I was attending a committee meeting at church this week. We began by introducing ourselves. A pattern unfolded in the introductions that has stayed on my mind all week. I introduced myself as a church member who had been in the church since 1994. Another committee member smiled and said, “We have been in the church since 1987–we began coming when our children were born.” Another committee member said, “I shouldn’t take pride but I am proud that I was on the board that started this church.”
Does all that church attending have any meaning or add any value to this life?
A young man in the group described how he wrestled with the idea of being a part of the church and whether it was necessary for a life of faith.
When examined from an earthly perspective, church participation can seem like just one of a thousand choices we make in life of how we spend our time. It may seem very unnecessary if you are looking for an earthly pay off. After all, what have I got to show for 24 years of church attendance?
James K.A. Smith has helped me ask this question from a God perspective. His book helped me see what God has been up to over the years of my church attendance. Smith argues that we are essentially desiring creatures driven more by what our hearts truly love than thinking creatures driven by information, ideas or arguments.
So in the week in and week out repetition of worship, Smith sees God training our desires and reordering our love.
“Being a disciple is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person that loves rightly.”
In The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks writes that worship because it is full of “rituals of ultimate concerns“serves as a habit forming practice that aims our hearts toward the right end–Jesus and His Kingdom. It should not surprise us that God uses with our heart training the same method that we use for learning things on earth –repetition aimed at habit formation.
All of this made me grateful for every Sunday –some weeks dragging and some weeks delighting — that I have spent in church!
There are clouds in human life, shadowing, refreshing, and sometimes draping it in blackness of night; but there is never a cloud without its bright light. “I do set my bow in the cloud!”
If we could see the clouds from the other side where they lie in billowy glory, bathed in the light they intercept, like heaped ranges of Alps, we should be amazed at their splendid magnificence.
We look at their under side; but who shall describe the bright light that bathes their summits and searches their valleys and is reflected from every pinnacle of their expanse? Is not every drop drinking in health-giving qualities, which it will carry to the earth?
O child of God! If you could see your sorrows and troubles from the other side; if instead of looking up at them from earth, you would look down on them from the heavenly places where you sit with Christ; if you knew how they are reflecting in prismatic beauty before the gaze of Heaven, the bright light of Christ’s face, you would be content that they should cast their deep shadows over the mountain slopes of existence. Only remember that clouds are always moving and passing before God’s cleansing wind.
Streams in the Desert, May 15
Living in the West this seems like a ridiculous question–one that was settled long ago.
However, after living in Uganda, my eyes were opened to the truth that much of the world does not see the value in educating their girls.
John Piper in a post entitled Why We Educate Our Girls does a great job of explaining from a biblical world view.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47
What is Mary saying? What does it mean to magnify the Lord?
In a sermon, John Piper suggested that the word “magnify” can be used in two different senses. It can mean to make something appear greater than it is. My mother does this each time she reaches for her magnifying glass to make words appear greater than they actually are on the page.
Another meaning of the word is to make something that seems small appear as big as it really is. When we look through the lens of a telescope it is for the purpose of making some barely visible pinpoint become more of what it really is. Through a telescope, pinpoints of light in the sky suddenly appear with substance — they are no longer lights but large planets with shape and contours clearly visible. Features and details that were previously unseen explode with brilliance and glory through the powerful lens.
Mary knew that she was not being called to be a microscope for God but a telescope! As she pondered God – His ways, His strength, His plan, His timing, His willingness to use a humble girl—His greatness became clearer and clearer in her own heart. He became for her more of what He truly is! With God magnified in her life–fear, doubt, and shame were minimized.
That experience is available to us as well. When God is magnified in our hearts, the things that are truly small stop appearing larger than they really are. Let’s put away our magnifying glasses and stop looking at small things. There is a God of enormous proportion ruling the universe—One that is exponentially magnificent. As we see Him for what He really is, we will say with the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!”
Great and Glorious God, give us eyes to see you as you really are—exalted above all things. Forgive us for seeing you as small and our problems and selves as great. Have mercy and give us clear sight that spills over in great rejoicing and praise to your name forever more. AMEN
“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God.
He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 (NIV)
I am not sure I have ever read this verse. If not, it sure caught my eye this morning so that I had to read and re-read it. Its message is stunning! The ability to enjoy our work, our lot in life or to experience contentment in our present circumstances is a gift from God—that is, it is a grace from God if you are enjoying your life! There seems to be no area of living that is not grace enabled!
Packer had me pondering joy as he shared that God’s gift of joy flows from four sources.
First, joy flows from the awareness of being loved. No one has joy who does not know that there is someone who values, accepts and cares for him or her. When human love disappoints you, go to the cross and become aware again of how much you are loved.
Second, joy flows from accepting one’s situation as good. People are always fretting about the way things are, wishing they were different, and longing for things to happen that are not likely to happen—these anxious thoughts disqualify you from joy. Ponder that your present circumstance and experiences have passed through the heart of a Sovereign God and been approved for your life as preparation for glory.
Third, joy flows from having something worthwhile. You have something of incomparable worth in a saving relationship with Christ. Added to this precious gift you have spouse, children, home, hobbies, work, and friends that make life worth living. Are you more focused on what you lack rather than on the worthwhile things that you have been given?
Fourth, joy flows from giving something worth giving. If you belong to Christ you possess the one thing that is of supreme worth. Joy abounds as you share what is precious to you.
Joy is like jam – it sticks to you as you spread it.
J.I.Packer, Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Vine Books, 1995, p. 348-9
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:24 (ESV)
If I could ban one phrase from our language I would ban the phrase “free will.” This little phrase takes scriptural teaching about our moral responsibility and inability and turns it on its head so that nothing but clouds of confusion remain.
The Bible teaches that our wills were irreparably bent away from God’s will at the time of Adam’s fall – that sin has so tainted all our faculties that apart from God’s grace, we are unable – yet responsible to will what God wills. Nevertheless, in endless Sunday school discussions the last word that hangs in the air as an answer for the hard questions is, “Well, it is because God gave us free will”.
With this frustration in mind, I was grateful for Will Metzger’s insights as he made a “Top Ten Reasons Christians Believe in Free Will” list. It was his hope that it would help Christians pinpoint their own reluctance to surrender their wills to God’s control.
10. A desire to hold humans responsible for actions
9. Confusion of the philosophical (nonscriptural) concept of free will with “human responsibility”
8. A lack of emphasis on the holiness, righteousness and justice of God
7. Encounters with Christians who play intellectual games about the sovereignty of God without lovingly living this truth
6. The display of outward morality by many non-Christians
5. Dislike for the alternative, which seems to make God responsible for our sin, or even the author of it
4. The concept that the ability to choose Jesus is necessary for doing evangelism
3. A human concept of God’s love that leads to sentimentalism and me-centeredness
2. Neglect by pastors and authors to emphasize the importance of theology and the avoidance of teaching the so-called controversial issues
1. A reluctance to allow God to be totally sovereign
Will Metzger, Tell the Truth, IVP Books, 2002, p. 125