I’m consistently amazed how we can start studying something months ago, using commentaries written over a hundred years ago, studying a catechism written 450 years ago, based on scriptures written thousands of years ago – and how they all speak directly to our needs for today. Truly, our Lord, His Holy Spirit and “the word of God [are] living and active” (Heb 4:12).
Please open up to Matthew 7:7-11.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
A couple weeks ago, before we were interrupted by winter deciding to come all at once, we studied how God is not only the Almighty, Creator of the Universe, but also a loving Father. To quote the Heidelberg,
“That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father. In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.” (Q.26)
Today’s study picks up on one of the words in that answer and explains it further. It’s the word “provide”. The more I study the Heidelberg, the more I like it, especially because this is such a natural next question.
I can imagine sitting with someone and having this conversation. We talked a bit about this last time. I ask them, “Do you believe in God?”, they give some vague answer like we heard, and then they ask me, “Ok, what do you believe about God?” and, like a good boy, I give answer #26. But, what’s their natural next question? “But you’re life isn’t perfect. How can you say that God is all-powerful and all-good and all-loving, but so many of His faithful followers are going through such rough times? What about the terrible tragedies we see all the time?”
Question 27 asks that same question,
“What do you mean by the providence of God?”
How do you reconcile that God is your great provider when at the same time you are in want?
Right? We just read that Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…. how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” So what gives? Why isn’t every Christian on earth healthy, wealthy, safe, and comfortable? What do you mean by saying God is your provider and you trust Him?
The answer in the Heidelberg goes as follows:
“God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”
Question 28 follows,
“What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?”
In other words, “So what?”. If the answer to, “What do you mean that ‘God provides’?” is that “everything happens according to His plan”, that doesn’t really answer why Christians aren’t healthy, wealthy, safe, and comfortable, does it? So, the next, logical question is, “How does it help you to know that all things come by the hand of God, even if some of those things are tragedies and adversity?”
The answer to 28 is that it means,
“We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
This is what it means to have faith in a God that is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving. It means that we believe that whatever happens, whether “rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, health and sickness, riches and poverty…” they all come by the hand of a loving, faithful, wise, good, God who knows what is best – even when I don’t understand or agree with Him. In a word, it means “trust”. I go back to that line in answer 26,
“In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.”
God Tickets and Stuffed Bears
This doesn’t make sense to most people, even Christians, especially Western Christians, because, just like so many before us, we equate comfort and wealth with God’s blessing. If times are good, then we must be doing things right and have enough faith – but if times are bad, then that means we did something wrong and God is either mad at us or we don’t have enough faith. But that’s absolutely NOT how God works. The Bible says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) The idea that God is only good to good people, faithful to faithful people, loving towards loving people, generous to generous people, is unbiblical, and a dangerous thought for believers to have.
Why? Because it means that our faith, our forgiveness, our peace, our joy, our provision, our hope, is in our hands. It means that our faith is transactional – that we spend our good-boy and good-girl tokens at the God store and He dispenses blessings. We treat God like one of those arcades where you play games and get tickets. You’ve been to one of those, right? Where if you do well at skee-ball, hit the right number on the spinning thing, sink enough shots in the basketball game, that it spits out tickets to spend at the little shop so you can get a prize. Sometimes we treat God like that. We think that if we do enough good deeds we’ll gain enough tickets to spend on blessings and miracles. And if God’s not giving us what we want or need, it means we don’t have enough tickets for that item so we need to try harder.
But what’s that doing to our heart? When you go to one of those arcades and look at the items, and finally find that one thing you want – the video game, the giant bear, the cool shirt – what do you immediately think? That it takes way too many tickets. They want 20,000 tickets for that bear and the skee-ball machine only spits out like 12 at a time. This place is unfair. It’s a scam. We start to think of God like that. God’s unfair. God’s asking too much. God is a scam.
Or say we do really good at the games, hit lots of jackpots, sink a tonne of baskets, and get those 20,000 tickets. When we walk up to the counter to get our prize, what are we thinking? “I’m so great. I’m such an awesome person. Look at all the work I’ve done, the good I’ve done, and wow, do I ever deserve this blessing. I’ve earned it. I’m the best. God, all I need from you is for you to exchange these good deeds for that miracle, please. Then I’ll talk to you later once I’ve built up my stash again.”
Believing God’s provision to be transactional does not lead to faith in God, dependence on God, trust in God, hope in God, believe that God’s way is best – it leads to either pride or despair. Pride that you’ve done so many wonderful things that you’ve earned all the good in your life and didn’t need Jesus at all – or despair that you will never be able to do enough good deeds to get the really nice prizes from God, because God is unfair. Both of those are terribly dangerous versions of faith – but are very popular in the world.
