Category Archives: Pastoring

The Crash of the American Church?

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Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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Tools for Effectiveness

Below I list out resources that I have sought to leverage for optimal efficiency and effectiveness. We have amazing resources and also unprecedented distractions. Here are some things I have used to try to make the most of my time:

evernote Evernote

I have found Evernote very helpful. It allows you to create shelves, notebooks, and pages so that you can keep various lists and thoughts on any number of topics. It also allows you to tag everything. It has helped me be more organized and it has been very helpful because it is always with me and accessible. Actually, the first draft of this post was written on Evernote over the course of a few days. [free]

Advice: Use Evernote. And take the time to learn from the tutorials. It will be worth it to organize your notes and be able to find and track your thoughts. 

unnamed Pocket

I have found this app very helpful. You can save articles in Pocket, tag them for quick recall, and even share on social media. My favorite thing about this app is that it will read to me! I can now drive and “read” articles. [free]

Advice: Don’t spend all your time pocketing things, actually read stuff. Second, there’s no way to underline or make notes so screenshot the parts you want to capture and add them Evernote. 

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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

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We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Continue reading


Giving to the Church

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Why do we give?
       …because God gave
We are to give out of the abundance of joy that is produced in us as we remember what Christ gave for us (see 2 Cor. 8:1-9). So we give cheerfully what we have decided to give out of an overflow of worship, not because we have been constrained to give by a command (2 Cor. 9:7).[1]

       …because the Lord is worthy
The expectation that we see for us in Scripture is whole life commitment. The Lord is worthy so we offer all we are, our own selves, as living sacrifices because that is a reasonable response to His abundant goodness (see e.g. Rom. 12:1). We count everything as trash compared to Him (Phil. 3:8).

       …because it’s an eternal investment
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19 cf. Matt. 6:19-21)

       …because everything is God’s
All over Scripture, we see God owns everything. Everything has been graciously given (and entrusted) to us by God (Deut. 10:14; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-12; 1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:35).

       …because we are stewards
I am not accountable to you and you are not accountable to me. We are accountable to God. We must all ask what God wants us to do with what He has given to us. We must realize that God calls different people to manage different things in different ways; the Bible is replete with examples of this. God has entrusted us with different levels of responsibility for the gifts He has give us (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 12:48; 1 Pet. 4:10) The common denominator between managers is not that they manage the same amount of stuff but that they are accountable and must be faithful. It is before God that we will be judged, not man (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Be faithful. But realize there are no exact standards prescribed so we should not prescribe them.

Where should we give?
Our priority should be to give where we are fed (see 1 Cor. 9:7-11; Gal. 6:10, 17; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). This makes sense, because if we eat at Chick-fil-A we don’t pay at Chipotle.

Helpful Resources
Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle
Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s “A 20 Day Study in Stewardship

Discussion/Application Questions
1) Does meditating on the gospel of Christ motivate you to want to give?
2) Do you typically give with a cheerful heart that flows out of joy from the gospel?
3) Do you think it is legalistic to say that you must give to the church?
4) What does it mean that we are stewards/managers? Do you ever reflect on whether or not you are being a good steward of what God has entrusted to you?
5) Why is giving to the local church important? Or, do you think it is? What responsibility do you have to the local church?
6) Are you aware that everything that you have is a gift from God?
7) Materialism may be the single greatest pull away from authentic Christianity (cf. Deut. 6 esp. v.10-13). What do you think?
8) How can we purposely invest in heaven and not drift into the service of other “gods”?

 

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[1] It is instructive to look at the practice of tithing in Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus does not command that we tithe but he does tell the Pharisees that they ought to tithe (cf. Matt. 23:23). In the Old Testament there was a tithe for Priests and Levites (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21-24), community celebrations (Deut. 14:22-29), as well as a tithe for the poor every three years (Deut. 14:28-29; see also Lev. 19:9-10). This equals out not to 10-percent but 23.3%, averaged over a three-year period. This does not take into account the first fruit offerings (Lev. 19:23-25; Num. 15:17-21) and free will offerings (1 Chron. 29:1-9). However, it should be noted that we are in a different governmental and religious situation then the Israelites. All that being the case, the question should never be, “are we to tithe?” or “how much must we give?” but rather “how much will we have the privilege to give to Christ who gave all so that we might have all?”


