More than mere worldly happiness, pastors long for their churches to be encouraged in Christ. For that is better by far. Indeed, as Psalm 63:3 declares, “the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.” And the love of God is seen most clearly in the gospel. Therefore, week in and week out, to the gospel we must go.
I propose a new church-growth model: Preach in such a way where you try to offend as many peoples’ sensibilities as possible. The Apostle Paul seems not only content to keep stumbling blocks in his message but scandalize through his bullhorn.
Johnny can’t preach because neither he nor his congregation can remember. We live in a world where we (and the people whom we serve) have outsourced our collective memories to Zuckerberg’s servers. Endless stories and shared posts on social media have rendered human events inane.
More important than a church being a “right church” is that it must be a true church. Any church that is a “true church” can become the “right church” for you, even if it isn’t right in the beginning.
How do you describe the Grand Canyon? A meteor shower? A rainbow after a storm? A wedding day? A newborn baby? These wonders are indescribably beautiful. And, yet, we reach for language to capture what our hearts behold. Of course, if this is true of creation, how much more for the Creator? Words fail us when we try to describe the wonders of God. How do you describe, for example, utter holiness? Perfect love? Infinite wisdom? Omnipresence? Omnipotence? Providence? The Trinity? We observe these attributes of God in his word and are often speechless. It almost seems wrong to speak of these things given the inadequacy of words to describe fully what we’re learning.
Four words are haunting me: “And their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23). With these four words Luke described the irreversible wave of fury that crashed on Jesus. The multitudes had a choice. The crowd could have opted for Barabbas—the convicted insurrectionist and murderer. But instead they chose Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate’s feeble attempts could not persuade the mob otherwise: But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted (Luke 23:18-24). It is easy for us to sit in judgment on those that cried out, “Crucify, …
On a recent flight to Dallas I enjoyed reading the current issue of American Way, the monthly magazine of American Airlines. In this particular issue the cover story was about golf phenom Lexi Thompson. Her remarks about why she loves the game of golf were striking: “Every day I wake up and somethings different in my game: my swing, the weather. That’s the thing about golf. It’s always a challenge every time you wake up. That’s why I gravitated to it. What keeps me going is that you can never perfect it.”
What Thompson recognizes about golf we can apply to the Christian life. Indeed, what keeps us going—striving for growth in practical holiness—is that we will never perfect the Christian life this side of heaven. There is always room for improvement.
Outside the church (i.e., outside the visible, organized Christ-confessing covenant community, where the gospel is preached purely, the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered purely, and where church discipline is used), the church often looks very different than it does to members. Those outside the church quite often assume that only those who have achieved a state of perfection are welcome in church. Let’s put that to rest immediately: the church most assuredly is not for the perfect. Were that the case, the church would be entirely empty as there are no perfected Christians this side of heaven. The only congregation of perfect people is what Reformed theologians call “the church triumphant” (i.e., that gathering of glorified believers in heaven). We get a picture of that congregation in the Revelation (e.g., chapter 4). The church as it exists in this world, in this life (called the “church militant”) is full of nothing but sinners, who manifest the effects of sin in every conceivable way. It has been that way from the moment sin …
Each Christmas season I find myself moved again and again by the profound truths we sing about in some of our better Christmas songs. Take, for example, these lyrics from “Silent Night”: Silent night, holy night Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth I thank God that I have not ceased to wonder at the mystery and reality of “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” But as I said in a recent sermon, as much as I appreciate many of our popular Christmas hymns the songs of Scripture sing with a power beyond anything written by mere men and women. I’m thinking of songs like that of Zachariah in Luke 1:68-79. Because Zachariah wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his words are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In other words, Zachariah’s song …