7 Reasons Weekly Worship is Vital

Central Indiana woke up to our first semi-substantial snowfall of 2016 this morning. And, while I don’t expect many to relate to what I’m about to say, I’m going to say it anyway.

Sunday snow stinks!

Any other day of the week, no problem. If it snows on Tuesday, we cancel school and everyone is happy. If it happens on a Saturday, everyone grabs a sled and heads to the hill at the park. But, to a minister, snow on a Sunday morning is a huge disappointment. It means that a large number of people will miss out on weekly worship. Some people shouldn’t be out in the snow; for senior adults venturing out can be quite risky. For the vast majority of people, heading to church in the snow poses no real threat. Grateful for the convenient excuse, many will simply choose to stay home.

As I was driving to the church in the snow this morning, a verse kept coming to mind:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching, (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Let’s state the obvious: some have given up the habit of meeting together. Regular church attendance, even for many mature believers, simply isn’t a priority. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s at least as old as the letter to the Hebrews. But it’s a problem we must continue to guard against.

So, whatever the weather happens to be when you wake up each Sunday morning, consider making weekly worship a priority. Here are 7 reasons weekly worship is vital.

1. Weekly worship is a counter-cultural statement.

The world may scoff at us, cast aspersions on the Church, or look down upon us for believing old myths and wives’ tales from an antiquated book. But we know better. We demonstrate the reality—and utter goodness—of God by deliberately and faithfully participating in the Body of Christ.

2. Our spiritual formation depends upon it.

Think about all you encounter on a Sunday morning: prayer, gospel-centered teaching and preaching, encouraging interactions with fellow believers, communion, people making spiritual decisions, opportunities to serve one another by meeting needs. All of those elements happen on a typical Sunday and all of them are essential for your spiritual formation. Even though you can get bits and pieces of these things elsewhere, there’s no substitute for experiencing them at corporate worship.

3. We meet Jesus in worship.

I belong to a church tradition that sets aside time each week to observe communion, the Lord’s Supper. There’s something deep and mysterious about the experience of meeting Jesus during the quiet moments of communion, along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is transformational and, therefore, not to be missed. (I chose the word transformational purposefully for I cannot think of a better way to describe it.)

4. Weekly worship clarifies our priorities.

We prioritize what we value. For our friends and neighbors who aren’t yet believers, Sunday is just another day. For us it is far from an ordinary day. It’s an opportunity to set aside the first hours of the brand-new week for what is most important to us. It’s a way to demonstrate that we are God’s people. He’s the one we value most. And, we show that he has first place in our lives by giving him the first few hours of our week.

5. We encourage one another in worship.

Meeting together in worship gives us a regular opportunity to go beyond the small talk that pervades most of our public interactions. We designate time during worship services for purposeful interactions and we linger before and after services to fellowship on a deeper level. Together, we celebrate joys, meet needs, carry burdens, share wisdom, pray, counsel, and care.

6. We can exercise our gifts in worship.

Attending church is about so much more than passive participation, just being there. It’s about active involvement, using the gifts of the Spirit to make the experience excellent for all who are present. Ninety-five percent of what happens at worship has nothing to do with the preacher or worship leader. Worship is such a sweet experience because of the thoughtful Bible teacher, the encouraging nursery worker, the hospitable greeter, the creative musician, the dedicated parking lot attendant, and the wise welcome center worker. As we serve one another, the whole body becomes healthy, it grows, and it is full of love.

7. We build up the church for which Jesus died.

Finally, Jesus died for the church. His death, burial, and resurrection is the cornerstone upon which she is built. He established her. He sustains her. And, one day, he will return to claim her as his bride. Certainly, we can and should do all we can do to build up the church he loves.

What about you?

Is weekly worship a value you hold dear? If so, what impact has it made? If not, what’s keeping you from becoming committed to weekly worship?

Unborn Lives Matter

baby holding adult hand

I had the honor of offering a prayer during the dedication ceremony for a new Life Centers location in Plainfield yesterday. And, tomorrow, I have the joy of celebrating my son’s tenth birthday. What do these events have to do with one another?

The common thread is my conviction that unborn lives matter.

My conviction isn’t abstract. It’s personal. Kelly was 18-weeks pregnant when we heard the dreadful words every parent fears: “I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with your baby.” In the span of 30 minutes, we went from excitedly anticipating the discovery of the gender of our first child to anxiously huddled in a genetic counselor’s office being told that our son had a slim chance of being compatible with life.

