February 7, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 19:50 in the audio file.
Or, Et Liturgy et Liberi
Series: Our Worship #6
The philosopher-critic Friedrich Nietzsche used to use the Latin pun, aut liberi, aut libri. When thinking about what mark one leaves behind, what one can produce that matters in the long term, the pun offers the alternative: either children or books. Nietzsche was not a family man, nor a man of faith. For him the choice was not that difficult.
The pun is not merely another man’s Latin playfulness; we can commiserate. The labor of a (decent) father and the labor of a (decent) author are similarly involved. Some men, and I would count myself in their number, have trouble with quick context-switching so as to do both well. I don’t even listen to music while I write, let alone find it easy to keep my thoughts together while my kids are listening to music in their earbuds while loudly singing their version of harmony to that music walking around the house. This can be mitigated with the help of noise canceling headphones, and I praise the Lord for Kuyperian technology that covers every square inch of my ears, but that can’t help me when I’m in the middle of a sentence and a couple kids are in the middle of an argument. There is labor to ask questions to get the full story, and then labor to get back into the flow of whatever other thoughts I was trying to wrangle into something I was sure was a very important point.
But my kids have been used by God to humble me, and bless me. They have caused me to seek wisdom from the Lord and He has given me some wisdom, or at least perspective, to share. Whatever pages I think I could have written would be much more boring without their questions and sins and meandering stories and love and laughing. In my calling as a preacher I do have to do what is necessary to put the words together, but also in my calling as an elder if my kids aren’t together then my words mean diddly (1 Timothy 3:4-5). When it comes to kids and books (or in my case, sermons or talks), it’s not either/or.
How about when it comes to corporate worship? Aut liturgy aut liberi? Is it either liturgy or children? (Also, I do understand that “liturgy” is not Latin, which would be lītūrgia; it’s supposed to be a play on words.)
I would like to think that, at least by now, most of you know the answer. But I know that the answer doesn’t always feel like it’s the answer, nor does it help you help your kids feel like it’s the answer, nor does the answer give you an exhaustive checklist to know exactly what to do any given moment.
Of course the answer is both liturgy and children. Of course the answer is worshiping for generations. But the only thing harder than getting all your kids lined up and in order and participating in, or at least not distracting from, corporate worship is getting your heart in order and participating and not distracted from worship. This is a supernatural thing we’re doing; does it seem like it should be easy?
Including children in the service with us, and not providing Sunday School or Children’s Church, or even at this point a nursery with volunteer workers, is a purposeful choice the elders have made, not an oversight or a problem we’re hoping to fix in the future. This is not to say that there are no problems, ha. But if we are doing both liturgy and liberi well, we are always going to have issues, because part of parenting is learning how to be a parent, even while worshiping.
Let me also add that we are always going to have issues because part of parenting is fathers learning what it means to be a father, which includes leading his family in worship and not leaving his wife to carry the burden. For different reasons not every mother has a husband who comes; more is on her, yes. But by far the more common problem is dads who are satisfied that they’ve done their duty by driving the family to church.
By God’s grace we have more men at TEC who are attentive to their responsibilities rather than totally aloof, or worse, regularly angry, angry that their kid isn’t quiet or that their wife isn’t fixing the non-quiet kid. His tone-setting might even start earlier, mad that everyone isn’t in the car on time, when he couldn’t even put his dirty coffee cup in the dishwasher let alone help his young kids get dressed or breakfasted and buckled-in.
Our sanctification as disciples, and as an assembly, is a process of maturing. We talked last week about the maturing of our singing. We can also keep maturing in our understanding of kids and worship.
As we become like who or what we behold, how does our liturgy help us grow as parents, how does our liturgy help us parent kids for their growth, and how does the liturgy allow for children without the whole service becoming a children’s liturgy?
We worship God the Father who knows our frame.
> As a father shows compassion to his children, > so the LORD shows compassion to those > who fear him. > For he knows our frame; > he remembers that we are dust. > (Psalm 103:13-14)
God knows. God invented babies; they are quite amazing. They become toddlers and pre-teens only by God’s work. God invented sleep opportunities, He invented Sunday mornings and liturgical opportunities. And He calls them good.
Even before the Fall there would have been fatigue, presumably just without the fussy. God invented the wiggles. God invented repeated milk-craving. God invented a way for babies, now born with selfish sin, to get their parents’ attention. None of those things surprise Him when we assemble for worship. He knows our frame, and the frame of our little, lumpy, noisy, needy dust sacks.
Do you know your kids’ frame? Do you prepare them? Do you prepare yourself? Do you keep being surprised that the same thing happens? How does the Father receive you?
We seek the blessing of our Father as we worship Him in thankful helplessness. We bring Him what we have. We bring Him our dependence. We bring Him our reverence. We bring Him our weakness. We bring Him our needs.
> “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, > for the world and its fullness are mine. > Do I eat the flesh of bulls > or drink the blood of goats? > Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, > and perform your vows to the Most High, > and call upon me in the day of trouble; > I will deliver you, and you shall > glorify me.” > (Psalm 50:12–15)
Offer Him all you have, and let Him figure out how He’s going to use it. It’s not: offer Him all Your perfectly arranged and styled, and only quiet, kids. Offer Him the ones with dried egg on their dresses. Offer Him the ones who are slobber-teething. Offer Him the ones who have stinky attitudes, and I don’t just mean you.
