My family and I are on vacation in sunny central Florida this week. Thanks so much for allowing us this opportunity.
I have decided to post an article I read today from the Desiring God Blog. It is written by Jordan Kauflin. I hope it challenges you like it challenged me. Here it is.
A couple weeks ago, my wife and I went out to eat on a date. On a whim, we decided to go see a movie as well. Just like that. No preparation, we just decided and went. The lack of preparation had absolutely no bearing on how much we enjoyed the movie. After all, we just wanted to be entertained.
Unfortunately, we can often approach the Sunday meeting in a similar way.
How do you prepare to gather with your church family? Is your preparation limited to the frenetic collecting of your children, snacks, and diapers? Do you spend your time trying to convince yourself that going is better than sleeping in? Or maybe you don’t even think to prepare, because it’s just another routine that you’ve developed?
How we prepare for our Sunday gatherings is directly related to how much we benefit from our time together.
Two Common MistakesHere are two common errors we can make.
At times, we can prepare as spectators. We come mainly to watch, not participate. It’s like how I prepare to go see a sporting event. Besides making sure I’m not wearing the opposing teams colors, I don’t prepare much. I anticipate it, but my general attitude in going to a sporting event is, “Entertain me! Move me! Show me something amazing!” Or if you’re a loyal fan of a lousy team like I am, “Make me suffer!”
We can have the same attitude as we come to our Sunday gatherings. We come with the expectation, spoken or assumed, that everyone else needs to make sure we have a good time. I need my kids to be taken care of. I need people to seek me out. I need the music to sound a certain way. I need the preacher to stop speaking on time so that I can get on with my life. As for Jesus? Hopefully he shows up by his Spirit so I can have a spiritual, emotional experience that carries me through my week. We come as spectators, expecting to be served.
For some of us, we prepare for our Sunday gathering as workers. This is what I typically face as a vocational pastor. But it’s not limited to being a pastor. You might serve in your church as a children’s ministry worker, usher, setup team person, greeter, or hospitality person. We prepare much like we prepare for work (and for some, it really is work). We make a list of all the things we need to do. We make sure we leave on time. Our mind is filled with logistics and details. We remind ourselves how important our role is.
Preparing to meet with our church becomes an assessment of what we need to do rather than an excitement for how God might meet us. Maybe our gatherings even become a place where we derive our significance and self worth because of all the ways we serve, rather than a privileged opportunity to be with our family. Ever been there? I have.
So how should we prepare?
Prepare to ReceiveEvery time we gather as a church, God will speak to us as his word is preached, sung, read, and studied. Hearing from God is a weighty and glorious thing. Just read Exodus 19–20. To see God for who he is, to be overwhelmed by his greatness and holiness, to experience his presence, to see his boundless love and mercy, to encounter what should make our hearts tremble. Through Jesus, we can boldly come and receive (Hebrews 10:19–22), but confidence does not equal casualness. Prepare by asking God to help you receive his revelation with gratefulness and humility.
Prepare to RespondWhen God reveals himself to us, things happen. Experiencing God leads us to respond (Isaiah 6:8). Rather than being a spectator or a passive participant, our hearts are moved to worship because we have once again seen the beauty, greatness, holiness, mercy, and love of our God. We sing to him, confess our sins, receive his word preached, take communion, and give our finances, all in grateful response to seeing who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus.
Prepare for this Sunday by asking that God would help you rightly respond to him.
Prepare to Edify OthersOur worship doesn’t stop when the singing ends, or the preacher says, “Amen.” It continues as we greet, encourage, serve, pray for, exhort, and care for one another. God chooses to use people to edify his body (1 Corinthians 14:26). You and me. Isn’t that amazing?
Do you come to church expecting that God will use you? It might be as you serve practically, it might be as you take two minutes to pray for a friend, or greet a new person, or encourage a child. You have a part to play. This Sunday, prepare for gathering with your church family by asking God how he might use you to edify his church.
So how do you prepare to go to church? This Sunday, come ready to encounter God and respond to him in glad and grateful worship with your heart and life.
Yesterday at church we had a guest speaker and his wife, missionary colleagues of ours when we served in Brazil. And when I began thinking of what he said and how he said it, I was reminded of food, especially Brazilian food.
In every city in Brazil there are neighborhood bakeries. In the big cities that can be almost every other block. Every morning the neighborhood gets their freshly baked bread, lunch meat, cheese and milk for that day from those stores.
