News & Notes

Bulletin for October 8, 2023

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The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

At every worship service, we follow the invocation with the Lord’s Prayer. Something I hear frequently, especially from Baptist and non-denominational Christians, is that they find the practice a bit uncomfortable. There seems to be some fear about be “too Catholic” or participating in vain repetitions. So let’s look at what the Westminster Larger Catechism says and address those fears.

Q. 186. How does God direct us to pray?

A. The whole word of God, but especially the Lord’s prayer, which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, directs our prayers.

Q. 187. How should we use the Lord’s prayer?

A. The Lord’s prayer not only directs us as a model for our other prayers but may also be used as a prayer itself that will promote our understanding, faith, reverence, and the other gifts of God in us that are necessary for us to pray properly.

The Lord’s Prayer is an example prayer drawn from the Sermon on the Mount. It’s very short and simple, but it contains all the essential elements of prayer that we find in Scripture. There’s adoration, confession, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving. If you pay attention to our prayers throughout our worship service, you’ll hear all of those elements. If you read the Psalms, you’ll find them as well.

But does Jesus intend for us to use this prayer “as a prayer itself” like the catechism says? I think so. First, notice that the prayer is framed in first person plural. It is a collective prayer, not an individual prayer. Second, Jesus opens the prayer saying, “Therefore, pray then: Our Father…” Most English translations will supply a phrase like “after this manner” or “like this.” That’s not a bad translation, but it can be misleading. Jesus is not saying, “Pray like this, but don’t use this prayer.” Instead, he’s saying pray like this, as opposed to the way the hypocrites pray.

In addition to the fact that I think Jesus intends us to pray this prayer together, there are also good practical reasons for using it. First, if we’re going to us the Lord’s Prayer as a model, we probably need to know it. It’s becoming increasingly popular for Christian writers to come up with “prayer methods.” They range from perfectly good and appropriate (like the ACTS method) to dangerous (like “centering prayer”). But Jesus himself has given us a model for prayer!

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is perfectly and infallibly inspired. When I pray, my prayers are all messed up. I ask for things that I shouldn’t. My mind wanders, and I lose focus. I get concerned with myself instead of looking to Christ. But the Lord’s Prayer can straighten me out. It’s the same reason we say the Apostles’ Creed right after the sermon.

Finally, some people struggle with prayer, and set prayers like the Lord’s Prayer are helpful. Prayer doesn’t come natural to us. Children and new believers need to learn to pray. Furthermore, I don’t always know what to pray, but the Spirit helps me (Rom. 8:26). The Spirit has also provided me with words. The pinnacle of the Spirit’s words are in the Lord’s Prayer, but the Bible includes a great number of prayers that can provide words for the voiceless. When we don’t know what to say, we can pray God’s words back to him, knowing that they are perfect and effective.

So we pray the Lord’s Prayer, not because it’s a magic spell or because we’re trying to be Catholic. We pray the Lord’s Prayer because it is Christ’s gift to us. We are sinners with all sorts of false motives, but he offers his words to cleanse us. We are weak and small, but he has stooped down to meet us. Let’s not take that for granted.

If you want to study the Lord’s Prayer further, our Catechisms have great line-by-line expositions. See questions 186 and following in the Larger Catechism or questions 98 and following in the Shorter Catechism.


On Wednesday, I was advised by Madeleine’s doctor to stay in Starkville until we were sure about her status. As of writing this (late Thursday), there hasn’t been any progress, so I’m expecting to be back in town for worship on Sunday. Thank you for your continued prayers as we get ready to introduce Lois!

Also, I neglected to mention this Sunday, but whenever Lois is born, Rev. Ron Pierce has agreed to preach in my absence. At that time, he will also serve the Lord’s Supper. So please be in preparing to come to the Table within the next couple of weeks.

Your friend in Christ,

Bulletin for October 1, 2023

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Psalm 51

This week in worship, we’ll be singing a portion of Psalm 51. We’ll continue to sing, learn, and reflect on this Psalm for at least the next month. The Psalms are the prayerbook and the hymnbook of the Bible. Not only do they teach us right doctrine, but they teach us right emotion. They are God’s inspired examples of how we ought to speak to him. (At some point, I’ll write a longer explanation of why we sing psalms, but the short answer is the Paul directly commands it in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16.)