What’s the solution to that type of thinking? Trust. And how does God grow trust in His people? By giving us opportunities to trust Him, so that we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that we cannot be our own saviours or our own providers.
Ask, Seek, Knock & James
Many people here can attest that this is true. That, it was during times of struggle or lack that they learned the most about God’s love and provision. That, it was during times of pain and confusion that they learned the most about God’s comfort and care. That, it was during times of fear and worry that their pride was finally broken and they came to God for help and learned what it meant that He is their almighty, loving Father. Sure, there were times of anger, whining, complaining, lashing out, depression – but at some point in all that, they fell to their knees, gave up trying to control the situation, gave up believing in their own goodness and willpower, and realized that God doesn’t just love them sometimes, only when they are good, but at all times, and that He will “turn to… good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow” because His love and provision is present and active even in adversity.
The man in that video figured it out and showed it through patience, service, and faithful tithing. He could have reacted a lot of different ways – self-pity, anger, grasping every penny, threats and arguments, refusing any work that wasn’t in his own skill set – but he didn’t. He took the jobs as they came with a thankful heart, waited patiently, gave faithfully, and allowed God to be His provider. That’s how it works in the Christian life.
That’s why Jesus says in that passage in Matthew 7, “Ask… seek… knock…”. It is when we stop struggling, gathering, controlling, hoarding, fighting, and eating ashes, and finally relent and come to God, humbly realizing that He is our saviour and provider (and we are not) that He can work.
To “ask” God for something requires that we not only understand that we have a need, but a need we cannot provide for. Why would we ask for something we know we can just get for ourselves? To “seek” means to connect those prayer requests to a life of faith, seeking “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, knowing “all these things will be added to you” as you are seeking because God knows what you need (Matthew 6:32-33). To “knock” means to persevere in that faith and in that seeking.
Why doesn’t God just answer when we “ask”? Why does He require we “seek” and “knock” as well? Because we are such slow-learning creatures. These lessons take such a long time to learn.
Consider the words of James, written to Christians spread around the Roman world, who were suffering through persecution and poverty, oppression from without and conflict and church splits within, and the temptation to give up. Turn with me there, and we’re going to jump around a bit, but I want you to see the whole argument. Start in chapter 1:2-4.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.…”
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change….
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions…..
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful….
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 1:2–4, 16–17; 4:2–3; 5:7–11; 13–18)
Remember The Prophets
I know that’s a large section of scripture, but I think it’s critically important for us to read today, because we need to understand that God is our provider and He is worthy of our trust. Sometimes we need to be reminded that God loves you where you are at right now and is more than willing to provide what you need. Not what you want, but what you need. Sometimes we don’t have because we do not ask. Sometimes we don’t have because we ask with wrong motives. Sometimes we don’t have because God is doing something special in our lives and the only way for us to become steadfast, perfect and complete in our faith, the only way for Him to build our faith-muscle, our faith-skill, is for Him to use “trials of various kinds” that require us to go through a time of testing.
In James 5:10 it says that when we get narrow-minded, near-sighted, and confused about God’s love we should look to those who came before. “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” In other words, we hold in high esteem those who go through tough times and come out the other side even more faithful than when they went in, right? So, when you are facing difficult times – trials, lack, fear, confusion, persecution, uncertainty – I want you to turn to two places.
First, to scripture, to remember what the lives of faithful people in the Bible looked like. Jesus was the most loving, faithful, perfect, most spiritual, most giving, person to ever live. How did His life go? Times of rest, times of testing, times of suffering, times of success, times of betrayal, and in the end, He was crucified for crimes He didn’t commit, and then rose to life in the greatest victory in history. We follow in Christ’s footsteps, do we not? So we too will also see times of rest, testing, suffering, success, betrayal, death, and victorious resurrection.
Consider the life of Paul. Same thing, right? A terrible sinner who hated Christians converted by a miracle to become a great missionary and faithful servant of Jesus. When he was a Christian killing Pharisee, he had power and prestige. When he became a follower of Jesus he followed in the footsteps of Christ – times of rest, testing, suffering, success, betrayal, death, and victorious resurrection. Who would make the trade from oppressor to oppressed? Paul did. Why? Paul answers this way in Philippians 3:7-8
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Consider the life of Joseph. Blessed and loved from birth as a favoured son. Given great revelations from God of the power and influence He would have. And what was God’s preparation ground for that greatness? To be hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, to be falsely accused, and spend years in prison.
Consider Job, the most righteous man on earth. His life was full of blessings. But what was God’s plan for him? The same path as Jesus and many believers. To use Job to show Satan what real faith looks like, and to teach the world a lesson about faith that would be passed on for generations. What did that look like in Job’s life? God allowed everything he had to be destroyed in a day.
