For many years it seemed that my activities and experiences on Sunday were out of synch with my life the remainder of the week. Sunday life means attendance at church where we sing hymns, receive communion, give an offering and hear a sermon. Since these are strictly Sunday activities it felt as if my spiritial life didn’t fit with or was foreign to “normal” life. But is this accurate? I’ve begun to challenge that notion.
Just because Sunday activities are different than Monday thru Saturday activities doesn’t make Sunday life out of synch with the rest of our week. In fact, a very strong case can be made that worship activities on the Lord’s day contributes to a more synchronized life rhythm. Worship without labor becomes irrelevant or at least unproductive; but labor without worship deteriorates into a chasing of the wind. We need both work and worship to be balanced. In fact, a truly Christian worldview attaches spiritual value to every mundane task-even that of eating and drinking.
With that said, most days my heart prefers the rhythm of Sunday.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Luke 3:5-6
Recent outbreaks of violence between law enforcement and protestors have re-ignited the smoldering racial tensions in America. They have also reawakened in me a consciousness of how the Church is called to be promotors, even planters, of the Kingdom of God on the earth. We don’t seem to be doing very well.
It is obvious that we are in need of racial healing in America. That healing will not come through political, judicial or legislative channels. Only when reform is championed by the Body of Christ will there be peaceful healing. Only the Kingdom of God has the necessary twin values of peace and justice. We have witnessed the results when people take matters into their own hands. We get more injustice. And retribution has never brought healing. Only forgiveness and peaceful reconciliation can bring the healing we need.
Here is where the Church has a message straight out of the Gospel of Christ. The values of the Kingdom of God which the Church is to champion can bring healing to our communities again. Here are those values:
1. Healing starts with me. I cannot expect the world to change until I change. I must be responsible for my own behavior.
2. Healing is spiritual. It begins with a change in my heart–a change of my attitude, my desires and my values to align myself with the truth of the Kingdom. There must be both forgiveness sought and forgiveness extended for understanding and healing to be reborn.
3. The Kingdom of God acknowledges the value of the weak, the helpless and the sick. It demonstrates mercy, compassion and generosity to those in need. Who are the weak which the Kingdom of God in me can impact?
4. The foundation of the Kingdom of God is Love–for friend and enemy (Matthew 5:38-47). This is an uncommon and inhuman love. It does not come from a good education or cultured environment. It comes from a saving relationship with the crucified and risen Christ.
Only when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom will conditions be perfect again. But until then, it is up to us to plant the seeds of His Kingdom in broken hearts so all men will see the salvation of the God.
I’ve been thinking lately about how my preaching style has changed recently. In previous pulpits, I considered myself to be more of a theologian. My mission with each sermon was to get people to appreciate, embrace and conform to the deep rich truths of doctrine. While it still matters to me that my preaching be Biblically sound and theologically true, I have come to see my listeners less as students needing educated and more as sheep needing nurtured and fed. So I’m finding that my sermons are less systematic but more human. Less philosophical and more practical.
That being said, I still long to be able to better connect the average pew sitter with doctrinal glory. For instance whose soul wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be aroused upon contemplation that Jesus is God incarnate; that Scripture is the literal and perfect message of God to mankind; that communication with God is not just possible but can be a regular occurrence, accompanied by the inner assurance that God has heard your prayer and is already at work?
Truly we might reason that anyone content to maintain a poker face while being drenched in the eternity of God just might be a spiritual swine unworthy of sacred pearls.
So how can the minister who is trained in the divine doctrines present the Word in a manner which magnifies the glories of Christianity without oozing his hubris or confusing his hearers?
First it must be said that theology must be couched in application. Truth is not given for the mind alone but for the heart and hands. Even the most theological of theological truths can be applied. Take for example the great truth of election. Scripture explains that God chose to save us (Eph 1:4; 1 Thess 1:4. 1 Peter 1:2). The point of this doctrine is not that some are elected and some are not. Rather election means God was not obliged or tricked into saving us. Salvation is intentional. Therefore our salvation was not accidental. It was not coincidental. It was planned and we were chosen by God. One application we can make is that we should resist the urge to take credit for our salvation. Without Him choosing us we could never be saved. Further we should act out our salvation in the light that God is not just tolerant of us but has embraced us purposefully. This should produce humble confidence and joy in us.