We prepared ourselves to be told that we had the choice to terminate the pregnancy, to avoid all the pain and difficulty that would certainly come our way. But we chose life.

The last decade has brought its share of hardship, fear, and doubt. However, it has also brought immeasurable blessing, laughter, joy, growth, and wonder. By God’s grace, here we are!

Why do unborn lives matter?

We live in a culture in which the short journey from the womb to the delivery room is all that separates life that doesn’t matter from life that does matter. Isn’t that madness?

There are a number of truths that underscore why unborn lives matter:

1. We are made in God’s image.

When God created the cosmos, he placed man and woman in it as his crowning achievement. He created us in his image and we are, therefore, different in essence from anything and everything else in the universe. We have intrinsic worth. Our value is not earned by virtue or maintained by our capacity to make a valuable contribution to society. It is invested in us by the mere fact of our existence. We reflect God’s capacity for rich relationships. We long to create and witness beauty. We yearn for knowledge and wisdom, for purpose, and for life.

Unborn lives matter because all human life bears God’s indelible mark.

2. God is involved in the details of conception and development.

Life is a miracle. I still find myself stunned, in awe of the fact that a man and a woman can create new life. It’s much, much more than a mere biological process. It’s wonder. Beauty. Art. And, God is involved in even the tiniest details. In fact, it is so wonderful, only poetry can come close to doing justice. King David writes:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. 

Unborn lives matter because they are the special concern of God the Father.

3. Every human life has potential for good.

Did you know that over 57 million abortions have occurred in the US since abortion became legal in 1973? I often wonder about what those 57 million lives could have become. A little girl aborted in 1973 would be 42 years old right now, in the prime of her life. Might she have discovered the cure to cancer? Could she have been raising a few beautiful children? What if she was writing music or creating art to inspire and thrill the world? Could she have been leading a company? Might she have been holding elected office and helping to shape the laws of our nation?

Every human life has the potential for great good, to make the world a better place. The Apostle Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Created for good works. Prepared in advance and known by God.

Unborn lives matter because of their positive potential.

4. How we treat the weak reveals the heart of our culture.

Do you want to know what is at the heart of a culture? Look at how it collectively treats the marginalized: the unborn, the sick, the elderly, the poor, the foreigners, and the imprisoned. Nothing is more revealing of the decay we see all around us than the legal holocaust that has been taking place since 1973. Do those sound like strong words? Do they startle you? They are. And, they should. They are true.

Unborn lives matter because they reveal the heart of our culture.

What about you?

For those who have had an abortion or who know someone who has: I pray you know that you’re not beyond the forgiveness of your Heavenly Father. He knows your past and your pain. He values you and he wants you to cling to him. Do you know him?

For all of us: Do you value life? Do your actions and attitudes reflect your answer to that question? What can you do, both now and in the future, to value life?

How to Kill a Culture of Violence

how-to-kill-a-culture-of-violence

We live in a culture of violence.

The other night, for the very first time, we allowed our son to witness someone being murdered in cold blood.

It wasn’t intentional. Kelly and I were excited to introduce Owen to some of our most beloved Christmas movies. So, we sat down on the couch to watch Home Alone. We had forgotten over the years is that a mob murder scene plays a crucial role in the plot. As I fumbled in the dark for the remote so I could fast forward the scene, Kelly and I glanced at each other in alarm, shocked at the spectacle to which we had just exposed our innocent son.

You might think we’re overprotective. Maybe we are. But, in a world in which mass killings like San Bernardino happen on a weekly basis, aren’t we justified in being careful about what he sees?

The tragic events of this week have caused all of us to do some serious thinking about the violence we witness. There has been no shortage of discussion about gun control. The people on the left want to amend the Constitution, stemming the tide of violence by taking guns off the street. People on the right assure us that guns aren’t the problem. They go so far as to insinuate that the massacre might have been less bloody if more civilians on the scene had been armed. Both sides really only succeed in condemning those who don’t share their view. Religious people, no matter where they appear on the political spectrum, haggle over the root causes of the problem and wring their hands about what the future holds. Is radical Islam the problem? Are these isolated occurrences? Should we pray? Is that enough? How should we align ourselves politically? Can I find a verse in my Bible that connects all of this with the Second Coming? What can or should we do?

