Christianity 201

April 12, 2018

Why Does Your Church Exist?

by Clarke Dixon

Why does your church exist? Why does any church exist? What is our primary purpose? There may be quite a number of answers to this question based on mission statements and what you see churches do. But is there a purpose which is common to all churches whether they think they are accomplishing it or not, whether they articulate it or not in their mission statements?

There is. Jesus get us on the right track on discovering it by his prayer in John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come; . . .”. Given that this prayer occurs just before his arrest, trial, death, burial, and resurrection, what might you expect next? Perhaps ” . . . save Your people, reconcile Your people to Yourself”? What he says is, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Of all the great things we can say about the work of Jesus on our behalf, his primary purpose is the glory of God. Of all the many things we can say about churches and what they are and do, their primary purpose is the glory of God. If God’s glory is central to Jesus, it is central for us!

We are reminded of our primary purpose most Sundays as we conclude our worship service. Those who attend our church will know that I tend to use this same benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis added)

I might have chosen the “Aaronic Blessing” as my favourite, the one that goes, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .”, but I have not. And for a reason. We tend to think that we attend church to glorify God, then we leave with the expectation that God will bless us in the week ahead. I think we have it backwards. We are blessed as we gather to worship, and we leave to bring glory to God with the week ahead. Even as we hear my favourite benediction from Ephesians, we may still be wrapped up in us. We may concentrate on what God can do in our lives; that is, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” While that is important and sometimes we will need to focus on that, we can remember that God’s power in our lives is not the central thought of this benediction. The glory of God is.

But doesn’t “glory in the church” mean “here in this place”? There were no buildings referred to as “churches” when Paul wrote this, so no. The word refers to the people. This is not “glory in the church building”, but rather “glory in the people who are the church.” Snoop Dog gets it right with the opening words of his latest album; “Church, say Amen”. He is speaking to people, not a building or an organization!

How do we bring glory to God as a church? What does that even mean? To roughly quote one Bible teacher; “the very existence of the Church brings glory to God”. The existence of a rescued people brings glory to God. The existence of a redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled people gives glory to God. There are many small churches like our own which may feel quite beat up over not being able to offer this, that, or the other program. There is no shortage of guilt in smaller churches for not measuring up and giving proper glory to God. However, the existence of any group of Christians, no matter the form of worship, or how well they are organized, or how many programs they can offer, already brings glory to God! That is not an excuse to not pursue excellence. But it is an encouragement.

That being said, is Ephesians 3:20,21 a prayer or a resolution? Do we hear this benediction and think, “God, we pray You make Your glory happen in us this week?”, or do we think “God, our resolve is to make Your glory happen in us this week?” Let us think again of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. God in His sovereignty made it happen. Jesus was arrested, suffered, executed, buried, raised, and he ascended, all by the sovereignty and to the glory of God. However, Jesus was also resolved to stay the course as we learn from his prayer later in Gethsemane:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

We do well to make our benediction from Ephesians a prayer in dependence upon God while we also watch for opportunities to participate in God’s work as His glory unfolds.

We do have some guidance while we watch for those opportunities. One definition given for glory is “giving God his proper place”. We cannot do that if we are trying to take his place. We have bad examples of giving glory to God in Adam and Eve who were quick to want to be just like God. We have good examples of giving glory to God including John the Baptist who pointed beyond himself to Jesus (John 1:27,303:30). Unfortunately, we often find it easier to talk about ourselves than about God. In the same way, we likely find it easier to talk about our church than God: “we have the best music, the best programs, the least boring pastor, try us, you’ll love us”. While we will want to aim for excellence, we do not want our tag-line to be “I’m lovin’ it”.  We will not give God his proper place if we are trying to get into his place, and take the glory for ourselves. God is glorified when we take the place he has prepared for us. Our best opportunity to glorify God is not in the loudest and most professional sounding rendition of the hymn “To God Be the Glory”, but in often-quiet, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-filled lives.

Why does our church [or your church] exist? It exists for the same reason as every other church, which is no less that the same purpose for which Jesus did all he did – for the glory of God!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

October 8, 2017

Sunday Worship

The Last Book of the Old Testament

NIV Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

Today we’re paying a return visit to John D. West at the blog WestWord | Reflections from a Christian Perspective. This article is a perfect fit to our Sunday Worship theme. Click the title to read at source. Then navigate through the blog for similar summaries of other Bible books.