Secondly? we cannot avoid theology or doctrine in Scripture. Every passage is by nature theological. Thoughtful prayer can Illuminate our spirit and mind to see how the theology of each passage applies to life. Theology is so often like a code which underlies a software program–invisible but necessary for the software to operate correctly.
Lately in sermon preparation, I have been letting the theology and doctrine come to me rather than me seeking it out. My focus has been more on the message to the heart and as I find that message, usually a great theological truth emerges for exploration.
To avoid over salting our sermons with theological hubris or spiritual pride, I recommend that we guard our use of technical terms unnecessry for clear communication. The use of terms like sublapsarianism, Docetism, or anthropomorphic may be appropriate in a lecture format where we may be trying to stretch and inform students but our sermons are not typically expected to be lectures. John Wesley described a good sermon as “sublimity and simplicity together, the strongest sense and the plainest language!” His practice was to read his sermon to a servant who would stop him each time he used a term she did not know. At which he would change his term to a simpler one.
Isham Holland, patriarch preacher of the Church of God (Holiness), once said that a sermon is supposed to help people.
In closing let it be said that where theology and doctrine arises let us not insist it sit down. And where it is content to remain silently present in sitting position let us not draw undue attention to it. Let our sermons be messages linking sublimity with simplicity. Let our sermons help people. Let our sermons be more like a floodlight enlightening the pathway of people and less like a fireworks display which captures their attention for a few moments, only to fade from the longterm memory of the listener.
Thanksgiving is here again. Unfortunately, its proximity to Christmas has turned it into a warm up act to Black Friday. To add to that, the NFL has successfully established itself as a Thanksgiving tradition just as fitting as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and grandma’s pumpkin pie. Indeed one could also argue that the annual tradition of feasting in honor of “Thanksgiving” is itself a diversion from the original spirit and purpose of the holiday. But my purpose is not to complain about how this wonderful Christian holiday has been supplanted by Shopping and football. Instead, I want to re-introduce the notion that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday.
Webster to whom we Americans have turned for the official meaning of words for the last 175 years, defines “Thanksgiving” as a the act of giving thanks, a public acknowledgement or celebration of divine goodness; a prayer expressing gratitude.” Note the distinctly religious and even Christian flavor of this definition, suggesting that true thanksgiving includes a conversation between man and God. Thanksgiving in its purest and most rational form is spiritual and recognizes the goodness, providence and mercies of God.
Some will argue that such a definition excludes the unbeliever from the practice of thanksgiving; that thanksgiving as a distinctly religious and even Christian exercise should therefore be rejected. So can an unbelieving, non religious person be thankful without invoking God? Can Sam Harris, the notable American athiest, engage in true thanksgiving today? Most would likely say “yes.” But I would propose a challenge to this response If you’re curious, read on.
To be sure, I cannot read my own heart very well, not to mention Harris’ mind and heart. I am sure that Harris, and other unbelievers, skeptics and non-Christians find plenty of good things for which to be grateful on a day such as this. They can cite the gifts of family, friends, health, and even life itself as treasures for which they can be grateful. And we might add that we all can and should be grateful for such things. We shoud recognize those in our lives who have impacted us through their investments in our well-being, our relationship and comfort. Spouses, parents and children should be thanked for their love for us; Doctors, nurses and other health professionals should be recognized for their service to us; Teachers, mentors and coaches should be praised for their patience and dedication to us; civil servants–fire, police–should receive our blessing of gratitude as well.
One can feel gratitude for others without invoking God. However, this merely “kicks the can down the road.” For once your spouse, physician or local firefighter is thanked, who do they have to thank? Traced back to the origin of goodness, every blessing, every gift originates somewhere else. None of us are first sources of goodness. We all have had blessings and gifts poured into us. To simply express thanksgiving to another human being or even to the universe is to shift the duty of thanksgiving off of one creature and onto another. Only when we acknowledge the goodness of God as a First Source of goodness can we really finish the circle of Thanksgiving. James 1:17 claims that “…every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights…” Only God is worthy to receive our offerings of Thanksgiving.