The truth is that nobody is really offering a good answer.

How do you kill a culture of violence?

It has to be stopped. And, although it isn’t as immediate as a Constitutional amendment, as black-and-white as more state laws, or as easy as washing our hands and blaming another group for the problems, we can each do our part to change culture. It isn’t going to happen on a public stage. It isn’t going to be glamorous. And, it’s certainly not going to be quick.

Here are three things we can each do to change our culture of violence from within.

Stop consuming violence

It astonishes me that there is so little conversation about the utterly violent nature of American culture. We purchase grossly violent video games for our children and then react in shock when teenagers play first-person shooter in real life. We pay $300 for the price of a ticket to watch our favorite football team beat the stuffing out of their rivals and gasp in horror when a violent player knocks the stuffing out of his girlfriend. We eagerly binge watch the most carnal, violent sexual acts and then reel back in disgust when a neighbor ends up being a monster who preys on innocent victims. The horrific examples can go on and on and on and on.

This is madness! It’s hypocrisy at its most appalling. It has to stop.

We must resolve to stop glorifying violence and consuming it until we’re stuffed. We have to stop inviting it into our homes and idolizing its most brazen purveyors. We have to determine to protect our hearts and the hearts of our children. Because, make no mistake, people become violent because they are nurtured to become violent.

Become and partner with people of peace

We must pursue peace. We must pray for it. We must work for it. (It can never be an either-or proposition.) It must begin with us, extend to our children, include the people with whom we partner, and pervade every area of our lives.

Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” (Matthew 5:9). 

Political philosophy, theological distinctions, culture, background, color, and socio-economic status are immaterial; we can work together if you’re a person of peace. We can take Jesus’ call to work for peace seriously and we can work together, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and communities to foster and protect peace.

Leverage the Gospel to bring about true change

As we proceed, we can never forget that the only force that can bring about true change is the Holy Spirit, working in individual hearts, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without the Gospel, all other change is shallow, temporary, and tenuous at best. But, by God’s grace, hearts, homes, communities, nations, and the world can be truly and forever transformed.

What will you do?

Will you stop consuming violence? Will you partner actively with people of peace? Will you embody the Gospel? The only way to kill a culture of violence is to transform it from within.

Have You Prayed for a Terrorist Lately?

how-to-pray-for-terrorists

My family got into an interesting conversation on Thanksgiving in the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Yesterday’s San Bernardino massacre brought that conversation back to mind. The topic: What should the US do about the Islamic State?

I mostly listened during that conversation. When I did speak up (as ministers are wont to do) I shared about a provocative article I had recently read.

My point was that, as Christians, we ought to think carefully about the stance we take and that we ought to dedicate ourselves first to prayer. My sweet wife, who after nearly 20 years together has learned to call my bluff when I get a little too preachy, asked me if I had been praying for terrorists or if I was just being sanctimonious.

I hadn’t. I was.

In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, I will begin. No more simply knowing what’s right and failing to do what’s right.

Prayer’s precedent

There is, after all, precedent for Christians assuming a prayerful role in the face of great violence. The book of Acts tells of a terrorist who dedicated himself to use whatever means necessary to stamp out the fledgling Church. The persecuted Church certainly knew and applied these words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-45).

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Although the Bible doesn’t make this explicit, because they were taking their cues from Jesus, I believe the persecuted Christians prayed fervently for Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist who was gutting the Church in the name of God.

God answered their prayers and turned that murderous zealot into the greatest church planter, theologian, and leader the Church has known in the last 2,000 years.

Is it possible that there’s another Saul of Tarsus who needs the prayers of the Church?

Have you prayed for a terrorist lately?

As my thoughts are becoming clearer on this issue, here are a number of the things I will be praying about. Will you join me in praying for these five things?

Pray for your heart

Begin here. It’s way too easy to give in to the anger and fear that terrorist acts have produced. And, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves becoming hateful and bigoted. Pray for a heart that is sensitive enough to draw in sadness and pain and pump out faith, hope, love, and peace.

Pray for political leaders

We may disagree with our leaders. We might believe they’re too militant or too pacifistic, too interventionist or too isolationist, too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough, too concerned with retaining votes, or completely wrong-headed. No matter how we feel, it’s still our responsibility to pray for them. Pray for wisdom. Resolve. Strength. For wise advisers and for proper support. Pray that the God who gave them their authority would work through them.

