, but family worship is not only for those with children in the home. As it pertains to married couples without children or those who are “empty-nesters”, the importance of family worship between a husband and wife is also found in Scripture, namely in Ephesians 5:28-30.

    “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

    Here the husband is commanded to love and care for his wife, even as his own body. Notice the use of the word “nourish” in verse 29. Also, notice the comparative statement concerning Christ’s nourishing of the Church. The nourishment being referred to here is that of Spiritual nature. Christ provides nourishment to the Church by virtue of His being the Incarnate Word of God, the Bread of Life. A husband provides spiritual nourishment to his wife by worshipping with her through the study of the Scriptures, singing, meditation, and prayer.

    Before we continue, I would like to say a word to those of you with living arrangements that are different than those that have been mentioned. Whether you are a single parent with children, married to a spouse who is not a believer, part of a multi-generational home, etc., there is a need for you to worship together with those with whom you share your life and your home.

    In summary, family worship is important because it is a means by which children are encouraged to hope in and obey God, husbands are able to nourish their wives, and all members of the home can join together in song and in prayer. It is important because we typically spend a disproportionate amount of time with our families than we do with the other members of our local church, providing us with more opportunities for family worship “meetings”. It is also important because it facilitates the strong bond of Christian love that is necessary to live out the gospel both within and beyond the walls of our homes.

    Having considered the importance of family worship, let us now consider our second question.

    2. Why do many families in the church neglect to worship together in the home?

    It might be easiest to list a few of the more common reasons that people give for not worshipping together regularly as a family and address them as we go. In doing so, I hope to dispel many of the false notions of which we can easily convince ourselves and to encourage you to go forward confidently and boldly in the pursuit of worship meetings with your family.

    So, what are some of these reasons for neglecting family worship?

    “Life is too busy and hectic.” Well, it certainly is. You will hear no argument from me where this is concerned. Many of us move from task to task and activity to activity throughout the day and are often asking ourselves by the end of the day, “Where did the time go?”. We are rushing out the door in the morning, busy with work, school, errands, etc. throughout the day, and trying to figure out a plan for dinner as evening quickly approaches. And when all is said and done, we are physically and mentally exhausted, desiring to do nothing more than vegetate in front of the TV, catch up on housekeeping, surf the internet, etc.

    Because this is true for so many of us, we have to realize that we don’t neglect family worship because we lack time, we neglect to worship together in our homes because we have filled our schedules with other interests. As believers we all have, to some degree, an appetite for the things of God and the worship of God. However, we are still in the flesh and must constantly battle our natural, fleshly desires. We must be intentional about setting aside time to worship in our homes, or we will continue to place our natural desires over the spiritual discipline of worship. What we will find, if we are faithful to set aside time for family worship, is that God will supply the strength needed to begin this work, as well as the strength to continue (1 Peter 4:11).

    “I feel inadequate to lead family worship.” This is another common reason why family worship is neglected in the home. As individuals, we have so many interests and so many distractions that we give little time and attention to personal study of God’s word. The result is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. This leads to feelings of inadequacy where Bible teaching is concerned. For some, they have only been in the Church and acquainted with the Scriptures for a short time, and therefore they do not have an extensive knowledgebase to draw from. Some are the leaders of the home and yet have less knowledge and experience in the things of God than those they would be leading and teaching. These factors can also result in feelings of inadequacy.

    Similarly, those who are in a situation where they are more knowledgeable than the prescribed spiritual leader of the home, or those who are themselves the de facto spiritual leader of the home (e.g. a believing wife with children in the home who is married to an unbelieving husband), might feel as though they are usurping the leader’s authority by “taking charge” of family worship.

    Regardless of our perceptions, we have clear instruction from the Scriptures concerning the role of “worship leader” and “pastor” of the home. Husbands and fathers, you are to be the spiritual leaders of your home, as we previously observed in Psalm 78 and Ephesians 5. Regarding our potential feelings of ineptitude, we know from the narrative of Scripture that God often calls to leadership those who are not confident in their ability to lead (Moses is a clear example [See Exodus Chapters 3 & 4]). We also know that God equips those whom He calls (as He did with Moses). Man of God, He has called you to lead your wives and children in family worship, and He will certainly equip you to do so. The expectation is not that you be eloquent or uniquely gifted. The expectation is that you simply obey the call.