There is a law of reproduction. The Law of Likeness. We pass down our weaknesses to our children. I see it in my children and, if you’re honest, you see it in yours. Adam begat Cain IN HIS OWN IMAGE because sin had infected the race. We cannot transfer what we do not own. If we have become sluggish, brutish, undisciplined, careless, uncontrolled, etc in our personal lives, our children will inherit these habits too. This is “life in Adam” “the old man” or “old nature” as the Holy Scriptures describe. Fortunately the same is true of positive habits as well. If we nurture devotion, faith, courage in ourselves our children tend to add these habits to thier lives by example.
But we know people who have risen above the habits and weaknesses of thier parents. In Scripture, Josiah was the son of Amon and grandson of Manasseh, both of whom were evaluated as evil. (2 Chronicles 33:2, 21) Under the law of likeness, Josiah should have inherited his father and grandfather’s hunger for evil. But Josiah chose to seek the Lord at an early age and was graded as right in the sight of the Lord (2 Chronicles 34:2) This demostrates that God has another law of reproduction. The Law of Grace. This law acts as a countermeasure against the Law of Likeness to reverse its curse. Without this law there would be no hope of salvation for any of us due to the Law of Likeness. God responds with mercy and forgiveness to those who love him and obey him. His Law of Grace neutralizes and reverses the effects of the Law of Likeness, allowing us to break free of its power. Scripture calls this “Life in Christ,” “the new nature,” or “new birth.”
What spiritual likenesses did you inherit from your parents which you want to break free from? You don’t need to languish in despair. There is hope. The secret is nurturing a love for and an obedience to God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Psalms 69:34 NLT
Praise him, O heaven and earth, the seas and all that move in them.
Throughout the Psalms David urges that all creation render praise to God. In David’s day religion was regional. The gods were believed to control only a limited domain. If an army engaged another army on religious “home turf” they expected victory. If you could enter another nation’s backyard and defeat them everyone concluded that your God was more powerful than your enemies’ God.
David is clear that Jehovah is Almighty in the entirety of earth and heaven and as such deserves the praise of not only Israel but the entire earth and heaven. In another passage he urges the creatures of nature to praise God. If the rocks and trees, flowers and bees have reason to praise God, how much more do I have reason to give Him praise too?
Today I praise you Lord that your dominion is over all the earth. Truly all men and creatures are at your service.
“For thou hast created, hast all things created
Thou hast created all things.
And for thy pleasure they are created,
Thou art worthy o Lord!”
http://bible.com/1/exo.29.4-9.kjv And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water. And thou shalt take the garments, and put upon Aaron the coat, and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the curious girdle of the ephod: And thou shalt put the mitre upon his head, and put the holy crown upon the mitre. Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him. And thou shalt bring his sons, and put coats upon them. And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons.
The ministry is a sacred office. In the Old Testament it was an inheritance through the tribe of Levi. Today, it is a calling from God much more like the prophetic office in the Old Testament. But the solemnity and gravity of the office is still noteworthy.
1. There was a separation from the people. While we believe that God’s ordained men are still human and share in all the foibles of humanity, it cannot be ignored that the priest or minister is to be set apart from the people. It is not to be a separation in an arrogant or condescending manner. The minister is not set apart because he is better, nor is he better because he set apart. Yet the fact remains that he is set apart. His occupation and duties as a representative of the people in the presence of the Holy God require a type of separation. It is a spiritual separation, one which must exists in the mind of the minister first and the congregation second. This separation should determine his focus: for he is not called to engage in a variety of businesses but a single interest of the spiritual health of God’s people. This separation was especially visible in the noble garments and accessories designed for Aaron and his sons.
2. The ministry required cleanliness. Thus should go without saying. If God is holy, let his minister’s exhibit that holiness and purity better than anyone. The qualifications Paul outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus make it clear that the Christian ministry has prequalifications. The minister should be among our best men spiritually, morally and ethically. One whose character is questionable, either within the congregation or outside of it, will not be a fitting candidate for representing the Holy God of heaven.
