One of the aspects of my job that I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do is reading. I read a lot. I read for sermon prep. I read for Bible Studies. I read for ministry vision. I read to understand what’s going on in this world. And, I read for personal enjoyment and edification.
My reading takes me through the centuries of Christian history all at one time. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the devotional emphasis of the authors from different centuries has changed. In earlier writings, there is an emphasis on enjoying communion with God through one’s relationships with God personally and with his people, the Church. Many modern authors, however, emphasize experiencing one’s relationship with God through activities of personal devotion and individual discipleship. They tell us that we need to pray more, tithe more, evangelize more, volunteer more, etc.
I think this modern emphasis on doing more things to enhance our experience of our personal relationship with God is a reflection of the contemporary understanding of Christianity. In my opinion, Christianity has become an adjective of our lives that describes the activities that we do rather than a noun that defines us. The more devout we are in participating in Christian activities (prayer, bible study, church, missions, evangelism outreaches, etc) means that we are more Christian than those who are less devout in those same activities. And, since devout equals Christian, we want to be more devout so that we can be more Christian (as if that’s possible). So, we readily accept the challenge to do more things for God, at least on the surface.
I find this to be exhausting. I can’t do everything that I keep reading modern Christian authors telling me that I need to be doing. You can’t either. This mindset creates an insane fury of activity in our lives that we can’t keep up.
The ancient authors, taking their cue from the Bible, offer a helpful reminder to us. Christian is not something (or many things) that we do; it is who we are in Christ. He’s done everything for us. We can’t improve upon his work. Therefore, we are to enjoy our secure life in him by enjoying our time with him and our relationship with his people. We glorify him by using the gifts he has given each of us to do what you can do to serve him in the context of our daily lives as we walk with his people. Then, we trust him to do the rest through the gifts and opportunities he has given to the other people in his church. In modern parlance, we are to “keep calm, and trust Jesus.”
I want to begin this post with a confession: I struggle with self-centeredness occasionally. Ok, you got me, I struggle with it a lot. That should come as no surprise to you or anyone else reading this post. You know that I am no different than you and are well aware that we both struggle with self-centeredness. Like the Apostle Paul, we fight the fleshly temptation to honor ourselves rather than God (Rom. 7:15-19). This is true for us even after our hearts have been transformed by the gospel of grace in Christ.
I don’t know about you, but my self-centeredness is periodically seen in my attitude before, during and after corporate worship. This was true before I became a pastor, and sadly it’s still true. (Shh, don’t tell anybody. Pastors are supposed to be super-spiritual.) There are times when I don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to get dressed, don’t want be around people, don’t want to sing the selected songs, don’t want to lead the prayers, and certainly don’t want to preach the passage before me or hear it preached. Simply, on those days, I don’t want it to be about God; I want it to be about ME!
When I feel this way, I find myself drawing strength from the Spirit of God as he enables me to obey the command of God to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. He provides me with the strength necessary to obey the will of God, not just the inspiration to be obedient. I believe that on those days this same Spirit also brings to my mind a biblical lesson about worship, which I learned as a young man by watching and listening to my dad (Big Rick) on Sundays.
Worship is about Jesus, not you.
Big Rick taught me that when we gather on Sunday with the church congregation we are worshipping Jesus, and Jesus alone. He is the one who was, the one who is and the one who is to come (Rev. 4:8). He is our creator, our Savior, our head, our peace, our hope, our king and our glory. He is the “image of the invisible God,” and the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:15-20). Without him, we are nothing but hopeless sinners without the hope of everlasting life. But, with him, we are children of the living God (John 1:1-13; 1 John 3:1-3). Without him, we do not know God. But, with him, we see God because he, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side,” has made him known to us (John 1:18).