Gleanings from the Bible: Malachi

The last book of the Old Testament is an encouragement and a warning to the existing generation of that day to not allow their faith to slide or be lost. The present state of worship was in bad shape and a tumultuous 400 years would follow before the events of the New Testament saw God dramatically intervening, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

Even since the return from Exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, expressions of worship had slid into perfunctory patterns, devoid of real depth and meaning. Much of Malachi’s condemnation is therefore directed towards the priests and as such could be a warning to leaders of Christian worship everywhere.

I’ve noticed it often in Anglican worship (both high and low church) where the liturgy is said in a rapid monotone, without expression or any apparent reflection. Where the trappings associated with Holy Communion seem almost to be flung around without any thought of their significance. Like the rolling stone that gathers no moss engagement with God or the Spirit never seems to have a chance to stick. Surely we do a disservice to both God and his people when we fail to read or recite with expression and when we are offhand with symbols which are meant to remind us of the depth of God’s love for us.

The priests also seem to have lapsed when it came to preserving the teaching which had been entrusted to them. Instead of preserving knowledge their teaching was causing people to stumble. This morning I was reading the same sorts of warnings from Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 3-4). Teachers who had become weary of sound doctrine, always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, having a form of godliness but denying its power. I may have said it before, but I often wonder whether the powerlessness and sterility of some expressions of worship and doctrine have created a boredom, which has given rise to the searching and experimentation of so-called Progressive Christianity, a conglomeration of faith which in its more extreme forms has departed from Christianity altogether.

But Malachi’s complaint goes further. Worship, of course, involves us beyond Temple, Synagogue or Church walls. It is expressed in our day to day attitude. Malachi reminds us of what an insult it is to offer God the leftovers of our life. His example is sacrifice on the altar, but ours could be the loose change on the collection plate or the paltry time we give to God in prayer, or our reluctance to heed his calling for us to get involved in his work, all because we have just too many other things to occupy our wealth, time and talents. Only when we truly engage with God do we find the spiritual blessings that really satisfy. Only when God is at the centre of our lives can we know balance and fulfillment. Only when God is first can we realize the purpose of humankind to glorify him and enjoy his presence.

Malachi, like other prophets, speaks of the Day of the Lord. A day is coming when justice will prevail, where good and evil will be seen for what they are, where comprehensive healing will come with righteousness.

That day arrived with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It will reach its fulfillment in the day that he returns, and in the meantime we must examine ourselves and heed the call, Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty (3:7).

And there it is. It is not just by going through the motions and it is not by creating new and innovative doctrines. It is by returning to Yahweh Almighty as revealed to us in the Scriptures and now, more particularly in Jesus Christ. For that is where the exciting  life-changing transformation really takes place!

 

October 25, 2015

Best Choir Ever

Largest Choir Ever

While I owe much of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, I also can be awestruck by a choir. Some choir music is characterized by powerful high energy, and other types are characterized by the beauty of rich harmony.

You may not — especially if you’re a guy — get excited about the sung worship time at your church, but music and the capital-C Church are inseparable. Christianity is a singing faith; something that traces back to our Jewish origins.

This morning I heard a sermon on Nehemiah 12, as the nation celebrates the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right

38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction…

40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 

42b … The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

I would love to have heard the sound of these dual choirs performing opposite each other. This was long before the combined choir music sung in European cathedrals, and I must add long before HD sound, SurroundSound, or even Quadraphonic Stereo. I’m sure people went back to their homes saying, ‘Best. Worship. Ever.’

I know it can’t compare to the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation, in which we will all some day participate, but it must have ranked among the most amazing sounds ever heard on earth.

I think it’s interesting that verse 47 tells us that the musicians were set apart for this purpose. If some or all of their material needs were supplied it could mean that they did not need other employment, or were at the very least bi-vocational. There was no doubt a certain level of technical competence among those chosen for this particular task. I have dabbled in music all my life, and at times earned income doing so, but I still wonder if would make it into Zerubbabel’s band or Nehemiah’s vocal team. I’m not saying they had auditions, but I think only the best made the cut to serve in this particular way.

How do we recreate the same type of musical moment? The challenge today for us is to similarly find ways to raise “the song of the Lord” in the marketplace, but sometimes the public square is not available — literally or figuratively — for the church to rent.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

This psalm provides us some info we don’t get from other histories in scripture, and the people of God were being asked to sing, when their captivity made it hard to form a song on the lips.

We aren’t in captivity right now as much as we are moving toward a period of cultural and political exile. Christianity doesn’t have the pull that it once had. But our challenge is similar: How do raise the Lord’s song in an increasingly hostile environment?


Photo:At least in terms of size, the choir pictured above is taken from a YouTube video frame posted by the Guiness Book of Records on October 15th, 2015 of the largest gospel choir consisting of 8688 participants of the Members Church of God International (Philippines) at the Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines just days earlier. Click the image to watch the video.