    Concerning wives of husbands who are less experienced and/or less knowledgeable in the things of God, take care to be meek in your dealings with your husbands and children. Pray for your husband to grow in knowledge and skill in leading your family. Honor your husband by the manner in which or extent to which you discuss the quality of his leadership with others.  

    Those of you who desire to worship with your children but face the challenge and potential obstacle of an unbelieving spouse, you may not be able to conduct regular, organized family worship “meetings”. However, you can look for and capitalize on opportunities to worship God with your children, however brief or informal, as they present themselves. God will provide a way for His people to worship Him.

    Not all of us are called to be pastors, elders, teachers, etc. However, there are a litany of resources available to help those who desire to teach and to lead family worship in the home. The catechisms are a valuable tool, especially as a starting point for the instruction of children. Our church has used the New City Catechism with some regularity. Bible commentaries are also extremely helpful. I am certain that our pastor would be delighted to point you in the direction of resources that would help you as you lead your families.

    “I am comfortable teaching a Bible lesson to my family, but I am uncomfortable with leading singing and/or prayer.” So far, we have concentrated mostly on the instructional element of family worship. But, as we will see in the answer to question #3 (What should a typical family worship meeting look like?), there are three basic components to a family worship meeting. These are teaching, singing, and prayer. All three are essential elements of worship.

    Part of our submission to God in worship is the performance of those things which we find to be weak in ourselves. We often see our prayers as weak, but He has given us the Spirit to help us communicate that which we struggle to communicate (Romans 8:26-27). We see our singing as weak, but He asks only for the sounds from our lips to be joyful (Psalm 98) and He graciously inhabits our praises (Psalm 22:3). We must humble ourselves and give to the Lord that which He requires and that which is due Him, recognizing that we are strong in Him when we are weak in ourselves (2 Corinthians 12:10).

    I have mentioned a few of the reasons commonly given for neglecting family worship in the home, but undoubtedly there are more. However, when we consider these potential barriers in the light of Scripture, we realize that God has given us everything we need to faithfully worship Him in our homes.

    We now come to our third question:

    3. What does a typical family worship meeting look like? I would like to begin by stating that there is no exact blueprint for how we are to worship God, regardless of the venue. There are guidelines that God has established in His word for how He desires to be worshipped. Generally, there are four main components of the service when we meet for corporate worship. These are singing, prayer, the reading and preaching of God’s word, and Communion. Three of these can and should be part of our family worship as well. These are singing, prayer, and the reading/preaching of the word of God. Let’s examine these individually:

    Reading and preaching of God’s word: As previously stated, we are not all called to be pastors, elders, and teachers in the context of the local church. However, all believers are called to “preach” the gospel (Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Peter 3:15, Philippians 2:14-16, Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9). We have already discussed the responsibility of men to be the leaders of family worship in the home. So, ideally, family worship should include a husband/father teaching his family from the Scriptures. As mentioned previously, the catechisms and Bible commentaries are excellent resources from which to derive “lessons”. I would also encourage you to memorize and recite Scripture together as a family. In my home, the reading and teaching/preaching portion of family worship typically takes around 10-15 minutes, and I base the amount of time on factors such as the complexity of the material, the time of day, the attentiveness of my family, etc.

    Prayer: In my experience, regular, fervent prayer is the spiritual discipline that is most lacking in the lives of Christians. I must confess that I am no exception. We struggle to pray for many reasons, and if we struggle to pray as individuals, we certainly would expect to struggle when it comes to praying with our families. We might pray briefly around the dinner table, but we rarely come together to worship God in prayer and supplication otherwise. When we pray together as a family, we bond together in confessing our need of God and His Providence. We call one another to thankfulness for His blessings on and care for our families. We plead with Him for the salvation of those we love, such as friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on. In my home, we sometimes take prayer requests. Sometimes I simply lead. On occasion, my wife and children pray individually as well, and sometimes we pray together reciting the Lord’s Prayer. We typically spend 5 minutes or so taking prayer requests and praying together.        