This understanding of Jesus puts our self-centeredness into its proper perspective. It makes it seem pretty pathetic, doesn’t it? It’s insane to think that we can compete with the marvelous brilliance of the glory of Christ, the Creator of the world and the King of Glory. He commands the angels. His birth was announced by the angelic host. Not mine. Not yours. Not anybody else’s. He has given you and me the privilege to enter into his courts of praise and to stand in his presence in his grace (Ps. 100). Doesn’t he get to demand, then, what we do in worship and when we do it, regardless of whether or not you and I always like it? Yes, he does. So, ultimately, it’s really of question of who we worship, isn’t it? Are we going to worship Jesus or ourselves? Self-centeredness is nothing less than self-worship. Are we really going to say that we are more important than Jesus?
Through the years, I have learned that Christ-honoring Christians get out of bed, dress, go to church, sing the songs, pray the prayers and expectantly listen to the sermon each week solely because Jesus is worthy, not necessarily because they always want to do it. To them, it is Jesus who matters most. He is the one who deserves their praise. The same should be true for all of us who profess faith in Christ. He is the one who sits enthroned in the heavens. He is the one who gave himself for us. He is the one who will return to judge the living and the dead. He is the one who promised and secured our eternal destiny by his precious blood. If that doesn’t make you want to get up to worship him, then nothing will — no friends, no music, no preacher, no enticing atmosphere, no nothing. While friends and entertainments may draw us to worship for a while, they will not last. The only thing that will cause us to worship regularly is a heart devoted to the Lamb who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing because he was slain for the sins of the world (Rev. 5:12).
On October 6, 2015 Rick Davis turned 66 years old. For 36 of his 66 years he has been my dad, and somewhere along the way he affectionally became known as Big Rick. He has a rich legacy as a man who has lived a consistent, principled and hard-working life of devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, I dedicate the next several posts to him. After all, he taught me most everything I know about being a man, about being a husband and about being a father.
Out of all the lessons that Big Rick has taught me, I believe the most important have to do with the proper way to worship our great God. The Bible clearly tells us that we were created to worship God and that worshipping him is the most important thing we will ever do. The Westminster Divines famously stated that our chief end as humans is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (WSC Q1). And, though I can’t remember Big Rick ever quoting that statement to me directly, he certainly believes it. His belief demanded — and still demands — that he and his family set aside the Lord’s Day as the day for the corporate worship of our Triune God.
Sunday is the Lord’s Day.
I was in seminary when I first read section 21.8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, “As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him…” The Confession goes on to say that “the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day” is “the Christian Sabbath.” This language was fresh and new to me, but the concept wasn’t because Big Rick had instilled in me from a young age that Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Therefore, we worshipped the Lord on the Sunday. We devoted ourselves to him on that day. We ordered our family’s schedule to ensure that we were available to worship the Lord each Sunday.
I remember faking an illness one Sunday when I was about 11 or 12 years old because I didn’t want to go to church. I wanted to stay at home. I’m confident that Big Rick sensed that I was faking, yet he didn’t stand strong in opposition. He and my brother went on to church while my mom stayed home with me. Later that afternoon, my friend from up the street invited me to come play basketball with him and some of our other friends. I wanted to go. So, I got dressed, laced up my shoes and headed out the door. As I was leaving, Big Rick asked, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to play basketball.” He responded, “No, you’re not. You’re sick.” I protested, “I’m better.” He said, “No, you’re not. You’re still sick. You were too sick to go to church this morning, and you haven’t gotten well enough to go play basketball.” I shot back, “But Dad…” He graciously replied, “Son, you need to understand that if you’re too sick to go to church, then you’re too sick to do anything else. That’s the rule in our house.” That was the end of the conversation. It was over. I was staying at home. Point made.
Sadly, that little episode will seem harsh to many in the Christian church today. It shouldn’t, but it will. I was not negatively effected by Big Rick’s rule on church attendance. In fact, the opposite is true. By refusing to let me go play basketball after I faked an illness to get out of worshipping the Lord, Big Rick made me realize that worship is important. It is a matter of obedience to our God who sits enthroned in heaven, who loves us, and who has drawn us to himself in his grace. It was a priority for our family. That was a lesson that I desperately needed to learn and one that helps shape to this day. (I also needed to learn that lying was wrong, but that’s for another post.) Worship is imperative for God’s people because God commands and deserves our worship. Sunday is his day.
We Need More.