Living in Light of the Majesty of Christ

 

Introduction
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is seeking to bless and encourage the Philippian church. He has encouraged and wants his friends in Philippi to be bold (1:14), receive joy in the faith (v. 25), and live a life worthy of the gospel (v. 27).

So, how is Paul encouraging the Philippians (and us) in this passage (v. 18b-26)? Paul is showing the Philippians, and us, what is worth living for. Paul gives himself as a prime example.

So, what is worth living for? I mean, what is ultimately worth living for? And, what do you live for?

Let’s look at Philippians 1:18b-20 and see what we should live for:
“Yes, and I will rejoice [because Christ is proclaimed], [19] for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [the present situation] will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he expects to magnify Christ through them. So, we see we too must…

Magnify Christ in all of life (v. 18b-20)
First, it is important that we ask, “What was Paul going through? What was the situation he was facing and how did he magnify, honor, glorify God in the midst of it?”

      The situation
Paul was in prison (1:7, 13) and it seems since he was in prison the question of death was on the table (v. 21, 23). Since Paul was in prison he must have had many physical concerns. Paul was suffering. His situation was not easy. Paul acknowledges that he needs help. He knew he needed the Philippian’s prayers and “the help of the Spirit” (v. 19). Paul knew he would need to “not be ashamed,” he knew he would need to have “full courage.” Paul was aware of the difficulties that awaited him but he was very sure that he would be able to be faithful (v. 20).

Paul believed the truth of Matthew 10:

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:22, 28, 32-33).

      What Paul did
Even in suffering, Paul’s concern was not his own welfare. Paul cared about Christ being honored (v. 20) and the church receiving joy in the faith (v. 25). So, Paul boldly shared the gospel with the Roman guards and he encouraged others to also be bold. And Paul served and encouraged others. Actually, he wanted to depart and be with Christ, that’s what he wanted to do, but he said it is better, even “necessary” that he remain so he could be a means of joy and encouragement for his friends in Philippi.[1] That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in the first place. Paul modeled what it means to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (2:4).

“Paul’s deepest hopes for his own immediate future turn neither on the bliss of immediately gaining heaven’s portals nor on returning to a fulfilling ministry and escaping the pangs of death, but on what is best for his converts. Often we are tempted to evaluate alternatives by thinking through what seems best for us. How often do we raise as a first principle what is best for the church?”[2]

So, what did Paul do? Paul sought to live his life—through thick and thin—to magnify and honor Christ and encourage the saints.

      What about us?
We, like Paul, should seek to magnify Christ in all we do. Yet, this is very hard. How can we?

Let’s look at Philippians 1:21-26 and see how we can live for Christ:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. [22] If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose [between life and death] I cannot tell. [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. [25] Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, [26] so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he is motivated by the majesty of Christ. So, we too must…

Be motivated by the majesty of Christ (v. 21-26)
If we are to be motivated it is important that we understand how. So, first, how was Paul motivated by the majesty of Christ?

      Paul’s motivation
Paul saw Christ as so awesome, so majestic, so worth it, that he would give up all for Him, live for Him, die for Him. Paul cared about Christ. Paul saw Christ’s glory in an amazing way and it radically changed him.

If Paul lived, who would he live for? Christ! Paul said, “If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me” (v. 22). Paul said, “to live is Christ.”[3] That’s what life was about for Paul. Paul even said that he wasn’t sure which he would choose, life or death? Paul said, he desired “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (v. 23). How is departing, dying, “far better”? Because he would get to be with Christ! Everything, for Paul, is about Christ (see also 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15). 

      What is our motivation?
Our motivation is often success, beauty, fun, etc. But it should be Christ. He alone is worthy. Yet, it is so easy to get distracted. Of course, success, beauty, fun are not bad. But they are not ultimate. They can’t and won’t fulfill. We shouldn’t live for those things. Only Jesus is worthy.

