And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
(Luke 21:5-38 ESV)
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ESV)
I’ve seen a clip from West Wing going around on Facebook with the headline “How to Silence Kim Davis Supporters”. In the clip the president lays out a litany of questions to someone who is representative of the Christian right. I don’t know the plot – haven’t seen the show. The questions are how to to apply Ex 21:7 (selling his daughter into slavery), Ex 35:2 (death penalty for breaking the Sabbath), Lev 11:7 (pigs are unclean), and other laws against mixing crops and fabrics etc…
Let me be emphatic: this is not a defense of Kim Davis. This is a comment on the accusation that Christian’s cherry pick which verses of the Bible they want to follow. When you write the lines and pick the actors you can make it look like Christian’s are stumped. But in truth questions of how Christians should relate to the Old Testament laws isn’t a recent question. In fact it’s one of the earliest things the Church dealt with, so early it’s actually included in the New Testament (Acts 15). The Apostles gathered to ask essentially whether someone who believed in Jesus had to become Jewish and obey all of the Old Covenant laws. They decided, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you [the Gentiles] no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29). In other words the New Testament explicitly says Christians are not bound by Jewish civil and worship regulations. We are still obligated to keep God’s moral law.
I wish I could summarize this on handwritten sign and I would just hold it with an earnest expression for a picture on twitter – but this actually requires some thought and following a line of reasoning. Some of the Old Testament laws dealt with religious worship and regulations that were sort of social markers that separated the Jewish people from other nations. These were rules about how animals were sacrificed and dietary restrictions. The Acts passage explicitly says these aren’t to be applied to Gentile Christians. (Also see the book of Hebrews in the New Testament and Jesus’ own teachings about food laws in Mark 7:19).
Other laws dealt with how Israel would operate as a political state, these are the civil laws. On one hand, they dealt with things similar to our inheritance laws and health codes. On the other, they provided penalties for breaking criminal laws based on the moral law. This for example would be how to deal with someone who murdered, or committed adultery, or stole something. One very important difference between the Biblical nation of Israel and the Church is that the Church is not and never will be a nation or a political state. So rather than trying to implement the laws of Israel, we are called to be obedient to whatever civic authorities we are under (Romans 13:1-7.) This means we pay taxes and obey zoning laws. It also means that we recognize the state’s right to enforce punishments on those who break the moral law. Civil authorities, not the Church, regulate against theft, fraud, and murder. The moral law is unchanging. Although it is to be enforced by civil authority, the state doesn’t define it. It is given by God and is part of the very fabric of creation, and we are called to obey it. This is why the letters of the New Testament continue to call Christians to integrity, obedience, sexual purity and generosity – but not to refrain from bacon and shell fish or from wearing clothes of mixed fabrics.
If you aren’t a Christian you obviously disagree with this view of law, but I hope you would agree that to accuse Christians of only cherry picking Bible verses without ever referencing Jesus or any of the New Testament is an awfully selective use of scripture.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and thehttp://scottsealy.com/sermon-the-god-who-became-flesh/ life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-14 ESV)
Most Sundays after worship I stand outside and greet people. I’m often told by several people that they appreciated the service and the message. After several years of this it’s easy for a pastor to think of the Lord’s Day gathering as a time for us to minister to others. Of course it is, but not exclusively. This past Lord’s Day was especially a blessing to me.
Brothers and Sisters you ministered to me: when you shared with me about a book you had read that helped you understand the Scriptures better, when our deacons met with a family that needed assistance, when you welcomed visitors, and when I watched you encouraging and grieving with someone going through trials. It is a blessing to serve Christ’s church and to watch Him minister through you.
This is the second part of a series reviewing three crucial commitments church members should make to their the congregation. The series introduction can be found here.
Our first commitment is to gather with the rest of the community for public worship every Lord’s Day. This is a fundamental way we fulfill our vow “to serve Christ in his church by supporting and participating with this congregation in its service of God”. What makes corporate worship so important?
First, when we worship we obey God who commands our praise. I Chronicles 16:29 states the direction that runs throughout scripture, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness”.
Moreover, the one who is worshiped determines how. Our praise of God isn’t a time of self-expression, it calls for submission and obedience. God commands us in the manner of our worship, and this includes the “when”. Worshiping God, in the way He has prescribed, is at the root of obedience to the Fourth Commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)
We keep the Lord’s Day holy, in part, by corporate worship – gathering with God’s people to hear his Word, sing his praises, and lift up our hearts in adoration.
Gathering of the Covenant Community
Second, gathering together for worship, as are all of God’s commands, is for our benefit. We can’t be God-centered without being other-encompassed. As T.S. Eliot wrote in “Choruses from the Rock”:
What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Gathering together encourages us as we remember our identity as God’s redeemed and embraced children. It reorients us within the body and towards our Head. As Hebrews instructs, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
A cliché sometimes heard by those who frequently neglect common worship is that they can worship God just as well on the golf course, or on the lake, or ball field – or whatever else we allow to take priority over worshiping God with our fellow believers. But if worship is rightly understood, you can’t. You might feel close to God, you might think about Him, you might even feel inspired by the majesty of creation. But you can’t really worship as God has taught us because you can’t encourage and be encouraged by other believers, you can’t gather around the Lord’s table to receive the supper, you can’t promise a new believer your support as they are baptized, and you can’t sit under the proclaimed Word. Christian worship is fundamentally communal. This isn’t about being in a particularly holy place, but in the midst of a particular people – “the Kingdom of God is within you”.1 As many commentators have noted, the elemental prayer our savior gave us begins not with my but Our Father. Even as we pray in private, we remember that we do so as part of our new family.2 This communal nature of worship is unsurprising considering the very nature of the God we Worship. Within the essence of God, who is Holy Trinity, is a communion of persons, therefore worship is fellowship with God the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What do I get out of it?