While we know that He knows our capabilities, He doesn’t turn everything into adult-sized sippy cups. He is growing us, consecrating our affections, and so help your kids grow up and learn to love Him, too.
We believe, we ask for help with our unbelief, which includes about our kids. This is an area where our Baptistic background betrays disobedience to the Bible. We think that a person needs to be at a certain point before he can worship. And, sure. An idolator must first repent from idolatry and then turn to worship the true God. But young kids, the ones in a house with Christian parents, would only know idolatry if their parents taught it to them. Our kids do not believe out of the womb, but that doesn’t mean that we raise them by keeping our spiritual hands off until they reach an adult crisis point where they can finally decide for themselves. That’s disobedient to Ephesians 6:4. We raise our children to believe, and that means that their conversion will look different than those growing up in an unbelieving home, praise God.
Many ostensibly Christian parents say things like, “I don’t want my kid to have my faith, I want my kid to have his own faith.” This practically looks like leaving Christian food out on the table, but not really pushing it. But no man gets to God by figuring it out on his own (1 Corinthians 1:21).
> Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)
> Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
It’s interesting that he said what not to do in order that something else not happen. Don’t provoke discouragement. To be discouraged is to have the heart (with the Latin word cor as “heart” in the middle of our English word) drained, to reverse heart. What is the opposite?
This what I pray for as a father: that God would enable me to stir up my kids to hope. I want my kids to have large and full hearts. I want them to be encouraged, at least in the end if not a lot in the process along the way.
And isn’t this what our heavenly Father does when we meet with Him here? He fills our hearts with who we are. We are the crown of His creation, given dominion and called to bear His image on earth (Call). Though we failed and continue to fail to do that, He fills our hearts with peace as He declares us free from sin, from the law, from death in Christ (Confession). Then He continues to fill our hearts with wisdom, renewing our minds by His words so that we can live well (Consecration). Then He fills our hearts with food at the Table (Communion). Then He filled our hearts with strength and vision and purpose: to work in His name (Commissioning).
I want my kids to have my faith. I want them not to be discouraged. I want them to delight in the Lord and His Word (Psalm 1:2; 37:4)
> Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, > and his greatness is unsearchable. > One generation shall commend your works to another, > and shall declare your mighty acts. > On the glorious splendor of your majesty, > and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. > (Psalm 145:3–5)
We follow the Lord and show our kids how to follow. They are little worshipers. They can participate. They can sing, and it is not pretend. They can give, and it is not futile. They can kneel. They can watch. We are imitative creatures, and imitating faith (Hebrews 13:7), obedience (Philippians 3:17), and even worship are part of the plan.
Every family has their own Lord’s Day liturgy, which is their pattern of preparing for and participating in the assembly’s liturgy. You can undermine any element. You can resist God’s call to worship. You can excuse your sin as someone else’s fault. You can make truth something to collet rather than to obey. You can make the Lord’s Table a ritual rather than a rejoicing. You can wait for the final amen to go live like you want rather than for the name of the Lord and with His blessing. And as your kids watch you week after week, they will get the message.
You are showing your kids what God wants.
And if God’s goal for His people is fellowship, if this is what Christ’s work accomplished, if this is what the Spirit supernaturally enables, then why would God want the assembly’s worship to compete with your fellowship with your wife and kids?
Some still might say, “Kids distract me from worship. I can’t focus.” These might be your own kids, or someone else’s kids in the row behind you. My first recommendation is: put your phone away, then you’ll only have 2/3rds the distractions. If your phone is 1/3rd, and your fatigue/bills/Super Bowl party plans are another 1/3rd, and kids are 1/3rd, then deal first with the one that you can control to sit quietly in your pocket.
That still leaves some distraction caused by kids. But kids also distract me from eating, or talking to my wife or our guests at dinner. So I have to ask myself, What do I want? I want my kids to eat and enjoy, which means I’ve got to learn how to do it better. It also means that there are times when I tell them to hold their comments for later.
Others might say, “Kids can’t understand everything that’s happening or being said and sung.” So, do you understand everything that’s happening here? God is the only one who can claim that, and He calls all the rest of us to praise Him anyway. Kids can do that at their level, like you do at yours. If it’s okay that we need to keep growing, then it’s okay that our kids do, too, just 20 steps behind us.
And if you recognize something they should really get, you tell them. You be the shepherd. You be the Bible Answer Man. You be the spiritual hero. “Dad, what did the bearded guy mean?” “Oh dad, you’re the best. I wish you could be the preacher.”
Give them liturgy, give them love, give them yourself.
> See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)
What do you get out of worshiping God? What do you get when you’re taking care of your kid(s) while worshiping God? Blessing.
If we want this liturgical blessing to last, if we want to see worshiping for generations, it starts now by not despising generations. It’s more than seeing ourselves as replaceable, because, duh. It’s more like seeing ourselves as reproducing.
You are not raising children, you are raising parents. You are not training children, you are training reinforcements, you are training your replacements. They are not keeping you from your work, they are your work. They are not keeping you from worship, they belong with you in worship. Don’t be frustrated by how far you think they have to go, live by faith, and pray that by God’s grace and your example, they will live by faith, too.
> May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11–12, ESV)