“In the logic of the gospel, there are no alternatives to Christ. Every other option is no option at all. When everything considered valuable in life is seen to be nothing in comparison to the glory of Christ, you learn rather well that Christ alone is worth living for. Christ alone is worthy of an entire life’s affections and devotions.”[4]

      What does understanding the majesty of Christ lead to?
For John G. Paton, it meant to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Paton who was a missionary to the South Sea Islands (where Fiji water comes from) was told, “You will be eaten by Cannibals!” Paton responded:

“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”[5]

We must know, as Paul did, that “There is a greater day coming, a greater reward coming, a greater life coming, and the purpose of life while we are alive is to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, which hold the promise of life everlasting.”[6] We will be more alive than we are now![7] We shall have life and peace beyond what we can imagine. We shall be at perfect peace with God and see Jesus!

Death is “far better” for us too!

Conclusion
Paul encouraged the Philippians (and us!) to live a life worthy of the gospel and in verses 18b-26 he gives us an inward look of how he hopes to live a worthy life: treasure Christ. Christ was Paul’s controlling core. Paul loved Christ and so he lived for Christ.

God is calling us to also love Christ with all we are and live for Him with all we have.

So, what do you live for? What motivating, explosive force, is at the core of your life? What propels you to do what you do?

And notice, if we get it wrong here, we will carry out all sorts of destructive actions.

What is at your core?

Can you say your life is motivated by the majesty of Christ? Can you truly say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain”?

A few questions
1.  Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What do you think about that? Should you be able to say that as well?
2.  What’s at the motivational core of your life?
3.  How will you stay on track through the temptations and struggles of life?
4.  Do you currently feel purpose in living for Jesus Christ?
5.  How was Paul impacted by having Christ at his motivational core? How would you be impacted with Christ at the motivational core of your life?
6.  What about Christ is so majestic and beautiful and awesome that makes Him worthy of first place in your heart and life?
7.  How will you keep Christ at the motivational core of you life with all the other things that fight for that place?
8.  Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15 and pray that you would be motivated to live for Christ because of the majesty of Christ.

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[1] This is very hard for us to understand in our current society and situation. It “can only strike us as strange in the modern church if we have allowed the comforts of our present physical existence to usurp the place of Christ in our lives as our chief priority” (Frank Thielman, Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary, 83.

[2] Carson in Basics for Believers, 30.

[3] “In the context, ‘to live is Christ’ surely means that for Paul to keep on living here means ministry, Christ-centered ministry, Christ-empowered ministry, Christ’s presence in his ministry” (Carson, Basics for Believers, 29).

[4] Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 36.

[5] As quoted by Carson in Basics for Believers, 31.

[6] Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 37.

[7] I concur with what C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle,

“We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 228).

I believe we, upon arrival to the new Eden, will exclaim with Lewis’ Unicorn: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it to now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia [“old creation”] is that it sometimes looked a little like this” (Ibid., 213).


The Church & Social Responsibility

C.H. Spurgeon said, “Nothing but the Gospel can sweep away social evil… The Gospel is the great broom with which to cleanse the filthiness of the city; nothing else will avail.”[1] Spurgeon experienced the truth of that statement in his city and Scripture attests of its truth over and over again.

Look at Acts 19:18-20 for a prime example of the social change that took place because of the gospel. Also look how faith changed Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He no longer defrauded people but restored fourfold those whom he had defrauded. He also gave half of his belongings to the poor. It should therefore not be our first goal to enact political and social change but spiritual change that takes place through the receiving of the gospel.[2]

If the gospel is truly received social change will follow. I do not believe in the social gospel[3] but the gospel will inevitably bear fruit in the social realm. The gospel is necessarily social; that is, it has unavoidable implications on society. As Carl F. H. Henry has said, “A globe-changing passion certainly characterized the early church… A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.”[4] We must show and tell the gospel if there is to be a full and effective presentation.

The Lausanne Committee accurately said this of Christian social responsibility:

“We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.”[5]

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[1] C. H. Spurgeon, the soul winner, 247.

[2] Thomas r. Schreiner says, “Jesus did not call for political revolution; he trusted in the power of the word of God (mark 4:28) and focused on the need of the nation to repent and turn to God… what will change society is individuals turning from their sin and committing themselves wholly to God” (Schreiner, new testament theology, 52-53). However, that is not to say that political involvement is wrong (mark 6:14-20; matt. 14:1-12; acts 16:35-39; 24:25; 1 Tim. 2:1-4) only that we should not set our hopes on it. The gospel is the power to salvation and therefore the power to change (cf. Rom. 1:16; 1 cor. 6:9-11). Note, however, that john the baptizer was martyred like many other Christians, for biblically informed political convictions (I think of Bonheoffer and Martin Luther King Jr. Notice, also that they gave their life and did not take life). 