Pray for the Gospel to advance

The only thing that can change the heart of a terrorist—of any sinner for that matter—is the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus. Pray that the Gospel is preached powerfully.  Pray that its messengers are protected by God and favored by their hearers. Pray that the Holy Spirit invades hostile territory and does a work beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

Pray for the Church to shine

Whether it’s the faith of Christians facing persecution, the hospitality shown by Christians welcoming refugees, the ministry of believers in working for the good of their communities, or day-to-day conversations sprinkled with grace and truth, pray that the Church has an opportunity display God’s love in tangible, winsome, and effective ways.

Pray for God to receive glory

No matter how dark the situation, God’s glory has the power to drive it away. Pray for him to be seen, known, honored, and glorified in these dark times. One day, his glory will be known to every soul and every knee will bow.

What about you?

The news is bad. It’s getting worse. There’s only one solution: a massive renovation of the hearts of mankind. And, the road leading to that renovation is—and always has been—paved with the prayers of the saints.

What about you? Will you pray first? Will you keep praying?

The Original Attack on Marriage

the-original-attack-on-marriage

I have always supposed that the great fall of Satan, his wicked rebellion against God, happened in eternity past. I assumed it occurred eons before God created the Earth.

But, what if it didn’t?

When we meet him, just a few pages into the book of Genesis, Satan is in full and glad rebellion against the Creator. Did Satan already have a long record of defiance? Or, was this his first offense?

Cyprian, a church father who was born in the year 200, proposed a theory for Satan’s fall: “When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and determined to rebel. In other words, the great sin for which Satan and his demons were banished from God’s presence was the pride that made him intent on dragging Adam and Eve into his insurrection.

Can I say, for sure, that it happened this way. No. The Bible doesn’t specify. But, it sure does make you think.

Why does this matter?

There has been so much upheaval surrounding marriage. Who should be able to marry? Who shouldn’t? And, who gets to decide? The government? The Supreme Court? The States? Who’s agenda wins the day? All the discussion and debate has widened the gap between people who take opposing views. Each side has succeeded in demonizing the other. And, it’s all a mess.

Christians, are we missing the point? Is it possible that we are fighting the wrong enemy?

Marriage has a greater enemy

Who’s the enemy?

On the one hand, the liberal media isn’t the enemy. Gay-rights activists aren’t the enemy. Hollywood isn’t the enemy. Neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court is the enemy. On the other hand, the religious right isn’t the solution. Evangelical leaders aren’t the solution. A majority of Republicans in Government, the courts, and the White House isn’t the solution. Christian media and movies aren’t the solution.

God help us. We’ve boiled the issue into simple dichotomies. But, it’s not “us” against “them.”

If Satan’s defining rebellion—the cataclysmic act for which he and a third of the angels were eternally expelled from God’s presence—was the original attack on marriage in the Garden, then shouldn’t we focus our energy on opposing him, his accusations, and his schemes?

And, shouldn’t our counter-rebellion begin in our own homes?

Curses and blessings

All sin has consequences. For Eve, painful childbirth and conflict regarding her role. For Adam, ceaseless toil, diminished returns, and death. The struggle continues today. We still experience the result of the Garden’s curses. But, we can also know the blessings of obedience to Christ in our marriages, even in the midst of a fallen world inhabited by a very real enemy.

Satan still does all he can to divide us. He knows that his success in wrecking marriages accomplishes profound collateral damage. But, we have a choice. We can choose not to perpetuate the evil that Satan plots by cultivating marriages that will last. We can build our marriages on mutual submission, respect, and sacrificial love. And, we can choose to love unconditionally. That is the path that leads to blessing.

Marriage has a greater hero

Satan’s rebellion seals his fate. God makes it unequivocally clear to Satan that his destiny is Hell. Eve’s offspring, Jesus, would one day crush Satan’s head (but not without himself suffering from the Serpent’s poison). Because of Jesus’ victory over Satan, he took the penalty of our rebellion and made it possible for us to again be united to one another and, most importantly, to our heavenly Father.

Satan will do all he can to tempt, accuse, and divide our marriages. It’s his rebellion’s original strategy. But, we have a Savior who has made it possible for us to resist his temptations, deflect his accusations, and remain united.

Let’s fight for our marriages. But, let’s make sure we’re fighting the right enemy.