What was Job’s reaction?
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’” (Job 1:20–22)
Those are the words of a man who understood and trusted God as his provider.
And I could keep going with names. If you know scripture, you know that this is the standard pattern for all those who are faithful to God. It is normal for God to send “trials of many kinds” to his people for our good and His glory.
But I told you that there are two places to turn. First, to scripture, and second, to other believers. Certainly, to those in this church who have experienced adversity and anxiety and who have faced it with faith and hope, because they are right here. This is one of the greatest values of small groups and home groups – which I hope you are in – because they allow you to not only share your concerns but also hear from other people who have gone through (or who are going through) similar times.
But these Christians don’t just need to be in our church, they can also be elsewhere. Like the stories on RightNow Media, or in books and movies.
And so, I want to close with a clip from a man that I admire as a faithful, godly, Christian pastor. He is a famous author who has written around 90 books that have sold millions and millions of copies. But he does something that not too many other authors do. First, a lot of his books are available free on his website, but the second one might surprise you.
That’s a man who understands the danger of losing sight that God is his provider and has set up boundaries in his own life to make sure he never forgets.
We do a data dump of the best resources for every stage of the Christian life. Whether you are a new believer, have some years in the church, or are a longtime elder, you’ll find something to challenge you!
Pilgrim Theology – Michael Horton
ESV Study Bible
NIV Life Application Study Bible
Reformation Study Bible
John MacArthur Study Bible
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Abridged and in Modern English) by Tony Lane & Hilary Osborne
Podcast: The Briefing by Albert Mohler
Podcast: Mortification of Spin
Podcast: Renewing Your Mind by RC Sproul
Vodcast: Look at the Book by John Piper
40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible by Robert Plummer
Knowing God by JI Packer
Core Christianity by Michael Horton
Gospel and Kingdom by Graham Goldsworthy
What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile
The Peacemaker by Ken Sande
The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman
Podcast: The Whitehorse Inn by Michael Horton
Preachers: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper…
Biographies: Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Confessions of St Augustine, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Martin Lloyd Jones.
Ligonier Ministries Resources: Tabletalk Magazine, “Connect”
The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols
Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Are Christians Allowed to have Fun? (Entertainment, Indulgence and Christian Hedonism) (Carnivore Theology: Ep 38)
The 38th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.
Are Christians Allowed to Have Fun?
It is difficult in the North American life style, to find a balance between work and play, especially when the world is telling us that he who dies with the most toys wins. On the other hand, because of modern conveniences, many people have more free time to enjoy life. How do we balance our entertainment and rest life with a life of service to God? With all of these good things, how does one reconcile what that Bible says about service and sacrifice?
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Church Attendance: Getting the Most out of Sunday Service (Part 2) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines
Sunday morning isn’t the sum of the Christian faith experience, but it can be a conduit, a beginning to it, if we take the time and effort to prepare ourselves and be ready for what God wants for us for each Sunday morning. I spent some time yesterday going through the first five ways we can prepare ourselves and get the most out of the Church service and today we’re going to jump right into the last five. As I told you before, this sermon is an expansion of a top-ten list that John Piper posted on his blog a while back.
6. Forbear One Another on Sunday Morning
His full title for this section was “Forebear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.”
We should already know that there are lots and lots of different kinds of Christians. God calls all kinds of people into His Kingdom. And because we are not the same, it stands to reason that we are not going to agree on everything all the time. We are going to have different opinions, styles and ideas – not about core issues, but about non-essential things that have to do with our personal preferences. Some people like having flowers up here, others don’t. Some people want to have more music, others less. Some think that church should have a certain dress code, others believe that church definitely shouldn’t have a dress code. None of this is core to the faith, and it creates many disagreements among brothers and sisters that make Satan laugh.
Do you want to know the best way to ruin your Sunday morning, or someone else’s? Start grumbling. Grumbling is demonic, did you know that? It’s a sin. Muttering under your breath, rolling your eyes, making others feel small, elevating your own opinion above others… all sin. Grumbling will ruin your Sunday morning because you won’t be able to see the good things going on, but only the bad. It’s like putting on the sunglasses and gas-mask I talked about during the anniversary service. Grumbling comes from a bitter, upset heart.
Listen to the words of Philippians 2:14-15:
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Every Sunday there is a demonic little voice inside your head that says:
“You deserve more.
Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
Your opinion outweighs others.
Everything is miserable.
Nothing’s going right.
You mentioned this and it didn’t change.
You should go somewhere else.
You should let others know how upset you are about this, but don’t tell them because nothing will happen… just grump around.