[3] The social gospel movement was a movement started by Walter Rauschenbusch in the early 1900s. It emphases social justice over and against the gospel and has a defective view of the kingdom of God (among other things). Contra the social gospel movement the kingdom of God, though ushered in by Christ’s coming, does not find its fulfillment until Jesus brings it down from heaven. However, in revolting against the social gospel we should not be guilty of revolting against the Christian social imperative (see carl f. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, 22)

We don’t bring in the Kingdom, God does (cf. Rev. 21:1-2; dan. 2:44-45).

However much we try or even succeed in our responsibility to secure greater economic justice, Christians can look beyond this world, with all its tribulations and inequities, to the restoration of all things at Christ’s return (acts 3:21). Our faith is not pinned or limited to humanity’s capacity to share generously; for it is only at the second coming that our full humanness will be restored. This does not mean that we cease our efforts to improve this world however. On the contrary, it is because we cherish the vision of completed humanness in the end that we must all the more promote human dignity today (www.lausanne.org).

[4] Henry, The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Fundamentalism, 16.

[5] http://www.lausanne.org (italics mine). See: Acts 17:26, 31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Prov. 13:31; Ps. 45:7; Gen. 1:26, 27; James. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27, 35; James. 2:14-26; Jn. 3:3, 5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; 2 Cor. 3:18; James. 2:20.


The Practical Importance of Doctrine

What is doctrine and what is theology and why are they important? Theos is Greek for God so theology is the study of God and divine things. Doctrine is a teaching or belief from Scripture. John Frame writes, “The purpose of teaching is not merely to state the objective truth, but to bring the people to a state of spiritual health.”[1] He defines theology as “the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.[2] So we see that theology applies to every area of life.

All theology, all doctrine, is to be practical. That is, any truth rightly understood will move us to something. That is precisely what we see in Scripture; take the book of Ephesians for example. Paul laid out God’s amazing work in salvation: we were dead in our sins but God made us alive through Christ. After teaching on weighty truths for 3 chapters he then says “I therefore [because of the truth of the doctrines I have just shared] … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). He then proceeds from the doctrine to give application of that teaching for the remaining 3 chapters (for example he calls the Ephesians to unity in 4:1-6 and to sacrificial love in 5:1-2). If we are going to seek to live as the Lord has called us to live it is absolutely vital that we pray and seek to understand the incomprehensible love and glory of Christ (i.e. doctrine/theology; although, that does not mean that you will have to read theologies but it will at least include pouring over the Scripture). 

F. F. Bruce has said,

“Doctrine is never taught in the Bible simply that it may be known; it is taught in order that it may be translated into practice: ‘if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’ (Jn. 13:17). Hence Paul repeatedly follows up an exposition of doctrine with an ethical exhortation, the latter being linked to the former… often …with the particle ‘therefore’ (cf. Eph. 4:1; Col. 3:5).”[3]

The scripture and its teachings are not senseless banter but truth that must be understood and lived out. And if we understand the truths rightly they will not be drudgery but rather delight. For instance, we know that we are to love others, but why? Because the Scripture teaches us that God loves us (doctrine) therefore we love others (application). First John 4:19 concurs, “We love because He first loved us.” Both the doctrine (understanding God’s love) and the application (loving others) are vital and should never be divided.

So, for example, if we want to give more money to missions we must first not merely give but understand why we give. If we want to do good things (at least effectively and God glorifyingly) it is important that we understand the grounds for what we do, for when doctrine comes before duty our duty is less duty and more delight. I am confident that Paul himself could not have endured all he did without his soul-satisfying doctrine. He endured persecution, but it was merely “a light momentary affliction” compared with the doctrine of heaven, a place where he knew he would receive unimaginable joy.