 

February 6, 2015

The Gospel Points in Three Directions

NIV Rom. 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

J.D. Greear wrote a book on the subject of assurance, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, which I enjoyed reading and I always make a point of tracking his blog.  This article appeared recently and I felt it would be a good fit here at C201.  To read at source click the title below.

The Gospel in Three Directions

If you were to ask the average Christian, “How can you become more self-controlled, more upright—essentially, more in line with God’s will?” what would the answer be? Greater will power, perhaps. Or maybe more theological knowledge. Having accountability partners. Maintaining a consistent quiet time. The list goes on.

What if you asked the Apostle Paul? His answer would be clear: you change when you experience the grace of God. “The grace of God,” Paul says, “train[s] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). How does God’s grace do this? By focusing our attention in three directions:

Upward Backward Forward - The GospelThe gospel points UPWARD, redirecting our worship.

Sin problems don’t start as sin problems. They start as worship problems. At the root of all sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, is the colossal mistake of “giving the glory of God to created things” (Romans 1:23). The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) carried the connotation of “weight.” The Greek word for glory (doxa) hints at ideas of majesty and beauty. Put the two together and you get a good idea of the problem: we gave a weightiness and a beauty to things more than we gave to God. As Matt Papa says in Look and Live, sin is simply worship misdirected.

To change sin at the heart level, which is where God wants to change it, he has to change what we worship. As Paul Tripp puts it, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” The gospel, and the gospel alone, does that, redirecting our worship and reigniting our passions. It points us upward to a God who is better and more glorious and more satisfying than any of our pathetic idols.

The gospel points BACKWARD, restoring our gratefulness.

Every now and then, someone tries to identify one sin as the core sin, the one really bad guy that leads to everything else. I’ve seen people point the finger at pride, at lust, at envy. What I hardly ever hear is what Paul says in Romans 1:21: “They did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” Thanklessness! Did I hear you right, Paul?

This may not seem obvious at first, but think about it. When you lack gratitude, not only do you rob someone of the glory that belongs to them; you also convince yourself that you could have gotten on fine without them. I’ve heard Tim Keller describe it like plagiarism. When you plagiarize, you steal credit that belongs to someone else. But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is that you also deceive others into thinking you’re someone you aren’t. If I were to find some lost C.S. Lewis book manuscript in a relative’s attic and publish it as my own, that may impress some folks. But when the publisher comes asking for more, I’m in a bind.

This is the situation thanklessness puts us in toward God. We rob his glory, which is bad enough. But then we also parade around as if we’re self-sufficient. We forget that every breath we have comes from God. And that thankless spirit leads to bitterness, pride, and a host of other sins.

The gospel gives us a reason to be thankful, eternally thankful. It transforms us by reminding us that as much as we’ve dishonored God, he still came for us. And as we reflect on what he did for us, it begins to change what we do today.

The gospel points FORWARD, raising our expectations.

In the gospel, we see what God is making us and the future he has for us. He puts in us a taste, a hunger, for the perfection he’s creating in us. My wife was at a conference recently with an older Christian leader. Reflecting on his life—and knowing he didn’t have many years left—he said, “What am I looking forward to? Sinlessness. I can almost taste it.” When this man looked forward to the future, he didn’t grow frustrated because his youth was gone. He trembled in anticipation of seeing his God face to face, of having all of the poison of sin once and for all taken away.

Is that what you’re excites you about heaven? If it is, you long for it and move toward that now. You work against injustice. You battle sin in your own life. You become eager to do good works (Titus 2:14), not because they save you, but because what God has shown you about the future is so beautiful that you can almost taste it.

In contrast, religion points INWARD, toward our failures.

The gospel points us upward to a God who gave himself for us, backward to the price he paid for our sin, and forward to what he’s making us into. Religion can point, too. But instead of point out toward what God has done, it points a finger at us, telling us to try harder.

As Tim Chester puts it, religion says you should not, while the gospel says you need not. Religion is constantly shouting, “You shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend! You shouldn’t get drunk! You shouldn’t lose your temper!” That’s not good news to people struggling with those issues. That’s condemnation. But the gospel says, “You need not give yourself to your boyfriend, because God’s love will never fail you. You need not get drunk, because Jesus offers a more sure refuge. You need not lose your temper, because God is in control.”

Sin is always making promises it can’t keep. Religion doesn’t do anything to expose them; it just adds more false promises. But the gospel exposes every lie by showing us a God who is better. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

 


 

For more on this, be sure to listen to the entire message here.