Besides the wonderfully delicious warm bread, they also make all kinds of deserts that they prominently display in glass cases. They all look absolutely scrumptious. They are intricately decorated with colored frostings and take on all kinds of shapes and sizes. On rare occasions I would buy one, hoping against hope that what I saw in the glass case would measure up to my taste buds expectations, but almost without exception, they always looked better than they tasted. What was packaged and presented so well, often was just a little better than cardboard.
So often, the church has fallen into this consumer mindset. We spend so much time and energy on packaging a product with very little return for the investment. Millions are spent on marketing, buildings, technology, research, you name it – all to make us look more attractive to the consumer, but little of it contributes their spiritual maturity (Colossians 1:28-29). They might like the frosting, but there is no nutritional value in the final product, because it isn’t about Christ.
Yesterday, it was about Jesus. The gospel – no frills. The word – Plain and simple. Nothing fancy in the message itself -three simple biblical points on a passage in Matthew 4:18-22 and then a challenge. And then there was nothing fancy about the man who presented the message (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Except that, we met man and his wife who adorned the message of the gospel with 50 years of faithful service (Philippians 1:27)
Now that was good!
Advancing and defending the Gospel
In the Scripture text that we studied yesterday (Acts 15:35-40) we see the missionary team in Philippi of at least 4 individuals(Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke) make a big deal about the defense and advancement of the Gospel.
In fact those two themes are themes that Paul and Timothy reiterate in the first chapter of their letter to the saints in Philippi almost 10 years later (Philippians 1:5,7,12,16,27-30).
Those two gospel centered decisions that day, had very long lasting implications in that city and church as we will see in our study (April-June, 2014) of Philippians. So much so that we still are talking about those decisions today.
Paul’s decision to challenge the magistrates decision to let them go free, but secretly (Acts 16:37) was not about vindicating Paul and Silas rights as Roman citizens, but an intentional strategy to defend the gospel from further political and religious persecution. The team, and Paul in particular was focused on the progress of the gospel in that city (Philippians 1:25). It made a Spirit empowered decision to challenge the way things are done.
Then after encouraging the saints gathered at Lydia’s house Acts 16:40, the team purposely left Luke, their companion in Philippi to advance the gospel in that city. (Acts 17:1). Take note of the pronouns Luke uses, in that verse.
So what do our decisions communicate to others about the relevance of the gospel in our culture? Do we even consider how our decisions defend and advance the gospel, or are we more preoccupied in how they will affect us personally.
Read the first chapter of Philippians today and see how much Paul is concerned that our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27). What are some of the implications of taking his exhortation seriously?
Do our decisions about our relationships (dating, marriage, business, church) communicate to our city that we are more about advancing the gospel than advancing our personal agendas? Am I willing to say both “no” and “yes” in my relationships for the defense of the gospel?
For example, if as confessing Christians, divorce is always a viable option for an unhappy relationship, are we really defending the transforming power of the gospel with our manner of life.
The divorce rate among believers today is not markedly different than the world. A generation of Christians were not consumed, like Paul, with the gospel, and did not consider the implications that their decisions would have on that gospel. A multitude of individual choices created a culture of divorce in the US that does not mirror the power of the gospel.
What about my job and personal advancement? Am I both willing to say “yes” and “no” to employment that neither advances the cause of the gospel or defends it.
For example, does the fact that more and more confessed evangelicals agree to work on Sunday during church, contribute to advancing the exclusive claims of the gospel over our lives? Aren’t we really communicating that going to church is expedient only when it doesn’t conflict with my personal agenda?
A multitude of individual choices in regards to church attendance has created a culture of indifference towards the gathering together of Christ body. We give up the teaching of the word, fellowship and prayer for just about anything that suits our fancy. ( Bad weather, sports, headaches, tiredness, work, play practice, time of service, length of service, preacher, music, you name it). It used to be that your neighbors knew something was different about you, because your car left the same time every Sunday morning and evening.
Next time you make a decision about anything, think and pray : How will my commitment to both the defense and advancement of the gospel influence my choices and how will those choices affect the generation to come?
2 Corinthians 5:13-15
13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Those of us who by God’s grace have believed in Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross should have a more diverse circle of friends and acquaintances than the world around us. The gospel reaches people from every social, economic, political, racial, cultural, demographic, and intellectual group and brings them together as God’s dear children.