I wish we had more fathers and mothers who made the corporate worship of our great, Triune God a priority with their families. We can say that our faith and worship is most important to us, but our actions speak louder than our words. Big Rick didn’t need to tell me repeatedly that Sunday at church was the axis around which our family rotated. He made it plain by his insistence on worshipping alongside of my mom, my brother and me each Sunday. I thank God for him and pray that he will give us more Big Ricks. If God answers that prayer, the Church will be much stronger. That’s a guarantee!
Thanksgiving is upon us, and Advent is on its heels. These two wonderful seasons bring great joy and thankfulness into our lives. This is always an exciting time of the year. As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, Advent, and then Christmas, take a moment to pause and give thanks to the God who is good beyond measure to his people — to you and me. I read a devotional once that said the following, in regard to the part of the Lord’s prayer where we pray for daily bread:
“God is good. He is generous with His gifts. The Bible tells us that God sends His sun on the evil and the good and causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. God is so good that He freely gives animals, birds, fish, and people all that they need to live. He gives food and possessions even to people who never ask Him for them. So why should we include this things in our prayers? For one thing, although God generously gives many things to many people, He gives His promise to supply needs only to those who depend upon Him. Another reason to ask God for what we need is that asking shows that we know and worship God as the One who provides for His creatures.”
I would add a third reason to why we pray for daily bread. This prayer trains our hearts to be thankful to the God who graciously provided those things for which we asked. If we ask the Lord for the things needed to meet our daily needs, then we will be full of thanksgiving and gratitude when He gives them to us. So, as you sit down to partake of your Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, take a moment to thank God for the bounteous ways He has answered your prayer for daily bread throughout your life. I bet it will blow your mind. The bounty of food before you is only a representation of the bounty God has given you in Christ.
Also, by the following this link — ADVENT CALENDAR 2015 — you will find an Advent Calendar for you to use during the season of Advent, which begins on Sunday, November 29. The calendar is designed to help us fulfill our mission of “growing in Christ and witnessing to the World of his glory” in an intentional and practical way. Each day you will find a specific “action” for you to take either by yourself or with your family. The actions all fall under one of the four discipleship components of our congregation — worship, nurture (education), care for others, and gospel witness. My wife, Patti, and I developed the calendar for our family, and we offer it to you to use as well (please make it specific for your congregation and family). Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Participation in his mission is the best way to prepare.
May the Lord richly bless you in his grace. Happy Thanksgiving!
In an attempt to pen an anthem for change, Bob Dylan wrote, in 1969, “Come gather ’round people wherever you roam; and, admit that the waters around you have grown; and, accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’; or, you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changin’.” He accomplished his goal. For over 4 decades those words have shaped peoples’ views on society — “The times they are a-changin’.”
For the Christian church in America, however, the times aren’t a-cahngin’; they have changed. We presently live in “post-Christian times.” That does not mean that there aren’t plenty of churches and many Christians in our country. Actually, the opposite is the case. We have one of the highest rates of churches per capita in the world, and we have more churches now than we’ve ever had in our history. And, though mainline Christian denominations have experienced decline in recent years, the number of evangelical Christians has steadily grown. This means that the Christian church, as a whole, is actually growing numerically. Yet, this growth can be misleading because other religions have steadily grown as well. America is more religiously diverse than ever.
This rise in religious diversity indicates that a a drastic shift in the prevailing influence on the mind and heart of our culture has occurred. Our social, political, moral, and intellectual landscape has changed, causing Christianity to no longer occupy a place of dominance. It is now just one of many voices being heard around the table of American religious and public life. This shift causes us to make a choice: We can romanticize the past, lament the change, refuse to accept it, and withdraw (even bitterly) from society. Or, we can accept the reality of the change and live our lives in the gospel in a way that ensures that our voices will be heard. You and I both know what the only biblical option is — to accept it and live so our voices are heard.
