One Lord, One Table

This meditation was given at Christ Church Downtown on Nov 7 AD 2021.

In my exhortation earlier I encouraged you all to remember that the church is indeed one.

Despite our many differences, we are united by a common faith in Christ, and we are all part of one Body which has Christ as its head.

And yet while our oneness is a fundamental attribute of the church that can never be denied, it is still something that we must continually strive for and maintain at the same time. To do this we must avoid unnecessary divisions and conflicts which strike at and strain our fellowship and unity.

And it is here at this table where we find a means of grace toward that end.

It is here in this sacrament called communion where we all partake together as one.

For this table is the Lord’s and this table is one. It stretches across the earth and across time, and at it sits the Lord and His Bride.

As we partake of this bread and wine week after week, the Father delights in continuing to answer Christ’s prayer—that all who believe in Him would be made one in His perfect love.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

The Church is One

This exhortation was given at Christ Church Downtown on Nov 7 AD 2021.

We confess with the Nicene Creed that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is one.

As St Paul wrote, there is “one body and Spirit,” just as there is also one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4–6). And last week Dr. Merkle preached on Christ’s High Priestly prayer, in which He asks the Father that all who believe in Him would be one, just as He and the Father are (Jn. 17:20–21).

But what do we do then with the divisions we see today?

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Gracious Speech

We are commanded by St Paul in Colossians to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, letting our speech always be gracious, so that we may know how to answer each person (Col. 4:5).

While the truth remains the same and unchanged no matter the conversation – it can be presented in a variety of ways, some more edifying than others depending on the context. We see this in our Lord’s ministry and how he spoke to the Pharisees contrasted with how he spoke to contrite sinners.

Just like there are different tools for different jobs, there are different ways of speech for different conversations. For one person, you might need to use a rhetorical chainsaw to chop them down a peg, but often for others a rhetorical bandage is required to heal their gaping wounds. And it takes wisdom to know which tool to use.

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Dare to Be a Sinner

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised in a sophisticated, modern psychological culture, and his father was a psychiatrist. Like all educated Germans, Bonhoeffer thoroughly absorbed the psychological models and psychotherapeutic practices of the great twentieth-century psychiatrists. But he had this to say about the knowledge and wisdom that makes the decisive difference:

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Called to Do the Impossible

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

You are called to do the impossible. It is curiously comforting to know that your calling is beyond your capability. This is another way that a pastor’s call to counsel is unique. You can place no confidence in your gifts, experience, education, techniques, professional persona, credentials, maturity, or wisdom. You are called to do what God must do.

Singing Psalms and Hymns

Throughout our worship services we sing songs to the Lord. Singing has always been a practice of God’s people, going back to when Israel sang a beautiful hymn of praise to God after being delivered from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea,

“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him…” (Ex. 15:1–2).

We also have the example of King David, who composed over 70 psalms and appointed 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to “offer praises to the LORD” in the temple (1 Chron. 23:5, 25:7). Over and over again the psalms (which themselves are songs) tell God’s people to sing unto the Lord (Ps. 33:3, 98:4–6).

In the New Testament, we find Jesus and the disciples singing “a hymn” after the Last Supper (Mk. 14:26), which scholars believe to have most likely been the Hallel psalms (113–118) which were sung when celebrating Passover. In Acts 4:25 the believers “lifted their voices together to God” and quoted Psalm 2 and later on we read of St Paul and Silas singing hymns together while in prison (Acts 16:25). Throughout the Epistles we are instructed to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18, Col. 3:16) and to sing praise when cheerful (Jas. 5:13).

This practice of singing was described by John Calvin as a type of public prayer offered to the Lord.[1] We do not sing during our worship services to sprinkle in some art or entertainment. Nor do we use song merely as a pedagogical tool to convey doctrine the way a sermon does. Instead, the church sings psalms and hymns to praise and glorify God our Lord, for “psalmody is not primarily thematic, decorative, or didactic, but doxological.[2]

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Pastoral Care: The Art of Arts

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

It is hard to shepherd souls, to combat intricate moral evil, to help people walk through pain and anguish. Gregory the Great called it the “art of arts” in his great treatise on pastoral care. He thought the task of guiding souls far more difficult than the tasks performed by a mere medical doctor. Think about that. The body is relatively accessible. It is often explicable by cause-and-effect reasoning, and treatable by medication or surgery. But the “more delicate art deals with what is unseen,” the irrational madness in our hearts (Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9). When you consider the challenge, how is it that most churchly counseling seems slapdash, pat answer, and quick fix? A good medical doctor spends a lifetime in acquiring case-wise acumen. A mature psychotherapist pursues continuing education. Can a pastor be content with one-size-fits-all boilerplate? Kyrie eleison. People are not served when the Christian life is portrayed as if some easy answer will do—a pet doctrine, religious strategy, involvement in a program, spiritual experience—and presto!—case solved. Again, hear Gregory’s words:

One and the same exhortation is not suited to all, because they are not compassed by the same quality of character… In exhorting individuals great exertion is required to be of service to each individual’s particular needs.

A pastor’s work is the art of arts.