As Christians, our living is wrong if not influenced by doctrine, and our doctrine is wrong if it doesn’t influence our living. Both doctrine and living are to be inseparable; they are to complement and intensify each other. J.D. Payne has rightly said, “Orthodoxy (right belief) results in orthopraxy (right action); if not, then our orthodoxy is to be questioned.”[4]

A deep understanding of doctrine, as well as an understanding of the God we serve, will, or should, reciprocate a radical living out of that doctrine; this is found throughout scripture. Doctrine in scripture is given for that very purpose: to change us. As J.I. Packer has said, “Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness.”[5]

A prime example that comes to mind is found in Second Corinthians 8:9 where it talks about the radical impact the doctrine of the atonement had on the Macedonians. So beware, I am saying that the awesome truths of Scripture do not leave us unscathed. Rather, they call us to awesome, even drastic change; from darkness to light; from sons and daughters of Satan to sons and daughters of God; from being dead in Adam to being alive in Christ; from following Satan to being like Jesus who is God the Son.

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[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010), 275.

[2] Ibid., 276. Italics his. “Teaching… is the use of God’s revelation to meet the spiritual needs of people, to promote godliness and spiritual health” (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 81).

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 212.  

[4] J.D. Payne, Evangelism: A Biblical Guide to Today’s Questions (Colorado, CO: Biblica Publishing, 2011), XIII.

[5] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993), xii.


“Thou Shall Not Dishonor The Sabbath”

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To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.

Four major views on the subject:

First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.

Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).

Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.

In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.

Fourth, the Oblivious view.  This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.[1]

What does it mean for us today?

What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)?[2] It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).

So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?

Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.

Dr. Donald Whitney has said,

“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”[3] 

Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!

The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should  do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!

A Few Practical Principles:

Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):

  • Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”[4]
  • We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”[5]
  • Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
  • Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
  • In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
  • Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.

_______________________

[1] From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”

[2] In answering this question, J.I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godlinesshas been a great help. He explores the puritan’s view of this question.

[3] See: http://biblicalspirituality.org/speaking/handout-downloads/

[4] J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.

[5] Ibid., 253.


Woe to the wretched, me included!

Isaiah was a gifted preacher. He went around graciously telling the people of Judah to repent. We see an example of the way he called the people to repent in Isaiah 5.

Isaiah announces six woes upon the people of Judah (cf. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). Isaiah says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (v. 20). “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes” (v. 21). “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine” (v. 22).

After seeing the sixth “woe” we look for the climatic seventh woe. However, that seventh woe doesn’t come in chapter 5. Where is that seventh woe?

The seventh woe comes in the next chapter. Isaiah says, “Woe is me!” (6:5). Isaiah saw that the LORD is “holy, holy, holy” (v. 3) and so he saw his own dire need. He said, “I am lost.” When we see the LORD in His glory we see that we are all in need of grace. We must all be humbled before God.

Ultimately we see the ground is level at the foot of the cross. The problem isn’t just out there within someone else, the problem—sin—is within all of us. We all deeply need Jesus.

We must remember that we were separated from Christ, outsiders to the promises of God, and we had no hope. But now, in Christ Jesus, we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:12-18). There is nothing inherently better or good about us more than anyone else. It is Christ Jesus that gives us hope and brings us near to God.

Woe to the wretched, me included!


Suffering and Christian Ministry

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?

(“How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke)

Christian ministry whether pastoral or other is in large part about suffering. We follow the Lord. We deny ourselves. We die. Yet, it is in this way that gates of hell do not prevail against us. It is in this way that the gospel goes forth and prevails. It is in this way, the way of the cross, that we glorify our crucified Messiah and Lord. It is this long painful faithful suffering in the same direction that brings the reward.

And guys we’ll soon be dead, we do this, we labor to the point of exhaustion, we run on, not for an earthly wreath but a heavenly one. We run for the prize. We fight and suffer for the cause, because there is a cause, and it is great.

Look to the reward! Look to the reward! It is great. And go on. Fight the fight of faith. Your labor, though great and beyond your ability, is not in vain. And the God that holds the stars in orbit holds your hand.

Keep the reality of the resurrection before you. Keep Revelation 21 close by. Praise Jesus for drinking down to the dregs the cup of wrath and ask that you would continue to suffer faithfully. Brothers, here we have no home. We’re looking for the one to come.

O’ God, help us. We are weak and weary. We need need You.


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