What has Happened?*
We have been overrun by barbarians. But, these contemporary barbarians are not like those who attacked ancient Rome and threatened its women and children with violence, or who stormed its borders and climbed its walls. They are far more civil, so civil that they are unrecognizable and have gained significant influence in our society and culture. Charles Colson explains:
“…[T]he invaders have come from within. We have bred them in our families and trained them in our classrooms. They inhabit our legislatures, our courts, our film studios, and our churches. Most of them are attractive and pleasant; their ideas are persuasive and subtle. Yet these men and women threaten our most cherished institutions and our very character as a people” (Colson, Against the Night, 23-24).
These new “non-threatening” barbarians see themselves as catalysts for building a better society — an inclusive society which they will build by making truth relative (relativism) and by elevating the rights of the individual (narcissism). This philosophy is nothing new. It is, however, more prevalent now than it has ever been in America, and it is leading to our demise, signaling “the death of a culture based on objective truth and civic virtue” (Ryken, City on a Hill, 18).
Simply put, relativism is the rejection of absolute truth, which leads to the opinion that reality itself depends upon one’s personal perspective. Reality adapts as each person finds what is true for him or her. Everyone has his or her own story, but there is no divinely ordained story that ties them all together. Thus, no one knows anything with objective certainty; it all depends on a particular point of view. A person’s worldview is only a matter of his or her opinion.
Because of its prevalence in all generations, relativism has had and continues to have tremendously negative effects in American culture and society. Perhaps the most troubling effects are seen in the areas of ethical and intellectual standards of science, law, medicine, and journalism, as well as the way our culture understands religion. At best, Christianity is just one of the many religious options for people, and, at worst, it is to be rejected because of its exclusive claims such as, “the Bible is God’s authoritative Word” or “Jesus Christ is the only Savior.”
Narcissism is radical individualism and/or an infatuation with oneself. Though there has always been a general narcissistic tendency in human culture because of human sinfulness, contemporary American culture has taken it to a new level by removing the constraints of an objective reality built upon objective truth. We now live in a time of unbridled individualism. Such an individualism, which emphasizes self-love, is quickly becoming a foundational virtue of American culture.
As is the case with relativism, narcissism effects the majority of Americans, not just the younger generations. And, the toll it is taking on our culture is equally pronounced. When people make value judgements and decisions regarding their behavior on the basis of self-love, they feel justified to do whatever is in their self-interest, without respect to their spouses, children, co-workers, and neighbors. This leads to the development of a consumer culture full of takers and critics, not givers and creators. Our culture is devoid, for the most part, of any notion of self-sacrifice, so even the simplest of tasks that require cooperation have become increasingly difficult.
As ancient Nineveh was, America is filled with people who do not know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11). They do not know what is true (if anything is true) and they are unable to do what is right, just and good. Essentially, they do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). And, we should not be surprised at this. Intellectual skepticism quickly leads to moral relativism because the standard of truth upon which morals are built is eroded by our skeptical presuppositions. People feel, therefore, alienated and abandoned because they are unable to connect to loving and living communities. Their skepticism causes doubt regarding the possibility of love and romance, not to mention marriage and family. Consequently, we live in a time when people are skeptical about the possibility of truth and serve themselves, causing them to be hesitant to engage and connect with other people.
What is Our Response to the Shift?
As I mentioned earlier, our only biblically acceptable response to this cultural shift is to accept it and to commit to living our lives in the gospel in such a way as to ensure that our voices are being heard. That means that with respect to the evangelical Christian Church we are to resist the temptation to think that we need to either: find a new way of “doing” church or to become more set in our traditional way of “doing” it. On one hand, we want to be relevant so that we are able to engage the people we have been called to reach for Christ. On the other hand, we don’t want to be so relevant that we do away with the distinctions that make us a church. We have to find that proper balance between these two extremes.
The Acts 2 Balance
The earliest Christians lived and breathed in times that were very similar to ours. They were certainly no strangers to relativism and narcissism. They also suffered from another deadly “ism,” syncretism, which wreaked havoc on their spiritual and religious climate. Yet, they found their balance and we are to learn from them.
Acts 2:42-47 gives us a remarkable description of how they built their church on the Lord Jesus in such a way as to have a tremendous impact in their world. This description also sheds light on their congregational and ministry priorities in the way that it reports the congregation’s activities. They devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (vs. 42), and they involved themselves in ministries of mercy, generosity, and outreach.
