Friday, April 25, 2008

Does God Punish Christians?

Last week we looked at the situation of the security of the believer. We saw that the Scriptures plainly teach that everyone who places their faith in Christ is secure in His love. But the question was raised, what about the believer who has backslidden? What about the believer who is wandering away from the truth? How does God deal with us in that situation? Are we subject to the punishment of God? it is a good question. What do the Scriptures say?

First of all, we should note in the strongest terms that those who have placed their faith in Christ alone for salvation are spared eternally from the wrath of God.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are promised eternal life. The full weight of judgement for our sin fell upon Christ. As Christians, we have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As Christians, we will never be subject to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is God’s just punishment of those who reject Him. Paul writes that we were all, in our unregenerate state, subject to God’s wrath.

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you 1were adead 2in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you aformerly walked according to the 1course of bthis world, according to cthe prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in dthe sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all aformerly lived in bthe lusts of our flesh, 1indulging the desires of the flesh and of the 2mind, and were cby nature dchildren of wrath, eeven as the rest.

God’s wrath will come, according to Colossians 3:6 on the ‘disobedient.’ God’s wrath includes all of God’s judgement, culminating in an eternity separated from Him.

2 Thessalonians 1:6-12 6 1For after all ait is only just 2for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted 1and to us as well 2awhen the Lord Jesus will be revealed bfrom heaven cwith 3His mighty angels din flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who ado not know God and to those who bdo not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of aeternal destruction, baway from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

But when we placed our faith in Christ alone for our salvation, we were removed from being objects of His wrath.

Romans 5:9 9 Much more then, having now been justified 1aby His blood, we shall be saved bfrom the wrath of God through Him.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not destined us for awrath, but for bobtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 awho died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

So the promise is that the believer in Christ will never be subject to God’s wrath.

Instead, as we examined last week, believers have been, according to Romans 8:29, predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,"

So the life of the believer should be marked by increased resemblance to the image of Christ. We will discuss the issue of sanctification in full in a few weeks during our Adult Bible Class on Sunday mornings. This, according to the apostle Paul, is a work of the Spirit of God in us – a work that He will continue until it is complete.

Philippians 1:6 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until athe day of Christ Jesus.

It is how He finishes the work that we are addressing this morning. And that, is a process of refinement. So at this point I want to broaden the question a bit. Because as I was studying this week, it seemed as though the issue of God’s discipline of the believer really comes down to the idea of how God uses suffering to shape us into the image of Christ. And for this, we see a few categories into which to divide the topic. I want to move through these fairly quickly so that we can see God’s overarching plan at the end.

The most general category of suffering is the suffering we experience as a result of living in a fallen world.

Romans 8:20-22 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

So-called ‘natural disasters fall into this category: floods, earthquakes, tornadoes – every evidence that we see of a fallen world that is around us. Death and disease are a result of the fall. Every funeral is a reminder that sin results in death.

Romans 5:12 12 Therefore, just as through aone man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--

Also in this category are the sinful actions of sinful people. They have nothing against you – it’s nothing personal, but they are for themselves and you just happen to be in the way. Whether it is the unscrupulous business person or the guy that cuts you off in traffic – sinful people do sinful things. As a result, others suffer. Sometimes these are small men with small actions. Sometimes they are small men with big actions, such as wars and holocausts and pograms, ethnic cleansing – it all comes down to sinful people acting sinfully.

We may suffer as a result of sinful people doing sinful things – and we should not get bitter or angry, but should just chalk it up to the result of living in a fallen world.

The next category of suffering is, for lack of a better term, is suffering as a result of our own sinfulness. This itself falls into two categories: suffering as a natural consequence of sinful decisions and divine chastisement – what you might call a divine spanking.


The first grouping is the natural consequences of our own sinful decisions. If you choose to have sex outside of marriage you may experience pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. If you choose to drink to the point of getting drunk and then climb into a vehicle, you may be arrested. If you persist in willful, unrepentant sin, you may be subject to church discipline. Paul describes this sort of suffering in 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Timothy 1.