3. The ministry was solemnized by the anointing. This anointing was performed by the leader of the congregation, Moses, and signified the divine selection of the candidates. Moses placed his hands upon Aaron and his sons in the place of God. In doing so, he was confirming God’s purpose and pleasure in using them for this sacred office. How humbling it is to be anointed for ministry! Further, the anointing serves to impress upon the minister that he is to be a servant, yielding to the patterns of life prescribed by God and committed to the spiritual welfare of those men, women and children for whom he would intercede.
These three marks, Separation, Cleansing and Anointing, comprise the consecration of the minister of God. The consecration was to implant a solemnity in the souls of priest and people. It gave the minister a robust understanding of his vocation as a sacred and permanent heritage.
Going forward there are some beliefs and convictions which Christians must not change, some practices and attitudes which we would do well to adjust and some principles we need to be reminded of if we intend to maintain our faith in Christ and serve as Light where the sun seems to be setting rapidly.
- The local Church has the authority to discipline its own members according to the revelation of Scripture.
- Believers who live inconsistently with the Scriptures should be confronted and the obstinate should be shunned.
- Unbelievers are not under the church’s authority and should not be shunned.
If we follow his pattern our response within the church will look differently than our response to the world.
- Within our own gates the church has a mandate from her founder to be faithful to righteousness taught in the Scriptures as well as correct and discipline it’s members. Let the Gospel standards and Lifestyle be:
- Clearly taught in our preaching. Galatians 5:16-21; Ephesians 4:17-5:15; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Peter 4:3-7
- Widely modeled by our citizens. Romans 6:4, 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:11.
- Lovingly enforced in our discipline. 1 Cor 5:9-13, Gal 6:1-2.
- Be gracious, courteous and respectful to the immoral. Avoid distasteful ugly encounters with or about them. 1 Corinthians 9-10; see also Daniel’s approach in Babylon and Persia. (He courageously spoke truth when summoned but we have no record of him initiating a scolding lecture on morality in Babylon.)
- Be clear in our understanding and bold in our presentation of the Gospel. 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Peter 3:15
- Remember that man’s heart is hungry for truth and meaning that only Jesus can supply.
- Deal with those we differ with by asking questions for reflection and self introspection as Jesus did so often. Matthew 22:20, 41-45; Avoid the lecture approach. Herein lies the secret of Matthew 10:16. See also Proverbs 17:28, 23:9, 25:8,11.
- Be prepared to suffer ignominious reproach from our enemies for the sake and glory of Christ. When persecution comes, accept it with thanksgiving to God 2 Peter 4:14 and patient gentleness toward our enemies 1 Peter 2:21-23.
- Keep the doors open so that if or when they “come to themselves” and experience the pain of sin, they will have a safe place to turn to for healing and salvation. Luke 15:17-24
- Ultimately release the responsibility of saving the world to Jesus. It’s not up to us to save the world or even enforce righteousness. He only expects us to shine His light, bear witness to His life and apply His love in our relationships with others. Matthew 5:13-16.
- Return to the Word of God frequently for perspective, review, refocus, and confirmation of the truth. The best and surest way to combat lies is with the truth. Read it, love it, soak it up.
- Limit our exposure to social media whose comments are seldom subject to the discipline of logic, the authority of Scripture, or the courtesy of face to face interaction.
- Remember that the Church has a rich history of suffering and martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus. The American Church has benefited for 238 years from her Christian Foundation but when culture crosses truth, expect pressure and accept it with grace. John 15:18-21; 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 19;
While the Supremes have spoken, in many ways the jury is still out on how the new protections for same sex couples will play out on Main street America. Will Christian owned companies be forced to provide benefits for same sex couples? That seems likely. Will churches be required to receive into their membership? Undecided. Will dissenting pastors have their arms twisted to force them to perform marriages against their convictions? My hope is that religious organizations will be exempted from performing ceremonies which violate their fundamental beliefs. Otherwise, we will likely have another showdown in the court system this time over the First Amendment. I can only imagine the contortions the First Amendment will endure in order for the government to coerce the church to comply with federal morality.
We will await the next round with grace and do our best to show our enemy what real love looks like.