A Brief Discussion of the Essential Components
If we were to break each of those congregational priorities and activities found in Acts 2:42-47 down in detail, it would take pages upon pages to complete. And, that is NOT my desire! I want to give you a brief overview of, what I believe are, the essential components of the early church’s life. These are the things that must be emulated if we are to be faithful and effective in the 21st century. The Bible and our culture demands a church that is focused on worship, community, service and outreach.
Keep Plugging Along
As our culture continues its downward trajectory, our biblical responsibility is to continue doing things that we have always done, which are: standing strong on the Bible and the gospel and involving ourselves in worship, nurture, service and outreach. I am confident that we will experience organic and sustained spiritual and numerical growth as we maintain our biblical focus. We will also find that what God has given in the church is exactly what the post-Christian culture needs.
Therefore, congregations are to renew their commitment to being a congregation that exists to glorify God by developing mature, worshipping disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ for the advancement of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. May God bless us and make us more devoted disciples of Christ personally and establish our congregations firmly as congregations devoted to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
*My line of reasoning originated while reading Phil Ryken’s book, City on a Hill
This past Sunday our congregation heard from Romans 1:16-17 during our morning worship. These two short verses contain Paul’s justification for his conviction that the gospel must be believed and proclaimed throughout the world. The gospel is the dynamic, saving power of God for all who believe in Jesus. Its power is found in its revelation of the righteousness of God.
Paul was, therefore, not ashamed of the gospel. He was proud of it. He lived by it. He proclaimed it to the world. He devoted his life to it.
Wouldn’t it be great if all the followers of Jesus had the same pride in the gospel? The Church would be empowered, and the world would be changed for the glory of Christ. Marriages would be strengthened, parents would rear their children in godly homes, people’s finances would reflect godly priorities, business owners would treat their employees with grace, employees would work hard as working for the glory of Christ, politicians would exhibit godly character and make appropriate decisions, the poor and hurting would have their spiritual and physical needs met, and missionaries would be sent around the globe. Men, women and children would live their lives boldly with Christ as their goal and his Word as their guide. They would seek his glory and the good of those around them. It would be awesome in the truest sense of the word.
But, sadly, we know the reality. We struggle with fear. We have doubts. We cower in the face of opposition. We fall to the temptation to be ashamed to build our lives on the gospel story — a story about a man who claimed to be God, lived 2000 years ago, died on a cross and then rose from the dead, a story that the non-believing world labels a fairy tale.
Paul faced the same temptation. John Stott, following the lead of the Scottish pastor, James Stewart, argued that Paul would have never boldly asserted that he was unashamed of the gospel had he never been tempted to be ashamed of it (Stott, Romans, 60). Boldness and pride are relative words that find their fullest meaning in the context of fear and shame. So, when Paul emphatically stated, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…”, he meant that he had learned to overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel through the power of the risen Christ living in him in the person of the Holy Spirit.
The gospel is fanciful unless your eyes have been opened to it by the Spirit of God and your heart has been touched by his transforming grace in Christ. But, when that happens, you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the story is true. It is absolutely true. You, then, willingly build your life on it because it is the power of God. You proclaim it because it reveals the righteousness of God, not only to your soul, but to the world around you. And, you love it because it tells you about Jesus who is your only hope in this life and in the life to come.
May we be like Paul who learned through his experience of the power of God in his life to overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel and strove to live a bold Christian life and to proclaim Christ daily. And, may our confession be that which he wrote to Timothy, “But I am not ashamed, for I know I whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2Timothy 1:12).
We all have friends and family members that aren’t involved in a church. Some may be members of a church, but they aren’t by any means active. Others currently aren’t members of any church and probably have never been members of a church. We love them, and, like Paul, we feel obligated to share Jesus with them (Rom. 1:15). But we wonder how to do it effectively.
I offer you the following five helpful practices for sharing Jesus with your friends. May the Lord bless you with a rich harvest among your friends and family for his glory.