Tolle Lege: “Growing In Holiness” and “Sanctification”

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I was super excited to get a copy of “Growing in Holiness” by the late R.C. Sproul and saved it as my flight read to the recent G3Conference in Atlanta.  Not only was I expecting it to be the perfect appetizer to all the teaching on worship I was about to receive but I fully expected it to fill in the lonely airport hours like an old friend would. Yes, the subject of holiness is EXACTLY where my heart needed to be planted in preparation for that conference. But no, I never found that friendly, familiar voice within those pages.  “Growing in Holiness” might well be taken from Sproul’s lectures on the same subject, and the information is well organized, easily digestible, and theologically sound, but it wasn’t Sproul doing the telling.  If you, like me, were impacted for life by “The Holiness of God” do not expect the same kind of force from “Growing in Holiness.” It’s good, but it’s not the knock-you-off-your-feet-never-view-God-in-the-same-way-again-buy-a-copy-for-every-one-you-know kind of good that “The Holiness of God” was.  Therefore, I was disappointed.

Interestingly, another book just came out by Sproul’s good friend, John MacArthur on holiness’ twin subject.  “Sanctification” packs a powerful 64 page punch.  The tone is very pastoral, recognizing first “The Good Shepherd’s” goal for His flock. This was the perfect place to start for me.  For some reason, hearing the “why” of our sanctification made me desire that which Christ desires for me more than I ever had before.  MacArthur then turns his attention to pastors, including the apostles own interactions with the the early church. Wo to pastors who don’t have the same goal for the flock as our Good Shepherd!

Because MacArthur’s book is so short and really lays the ground work for Sproul’s, I recommend reading “Sanctification” first, then fleshing out the practical details with “Growing in Holiness.”  Together, you have a well-rounded read on a subject that is far too neglected by evangelicals today.

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On Worship

After Tom had a week away at seminary for Winterim with Keith Essex and Steve Lawson, I got to take a once in a lifetime trip to Atlanta for the G3 Conference.  It was the first time I had traveled alone in over 20 years.  When you’re used to crossing the Pacific every summer with 5 kids in tow, you’d think this would be a piece of cake but I was pretty much lost and pathetic the whole time.  But I did more than survive the adventure.  I came home with a ton of sound teaching, glorious worship, and edifying conversations ringing in my ears (and more free books in my carryon!).

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Going to a G3 Conference is like attending a family reunion.  Only it’s the kind of family where everyone gets along and is really excited to see each other.  And it’s the kind of family that has an inordinate number of extremely gifted Bible expositors, prolific authors, powerful preachers, qualified shepherds, dedicated missionaries, and a host of general doers of the Word.  I can’t even begin to describe the caliber of teaching, heights of worship, and warmth of fellowship I experienced there.

After hearing some of Tom’s take-away from his Essex class on Ezra and Nehemiah the week before, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing at the conference some of what is played out in those two books.  Ezra 7:10 tells us that “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.”  The fruit of this determination blooms gloriously in Nehemiah 8 and 9 when

“all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.  And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard… And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands.  And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground… They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

One of the points John MacArthur made at G3 was that “The guy with the guitar is not the worship leader.  The pastor is.”  Which is why according to Paul Washer, “The problems with our worship go back to the preaching.”  This makes sense in light of Washer’s definition of worship as “the outward expression of the inward estimation of God.”  If people are not taught who God is directly from the source of His own revelation concerning Himself–His own Word–how can they worship Him in truth?  As Steve Lawson pointed out, “Our worship will rise no higher than our theology.”  At the same time our worship needs to be as truth-full as our teaching.  Costi Hinn remarked that “Accepting false lyrics but demanding true teaching is hypocrisy.”

The people of Ezra’s day heard the Word of God, they understood His character through its exposition, and they worshiped Him through their ‘Amen’ to the truth.

Popular worship today seems to fall so short of ‘Amen.’  There is too little of God’s holy, triune nature being proclaimed in preaching or in song to demand such a response.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about making the expository preaching of the Word of God the central tenant of our worship and bringing back doctrinally robust hymnody (and Psalmody!) as a means of singing out our ‘Amen’ to the Word preached.

This was a huge encouragement to me.  I grew up singing hymns and spent 7 years in a church dedicated to exclusive Psalmody.  I’ve also been a part of churches that were devoid of both.  While living in Hawaii we attended a traditional service in which we were the only young family.   I had the incredible privilege of singing in a choir made up of older saints.  It was the highlight of my week to gather with them to sing the great hymns of the faith, all through the months of expecting our fifth son, and then with him in my arms, and then with him being passed around the choir, and then with him crawling all over and under the pews.  And then the announcement came that in an effort to “breathe life into a dead service” and attract a younger crowd we would no longer be singing hymns.

It was devastating. Both to the older folks and to our young family.  I wrote the following letter to the pastor expressing our sorrow.

Thus says the Lord:“Stand by the roads, and look, ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is;and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16

I’m just a mom with a bunch of little kids.I can’t write out big tithe checks or traverse the globe on mission trips. I’m not what you would call a “mover and shaker” in the church. Most of the time you wouldn’t even know I’m there and if it weren’t for my toddler running up and down the aisles I wouldn’t get noticed at all. But I’m there almost every Sunday, not at the contemporary family service, but at the traditional one. The one with all the old people in it. The one that’s been described as “dead” or “on it’s way out.” The one with “not much going on.” Most of the time my kids are the only ones in that service and it’s true that most of the time it IS pretty quiet.