Feed the bitter root.
Start an argument with someone about something trivial.
It’s your right to complain and since everyone is here at church, this is the best time.”
Grumbling is a temptation for families on the way to church, when they arrive at church, during service, and then after service as well. There are lots of opportunities to grumble, ever Sunday morning.
So how do we combat this? By making the choice to have a longer fuse on Sunday morning.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with [Forbear] each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
What that means is that we give each other the same grace and forgiveness we have been given by God through Jesus Christ. We embody the gospel in our relationships to one another.
Does this mean that we just ignore everything and never have a conversation about what we like or dislike? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we just suck-it-up and drop it –
James 1:19 says that we are to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
But other times, when we just can’t let it go, on Sunday morning we must “forbear”. To forbear means to refrain, abstain, hold back, and to be patient and self-controlled when you are annoyed or provoked. It means to hang on to it for a little bit and wait for the right time and place, and then privately talk to the right person about the issue to come to a peaceful resolution. Wait until Monday or Wednesday after you’ve had a chance to think and pray about it, and then if you still have a problem, call that person on the phone, or better, invite them over for coffee.
We don’t want to be like the people described in Psalm 106:25 where it says “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Nobody wins when we grumble against each other and then refuse to gather together because of our own hard hearts.
7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come
James 1:21 says, “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” This goes for all of us, including me. If we show up thinking we know it all, have a chip on our shoulder, and assume that we are God’s gift to the Church, then we are going to get absolutely nothing out of Sunday service.
Scriptures says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” so if you are sitting in service thinking “I could run sound or powerpoint better than that. I could sing better, pray better, read better, teach better, play better, or make better coffee…” then scripture says God is opposing you this morning. I know I sometimes struggle with this whenever I go to another church. I have to be extra careful that I don’t harbour critical thoughts.
When it comes to the sermon, to come with meekness and humility doesn’t mean that you are blindly accepting every word I say as though I’m Moses or the Apostle Paul. Dr. Piper says this:
“Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.”
The simple point here is to come asking the question, “What does God want to say to me through the people who are leading the service this morning?” The service leader prepares an opening scripture… what did God say to you during that reading? Did you miss a blessing because you forgot to listen? The music was prayed over and specially chosen. Did you pay attention to the words and what the Spirit of God was doing during the singing? Were you paying attention to the offertory prayer? Maybe God had a message for you there. What does God want to tell you in this sermon, at this time? If you come with a “longing to be changed” and a “meek and humble openness to God’s truth”, He will do something special.
Let me also say this: I love teaching and if you want to challenge something I’ve said, something I’ve done, something you think you’ve heard, or whatever else about me or the service, let’s talk about it during the week. Contact me or let’s set up another time so we can chew the issue out together.
8. Purposefully Focus Your Mind on God
When you come into the sanctuary, sometimes there is a lot of noise, kids, music practicing and activity. I praise God for that activity, because I’ve been in churches where it’s more like a mausoleum and that’s depressing. No matter the conditions of the room, when you come in seek to “focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on God.”
What do you do when you first pull up into the church parking lot? That’s a great time to start obeying Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take the steps from your car to the church to prepare yourself for service. When you enter the sanctuary, focus your mind on why you are here, Who you are here to meet, and then choose to give you attention to God.
Perhaps just a quick prayer to God, thanking Him for this place, these people, this time, and asking Him to begin tilling the soil of your heart so you are prepared to receive Him. Something simple like, “God, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here. I want to meet you today.”
Come expecting to meet God because He is here to meet with you! Socializing is really good, and I encourage everyone here to be super-friendly and loving and supportive… but taking that moment to focus on God will change your whole attitude. Maybe, as the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” for just a little while.
9. Think About What is Sung, Prayed and Preached.
We’ve covered this a bit already, but the encouragement here is to keep your brain in gear. One of my struggles in life is not activating my mind – it’s focusing it. I have to make a conscious effort each week to read the words on the screen, sing them with meaning, and not go into auto-pilot even during the sermon. Do you ever go on auto-pilot during the service, and then wake up an hour later and can’t remember what happened? I’ve done that, and I can’t tell you how many blessings I’ve missed out on.
1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”.
Some of us were raised on Michael Bay films and Teletoon, and have been conditioned towards 30 second attention spans. I’m sure some of us could really use a commercial break or two during in the middle of the message. My encouragement is to do your best to stay with me, and stay with the music. I’ll try to prepare something worth hearing, if you’ll make the effort to listen.
It’s a good habit to try to memorize the songs so that you can sing them during the week without using the PowerPoint so you can close your eyes and concentrate on God. It’s a little depressing when the PowerPoint goes down and no one remembers a song they’ve sang 50 times. Open your ears, you minds and your hearts to listen to the words God is bringing to you.