    Singing: We must sing to the Lord together. This is particularly valuable where small children are concerned. They are not the ones leading the teaching and they often do not feel comfortable praying aloud, but nearly all of them will sing. Leading your family in singing allows them to actively participate in worship and allows you to edify and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19). I am particularly fond of songs that have been constructed by adding melodies to passages of Scripture. This not only facilitates worship but also Bible memorization. Also, I make it a point to include classic, doctrinal hymns, as they help to foster useful meditations about God and the things of God. In my home, we typically sing two songs at the end of our family worship meeting.

    These are the elements that should be present in our family worship. The exact way this is carried out is for you and your family to decide. The important thing is that we regularly worship God together “In Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

    This brings us to our final question concerning family worship:

    4. What can your family expect, as you embark on worshipping together in your home?

    You can expect changes, not all of which will be felt (at least initially) to be positive. Your efforts will likely be met with some level of resistance. You will likely struggle to be consistently prepared and consistent in your routine. You will battle discouragement as you and the other members of your family fail to meet your expectations.

    However, you can also expect to ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). You can expect to have sweet times of fellowship with your spouse and children. You can expect to see the members of your family developing a desire to worship God and to study His word. You can expect to be “knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).” My home is unsettled when family worship is absent. If I neglect it for any significant period (for whatever reason), my wife and children seem out-of-sorts, and someone usually asks why we have not worshipped together lately. Thankfully, family worship is to some extent self-perpetuating, as it cultivates a desire for fellowship, much the same as the meeting of the saints at our local church.  

    It is my desire to encourage you to worship with your family. It may seem onerous and slow to develop, but if you remain faithful, God will richly bless your family with a stronger love and desire for Him and a stronger sense of His love for you. I leave you with the following from our members covenant: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:16-17).”

  • Created for Community

    The Incredible Life in the Early Church

    Genesis 2:18 is a jarring verse. Up until Genesis 2:18, God’s judgment was that His creation was “good…good…good.” But then, suddenly, “the LORD God said, ‘It is not good…’” What did God see? What was “not good” in His creation? The text continues, “It is not good that man should be alone…” So the LORD God made a helper suitable for the man. He made the first human-human community: a marriage. Then His creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). And so, early on, the Scriptures stress an important aspect of our being, namely that we are created for companionship.

    Consider this—before Woman was fashioned, Adam had a direct relationship with God Himself! And yet, being what we are by God’s own design, we can only flourish in human-human community. The goodness of human community finds its immediate expression in the family—husband, wife, and children. And, of course, the goodness of human community finds it ultimate expression in Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32). But the point is clear—we are created for community.

    Right now, however, we are suffering a significant lack of human-human community. As Christians, especially, we are suffering the absence of community in the life of the local church. Sure, we gathered for a drive-in service this past Sunday. And many of us are meeting together using technology for prayer and Bible study. I’m grateful for the letters, email, and text messages that are being passed back and forth among our members. This is all good and very helpful. But in the final analysis, these other means cannot satisfy and sustain our souls. We long to meet again.

    Recently I was on a Skype call with my pastor-friend in Romania. As we were talking, his young son came into the room and joined our conversation. He saw me on the screen and heard my voice. I was "present," and yet he asked me, “When are you coming to Romania?” Even a young child knows the difference between a video call and a personal visit! We all know and long to be with each other again. All believers—whether introverts or extroverts, newborn or mature—all believers have a distinctly Spirit-born desire to meet with fellow Christians face-to-face.

    This longing of ours to meet face-to-face is biblical and good. It is true that God can use social isolation to grow us in our faith and to spread the gospel (for example, Rev. 1:9–11). I do pray and believe that He is doing that in our lives right now. And as with all circumstances, our current ones are revealing our hearts: what we believe, what we treasure, our ongoing struggles with sin and unbelief, and our dependence upon God’s grace. May God use these unique times to grow us in our faith, and to add more to our numbers, even as we long to meet again.

