Have you ever wondered (or been confused about) what it means to be a part of a “presbyterian” church? In part, to be presbyterian means that we have a unique form of church government. Below is a video that explains presbyterian church government in a very simple and concise way:
Here is another video in which fellow PCA pastor Sean Michael Lucas briefly explains the biblical basis of presbyterian church government:
If you like charts as much as I do, perhaps this chart on PCA church government will be even more clarifying for you:
If this is something that you are interested in exploring further, I would recommend What Is Church Government? by Sean Michael Lucas, which is a short booklet on the topic. Or if you’re really interested in digging into this, you can read How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters, which is a book length treatment of the topic.
The great commentator and puritan Matthew Henry had this to say about the importance and blessing of family worship:
A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you. Reason directs us to consult the welfare of posterity, and to lay up in store a good foundation for those that shall come after us to build upon: and we cannot do this better than by keeping up religion in our houses. A family altar [gathered family worship] will be the best entail; your children will for this rise up and call you blessed, and it may be hoped they will be praising God for you, and praising God like you, here on earth, when you are praising him in heaven.
If family worship is a new, unfamiliar, or intimidating topic, then take some time to listen to Pastor Jason Helopolous give a wonderful introduction to the topic:
As we think about Good Friday and the significance of the cross of Christ, I want to ask and answer a strange question to help you see the preciousness and potency of the blood of Christ: “if the blood of Christ could speak what would it say?”
But before I answer that rather odd question let me remind you of a story in Genesis about the first time that blood ever spoke. It’s the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis chapter 4:8-10:
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.
So we see that the first time blood ever spoke it cried out to God. But what did it cry out? The text doesn’t explicitly say but I think we can draw a solid inference if we examine some uses of the word “crying” in the OT.
This same word for crying is used in Genesis 41:55 where it says: “When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread.” Here it has a nuance of demanding something that ought to be given them.
In Exodus 5:15 the word is used again in the context of Israel’s slavery to Egypt: “Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this.” Here the word has a nuance of calling someone to account for performing an injustice against someone.
Lastly, the most telling example is found in Job 19:7 where Job says: “Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence! ’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice.” In this context the word implies a call to bring justice upon someone who has committed a crime.
This leads me to conclude that when Abel’s blood spoke and cried out to God, it cried for justice against Cain. It’s cries reached the ear of God screaming “a grievous crime has been committed and the one who committed it must be punished properly so that justice is restored.” This is what blood said the first time it spoke.
But there is another recording of blood speaking in the Bible and it answers the question I asked at the beginning: “if the blood of Christ could speak what would it say?” In Hebrews 12:24 it says this: “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and [His] sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So Christ blood does speak and when it speaks, it speaks a better word than Abel’s. So if Abel’s blood cries out for “justice” and “punishment” on the one who committed the crime, what “better word” does Christ blood speak?
When Christ’s blood cries out, it cries not for justice but for mercy because Christ received justice that we might receive justification. When Christ’s blood cries out, it cries not for punishment but for pardon because the punishment that we deserve fell on Christ. As Charles Spurgeon said:
Far more delightful is the fact that another and more melodious cry went up to heaven from the cross of Calvary. “Father, forgive them,” resounded from the wounds of Immanuel. The blood of Abel was not voiceless, and the blood of Jesus was not [mute]; it cried so as to be heard amid the thrones of heaven, and blessed be God, it spoke for us and not against us; it spoke not worse things, as it might well have done, but better things than that of Abel.
So as you reflect on the meaning and significance of Good Friday, remember that we worship a Savior whose blood speaks this verdict over us: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
“No one can grow in holiness except he abides in Christ. Christ is the great root from which every believer must draw his strength to go forward.
Would you be holy? Then Christ is the manna you must daily eat, like Israel in the wilderness of old.
Would you be holy? Then Christ must be the rock from which you must daily drink the living water.
Would you be holy? Then you must be ever looking unto Jesus,—looking at His cross, and learning fresh motives for a closer walk with God,—looking at His example, and taking Him for your pattern.
Looking at Him, you would become like Him.
Looking at Him, your face would shine without your knowing it.
Look less at yourself and more at Christ, and you will find besetting sins dropping off and leaving you, and your eyes enlightened more and more every day. (Heb. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18.)
The true way to be strong is to realize our weakness, and to feel that Christ must be all.
The true way to grow in grace is to make use of Christ as a fountain for every minute’s necessities.”
-J.C. Ryle Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots, 447–448.