As we worship, we receive. Caution is needed though, because there is a tendency for us to approach worship asking, “What do I get out of it?”. The danger with that question is that it reveals a consumer’s attitude. The question could be rephrased as “Do I enjoy the music?”, “Do I like being with the people?”, or “Do I feel good about the sermon?” In these of questions we approach worship with self-diagnosed needs and our own benchmarks. This is a shopper’s approach, browsing for an inspirational feeling, wisdom to fix a problem, or an assuaging of guilt.
To receive as a disciple is to trust that the Master knows better than us and to accept what he offers: commands that I would rather ignore, conviction of sin that I have been suppressing, and humbling assurance of forgiveness. These are things we will miss if we basing the question on our musical taste or how funny the preacher is. What we “get out of” worship is God’s Word spoken to us and his gracious promises confirmed in water, bread, and wine. We receive welcome and fellowship within a community that God calls his own. We receive nothing less that God himself.
1. Luke 17:21, The “you” is second person plural. Jesus is not saying that the Kingdom is and individualistic, internal reality.↩
2. Eliot is helpful here as well, “Choruses from the Rock” continue, “Even the anchorite who meditates alone,/ For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,/ Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate. ↩
I had the honor this week of officiating the funeral of a great patriot and great saint: Nels Tanner. His greatness as a patriot is attested to by his distinguished service record and numerous decorations, including: two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, nine air medals and two Distinguished Service Medals.
Greatness among followers of Jesus is shown in humility, and Nels’ humility was evident to anyone who knew him. At his request, the funeral was a simple service at Mt Carmel. Rear Admiral Robert Shumaker delivered a fitting eulogy, but other than the flag draped on his casket, there was no indication of his heroic service. In pre-arrangements Nels wrote:
Even though I rate a full military service … I respectfully decline. I mean no disrespect to those who have honorably served their country in time of need. I simply want to emphasize by means of this service, that the witness of this sinner, having asked for and received forgiveness for his sins by his faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, is far more important than any other statement he or his community could possibly make.
Once [jurisprudence] departs from that the security that justice possesses only in God and his Word, practitioners of jurisprudence are able to deduce justice from no other source than tradition and society’s sense of justice. And since this sense of justice is as unstable as the waters of a flowing stream, it steadily undermines the security of the concept of justice. – Abraham Kuyper
What do you think active membership in a church looks like? I can remember often hearing people bragging about being at the church every time the doors were open, but is simply showing up for services enough? Should a member make a goal of being at everything going on in the life of the congregation?
I’ve thought through what the expectations of the average member should be in a congregation and so now as part of our new member class I encourage everyone to make it a goal to worship, to connect, and to serve.
Over a series of posts I want to discuss each of these in more detail, but first I want to make note of two things about membership commitment and activity in the local church.
First: No one is average. A wise farmer in my first congregation used to joke that while the average summer might have the perfect amount of rainfall for a good crop, average that meant that about half the years would be a drought and the other half a flood. Both of these destroyed crops, so the average was simply an ideal between extremes that didn’t actually occur too often in reality. Our lives our like that. Everyone goes through times of more or less energy and free time. There is a difference in parents of small children, an affluent retired couple, and a grad student with debt and unsure of where she will be next year. So we take into account the season of life we are in and don’t feel guilty if our God ordained calling to care for an elderly parent prevents a lower priority of helping out with Bible school. Likewise, if we are in a place in our life where we have more time and more expendable income, we should avoid doing the “bare minimum” to assuage our guilt and get on with pursuing pleasure and entertainment more than serving and worshiping God. So when I speak of average member commitment, I mean take this as a starting point to think through how to best fulfill the vows you made to God and to the congregation when you became a member.
Second: It doesn’t take the institution of the church to be a “Christian” activity. Obviously, gathering together with the saints for worship requires the church. And while we need Christians to support and serve in the congregation. Loving your neighbor doesn’t require the approval of the board of elders. Sharing God’s grace and love doesn’t require a committee. This should be obvious, but as a Pastor I am too aware of my own tendency to think of needs in the church as examples of Christian service: teaching a bible class, helping with the nursery, cleaning the church kitchen, or preparing a budget. These are of course needed. But leading your family in prayer and bible study, sharing a meal with a lonely neighbor, or mentoring a child at the Boys and Girls Club is no less Christian. So as we look at these three ways Christians should be involved with their local congregation, keep in mind that this doesn’t exhaust all of what discipleship means. There are other personal and family disciplines and commitments, but I’m only discussing those related to obligations to the local congregation. Also, while members should be involved in the ministry and work of the church, one’s Church involvement shouldn’t take so much time and energy that there is none left to give to your family, neighbors, and community. Salt is meant to add flavor to food, not to more salt. Light is to shine in the darkness, not illumine a bright room.
So with these in mind, I’ll next discuss why every Christian should be committed to gathering for worship every Lord’s Day.