    We are created in Christ to flourish in fellowship. Consider the apostle Paul’s perspective—that even writing the book of Romans left something to be desired—that his heart's desire was to meet face-to-face (Rom. 1:11–12)! I pray that one outcome of our current situation is that all of us would value meeting together more than we did before. I pray that we would see the goodness of God’s design more clearly. That we would pursue times of fellowship together with renewed focus, and with a zeal that makes all earthly pursuits pale by comparison. When we meet together again, may we do so with sanctified intent to “extol [the LORD] in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly…” (Ps. 107:32), “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24–25), and to “be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:12).

    Being in Christ yet isolated from the fellowship of believers means that your soul is hungry. I hope this brief meditation helps you understand this reality, so that you can desire what is good. In the meantime, continue to remain rooted in the Scriptures, focused on Christ, and connected with one another through the means you have. Soon, we will meet again!

  • Some Help in Reading Leviticus

    Image result for tabernacle painting

    This past Sunday, our journey through the Pentateuch brought us to Leviticus. In that message, I encouraged the listeners to read Leviticus this week. When reading that book, it's easy for many of us to "lose the forest for the trees." So here are some thoughts and resources that I pray will help you read Leviticus well.

    First, see Leviticus in its larger context. Recall that Leviticus is mostly direct speech from Yahweh (the LORD), and it takes place at Mount Sinai. This setting is the center of a larger overall narrative. If you're like me, it's easy to confuse some of the details of this narrative. For example, when did water come from the rock? Turns out, it was on two occasions! The outline below shows how these two occasions, as well as others, are not random.* Instead, these details parallel each other, drawing our attention to the main point and to the central scene: God's covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai.

    Next, consider the book of Leviticus itself. The diagram below demonstrates a parallel structure in Leviticus. After having our attention drawn to Leviticus, it turns out that there's an even sharper focal point in this book:  the day of atonement (Leviticus 16). With this in mind, you could say that Leviticus 16 is the center of the Pentateuch.

    I hope these outlines help you read and understand Leviticus. Another resource I've found helpful is this video by the guys at The Bible Project. It's full of good content, and it's organized very well.

    Finally and most importantly, the book of Hebrews—and especially chapters 7:11–10:25—provides us with God's own explanation of Leviticus. Always remember that Leviticus is a signpost pointing toward Jesus Christ.

    * The diagrams are taken from Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales; IVP (2015)

  • Are These the Last Days?

    Image result for australia fire

    There's a global pandemic. People are dying, and economies are shutting down. A locust plague is moving across East Africa and South Asia, ruining crops and putting millions of people in danger of starvation. Recently, Australia was on fire. A few days ago, an earthquake shook Utah, sparking fears of that unthinkable doomsday scenario of the Yellowstone supervolcano errupting. Locally, heavy rain is causing flooding and washing out roads. Oh, and tornado season is right around the corner! Are these the last days? Yes, they most certainly are.

    How can I be so sure that these are the last days? That's a fair question. After all, sickness, suffering, wars, and devastation are not new to human history. That's true. But I'm certain these are the last days, not because of current events, but because of an event that happened nearly 2000 years ago. The last days began when Jesus, the risen King, poured out his Spirit (Acts 2:17). As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1–2). When Jesus died and rose again, it was "at the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26). Indeed, if members of the first-century church were those "on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11), in what age are we? To be sure, this is the end of the ages. These are the last days.

    What this means is that the last day could be today. That is to say, Jesus could come at any moment and bring redemption to fruition! Isn't it interesting that this possibility was just as real a month ago as it is now? And yet many of us are more aware now than we were before. One way God has been gracious to me during this time is to awaken me from my comfortable, middle-class American stupor, and to make more aware that Jesus is at the door knocking.