The fruit of the Spirit is…Self-control
We come to final fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists out for us in Galatians 5. One that is just as desperately needed in our hearts and lives as any other. Much of the cultural current that we stand in flows against the virtue of self-control. In many respects we are an impulse driven culture. Grocery stores are strategically arranged to take advantage of your impulse shopping. Internet ads pop-up hoping to kidnap you into an impulse purchase. Sensual material floods the media because Hollywood knows that one of our strongest impulses is lust.
One author pointed out that the best way to know the difference between practicing self-control and lacking self-control is to look at the difference between Joseph when tempted by Potiphar’s wife (see Genesis 39) and David when tempted regarding Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11).
Joseph rules over the temptation and flees the scene to safety. David becomes ruled by the temptation and ends up entangled in a web of deception and murder.
To lack self-control is to be ruled by the desires of the flesh that remain in our hearts.
But the self-control that the Spirit is working to cultivate in our hearts is the ability to recognize and renounce our sinful desires and bring them into submission to the reign of God in our hearts.
The fruit of self-control calls us to ask this question: “Who or what is winning the battle over your heart: Is it the desires of the flesh or the desires of the Spirit?”
Let’s get even more specific.
Are you led by the Spirit in controlling your passions?
How about your temper?
Your attitude toward others?
Your use of your time?
And have you kept a close watch on your tongue?
As you reflect on even one of these areas, it’s not hard to realize that some serious pruning is needed in our hearts.
Confession of sin is one means by which the Spirit prunes our heart so that more fruit can grow. So take a moment to go to God confession your lack of and need for self-control. Here is a prayer that can help you give vent to your confession:
Our Heavenly Father,
Forgive us for the ways that we have lacked self-control and been driven by the desires of the flesh.
We have been ruled by our temper, and given in to unrighteous anger.
We have been led by our lusts, and given in to temptation.
We have not tamed our tongue, and have spoken unwholesome cutting words.
Teach us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled and godly lives.
Forgive us through Christ we pray, Amen.
What hope is there that we will ever be able gain victory over the desires of the flesh that wage war within us? The hope is that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us with the same resurrection power. As Romans 8:10-11 states:
If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
By grace God not only raises us from our dead state of sin, he also gives us life by his Spirit so that we can walk in newness of life. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
We recently introduced a new song into our corpus of Corporate Worship songs titled “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.” We seem to have a deficiency of rich, robust songs that unfold for us the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This song will greatly help to remedy that deficiency. Keith Getty gives us insight into the creativity and logic that went into writing this particular song:
““Holy Spirit” is the final hymn I wrote with Stuart Townend as part of the ‘Apostle’s Creed’ album we created in 2005. This collection of songs focuses on the basic tenets of the Christian faith outlined in the ancient creed.
As in much of our songwriting, we wanted to connect the radical truths of what we believe with everyday life. In this particular song, we desired the hymn to function as a sung prayer about the Holy Spirit’s renewing power. In church services, it works well used just prior to the sermon or at its conclusion, as well as before the service or during a prayer time.
We divided the hymn into three verses. The first expresses a prayer for inward change, asking the Holy Spirit to transform us from the core of our being. Without such change, all religious attempts are futile. We must daily ask for renewal and the desire to love and treasure God’s word and his ways.
Verse two petitions the Spirit to abide in us so we’re able to bountifully bear His fruit, such as the kindness and gentleness described so beautifully in Galatians 5:22-23. Closing this verse is a prayer “to show Christ in all I do.”
Verse three is a more expansive prayer for the church. During the songwriting process, we kept revisiting this verse as we examined the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament. In passage after passage, evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power in someone’s life was marked by two characteristics—Christ is magnified, and the individual is led on a path of sacrifice.
We thus combined the lyric and arrangement of the last verse to build through the first five lines as we convey the power of the Spirit and our desire to see the church hunger for His ways. Then in line six, we suddenly stop with the prayer, “Lead us on the road to sacrifice/ That in unity the face of Christ/ Will be clear for all the world to see.” Artistically, this works as a bit of a surprise as we underscore the paradox and wonder of Christ’s power in us. Only through experiencing sacrifice are we unified as the body of Christ. Only through reaching the end of ourselves can we achieve a vibrant Christian witness that everyone on the outside can see as different.”
You can add this song to your personal and/or family devotion time by downloading the lyrics and sheet music.