10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More than You Desire Riches or Food.
1 Peter 2:2 tells us: “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
This is something that comes as you mature in Christ. I know you can’t simply will yourself to want the word of God more, but you can put yourself in a place where you learn that the Word of God is of more value to you than anything you could possibly buy, and where you realize that it provides greater sustenance than anything you could possibly eat.
“as you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:9-11 says about the Words of God.” (Piper) They are “true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
They really are. The words contained within the Bible, the Spirit which empowers them, the God who wrote them, the Lord Jesus whom they are all about, are good, precious, filling, wonderful, and are worthy to build our lives on.
A Christian church service can give you a taste of heaven and a hint of what Christian maturity is all about. Sunday morning service, if you let it, can give you a thirst for God, a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, and help you want a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus.
Church Attendance: Getting The Most out of Sunday Service (Part 1) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines
Attending Church is one of the Four Core Christian Disciplines, but some believers are not in the habit of attending church on a consistent basis — or, hop from church to church seeking to find the perfect place to “get fed”. Being around other believer is an important and complex endeavour. We come to church from a variety of different situations, perspectives and backgrounds, with different needs and requirements to get the most out of our time at church. Consider how different we are.
A Diverse Group
Most of us are busy people. There’s a lot going on these days. It’s summer, the weather is warming up and it’s time to for yard-work, fishing and vacation. There have been a lot of sports finals to watch, and even more coming this summer, so there’s lots to be interested in. It’s block-buster movie season so there’s lots of good things playing at the theatre. There’s a tonne going on in local, provincial and national news – not to mention all the global crisis’ that we are supposed to keep up with. Some of you have some very serious things on your mind, experiencing troubles with your family or friends while others are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s all of our other day-to-day tasks and events. We’ve got a lot on our plates.
Physically speaking, some are feeling pretty good, had a great rest, a nice breakfast and can’t wait to get to whatever you’re doing later today. Others had really rough sleep last night and can barely stay awake. Maybe you’re feeling physically ill today or have been in chronic pain.
Practically speaking some of you are visual learners and have a hard time listening to someone speak for a long time – so just the idea of a 35 minute lecture puts you to sleep – so you stare at the PowerPoint hoping that it will keep you interested. Others of you are auditory learners and get distracted by the PowerPoint. Some of you are tactile learners who are having a really tough time right now because you’re having to sit still and try to pay attention, so you have to fiddle with a pen or tap your foot, or do something or you’ll go bananas.
There were some people who like “church music”, others don’t. Some like guitar, others piano. Some like to sing, others don’t. Some love going upstairs to hang out with people, others just want to get in and out without being bothered by a bunch of people who don’t really care about them anyway.
Some looked at the title and thought “that might be interesting”, others groaned knowing this had nothing to do with them. Some people are mad at other people. Some are mad at people who aren’t even alive anymore. Some have been hurt but won’t show it. Some are barely holding it together, hoping that no one notices. Others are desperately hoping someone will notice. Some are wondering why the intro is so long and wondering when we are going to get into the Bible. Others are glad there’s an intro because there’s been way too many verses for them to follow lately. Some have a deep, growing and flourishing relationship with their friend, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Others don’t even know what that looks like.
So, with all this diversity of background, levels of spiritual maturity, emotional and relational baggage, personal preferences, unique life situations, and learning styles, how can we possibly create a Sunday morning experience that helps everyone in the church grow closer to God, learn more about Jesus, worship Him in an intimate, personal way, grow closer in relationships with the group, and then go home blessed, comforted, uplifted and challenged to apply something new to their lives throughout the week. That’s a tall order!
You Have What You Need
Here’s the thing:
If God is present with us,
Jesus is alive and active,
and the Holy Spirit is still powerful,
then you already have everything you need
to experience Him no matter where you are.
If you’re at church and the worship music is well rehearsed, has God-honouring lyrics, and presented with excellence, regardless of style a path to worship is available for you to take. If the Bible is being read and preached with humility and truth, then there is something to learn. And i you are surrounded by people who love Jesus, then I believe we have some very good conditions to see God do some special and amazing things. Yes, we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes the songs are a little off, and my sermon is boring, and the technology doesn’t work, and the room is too hot or cold… but by and large, I believe deep in my heart that most church services are fertile ground for God to grow our spirits each week.
What must be done is for you and I to come in a receptive condition for what God wants to do. We must stop using others as the excuse for our own spiritual weakness and realize that getting the most out of the Sunday morning experience falls on us as individuals.
