Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why should we arrive early for corporate worship?

Being prepared and present at the start of corporate worship each Sunday is important for us as worshipers of God. I have shared that message at various times in writing and speaking.

The excerpt below explains why it is good for worshipers even to be early for corporate worship. It comes from a blog post by Joe Thorn, lead pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Ill. I hope it proves helpful to you.
[T]here are times when nothing can be done about it. We are all late some of the time.

But many churches (including the one I pastor) go through periods of time where people begin showing up to services late. It becomes a thing. It doesn't sound like a big deal, and of course this isn't the sort of thing that brings fire from heaven or church discipline. But being late can have a genuinely negative impact in more ways than one.

For example, a consistently late arrival may contribute to the leadership's felt need to postpone the start of the service. Or, when a lot of people are arriving late visitors are more likely to feel uncomfortable and isolated. And if you are frequently late to worship you may be missing the opportunity to meet new people. These things (and many more) are true, but I don't want to come down on people for being late, as much as I want to encourage everyone to get to church early. Why?

Well, if the opening of your worship services feature[s] a pastor flying in on a zip-line, or some such nonsense, feel free to be late. Or find another church. Otherwise, you should be careful to get there on time because the beginning of the worship gathering is not a throw-away of announcements (which you should pay attention to anyway). Rather, at least in our case, the beginning of our corporate worship is thoughtfully put together with the aim of directing our thoughts toward God. From the opening Scripture to the closing benediction every piece of the liturgy is a piece to a puzzle that, when assembled, gives us all a fuller picture of the gospel.

And consider this; if you are frequrently late you are missing something you need: perhaps a reading from a Psalm that highlights the character and work of God as the answer to your own fears and doubts. Why does this matter? Well, scripture is one of the primary means of grace God has given us, and by coming in late you may be missing the very truths your heart needs the most. You may be unintentionally side-stepping the very words from the mouth of God that would address your heart, lift your head, and strengthen your faith. The opening reading and prayer of corporate worship [are] also what God will use to prepare you to listen, sing, and believe the truth of God that fills the entirety of the service.

So, get to church early, and eager. Who knows what God is going to do in your heart this Sunday?!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Are you still on the performance treadmill?

Performing is a human preoccupation. It is in the air we breathe as human beings. Most of us grow up with it. We learn it. We think we can earn whatever it is we desire -- acceptance, approval, favor, blessing, respect, love. It becomes our default position. And some people never escape its grip on their lives.

Then, when God awakens our dead hearts and opens our blind eyes, we realize our performance is never good enough -- not in His estimation. The message of the Bible is we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The Word tells us our righteousness we hope will make us acceptable to God is like a "filthy garment" (Is. 64:6).

By God's grace, we cast ourselves upon the sole Righteousness One, and His righteousness is credited to our bankrupt account. Yet, too often, we see the gospel of grace as only the entrance to the Christian life. Then, even as recipients of this unending grace, we live as if our acceptance and approval by God is based on our performance. As a result, our distorted theology can lead to debilitating feelings, wavering assurance and ineffective ministry.

I addressed this at one point in last Sunday's sermon on the final four verses of Luke. It wasn't in my notes, but part of what I said was essentially a paraphrase of the quote below. This paragraph from Milton Vincent's book, A Gospel Primer for Christians, has provided strategic help to my life in recent years. I commend it to you as an aid to help you preach the gospel to yourself and remember whose performance you are always to trust in:
The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Are you among others as 'the one who serves?'

Greatness = servanthood.

That is the way it is in the upside down, other worldly realm known as the kingdom of God.

Obviously, that is not the way it is in the kingdom of man. That is not the cultural air we breathe in the natural world we inhabit. No, in this world, greatness is marked by how many follow us, how many wait on us, how many do what we say.

A solitary voice echoes through time against that torrent of worldly wisdom, self-centeredness and pride. To those He served by sacrificing Himself, Jesus says, “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:26).

Jesus gave this counter-cultural message when His followers were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Their contest in boasting came only hours before God the Son would serve them and all who would trust in Him by sacrificing Himself in an ignominious fashion. He capped his brief tutorial by saying, “But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

When I preached on this passage in February, I offered the following five points for us to use to examine what it might look like for us to resemble these disciples and regard ourselves as greatest. In other words, what it might look like for us to resemble the disciples instead of Jesus. Here are those points:

* If you think your opinion is always better than another Christian’s, you might be regarding yourself as greatest.

* If you think primarily about how others should serve you instead of how you should serve others, you might be regarding yourself as greatest.

* If you want others to consider your perspective on issues that arise in the church or family but don’t consider their perspectives, you might be regarding yourself as greatest.

* If you believe there are some opportunities to serve that are beneath you, you might be regarding yourself as greatest.

* If you demand that opportunities to serve be convenient before you will accept them, you might be regarding yourself as greatest.

What does it mean for our church? All of us should value others as more important than ourselves and look to others’ interests, not just our own (Phil. 2:3-4). All of us should be focused on how we can serve the church corporately and our fellow disciples individually, not on whether we will be served. All of us should be willing and ready to serve as needed by the church – whether it is caring for toddlers and special needs children, sweeping the floors or embracing any of the other opportunities that present themselves.

May each of us live as our Lord did: “But I am among you as the one who serves.”