    Therefore it says,

    “Awake, O sleeper,
        and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

    Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

    (Ephesians 5:14–16)

    Given that we're living in the last days, what should we do? How should we live? Here are four themes from God's Word that I pray will help us endure all the way until we are home with our Savior.

      1. Repent and believe the Gospel. "Now when they heard [that Jesus is alive and he reigns supreme], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37–38). Repenting from sin (that is turning from and repudiating sin) and believing in Jesus to be our Righteousness—this is the mark that distinguishes those who are being saved from who are perishing.
      2. Pray. If you're like me, you are tempted to spend the majority of your waking hours focused on people—their thoughts, ideas, needs, complaints, opinions, etc. It's good to stay informed, and to love others. But these last days should propel us to God—to listen to him, and to speak with him. In Luke 18:1–8 Jesus tells "a parable to the effect that [we] out always to pray and not lose heart." At the end of that parable, Jesus makes a stunning statement: "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth." Notice how Jesus equates faith with prayer. Prayer to God in the name of Jesus Christ is the primary expression of saving faith. Today is the day to exercise faith in prayer. What should we pray? The Psalms offer excellent guidance, as does the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). In short, read the Bible (what God says to us) and respond in prayer (what we say to God). Pray for faith, forgiveness, healing, endurance, peace, comfort, and joy, all in the name of Jesus Christ, and all to the glory of God.
      3. Run from sin & pursue holiness. Knowing we are living in the last days is a major motivator for fleeing from sin and for living in obedience to King Jesus. As 2 Peter 3:11–12 puts it, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." We want to be found obeying our Master when he returns (Matthew 24:36–51; Luke 12:35–40).
      4. Invest in heaven. James warns us, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days" (James 5:1–3). As we watch our earthly treasures fade, we should be reminded that to fade is all earthly treasures do! But these things are all "rubbish" that is worth losing in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:7–11). May God grant us grace to store up treasure in heaven, joyfully letting go of earthly goods in order to gain the treasure that never fades (Matthew 6:19–20; 1 Peter 1:4).

    “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

    (Revelation 22:20–21)

  • Church Giving

    We're all dealing with dramatic changes to our daily life right now. Many of our habits have been interrupted, and our plans are being upended. God says in James 4:14 that we "do not know what tomorrow will bring." That truth is front-and-center right now, isn't it? Thankfully, the One who does know what tomorrow will bring (indeed, the One who is charge of it!) — he cares about us, and he has promised to meet all of our needs (Matthew 6:25–34). If you're feeling the heaviness of anxiety in these uncertain days, I commend to you both what Jesus says in Matthew 6 and also this good word.

    Today I'd like to talk about giving to the local church. Since each church's situation is different, what I'm writing here is primarily for New City Fellowship. For us, when we give to the church, it's part of an annual plan. We create a budget each year which generates the "weekly needed." This is a known amount, and I imagine this figure helps many of us know how much to give. Otherwise, we might give to the building fund or the deacons' fund, each of which do not have a set "need," but they acrue and are available as needs arise.

    The New Testament describes giving in the early church. Passages like Acts 2:42–45; Acts 4:32–37; Romans 15:25–28; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9; and 1 Timothy 6:17–19 all help us understand how Christians gave as part of the church in that day. As you reflect on those passages, what you'll see is that the giving was needs-based. But the needs weren't based on the church's board-approved and congregation-affirmed annual budget! Rather, they were based on the circumstances of the church in their time—a time when praying "give us today our daily bread" was, dare I say, prayed with more sincerity than we've been accostumed to in our lives.

    But here we are, experiencing realities of "biblical proportion," and so it's good for us to reconsider how we give to the local church, and to do so from a biblical perspective. There's nothing inherently wrong with how we've given in the past, but we now have an opportunity to reconsider what is wise and best given our current circumstances. Here's the current plan for giving at NCF in the coming days.

    1. Since giving at NCF is part of our worship service, we are pausing giving to the local church, just as we've paused meeting together. Christian giving is not simply a financial transaction, but it is an act of worship which is best done in the context of the local church's gathering. Therefore...