Getting the Most out of Sunday Service
So if that’s right, then the question we must ask ourselves is this: “How can I ensure that when I come to church I can experience the presence of God, worship Jesus from the bottom of my heart, obey Him in whatever He desires, and walk away encouraged and challenged as a disciple of Jesus each Sunday?” In short, “What can I do to get the most out of Sunday Service?”
I read an article by Pastor John Piper a while back called “Take Heed How You Hear” where he presents 10 different ways we can ensure that we are spiritually ready for whatever God wants to do during the Sunday service. I found them very helpful, and I believe you will too.
1. Pray that God Would Prepare Your Heart
So, as we’ve been saying all along, prayer is where all of our spiritual development begins. I went through a book a while back called “Power through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds which was written to preachers to implore them to realize the desperate necessity of constant and passionate prayer. One of his points was that no matter how good the scholarship, the illustrations, the force, the emotion, and excellence of the delivery of the sermon, it will mean nothing – and could even do damage to the people listening if it is not built on the foundation of a prayerful relationship with God.
But it works both ways. Those who come to listen, to sing, to serve, to give, and to learn need to come with their hearts prepared to receive. Piper says, “The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we [have to] pray for it.” A soft heart for God isn’t something we can generate within ourselves, it must come from God. Remember Ezekiel 36:26 where God says “I will give you a new heart.” We’ve covered this many times before, but remember that if we don’t take time to ask God to prepare our hearts, we have no chance of being changed by the music we sing, the word we hear, or the believers around us.
Think of your heart as a cup. If we come each week full of jealousy, pride, covetousness, fear, sin, unrighteous anger, worldly pleasure, or anything else, what else can fit into it?
Think of your heart as soil. If the soil is hard and dry, and hasn’t been tilled and turned over, softened by the healing rains of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then whatever seeds of change are cast out by the music, offering, prayers, sermon, service or fellowship will just bounce off the ground and won’t take root.
Our prayer each week should be before we come on Sunday, “[Lord, I don’t know what you have for me at church today, but please] give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.” (JP)
2. Feed Yourself During the Week
Don’t let the Sunday service be the first and last place you see God’s Word, worship Jesus, and talk to Him each week. The Christian life is so much more than Sunday morning! The meat and potatoes of your faith happen during the week – this is just the appetizer before the meal that will be your week.
Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” Imagine that the word of God is your food, and prayer, worship and fellowship is like your drink. It is certainly nourishment for your soul, but what if it also affected your body. What if you only ate and drank once a week? What if you starved yourself the whole week long and then came crawling into the building each week, famished and exhausted for the one meal you know will be set for you. Would you enjoy the food? Would it help you grow and strengthen your muscles? No, you would come in starving, barely surviving, and when it was served you wouldn’t treasure it, smell it, taste it and enjoy it… would you? You’d barely taste it, and it wouldn’t be enough. Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it and might even make you sick because you’re not used to eating.
Sunday morning can’t be your whole spiritual diet. Think of it like a big pot-luck dinner with your family and friends each week. It’s a special time where you get to experience foods that you don’t have to make, and which you don’t usually get. It’s a place you can savour, and pause, and converse over the food, push back from the table and drink from your cup, try things you’ve never experienced, and lean over to people and say “try this, it’s good!”.
If you’ve ever heard someone say that they left a church because “they weren’t being fed”, I would almost guarantee that they didn’t have the practice of feeding themselves during the week. “Not being fed” isn’t a biblical excuse to leave a church. Heresy, which is where the church is serving poison food, is a good reason to leave a church.
I promise that if you come prepared by feeding yourself the word, and drinking in prayer, worship and fellowship regularly during the week, that you will have a much better appetite for Sunday morning and will enjoy it more and grow more quickly in Christ.
3. Purify Your Mind
A corrupt, sinful, indulgent heart and mind will dramatically affect your spiritual life during the week and on Sunday mornings. You know this, but perhaps you don’t realize how dramatically it effects your attitudes towards worship, study, prayer and other Christians.
James 1:21 says that Christians need to be, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Philippians 4:8 implores us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is a challenge to me because I’ve incorporated worldly entertainment into my rest time. I’m not as bad as I once was, but it’s still something I have to watch and be careful of.
Let me read directly from Piper on this because I’m not sure I would have ever written this sentence myself.
“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship.”
Chew on that for a moment. Consider the tv shows and movies that you watch and ask if they are banal (meaning unoriginal, obvious and boring), empty, silly and trivial. I only get about 5 channels on my TV, but if I ever turn it on to surf I always regret it because it really is empty, silly, trivial and boring. It’s like eating cotton or listening to white-noise – just empty filler with no redeeming quality.