Psalm 51, in particular, is one of best examples of how we are to repent. The inscription (which is part of the biblical text) says,

A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

David had committed a grave sin against Uriah, against Bathsheba, and against the whole people of Israel. He certainly owes repentance to all of these people, but notice who is mentioned most in Psalm 51. In David’s mind, although he had sinned against a number of people, his primary concern was that he had sinned against his holy God. That doesn’t diminish his debt to the people around him, but he knows that he cannot right his wrongs in the world if he hasn’t first been reconciled unto God. (Remember: “on earth as it is in heaven.”)

At the same time, David calls on the promises of God. What David brings before God is not his own works. Instead, God’s own grace is the basis for David’s plea.

How many times do we repent in a self-centered way? We tell God that we’re sorry, that we’ll never do it again. But if Psalm 51 is a model for repentance, maybe that’s the wrong way to approach God. God doesn’t want to hear our promises; he wants to hear his promises. I know that I’m going to fail. I’m going to stumble. But God is our steadfast Rock.

Does God want our offerings and our obedience? Yes! But these are only possible through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Grace comes first; obedience comes second. The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, and then he receives the offerings of the temple. If you want to be received by God, you must do it on the foundation, not of your own works, but of his mercy given in the work of Jesus Christ.

“Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” – Psalm 51:18-19

Psalm 51 Sheet Music

Thank You

Madeleine and I are very grateful for your kindness to us at Wednesday night’s shower. You went above and beyond to care for us, and having been with you for only a short time, we already feel welcomed and loved. Thank you.

Your friend in Christ,

Bulletin for September 24, 2023

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A Word on Worship

1 Peter 2 tells us that we are being built up into a spiritual house “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We’ll talk more about this in the sermon, but one of the primary ways we do this is through our public service of worship. Therefore, it’s important that we have some understanding of what exactly we’re doing in worship each week. Why do we do things the way we do? In order to answer that question, I want to include here a few reflections each week on our various elements of worship. For many of you, this will simply be a review, but I hope it can be of some encouragement as we worship together each week. This week, let’s consider the Call to Worship.

The Call to Worship

In the past, VPC has referred to the opening choral introit as a call to worship, and this is appropriate under certain circumstances. We may return to that pattern at some point, but you may have noticed that in the past few orders of worship, the introit and call to worship have been separate. There are several reasons for this.

The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us that “[public gatherings] are not to be carelessly or willfully neglected or forsaken, since God calls us to join other believers in public worship.” Isaiah 56:6-7 says,

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Notice it is God who brings us before him, not ourselves. This pattern is repeated in all of the great covenant renewals throughout the Old Testament, most notably in Exodus 19 and following, and reinforced by the first commandment:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

Oftentimes, we think of going to church on the Lord’s Day as an act of personal devotion, something we do for our own “spiritual fix,” but not really something vital for the Christian life. This is an error. Of course, God is present in all his power when his people gather, and he really does bless us richly in our worship, but it’s not because we have willed him out of heaven. No, God is present in our worship because he has called a people unto himself. We do not gather ourselves, but we are joined together by the Lord who has redeemed from our sin. We worship in response to God’s gracious command to repent and believe.

So the call to worship is God speaking to us, just as he speaks to us in his Word throughout the worship service. Therefore, it is the ordinary (i.e., there are other perfectly acceptable ways to do this) practice of the Reformed tradition for the preacher to call the church to worship from Scripture. This is also the practice prescribed by the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. The Bible, and particularly the book of Psalms, is filled with these calls. This week, it is drawn from Psalm 118:

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Also, our call to worship this week is responsive. The past couple of weeks, I’ve used “one-way” calls to worship, but the Psalms are actually designed for responsive reading and singing. (Have you ever noticed that each verse of the Psalms are divided into two parts?) The congregation’s part is a direct response to the Word of God’s call.

So as we participate together in the Call to Worship this Lord’s Day, reflect on God’s grace to you. In our sermon text, Peter says that God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Let’s rejoice in his call, the call to come to Christ in repentance and faith, and lift up our hearts to him in response.

Some further devotional reflections can be found here, courtesy of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

A Ministry Opportunity

Some of the ladies have begun writing cards to people in our church and community that would benefit from the encouragement. This is a very simple but meaningful way to reach out to those in need and love our neighbors. If there is someone you think would benefit from receiving a card or if you would like to help, please speak to me or Janet James.

Your friend in Christ,

Bulletin for September 17, 2023

One additional announcement that did not make the bulletin: Presbyterian Women will meet Tuesday, September 19, at 2:00 PM!

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