1 Timothy 1:20 20 1Among these are aHymenaeus and bAlexander, whom I have chanded over to Satan, so that they will be dtaught not to blaspheme.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has ahis father's wife. 2 1You ahave become 2arrogant and 1have not bmourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be cremoved from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though aabsent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 aIn the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and 1I with you in spirit, bwith the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to adeliver such a one to bSatan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in cthe day of the Lord 1Jesus.

In these cases, the church is called to do a hard thing – that is to ask a professed believer to leave the church, because he or she is in unrepentant sin. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 as well. Paul describes it as ‘turning a person over to Satan.’ What this most likely means is turning a person into the realm of Satan, which is the world, to suffer the natural consequences of their sinful choices. Notice in 1 Corinthians 5, that this was for "the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The hope is that such a drastic and loving action on behalf of the church would bring an erring brother or sister to repentance.
The second half of this category of suffering as a result of our own sin is divine chastisement – a divine spanking. This is when God, in His grace and mercy, bring such hardship to our lives that we are brought to sorrow and repentance. God’s chastising hand may bring emotional distress.

1 Samuel 16:14-15 14 aNow the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and ban evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. 15 Saul's servants then said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you.

The word translated here ‘evil’ spirit should probably be translated ‘troubling,’ or ‘distressing’ spirit. The Lord brought to Saul a troubled mind – an evidence of God’s patience and love for Saul. God’s plan in these situations is that His hand would be heavy upon us, so that we would be overwhelmed with godly sorrow, that would lead to repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything 1through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance 1without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

God’s hand of chastisement upon a believer is, in itself, a sign that we are sons of God.

Proverbs 3:11-12 11 aMy son, do not reject the 1discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, 12 For awhom the LORD loves He reproves, Even bas a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

Hebrews 12:7 It is for discipline that you endure; aGod deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, aof which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had 1earthly fathers to discipline us, and we arespected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?

This is the chastisement that Jonah felt in the belly of the great fish. But if we refuse to repent; If we continue to reject His hand against us, He may discipline us so severely that He takes us home to be with Him.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number 1asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with bthe world.

The context is this: The Lord’s supper, as it was practiced in the first century was composed of three parts: footwashing, a fellowship meal and the ceremony of the bread and the cup. The whole service was to emphasize that we are part of the same body and that we are united in Christ. Well, the believers in Corinth, when they came together for the meal, they brought just enough for themselves, and they ate what they brought. The result was that some who came were getting drunk and being gluttonous, while others were going away hungry. The meal, that was supposed to be a symbol of community, became a license for individual debauchery. Paul says they are ‘guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.’ Because of this sin, the Lord had brought sickness on some of the individuals in the church, and even had taken some of them home to be with Him. If you don’t repent when God is chastening you, and you are bringing reproach upon His body, the church, you can expect a divine spanking.

James seems to point in this direction when he describes the remedy for sickness in chapter 5. Within the context, it seems that the best understanding of the prayer of faith for a sick believer is that the believer is sick because of sin.

James 5:14-15 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for athe elders of the church and they are to pray over him, 1banointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the aprayer 1offered in faith will 2brestore the one who is sick, and the Lord will craise him up, and if he has committed sins, 3they will be forgiven him.

Our response when we experience suffering ought to be to examine our lives, to see where we might need to repent of our sin. if you are backsliding, repent.


1 Peter 4:12-16 12 aBeloved, do not be surprised at the bfiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you ashare the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the brevelation of His glory cyou may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled 1afor the name of Christ, byou are blessed, cbecause the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that anone of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a 1btroublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a aChristian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to bglorify God in this name.

This category of suffering is one with which we are familiar, in theory, if not in practice. This is just the fulfillment of Jesus’ words when He said ‘if they hate me, they will hate you.’ And ‘blessed is the one who endures persecution for my names’ sake.’ It is a third category of suffering.