    2.  ..."On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper..." (1 Cor. 16:2). And then, when we meet again, bring what you have stored up. In the meantime I would encourage you to carefully set money aside "each week," not nessarily as pledged to God, but simply as what you intend to give to the ministry of NCF, as our Lord allows. To do this, you could earmark it in your bank account or on a calendar, put it in a jar on your dresser top, or use any other way that works best for you. And of course, do this with a joyful, thankful heart, "for God loves a cheerful giver."

    3. Finally, that phrase in 1Cor. 16:2, "as he may prosper," is important. Some of us are already feeling the economic ramifications of this pandemic. Eventually all of us will. So it seems wise to me for each of us to stay nimble right now in terms of our household economies. As the economy slows down, I encourage you to "devote [yourselves] to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14). We are being humbled and sobered right now, so use this time to meditate on Scripture, to pray more than you have in the past, and to check on your family, neighbors, and fellow church members, seeing how you can love them best with what you have on hand. And let me and our deacons know if you see needs arise that we could address better as a church.

    This is our humble plan right now. Join me in trusting Jesus to provide all of our daily needs. He will.

    Grace & peace through faith in Christ,

    - Pastor Josh

  • What Do We Know?

    Today is March 16, 2020... you know, given the current state of things, writing out the date like that brings to my mind that movie scene... the lonely man's journal entry, writing in his daily log book, unsure if anyone will ever find it. You know what I'm talking about, right? All of those post-apocalyptic or lost-in-space stories. But this is real life. And yet, as we self-isolate, and as society comes to a grinding halt, the doomsday world we've previously only imagined seems to be coming upon us. What are we to do?

    Certainly, now is a time for searching out knowledge. It's good to be aware of medical insights, disease statistics, and the government's declarations. But be careful! There are many loud voices out there—voices claiming to know what's wrong, why it's wrong, and what to do about what's wrong. If you spend much time trying to listen to all these voices, and you will find yourself more confused and anxious than you were before!

    The reality is that none of us knows how things are going to go. How will daily life change? Will I contract this disease? What will happen to my family, my neighbors, and my friends? What about the economy? What about my job? What about my home? Will we have enough to eat? Will we have enough to pay our bills?

    The truth is, we don't know the answers to these questions. As Scripture says to us: "You do not know what tomorrow will bring" (James 4:14). Suddenly, our self-reliance has been revealed. Our confidence in man is being called out. We are seeing what comes of a life that relies on men. As Jeremiah relays to us:

    "Thus says the Lord:
    'Cursed is the man who trusts in man
        and makes flesh his strength,
        whose heart turns away from the Lord.
    He is like a shrub in the desert,
        and shall not see any good come.
    He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
        in an uninhabited salt land." (Jer. 17:5–6).

    Sounds true to life, doesn't it? Sounds a lot like that doomsday landscape.

    The good news is that we are saved not because of what we know about tomorrow, but because of Who knows us today (Isaiah 41:1–10). And while God tells us that we cannot know what will happen tomorrow, he offers us something much better: knowing him today! And so the LORD continues to say through the prophet Jeremiah:

    “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
        whose trust is the Lord.
    He is like a tree planted by water,
        that sends out its roots by the stream,
    and does not fear when heat comes,
        for its leaves remain green,
    and is not anxious in the year of drought,
        for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:5–8)

    Now that's good news! We can flourish today by depending upon the LORD.

    What does this mean, though? What does trusting the LORD look like? For now, I want to give you just one basic way: know him.

    Instead of fixating the unknown, or trying to keep up with the latest news, I encourage you to know him.

    Psalm 46 is an excellent psalm for days like today. At the end of that Psalm, God says,

    "Be still, and know that I am God.
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth!”

    Be still, and know him.

