The Christian Calendar

The Gospel Driven Life
Michael Horton

Like the Old Testament feasts, the great events celebrated by Christians have to do with God’s mighty acts: the Son becoming flesh (Christmas), the crucifixion (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter), Christ’s exaltation to the right of the Father (Ascension Day), and the sending of the Spirit (Pentecost). There is no room in the Christian calendar for celebrating our own works.

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Worse Than Lions

I remember my last confirmation class before I left Romania.  I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church but to a zoo.  Before the cage of lions I told them, “your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith.  Know that you also will have to suffer.  You will not be thrown before lions but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions.  Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.”

They had tears in their eyes when they said yes.

– Richard Wurmbrand

A Singular Purpose

Ephesians 4:11–12

[11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

These verses introduce us to many different people with a variety of roles and strengths who all have a singular goal: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

Sometimes, the church is described as a hospital.  On the one hand, this is true.  The church is filled with people who are not well and far from perfect.  But think about the goal of a hospital.  A hospital aims to heal all of its patients so that the patients can get on with their lives as mothers, engineers, students, etc.

If the church is only a hospital, then the purpose of the church is to deal with our sins, weaknesses, and wounds so that we can get on with our lives and pursue our personal dreams and goals.

A body is very different.  Each part of the body has a different function: teeth are for chewing, eyes are for seeing, and feet are for walking and smelling bad.  Yet, all the parts of the body are working together for one larger purpose.  The body as a whole is fulfilling a singular purpose and each of its members contributes to that larger purpose.

In a similar way, each member of the church may have a different function.  Some are prophets and others are teachers or evangelists, etc.  But all are building up the body.

This is something we can conceptually understand but find hard to accept as it is the opposite of what our culture tells us is important.  The world says that what’s really important is what makes us different, but this is not true.

The Apostle Paul understands what is important in life.  In Ephesians 4:1 he speaks of how he is a prisoner for the Lord.  The Lord that He serves is worth going to prison for, worth giving his life for and it is for this Jesus that he urges us to walk in love, maintain the unity of the Spirit, and build up the body.

And while we may bristle at the idea of living for something that millions of saints and angels throughout history have lived for, there is something to be said about living for something that a single human life could not possibly accomplish or overshadow.  Our unique contributions may not be remembered clearly but the One for whom we live will be remembered and worshiped for all of eternity.  It is our privilege to live for the One who is greater than all other people, causes, and events that could ever be conceived.

 

Wonder and Awe

Hebrews 9:1-5 (ESV)

[1] Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. [2] For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. [3] Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, [4] having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. [5] Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

In modern times, art is often seen as a form of self-expression.  The most important thing is to be “authentic” and to express oneself earnestly.  Worship is often seen the same way.  As long as we sing or serve with good intentions and genuine emotion, God should accept it happily.  How we feel and what we desire to do for God becomes the primary focus.  

The biblical witness regarding worship is shockingly different.  God gives Moses incredibly detailed instructions for where and how the people are to worship.  When Nadab and Abihu offer God “unauthorized fire” to the Lord in Leviticus 10, He consumes them!  When a well-meaning Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark of God in the midst of worship, God strikes him down for his error (2 Samuel 6)!

In these moments, God appears to be a petty, controlling deity.  Doesn’t He know that it’s the thought that counts?

According to our passage, for as long as there have been a people of God, there have been regulations for worship.  God cannot be worshiped just any old way and this does not restrict us, it frees us.  Worship has always been greater than anything the whims of man could conceive of. 

When God designs the worship, we are reminded that God is light itself and His very body is given for us.  When God designs the worship, we are amazed that the Holy One of Israel would allow us to worship Him at all.  When God designs the worship, we are more aware of God’s presence, provision, authority, and justice than our own.  When God designs the worship, we are awed by the One who sits on a throne of mercy and is worshiped day and night by the saints and angels.

Why would we waste our time focusing on what is inside of us, when we can wonder at the One who is set apart from us (holy) and who is beyond us (infinite, glorious)?