But one thing I’ve learned from spending a bit of time with older folks is that one should never mistake “quiet” for “dead.” In an age of sensationalism we tend to forget the God of the Whisper. The God who commands us to be still. The God of Order. The God who finds great worth in “a gentle and quiet spirit.” I am perfectly aware how hardly anyone looking at all those white heads sitting silently in the pews would ever describe that service as “Spirit filled.” But that’s not quite fair, either to these gloried saints or the Spirit that indwells them. In fact, I would venture to guess that the hunched over ninety year old who seems to be dozing in the pew knows quite a bit more of the Holy Spirit than your average thirty-something worship leader does. You see, the Holy Spirit’s been her constant companion for nearly a century and since her husband died twenty years ago, He’s been her only companion. And she’s learned a lot from Him. For one thing, she’s learned to listen. To be still. And God in His amazing wisdom has equipped the elderly body to do that better than anyone else.

The thing is, I know just how much these quiet folks are filled with the Spirit because I’ve been the constant beneficiary of the gentle overflow. Every smile, every pat on the back, every shaky squeeze of the hand, every time they stop to interact with my children, every word of encouragement they offer is a Spirit-led act that in a faster-paced, noisier setting might go completely unnoticed. But for an hour each Sunday, there’s this pause in my crazy, hectic life. And wrapped in the warmth of tradition and the richness of the well-ordered-Word I look up to see an older saint nod an affirming “Good job, mom” and it’s just the encouragement I need to make it through another week.

Please, in your quest to fill the church with young people, don’t neglect our older saints. They have more to offer than you might think. 

And so does their music. Music which I’ve heard disregarded as “archaic, boring, and irrelevant.” Because apparently to be acceptable to God, church-music must be modern, entertaining and germane. Maybe it’s time to rethink the standards by which we regard church-music and repent of the flippancy with which we’ve thrown generations of rich, meaningful, God-honoring, Gospel-centered, deeply instructive worship material out the door simply because it didn’t have the right beat. Maybe it’s time to return to those ancient paths that Jeremiah 6:16 encourages God’s people to seek out and walk in.Paths for which our older saints make the very best kind of guides. 

“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.  I am the Lord.”  Leviticus 19:32

After a hard fought battle the church decided to allow the hymn singing to continue until that generation had passed on.  They didn’t have to wait long.  I wrote the following poem in honor of that triumphant day.

We are the church who killed the hymn –hurrah!
Who shook off our fetters, went out on a limb –hurrah!                                                        Who took what was sacred and dear to the heart
Of the elders among us whom we’d like to depart
And take all their creeds and their stained glass art,                                                                Their potlucks and organs and dreary old songs,
And be Gone! Gone! Gone!

We’ve adopted a tune heard in any saloon
And added a beat picked up right from the street.
In the name of progress and the modern age
We’ve looked to the seeker and made them our gauge.                                                           We’ll no longer be bound like a bird in a cage
To traditions or standards or words on a page!
Yes, we are the church who killed the hymn!
Hurrah! And Hurrah! And Hurrah!

To see how one member of our family is working hard to keep hymns alive in his generation click on this link.

Well, There Went That Semester

You people clearly need a break from all these stodgy old book reviews.  Believe it or not I’m not always reading.  Sometimes I homeschool my kids, too.  This past year, we decided to end the semester with a bunch of field trips and call it a family vacation.  Here are the highlights.

We left our cabin in the woods under a blanket of  snow on Thanksgiving and made our way down the unplowed mountain road to Opa’s house where Titus and Joel served up a Thanksgiving feast of all the quail they had harvested that season, complete with Joel’s famous sweet potatoes and Ty’s scratch biscuits with homemade jam from hand foraged wild mountain berries, which he also turned into some amazing pies.  Opa loved feasting on the fruits of their labors and Oma would have been awfully proud of her grandsons’ culinary skills.

 

Early Saturday morning we continued south down the coast to the San Diego area where we met up with some friends for an overnight camp out and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  This is an experience of a lifetime and I would recommend this splurge over something like Disneyland any day.  Not only does the zoo feed you and house you in canvas tents overlooking the range of roaming animals, they give you a behind the scenes night tour and morning tour as well.

 

We went to sleep with the rhinos right below our tent, listened to the lions roaring all night and then woke up to a herd of giraffes that had moved in.  The new tiger exhibit and the duck-billed platypus were highlights of the morning tour but the best part was spending time with Tom’s old room mate Dan, his sweet wife Angela and their 3 kids.

 

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The next day Tom took the four older boys and the other Sam out deep sea fishing on the boat another friend of ours works on.  Josh Merrill’s tips proved trusty and the boys brought in about 100 fish of various sizes, shapes and scents.

 

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Next up was Sea World, which is the closest our family will ever get to a theme park.  If you have to get free tickets to an amusement park, get them to a Sea World.  The one in San Diego was exceptionally clean, patriotic, focused on nature, not just rides, and seemed to be frequented by normal, upstanding citizens such as we aspire to be.

 

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And of course we had to squeeze in a little time just hanging out on the beach.

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We took a detour on the way home to visit some friends that we had made through Hartland’s Homeschool Family Camp.  The DeCoste family is as hospitable as they come (homemade tamales? are you kidding me?) and our boys were in heaven riding horses and golf carts all around their little plot of high desert paradise.

 

Our final stop was the dinner show, Medieval Times.  That was just a riotous good time.  Can’t go wrong taking a bunch of boys to a place where they can eat “baby dragon” with their hands while yelling for blood at the jousters.

 

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And yes, I just realized I wasn’t in any of those pictures since I’m always behind the camera so here’s one of me and my “sweets” at Portos Cuban Bakery which was across the street.  We picked up a cake for Titus’s 16th birthday while we were there and brought it home to share with the other Opa.  Grandpas are definitely the best way to begin and end a trip.