Worse, perhaps, are the shows and movies that are titillating, suggestive and immodest. The most popular shows today, on the specialty channels like HBO, Showcase and Spike have these sensuality designed into them! You say you want to watch it for the plot, the action, etc., but right along with is sexual immorality, suggestive themes, and outright pornography.
Watching these shows makes us small in our minds – because we import no new, good, helpful information. It makes us weak in our spirits – because we are consistently giving Satan more and more images and memories to distract, tempt and entice us to sin. It messes up our vision of reality and creates unholy and unrealistic desires that make us unhappy and discontent.
It would be amazing if Christians could stop putting this stuff in their brains altogether, but at the very least, let’s try to make Saturday night a “garbage free zone” where we only watch or read “something true and great and beautiful and pure and honourable and excellent and worthy of praise.” I love how Piper says the result will be,
“Your heart will shrivel and be able to feel greatness again.”
I have felt that shrivelling of my heart before, and I have also experienced God unshrivelling it and filling my heart back up to make it full and ready for Him. I know that there are some people who have slain this demon already and can attest to this truth too. This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand and begin afraid of culture, or about throwing our TV’s out and never going to the theatre. It’s about being able to focus our hearts on God. Can you imagine how different your Sunday morning would be if it began on Saturday night?
4. Settle Your Mind
This is all about trusting in the truth that you already have so you can grow and develop more truths. Some people have struggles with their faith that they just can’t get past, and it is a roadblock to their spiritual development. They come week after week, but they are not growing because they are stuck on one or two big questions that make them doubt God, their Salvation, their Faith and the grace of God.
There are other people who have many answers, but have not put them into practice. They are theoretical, but they have not become real. This means that they never really learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them because it never goes from their mind to their heart and hands – so God keeps repeating the same lesson over and over and over because they’ve never taken the step of obedience so they can move to the next lesson.
The encouragement here is to settle certain things in your minds – and move on. If you have a struggle with some aspect of Christianity then investigate those areas and settle them in your minds so you might be able to extend your roots deep into the soil. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Do the work of learning what God says, do what needs to be done practically to make that real, and then settle your heart and mind on that subject.
For example: If you come every week doubting that the Holy Spirit is real and wonder if the book He wrote may not be truth, then you will not be able to grow deeper. If so, then you need to read, study, and talk to me and other believers about the authority of the scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. Do the work, have it settled, then move on.
If you spend your week in difficulty and wonder if God is good or bad, present or absent, it will stunt your spiritual growth. Settle in your hearts that your immortal soul was purchased once and for all on the cross by Jesus Christ, that if God is for you who can be against you, and that there is nothing you can do to earn or lose your salvation because it is the free gift of grace. If you have to wonder each moment if you are good enough to be accepted by God, or if the sin you committed means God doesn’t love you today, then there is no way you will be able to worship effectively, pray personally, sing joyfully or listen to the Bible attentively. When trials come, if your roots are not deep, and your faith is unsettled, your faith will fail you.
If God has been working on you in an area of obedience like how much time you spend doing something so you can avoid your family, indulging in pornography or courting an affair, something that you need to change in your attitude or outlook, or something you need to give away… whatever it is… it’s my experience that your spiritual growth will be stunted and stalled until you deal with that area. You can tinker with the car engine, adjust the mirrors, clean the carpets and get all the pretty decorations you want, but if your tires are flat, you’re not going anywhere.
5. Get Some Sleep on Saturday Night
This one seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says this, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” That’s Bible talk for “Yes, you’re an adult and you can go to bed whenever you want… but being an adult also means doing the right and responsible thing.”
There is no law for what you are supposed to do or not do on a Saturday night. There is no bedtime or specific bible verses that say what you are supposed to be doing the night before. Sure, you’ve got some guidelines about drunkenness and orgies, but there are lots of things you can do on Saturday nights that aren’t sin, but that will absolutely ruin your Sunday morning worship experience. When you are tired you are more susceptible to temptation and Satan can use your weakened physical state to distract you, play with your emotions, and enslave you. And you get into a cycle of lack of sleep and then spend the day jacked up on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, then you are absolutely destined to fall for temptation – you’re easy prey.
And when you add the spiritual side of coming to church – the battle that rages to keep Christians away from worship, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of believers, then you are in real trouble. Lack of sleep is something people use to torture the enemy and weaken their resolve so they will crack under pressure. Sunday morning is a spiritual battleground, and sleepy soldiers are no help to anyone.
I like what Piper says here too:
“Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel [is to] decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.”
I read that knowing that I need to learn it too. I’ve built some boundaries that have really changed my life and my Sunday morning experience, but I need to do better for my own spirit and my family’s’ as well. I hope that you will pray though this list and that you will grow on Sunday mornings even more.