Think about it. Most of the world builds their circle of friends around these classes and very rarely do they intentionally reach out beyond that in which they feel most comfortable. If I’m rich, I usually hang with those at my social standing or higher. I rarely go lower, unless I have too (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19 for positive Biblical approach).
If I happen to be a young person, those are my friends. Very rarely do I spend quality time in building relationship with the old folks and vice versa (see Titus 2:1-8 for positive Biblical approach).
If I’m into my family. Family is it (see Galatians 6:10 for positive Biblical approach).
But they really are no different than the most of us Christians. We do what is comfortable. We hang with our crowd.
But the gospel isn’t about our comfort. It is about breaking down all those barriers in a place called the church. God sovereign builds His Son’s church with people from every nation, tribe, peoples, and languages(Revelation 7:9). The gospel is about the glory of God. And God is glorified in diversity.
The message yesterday at church was about this very truth. God brings together in Philippi, a diverse group of people, by His grace and for His glory to form a church. A rich religious woman, an exploited demon-possessed slave girl and a hardened Roman soldier/jailer. People who probably under normal circumstances would have never met, but by God’s grace now worship together the same risen Savior.
Does our church reflect the glory of God in its diversity? Are we excited and grateful for all the brothers and sisters that God has brought our way. Now it is very possible, even within the sovereignly orchestrated diversity that God ordains each church to have, that we can still choose to mingle and fellowship within our church with those who are most like us.
The gospel is bigger than our personal comfort. At its core a Holy(think set apart) God, sent His only Son to become man. The distant between you and your brother is never greater than the distance between God and us and Jesus bridged that gap. The gospel bridges all gaps between my Christian brothers .
Because of the Gospel’s power to unite, make the effort this week to fellowship with a Christian brother or sister from our body that is different from you socially, economically, politically, culturally, intellectually or demographically – to the GLORY OF GOD!
This is my humble attempt to contribute Christ honoring blog posts to the internet. For me, writing is a struggle, but that encourages me, because in my weakness Christ is glorified (1 Corinthians 1:20-31). I am not much for the internet either, and am Social Media adverse, but I’m learning.
But, this is what I would like to do for the body of believers banded together at GRACE CHURCH in Lebanon, Indiana and our small community of Lebanon.
I would like to commit a part of every Monday, reflecting on the Word of God, preached the day before. I will try to be consistent on MONDAYS. Don’t expect me to post every day., as that would be way too time consuming. And, please don’t expect me to comment on the comments, if there are any. Let’s use this blog to encourage one another for the GLORY OF GOD and to reach the lost with the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ
Yesterday’s passage was our continuing study in the books of Acts. We started at the beginning of 2013 and have taken some detours along the way, but are back in it for a short time, before we begin our series in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Actually, yesterday’s sermon, and the next two, will set up our series in Philippians, because we are in Acts 16.
Almost immediately after the sermon, God placed on my heart a thought that has stuck with me. So often, in our attempts to penetrate our community, we strategize on how we can attract them to the gospel. Often times it is more about adding that denial. Most often, it is with the implementation of some new program or some addition to our physical building. Maybe we feel we need to add a New Praise Team, or a new youth room, or new signage and a web presence, or a new blog. The list could go on ad infinitum (forever).
But, in our passage yesterday (Acts 16:1-10), we saw that Saul and Silas were not preoccupied with attracting people to the gospel, but attracting them with the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the good news that God gave up his Son for the sake of sinners ( I Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul, Silas, and Timothy (especially) were literally willing to forsake a little piece of skin (Acts 16:3) for the sake of the gospel. Jesus said that the gospel is denying yourself, taking up the cross, and following Him (Mark 8:34). To them it was less about adding that giving up.
We like the "feel good" strategy of attracting people to the gospel. If we are honest, new programs, buildings, praise bands and blogs are often more about ourselves, than the lost. Not always, of course, but search us, O God (Psalm 139:23-24).
How willing are you and I to give up something that reflects the true nature of the gospel that transformed us? What are we willing to do for the sake of our neighbors? What are we willing to give up (time, money, comfort, reputation, or personal preferences)?
It is quite possible that when our community sees that GRACE CHURCH of Lebanon, Indiana, is living out the gospel, by being willing to lay their lives down for the sake of others, instead of building it up for ourselves, Christ Jesus will be truly magnified in changed lives.