    Know God as he has revealed himself in the word (the Bible) and in the Word (his Son). Know that God will be exalted among the nations. Know that he is! And that he will be forever exalted through the universal kingship of his Son, Jesus Christ. Know that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Know that he is a forgiving God. Know that you are a sinner in need of his grace. Know that pandemics are part of the curse of sin. Know that Jesus died for sinners, and was raised to life for our justification. Know that Jesus is the Sustainer and Redeemer of all things. Know that good things await those who have faith in Jesus. Know that God hears the prayer of the one who cries out to him in faith. Read his word, and respond in prayer. Link up with his people, and share in the joy of his salvation.

    In short, the most important question before you right now is this: Who is God?

    ------

    In the coming days, I hope to continue writing here, helping you to meditate fruitfully on who God is. Please pray for me. I'm praying for you.

    Grace and peace to you in Jesus,

    - Pastor Josh

  • 2018 Marriage Workshop

    NCF's first ever "Marriage Workshop" is this Friday, February 16, 2018.

    I am giving thanks for this, as I already see our church body working together, showing hospitality, and serving one another with the gifts that God has provided. And I'm praying for and anticipating God's blessing, for God's glory.

    Here is a .zip file for you: This Momentary Marriage.zip

    Explanation:

    • I decided to use John Piper's book This Momentary Marriage for the Marriage Workshop.
    • The .zip file includes a pdf copy of that book. You can also order it online or get it directly (for free) from desiringgod.org.
    • I realized that the book was basically a print version of Piper's series on marriage.  The .zip file includes the sermon audio from that series (with the exception of the chapter on sex).
    • I expect more of you will be able to listen to these sermons than will read the book, so it made sense to me to emphasize the audio format.
    • These sermons will encourage you, challenge you, and lead you to joyful contemplations, soli Deo Gloria.
  • On the Son of Man's Ignorance

    "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows,
    not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
    but only the Father"
    (Mark 13:32)

    As our church continues through Mark, we run into this remarkable statement. And it leads us to a very reasonable question: "Since God knows everything, and Jesus is God, how did Jesus not know this?"

    Some, including Jehovah's Witnesses (modern-day Arians), use this verse to deny that Jesus was God. Stated simply, their conclusion runs against the rest of Scripture, and so we are right to disagree with it. But that leaves the question: How could Jesus not know? 

    I've found John Calvin's answer to be particularly helpful, and so I'm sharing it with you here. It will be worth your time to read. Not only will you find the answer to our question, but also some very helpful words of encouragement and correction from a masterful theologian.

    Grace and peace to you, in Christ—

    “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)

    By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense, that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven.

     

    Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.

     

    As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefore, in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (John 21:17,) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Hebrews 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin—is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.

     

    I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father, as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:40.) For...he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office, that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him (Matthew 28:18).*

     

    *Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 153–154). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

  • Blind Spots

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    It is hard to persuade men to believe 
    what they are not willing to find true; 
    they are ignorant, in many cases, 
    because they are willing to be ignorant, 
    and they do not know
    because they do not care to know.

    I was recently reminded of this quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on 2 Peter 3. I had posted it 4 years ago on social media, and then promptly forgot about it. Thankfully, it resurfaced and led me again to a piercing question:

    "Where are my stubborn, self-serving blindspots?"

    This question, in turn, reminded me of our church's corporate confession of sin from this past Lord's Day. The confession was in response to our reading of Mark 2:15–17, and it is adapted from the book, The Valley of Vision —

    Searcher of hearts, 
    it is a good day to me when you give me a glimpse of myself.
    Sin is my greatest evil, 
    but you are my greatest good. 
    I have reason to loathe myself, 
    and not to seek self-honor, 
    for no one commends his own dunghill. 
    Let me not take other good men as my example, 
    and think that I am good because I am like them, 
    for all good men are not as good as you desire. 
    Show me how to know when a thing is evil
    which I think is right and good. 
    Give me grace to recall my needs. 
    And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain of your steadfast love. 
    Amen.

    Next step: the delightful reminder that God answers that prayer as we look to Christ with faith, according to the Scriptures, and in dependence upon the Spirit.

    "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

    Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:12–16)

    I'm not able to see my blind spots on my own; but praise God! — He sees me.