To help you sing it even better, here is a lyric video from Youtube:
The Valley of Vision is a wonderful collection of prayers from various Reformed pastors in the 17th and 18th century which was poetically arranged by Arthur Bennet. As I was praying through a section of it, I came across this very helpful prayer that is directed to the Holy Spirit:
O Holy Spirit,
As the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of you.
All the purposes of divine love and the redemption accomplished by Jesus would be vain and empty, apart from your working within, regenerating by your power, giving me eyes to see Jesus, showing me the realities of the unseen world.
Fill me with yourself without measure, as an unimpaired fountain, as inexhaustible riches.
I lament my coldness, poverty, emptiness, imperfect vision, languid service, prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Protect me from grieving or resisting you.
Come as power, to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and preserve me.
Come as teacher, leading me into all truth, filling me with all wisdom and understanding.
Come as love, that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all.
Come as joy, to dwell in me, move in me, animate me, and increase my affections for the things of God.
Come as light, illuminating the Scripture and molding me in its laws.
Come as sanctifier, consecrating me body and soul to the service of the Kingdom.
Come as helper, with the strength to bless and keep, directing my every step.
Come as beautifier, bringing order out of confusion and loveliness out of chaos.
Magnify your mighty work by being magnified in me, and make me redolent of your fragrance.
The fruit of the Spirit is…Gentleness
The Spirit wants to produce in us the fruit of gentleness so that we would grow to look more like Christ. In our character we are trying to trace the lines that Christ has drawn for us by his life. He is the pattern that we are to follow.
So, what is the fruit of gentleness? It is the ability to deal with others in a spirit of humility and tenderness rather than with arrogance and anger. You’ve all received a package before at your front door that was stamped “HANDLE WITH CARE.” Well gentleness is the ability to handle others with care. Yet, culturally speaking, gentleness is not a trending virtue.
Gentleness is not going to convince your political opponent that you're right and they’re wrong. But shouting over them might.
Gentleness is not going to get your kids room clean. But threatening them in anger might.
Gentleness is not going to convince the driver in front of you who just cut you off that he needs to rethink all his life choices. But yelling at him with your car horn might.
Our fallen natural impulse is to react with arrogance and anger.
Many of our responses to others are fueled by two questions:
“Do you know who you’re messing with?!”
“How dare you?!”
But the Spirit is working to rewire the reactions of our hearts and rewrite the questions that fuel our responses. Our new Spirit-driven reaction toward others should be humility and tenderness.
The new questions that should drive our responses are
“How can I serve this person for God’s glory?”
“How can I demonstrate the gentleness of Christ to them?”
That rewiring and rewriting process happens, in part, through humbly coming before God to confess our failure to be gentle and our dependence on His grace and His Spirit to grow in gentleness. So go to the Lord in confession. Here is a prayer to help guide you in that:
Our Heavenly Father,
We praise You for You are compassionate and gentle. You do not deal with us as our sins deserve.
Forgive us for how we have let pride and arrogance fuel our responses toward others.
Cleanse us from the anger that so easily spills out of our hearts.
Cultivate in our lives the gentleness of Christ so that we would deal with others in a spirit of humility and tenderness.
Forgive us in Christ we pray, Amen.
One of the ways that the Gospel highlights the tenderness of Christ is by showing that Jesus is the Good Shepherd:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11).
Jesus views all of those who have come to him by faith and repentance as a sheep in his flock. Sheep that he knows by name, that he cares for with deep affection, that he protects with sovereign power, that he feeds with life-giving food, that he supplies with soul-satisfying water. In Christ, you have a Savior who cares for you with omnipotent gentleness:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
John Calvin beautifully articulates what it means that “the heavens declare the glory of God”:
[God] has also displayed his perfection in the whole structure of the universe. So he is constantly in our view and we cannot open our eyes without being made to see him. His nature is incomprehensible, far beyond all human thought, but his glory is etched on his creation so brightly, clearly and gloriously, that no one however obtuse and illiterate can plead ignorance as an excuse. So with absolute truth the Psalmist exclaims, ‘He wraps himself in light as with a garment’ (Ps. 104:2). It is as though he was saying that when God created the world for the first time, he put on outer clothes. He hung up gorgeous banners on which we see his perfection clearly portrayed…
Wherever you look, there is no part of the world however small that does not show at least some glimmer of beauty; it is impossible to gaze at the vast expanses of the universe without being overwhelmed by such tremendous beauty. So the author of Hebrews sensitively describes the visible world as an image of the invisible (Heb. 11:3). The superb structure of the world acts as a sort of mirror in which we may see God, who would otherwise be invisible.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion ed. Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne, p. 32-33