And now I want to tie all of these threads together. Because no matter the reason for suffering, our Lord has one purpose in allowing us to experience suffering – and that is that we would be conformed to the image of Christ. To see this, I would like us to take a closer look at Hebrews 12.

This is the classic passage that deals with God’s chastening hand upon us. Usually, this is taken only in the negative sense of God’s chastening hand because of our unrepentant sinfulness. However, there are a couple of things that betray that analysis. First of all, in the wider context of the book of Hebrews, the author writes of Jesus as '‘learning obedience from the things which He suffered."

Hebrews 5:8 8 Although He was aa Son, He learned bobedience from the things which He suffered.

Now obviously Jesus was perfect. He never sinned. Yet in some way God the Father used suffering in Jesus’ life on earth to perfect His obedience to the Father.

There are some aspects of this passage that point towards suffering as a result of living in a fallen world. There are some aspects of this passage that point towards suffering as a result of a heavenly spanking. There are some aspects of this passage that point towards suffering as a result of our Christian witness. Overall, this passage brings all suffering under one banner – the sovereignty of God. This passage brings meaning to all suffering by relating our suffering to the suffering of Christ. For if He, being the divine Son, did not escape suffering; we, being the sons of God by faith in Christ, will face suffering also. And the Lord uses all suffering, no matter the reason, in His divine plan to grow us in holiness.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also alay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us brun with cendurance the race that is set before us, 2 1fixing our eyes on Jesus, the 2aauthor and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him bendured the cross, cdespising the shame, and has dsat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For aconsider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary 1band lose heart. 4 aYou have not yet resisted 1bto the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "aMY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR bFAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 aFOR THOSE bWHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." 7 It is for discipline that you endure; aGod deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, aof which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had 1earthly fathers to discipline us, and we arespected them; shall we not much rather be subject to bthe Father of 2spirits, and clive? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, aso that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline afor the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the bpeaceful fruit of righteousness.

In the passage before us in chapter 12, we also note the prominent example of Jesus – verse 2
Hebrews 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the 2aauthor and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him bendured the cross, cdespising the shame, and has dsat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For aconsider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary 1band lose heart.

Just as God the Father planned Jesus’ suffering, for Jesus to be perfected in obedience, so also God uses suffering in our lives to perfect us in the image of Christ. Jesus thus becomes our example, our template for handling suffering – and submitting to suffering as Jesus did.
Notice that the purpose in considering the suffering of Jesus on the cross at the hands of ungodly men is so that we will not ‘grow weary and lose heart.’ in verse 4, the author reminds the readers that they have not endured suffering to the point of suffering martyrdom – the shedding of blood – in their struggle against sin. That is to say that you have not become so holy that people are throwing you on a cross to get rid of you.

Verse 6, you have forgotten the exhortation – or ‘encouragement’ that if you experience suffering, it means that you are sons of God. And again, there is a sense that we are to think if Jesus was the Son, and He suffered, then if we are sons, we should expect suffering. And we should grow from suffering in holiness.

In verse 10, we see that God’s purpose in all of our suffering, no matter the reason why we are suffering, is that we may grow in holiness.

Hebrews 12:10 but He disciplines us for our good, aso that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline afor the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the bpeaceful fruit of righteousness.

The word translated here ‘discipline,’ is a word that is used both positively and negatively. In the negative sense, as punishment; but in the positive sense as ‘training.’ Here, the idea of training seems to be in mind. This passage seems to place all suffering under the same umbrella, that of God’s training us in holiness and maturing us in our faith.

Ultimately, all suffering falls under the rubric of God’s purpose of shaping us into the image of Christ.

Psalm 66:10 10 For You have atried us, O God; You have brefined us as silver is refined.

Here’s the overall point: if you are suffering, good. Because it means that God is shaping you, remaking you until you look like Jesus. So what should be our response to suffering?