December 28, 2013

Is Full-Time Ministry a Higher Calling?

Today’s article is by Paul Burleson, who has been in pastoral ministry for 54 years. It appeared at his blog under the title Is Full Time Ministry a Higher Calling Than Any Other Calling?  (You’ll also find two articles from December 2013 exploding seven specific myths associated with Christmas.)

In Ephesians 4:1 Paul says this….

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….” [the New American Standard Bible (1995)] The King James version uses the word “vocation” but it is better understood as “calling.” It is a reference to the general calling of grace that the first three chapters have described. So all Christians have a “calling” and we’re to walk accordingly.

Roman Catholic writer Michael Novak wrote a book on ‘Business as a Calling’ in which he presented four aspects of a “calling.” [His idea was in the context of business remember.] He said a calling will have …

1) An understanding that it is a personal and unique calling to you….

2) A requirement for the talents needed for the task and a love for the drudgery that may be involved in the task to which you’re called….

3) The presence of an enjoyment for and renewed energies from the doing of the task that is your calling….

4) A period of discernment and testing for [learning all about] the task to which you’re called.

Not bad.

I would think, in the Ephesians 4 context, our calling, which is to the same “Lord” Paul said he was a prisoner of in verse one and that “Lordship” calling is for EVERY true believer, might have the same characteristics about it…

1) It IS personal and unique to each of us…

2) We HAVE been gifted for our Life in Him…

3) There IS joy unspeakable in our life in Him and strength provided for the living of life…

4) We then spend the rest of our lives learning what life is all about by “hearing Him” as commanded of the Father. As I said, not bad!

I would also add what someone else has called a “fifth aspect” of a true calling and it is..

5) An orientation away from self so our goal would be the glory of God and the good of others in all things. That makes it even better.

It is obvious from all this that I believe we as Christians have accepted the universal vocation [calling] of following Christ and Novak’s ideas can be seen as relevant to that task/life.

But… is there in life a calling to a more specific vocation for all of us through which we make a living, provide for our families and, generally, live out our days on earth?

In other words, are we “called” to a career? And if we are, how do we know what we are to do for a career or livelihood? Add to that the question… is the “calling” to “full-time ministry” [career] a GREATER calling than the calling to other careers?

It is this that concept that I’m addressing today.

Since I believe ALL of life is sacred and there is NO division in scripture between the sacred and the secular [See 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.] I think we are to view ANYTHING we choose to do in life as a “calling.” A better way of saying it is we are to see anything we choose to do as an opportunity to “life-out our Lordship calling.” Choose anything you wish, but see it as a commitment to express His life in you and understand that what you do choose is a gift from Him to you.

Someone may be saying “Wait a minute Brother Paul, it sounds like you’re saying we can choose however we wish in matters of life instead of finding God’s specific will in those matters.” I am. The only WILL God has revealed to you and me specifically is that we are to live as what we are…’Sanctified people.” [1 Thess. 4:3 the rest of the chapter shows what that looks like.]

When we are committed to Him as Lord we will reflect that in whatever we choose. Our life is not to be lived trying to find out what He wishes we would do in each decision but, rather, in celebrating who He is as our Lord and making ANY decision accordingly.

So, I say marry whomever you choose, go to whatever University you wish, get whatever degree you desire, and live doing wherever you long to live doing. But in EVERY CHOICE YOU MAKE, see it as that which allows you to be effective for God in this world and bring glory to Him and good for other people. Your vocation or marriage or career or whatever, will only allow you to establish God’s order and virtue in your life and to assist other people to do the same. This is Christianity to me.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t an eternal and secret will that God is working out for us in His Divine Purposes. But it is to say that, by definition, that will is “secret” and we’ll understand in all only in “eternity.” Don’t worry. You won’t miss God in decisions. He really is in control. He’s unique that way.

By the way, as to whether a “calling to full-time ministry” is more sacred than anyone else’s, my answer is NO. It is different. It is unique to the one called. There are greater responsibilities for certain areas of life affected by that calling. But remember, all that is true of every christian’s life, as well in their unique way of living that life in employment. It’s ALL sacred and satisfying and spiritual when He is Lord.

So you obviously can see I believe every christian IS a full-time minister. Some are just placed as gifts to the Body as shepherds/pastors/elders/deacons, recognized by the body as gifts, but all Christians are gifts to and gifted for the Body of Christ in some fashion, [for ministry] and for the living of life however we live it. [Which is what ministry is.] “Whatsoever you do, do ALL to the glory of God.”

By the way, if I’m out in left field with this, don’t tell me. I’m having too much fun out here. ;)

Just kidding!