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There are few things that move my heart more than the topic of abortion and there has been much talk about it lately. I hope you have been following along, but if you are like most evangelical Christians, you probably haven’t. In fact, if you are like most believers, you don’t really know much about the abortion debate at all, let alone the philosophical, scientific and biblical arguments against it.
Over and over during the commentators on both sides have talked about how much misinformation and misunderstanding there is about abortion. I myself am amazed by the lack of understanding on the part of Christians regarding the importance of this subject and saddened that most Christians couldn’t give a meaningful defense for unborn life. Sure, many believers seem to know that abortion is inherently wrong, but they can’t articulate why. I want to change that.
Laws In the US
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade which essentially created the right to on-demand abortions in the US by allowing abortions that would protect the woman’s “psychological and physical well-being” — in other words, for any reason. There is one law, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” which punishes anyone who commits violence against “a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb” (source), except those performing abortions.
Laws in Canada
In Canada, there have been no laws governing abortion since January 28, 1988 when the Supreme Court decided in R. v. Morgentaler that having abortion laws in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional as it violated a woman’s rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
How Canadian Law Sees the Unborn can be summarized best by quoting from this paper found on the Government of Canada’s website. “…under Canadian law as it is now, the fetus is not considered to be a ‘legal’ person and therefore has no rights until ‘born alive’. This rule… is that ‘once a child is born, alive and viable, the law may recognize that its existence began before berth for certain limited purposes. But the only right recognized is that of the born person.” Even after that the law seems to be inconsistent, considering how Canadian Justice Joanne Veit treated the murder of a newborn baby.
Some Helpful Resources
Here are few resources that will give you the tools you need to understand and communicate why Christians believe that abortion is wrong and why we defend the lives of the unborn.
The Briefing “40 Years After Roe” by Albert Mohler
I recommend you listen to this to get an understanding of current issues, history and pertinent worldview questions. He’s US based, but his insights are extremely helpful. I also recommend this sermon and these articles on “The Sanctity of Human Life”.
“We Know They Are Killing Children — All Of Us Know” by John Piper
John Piper gives 11 powerful and easily understandable evidences that abortion is murder. He expands on them, but here they are:
1. Anecdotally, abortionists will admit they are killing children.
2. States treat the killing of the unborn as a homicide.
3. Fetal surgery treats the unborn as children and patients.
4. Being small does not disqualify personhood.
5. Not having developed reasoning does not disqualify personhood.
6. Being in the womb does not disqualify human personhood,
7. Being dependent on mommy does not disqualify personhood.
8. The genetic make up of humans is unique.
9. All the organs are present at eight weeks of gestation.
10. We have seen the photographs.
11. When two rights conflict, the higher value should be protected.
“Ten [Biblical] Reasons Why it is Wrong to Take the Life of Unborn Children” by John Piper
If the previous list wasn’t enough, here are some arguments from scripture.
1. God commanded, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
2. The destruction of conceived human life — whether embryonic, fetal, or viable — is an assault on the unique person-forming work of God.
3. Aborting unborn humans falls under the repeated Biblical ban against “shedding innocent blood.”
4. The Bible frequently expresses the high priority God puts on the protection and provision and vindication of the weakest and most helpless and most victimized members of the community.
5. By judging difficult and even tragic human life as a worse evil than taking life, abortionists contradict the widespread Biblical teaching that God loves to show his gracious power through suffering and not just by helping people avoid suffering.
6. It is a sin of presumption to justify abortion by taking comfort in the fact that all these little children will go to heaven or even be given full adult life in the resurrection.
7. The Bible commands us to rescue our neighbor who is being unjustly led away to death.
8. Aborting unborn children falls under Jesus’ rebuke of those who spurned children as inconvenient and unworthy of the Savior’s attention.
9. It is the right of God the Maker to give and to take human life. It is not our individual right to make this choice.
10. Finally, saving faith in Jesus Christ brings forgiveness of sins and cleansing of conscience and help through life and hope for eternity. Surrounded by such omnipotent love, every follower of Jesus is free from the greed and fear that might lure a person to forsake these truths in order to gain money or avoid reproach.
How to Pray
1. Pray that God will bring common sense to the lawmakers and have them end abortion.
2. Pray for women who have had abortions, that they may have the spiritual healing that can only come through Jesus Christ.
3. Pray for the fathers of the aborted children, that they may grieve, repent and find healing through Jesus.
4. Pray for abortionists, that God’s hand of conviction will be heavy upon them and they will repent and be healed.
5. Pray for churches, that they might know how to confront this issue with grace and truth.
6. Pray for Christian crisis pregnancy centres, that God might expand them to give woman more alternatives to abortion and save the unborn.