Repentance if we are in sin. If you are bitter about your circumstances and your suffering, repent and learn to submit to God’s sovereign hand.

A second response: rejoicing.

James 1:2-4 2 aConsider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter bvarious 1trials, 3 knowing that athe testing of your bfaith produces 1cendurance. 4 And let 1aendurance have its perfect 2result, so that you may be 3bperfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 5:2-5 and 1we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 aAnd not only this, but 1we also bexult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about cperseverance; 4 and aperseverance, bproven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope adoes not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

A third response: a humble submission to the will of our loving heavenly Father, who desires through suffering to remove dross and make us pure.

Pastor Jeff

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Well, this week we set out on what could be some uncharted territory. I am going to do a series of sermons that are answering questions posed by members of the congregation. It should be both fun and challenging. The questions range from the deep theological end to the practical/experiential. Here are some of the questions: (they are listed in no particular order)

Question 1: When we get to heaven, will there be temptation and will we be thinking about sin and earthly temptations? It may sound corny but while we are here, it is impossible to avoid all the sin and temptation around us. I can try as hard as I like and it is still there and I cannot get it out of my head not matter how hard I try. You know it is there and at some point you will get reminded of it and even be tempted. So is it erased when we get to heaven?

Question 2: What is heaven like?

Question 3: Does God punish Christians?

Question 4: Do we have to be baptized to be saved? What about those who were baptized in other styles of churches as a baby?

Question 5: Is being born again the same as being saved?

Question 6: Once you become saved as a Christian, can you ever lose your place in heaven?

Question 7: What prophesies need fulfilled before Jesus returns?

Question 8: In reference to Jeremiah 32:18 ("who shows lovingkindness to thousands, but repays the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children after them, O great and mighty God. The LORD of hosts is His name;"), Does God punish children for their parents' actions? If parents teach their children to be atheists, at what age are the children held accountable for their own spiritual condition?

Question 9: The boys want to know about those who believe in snake handling and speaking in tongues.

Question 10: Explain what part the Holy Spirit plays in the Trinity and His function in our lives today?

Question 11: Explain fasting and should we still practice it today?

As you can tell, it will be a fun few weeks as we dive into these important topics. I will post back each week with answers.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Hard Day

Some of you may have heard today of the tragic event that ocurred last night in Hebron. One of the freshman girls at Thayer Central High School killed herself. I've just returned home from the school, where I spent the day doing as Paul teaches, "weeping with those who weep." It has been a hard day. I am preparing now to go to New Life Assembly, to spend time with students and family members who want to grieve. Please pray for Hayley's family, who are unchurched. Pastor Mark Baldwin (a Bible-believing pastor of the Methodist church) will be officiating the service on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m., which will be held at the Catholic church in town.

Though sometimes I have grumbled and been stressed when leading (with Matt) the SLX group, I am profoundly grateful that the Lord has used my time with the speech kids and the SLX kids to lay a foundation of relationship for ministry, for both Matt and myself. We have been able to share with the kids that we have an eternal hope in Jesus. Please pray for Matt and I, and for the believers who have access to the school right now, to comfort hurting kids. Please pray for the kids, as they mourn the loss of one of their friends. Pray especially for Jessica, one of my speech kids, and for Kelsay and for Jennica and Nate & Kesston (some of our SLX kids), as well as Amber and Michael and Rachel and Lynn & Ethan in our own church.

This has been hard for me on another level as well. The young lady was 14. Ethan is 14. As I walked down the hallways and sat around the tables today, many of the kids there were Ethan's classmates. Many of these kids have spent a lot of time at our home, playing basketball in our driveway and together at school functions. They are like my own kids, in many ways. It is hard to see your kids hurting.

For those who have helped with Awana, the young lady who took her own life came and helped us for a couple of nights in December. She was a sweet young lady, and we grieve her loss.