For the Sake of His Name

Believing and Obeying Jesus Christ: The Urbana ’79 Compendium
Edited by John W. Alexander

Chapter 3: God’s Gospel
John R.W. Stott

Romans 1:1-5

[1] Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, [2] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, [3] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh [4] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, [5] through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…

If it is God the Father’s purpose that every knee and every tongue should acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus, it should be our purpose too.  We should be “jealous” for the honor of Christ’s name, troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed and all the time anxious that it should be given the honor and the glory which are due to it…

This is the highest missionary motivation.  It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor love for perishing sinners (right and strong as these incentives are), but rather zeal for the glory of Christ.  Some missionary endeavor has been a thinly disguised form of imperialism; that is, a hunger for the prestige of our country or our church or our organization or ourselves.  Only one imperialism is Christian, and that is concern for Christ’s empire or kingdom.  “For the sake of the name” is the missionary goal which causes all unworthy motives to wither and die.

It Matters to Jesus

How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?
Mike Wittmer

Everything hinges on how we answer the question, “Why justice?” or “Who is justice for?”

We fight for justice in part because we want to stop the perpetrators of evil and violence. This is why the most satisfying part of a Chuck Norris movie is the last ten minutes, when the smirking gangster takes a boot to the face.

A better answer, especially for pacifists, is that we seek justice to help the victims of oppression. We care about the widow being scammed by a conniving contractor and we grieve for children who are forced into prostitution or maimed to enhance their begging.

But the best—and only Christian—answer is that we seek justice not only to pay back the perpetrators and to rescue the oppressed but because we love Jesus Christ. No one weeps over injustice like Jesus (nor has anyone been treated so unjustly), and he has been taking names for a very long time. Unlike Chuck Norris, who returned each week to battle new bad guys, Jesus will return to settle things once and for all. He will “set the world to rights” (see N.T. Wright), for his words will become swords that “strike down” evildoers and he “will wipe every tear” from the eyes of his suffering children (Rev. 19:15; 21:4).

We are committed to justice because it matters to Jesus. But if we fight for justice for Jesus’ sake, we will never be satisfied with justice alone. We will not rest until every perpetrator and victim bows before his name, the returning King who gave his life so every unjust person who repents and believes in him may live forever.

This requires evangelism, and it flows naturally from the Christian passion for justice. If justice is primarily about Jesus, we will eagerly tell others about their need for him. If we forget Jesus, it won’t be long until we also lose our passion for justice. For without the promise of his glorious return, really, what’s the point?

Link: Complete Blog Post

A Sense of God

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

Our culture presents us with forms of prayer that are mostly self-expression – pouring ourselves out before God or lifting our gratitude to God as we feel the need and have the occasion.  Such prayer is dominated by a sense of self.  But prayer, mature prayer, is dominated by a sense of God.  Prayer rescues us from a preoccupation with ourselves and pulls us into adoration of and pilgrimage to God.

Waste

Watchman Nee

[3] And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. [4] There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? [5] For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. [6] But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. [7] For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. [8] She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. [9] And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

– Mark 14:3-9

The Lord has ordained that the story of Mary anointing Him with the costly ointment should always accompany the preaching of the gospel…

Now we must look at the question from two angles, that of Judas, and that of the other disciple. They all thought it to be a waste. To Judas, who had never called our Lord the Lord, everything that was poured upon Him was waste. Even water would have been waste. To the world, the service of the Lord, and our giving of ourselves to Him is pure waste. “Such and such a man would have made good in the world if he were not a Christian,” is a sentiment that is frequently expressed. For anyone with natural talents to be a Christian, to serve the Lord, is deemed to be pure waste…

Today, even amongst Christians, there can be found much of that spirit that wants to give as little as possible to the Lord, and yet to get as much as possible from Him…

That my usefulness should be brought to the full is not what the Lord is after, but His concern is rather with my position at His feet and my anointing of His head. What I have as an alabaster box, the most precious thing, my whole life. I give it all up to the Lord. It seems as if it is a waste, but that is what He is after…

Further, the Lord said, “Wherever the gospel shall be preached, this story shall be told.” Why? Because the gospel is meant to produce this. The gospel is not primarily for the satisfaction of sinners. The gospel is preached that everything may be to the satisfaction of the Son of God…

O friends, what are we after? Are we after mere usefulness, as those disciples were? They wanted to make every penny of that three hundred pence go to its full length. They wanted to be used themselves. If only we can please Him, surely that should be enough.