Her family is unchurched, so please pray that the manifold grace of God would bear fruit for His glory.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Meaningless Polls: A Source of Irritation

This is an example of the sort of thing that irritates me: CNN asks us the question about whether a Middle East peace treaty will be signed by the end of President Bush's term. Why does it matter what I think? It doesn't. Either a treaty will be signed (and subsequently broken by one or both parties), or it won't be. I don't know enough to have an opinion on this issue, and neither do the 97,797 people who actually voted (unless, of course, the people doing the voting are the ones actually in position to sign said treaty).

It seems that we are regularly asked to weigh in on matters of scientific fact (has the earth gotten warmer?), world politics (should Musharraf resign?) and law (should Michael Vick get the death penalty?) for which our opinion is meaningless. These things will not change, regardless of my opinion or yours. These questions should be answered by (in turn) global thermometer readers, Musharraf and the law books. Contrary to what we are sometimes told, on most issues, what we think doesn't matter.

So, to CNN and all of the people who make a living by thinking up inane questions on which you want our opinion: stop!

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Self Conscious Blog Entry

I begin this blogging-thing with something approaching fear and trepidation. The great advances in technology we have experienced in the last fifteen years have been incredible. With this technology, anyone can be published. However, not everyone should be published. Further, the writings in this format that are most successful are those that are updated regularly. Thus you have a dual pressure to write, and to write frequently. Frankly, I don't have the time to keep up with everything I'm supposed to be doing, much less keeping one more thing up to date.

All of this notwithstanding, I am going to jump into the fray, when I think I have some thoughts that are worthy of discussion. So sit back and read . . . and enjoy.

Pastor Jeff

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reflections Upon the Fourth Commandment

Often I am offered the opportunity to address the question as to whether it is sinful for the believer to make a practice of skipping corporate worship services. To be sure, the question does not always present itself that way. Usually, their practice of skipping worship services is defended by one of two tacks: a) I can worship the Lord by myself, studying the Bible and praying; and b) I get together to talk to other believers regularly,therefore I am not 'forsaking the assembling.'

Until recently, about the best Scriptural point I was able to make was simply quoting Hebrews 10:25 (alluded to above) "not forsaking our own assembling together." But at the risk of sounding self-serving (after all, pastor's love it when everyone shows up for church), I will attempt a humble defense of the necessity of the corporate worship service for the life of the church.

At the most basic level, it has become ever clearer to me as I look both at the whole of Scripture and at the principle of the Sabbath, that taking a day to 'rest' is important for our spiritual well-being and growth. We were not designed to run busily day-in, day-out with no end in sight. The Lord, in His wisdom, established by example for us the rhythm, work six, rest for one.

In the New Testament, this day of rest has been shifted, from the seventh day (Saturday) to the first day (Sunday), to celebrate the day on which our Lord was resurrected. Further, because Christ is the 'end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,' we are not bound to the specific dictates of the law. Even so, the principle of the Sabbath (made for man, that is for our good) reflects the design and designs of our Creator, and if we are to be obedient to Him, we will make it a regularpractice to keep a day of rest.

But what about church attendance? Surely a believer can celebrate the Sabbath principle by resting in his or her boat, or in the woods, or at home in front of the television (perhaps watching one of those tv preachers), can't he? The answer is yes . . . and no. Certainly we can rest in the physical sense anywhere that is relaxing (even in the back row at church). But is that all there is to resting? The answer is no. We will answer this at two levels.

First of all, the idea of 'rest' is prominent throughout the Scriptures. It is a promise of the Lord to His people, 'I will give you rest.' The idea of rest included peace (not being at war with our enemies (Deu 25:19)), provision (not being at war with the sin-cursed land (Gen. 5:29; Lev. 25:2-6; Lev. 25:19-22)), and worship (the Sabbath is 'holy to the Lord' (Exo 20:8-11, Exo 31:15; Psa 92). This makes it clear that the idea of a Sabbath-rest is not just 'taking it easy,' but is focused on the Lord. It is a day set aside for corporate worship. A brief reflection on Psalm 92, a Psalm with the subtitle "a Song for the Sabbath Day" highlights the God-centered focus of a Sabbath-rest. "It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High," the psalmist begins. The worship described in Psalm 92 includes musical instruments and singing (vss. 1-4), and concludes with public adoration to the Rock of our salvation.

Further, Jesus calls us to come to Him to receive rest. Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11, 28 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." To this, the author of the book of Hebrews proclaims that there 'remains a sabbath rest for the people of God' (Heb. 4:9). From this we see that Christ is the sabbath rest for God's people. When we come together to worship corporately (a practiced rather assumed in the NT than commanded), we are celebrating the rest we have in Jesus. We are worshipping Christ, and this is 'resting' at the highest order. A Sabbath-rest is, at its core, Christ-focused worship.

In contrast, many of the rest-activities with which we engage ourselves on this 'day of rest' are not Christ adoring, but self serving. Can we honestly say that most of the activities we choose to engage in on Sunday instead of being involved in corporate worship are Christ-centered, Christ-exalting activities? Probably not.

What about the second alternative, the idea that we simply stay home on Sunday mornings, reading our bibles, praying and maybe catching a re-run of Billy Graham on tv? Isn't this an adequate expression of the idea of the Sabbath rest? Again, I believe the best answer to this question is no. First of all, in Leviticus 23, the Lord describes the occasions on which there was to be a 'holy convocation,' that is, a holy gathering of thepeople of God. The very first date on the list was the 'sabbath day' (Lev 23:3). This was a public, corporate worship service. Secondly, Jesus Himself made a habit of being in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16). Third, the practice of the early church (people, not building) was to gather together regularly for worship that included the public reading of Scripture, teaching by the elders, singing songs, hymns and spiritual songs, giving, the celebration of the Lord's table (communion), prayer and fellowship(Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor. 11, 1 Cor. 14; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Even further, we are commanded to carry out the 'one another' commands of the New Testament (of which there are about 50). How are we able to fulfill those commands if we never meet? We can't.

Thus we are commanded to meet together, to worship together, to exalt Christ together through song, prayer and the teaching of the word of God. There are, however, two cautions I would add. First, the keeping of the sabbath principle is not a legalistic requirement in order to earn favor with God. It is to be a joyful celebration of all that God is for us in Christ. Second, this is not a prohibition from ever missing church. We live only by His grace. Being involved with a worship service should be our habit andour joy.

But there are situations that occasionally call us away from worship. There are many people, for example, who are scheduled by their employer to work on Sunday morning. What should they do? First, attend regular worship services as often as you can. Ask the Lord for a change in your schedule. Second, seek an alternate time to worship. This could be as simple as a regular Bible study of which you are a part. Some churches offer more than one worship service of which you can be a part. If not Sunday morning, then Sundayevening or Saturday evening. Third, take another day to rest. For me, and for many pastors, Monday has become my day of rest. Make certain that you take time both to rest physically and spiritually, for your own growth and joy in Christ.

I will close with the encouragement of Psalm 92 for your day.

Psalm 92:1 A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day. It is good to givethanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness bynight,
3 With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, With resounding music uponthe lyre.
4 For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing forjoy at the works of Your hands.
5 How great are Your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep.
6 A senseless man has no knowledge, Nor does a stupid man understand this:
7 That when the wicked sprouted up like grass And all who did iniquityflourished, It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.
8 But You, O LORD, are on high forever.
9 For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, For, behold, Your enemies will perish;All who do iniquity will be scattered.
10 But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; I have beenanointed with fresh oil.
11 And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes, My ears hear of theevildoers who rise up against me.
12 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like acedar in Lebanon.
13 Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of ourGod.
14 They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap andvery green,
15 To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is nounrighteousness in Him.

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