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Persuading Men to Love God by Serving Idols

A loud voice continues to emerge in some parts of Christianity, with a heart for the spiritually lost, concerned that Christians are failing to fulfill our commission, afraid that our friends, family, and communities are going to hell, and confident that the church is to blame (at least in large part).

In classic American entrepreneurial spirit, many pastors and other church leaders have recognized the problem (namely, people don’t seem to be coming to Christ or to church), concluded that our formula for evangelism must be flawed or faulty, and then created new approaches, strategies, and programs. Well meaning sheep who also have a heart for the lost see flashes of success when all kinds of unbelievers flock to these fresh, imaginative, creative, emerging churches.

But just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is according to sound doctrine, and I wonder if we are discerning enough to suspect if what seems like success might actually be a spiritual wreck.

In fact, it is a wreck. And most of all this wreck has wrought significant damage to the preaching and pursuit of personal sanctification. Making disciples has been limited to conversion and building up the saints is apparently not only unnecessary, it is actually a hindrance to reaching unbelievers. Of course that approach tears down the church even if attendance numbers increase.

As I mentioned in the previous post our commission is not just conversion. The Great Commission is not fulfilled by making a great number of converts but disciples. Those who repent and believe must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. That means God’s mission is broader than evangelism, it also requires edification and equipping, so God gave gifted men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Churches and ministries focused primarily on conversion may be strong on justification but are often silent when it comes to sanctification. This is visible both in the methodology of the leaders as well as the lifestyle of the flock. Herein pastors contextualize the gospel and rationalize every sort of flesh-pampering, sin-minimizing, cross-eclipsing outreach. The people are comfortable because the standards are low and the accountability absent.

I think at least four overlapping problems surface in these situations.

  1. Little to no emphasis on sanctification and obedience. However, sanctification is God’s will (1 Thessalonians 4:3) for every believer. As obedient children we must be holy as He is holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16). Disciples must learn to obey all the Lord commands (Matthew 28:19-20) not merely confess Him as Lord.
  2. Lack of love for heaven and eternity. Yet those who have been raised with Christ are commanded to seek and set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-2). We are to rest our hope fully on coming grace at the revelation of Christ (1 Peter 1:13) and anticipate our final salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5). We are merely exiles (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) 1on earth; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
  3. Inability to recognize and repent from sin. But there is no knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25), no forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), no hope of eternal life (Acts 11:18), or salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10) without repentance. Besides, Jesus did not come to make it possible for men to enjoy sin but to save sinners (Mark 2:17) from it.
  4. Unwillingness to define and distinguish worldliness. Yet Jesus declared we are not of the world (John 17:16). Christians should be busy turning the world upside down (Acts 17:16) not trying to adopt as much of it as we can get away with. We’re prohibited from loving the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17) because we know friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Instead we are [crucified to the world][18] and should no longer live [conformed to it][14].

And so any method of making disciples that does not emphasize increasing Christlike holiness is not following the Great Commission. Not only that, it is wrong to think that we will persuade men to love God by serving their idols. Let’s not be guilty of letting men think they can keep their life, gain the whole world, and still save their souls.

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What Mission Are We Talking About Exactly?

A few nights ago a friend forwarded an email from another friend with some quotes on the importance of being missional in our churches and in our lives. I read it on my way to bed which turned out to be a mistake since I was awake for another three hours or so thinking about it. More than anything I was filled with disappointment, and though I should have just gotten back out of bed and written my response, letting a little time pass has been profitable.

I did ask permission to post this response on my blog. It isn’t that I have something new or profound to add to the missional conversation, but people do ask me about it. And even though the quotes below are not exhaustive of the missional approach they do give a good feel for the mindset and I thought this might be a resource I could share in the future.

I also realize that this post is way too long. If you are a casual reader you are free to go and I promise not to take offense. My new fountain pen basically exploded over 11 pages of legal paper when I wrote the rough draft, though I have tried to clean it up as best I could. That said, it is still longer than the uninterested will care to cover.

The original email had three quotes and then a short exhortation based on those quotes. My plan is to give each quote a turn and then respond. I’ve also decided to add a constraint to myself, that is, I am only going to support my thoughts from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 or the book of Acts. Since I assume most of the missional speak was generated in these sections of Scripture I want to interact on their ground. So here we go.

I asked a lady, “Would you come to church with me?” “Oh, no, Ms. Tillie. Isn’t church for people who have their lives together? I don’t have my life together yet. When I get my life together, I’ll come to church.” That is when I knew we must take church to the people. Our definition of church is what we do seven days a week, almost twenty-four hours a day, all year long! It is just who we are.

We immediately sense the sadness in this story. An invitation to church was turned down by a needy lady with a partial misunderstanding about the church. We naturally commiserate with Ms. Tillie because we too have interacted with neighbors and co-workers who are apparently uninterested because of a skewed perspective toward the church.

But before we re-define “church” we should make sure the real definition is clear. Besides, it doesn’t matter what “our definition of church is,” it matters how God defines it.

The church is the Body of Christ. Church is not something we do, nor is church “just who we are.” Yes, believers are part of the Body, but the whole Body does not go somewhere just because one of the members does. The church is a worldwide group that holds local meetings. So we don’t take “the church” to the people, we take the gospel of Christ to the people. We are to live as, and make disciples of, Christ seven days a week, every waking hour. But that is not the same thing as taking the church to the people.

Church is not for “the people,” church is for Christians. The church is comprised of believers and church meetings are for the saints. The church gathers for worship and teaching and fellowship and then individual Christians scatter for evangelism. Unbelievers may attend our services and often do. Obviously we should preach the gospel and pray for their salvation, but where did we get the idea to invite those with no spiritual taste-buds to our corporate feast?

And let’s go back to our lady’s partial misunderstanding that church is “for people who have their lives together.” We see the signs around town, “Such and Such Church: No perfect people allowed” (often with a word misspelled for emphasis). We get it. Someone had a bad experience with a (probably hypocritical) pietistic, proud, professing Christian with no joy and a chip on their shoulder. We don’t like the self-righteous either.

But righteousness is required in the church, it just isn’t our righteousness. Church isn’t for Christians who are better than non-Christians, it’s just that we don’t fear God’s wrath against our unrighteousness because the righteousness of Christ was credited to our account when we believed. But anyone who doesn’t have His righteousness is not safe. Unrighteous people should feel no more comfortable at church than darkness does with light. It should be no surprise if unbelievers want to stay as far away as they can.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira makes it clear: don’t mess around with the church–God takes His church seriously. In fact, God took the lies of Ananias and Sapphira so seriously that He killed them and “great fear came upon all who heard of it” (Acts 5:5, 11). Even though God doesn’t immediately kill hypocrites who come to church today, hypocrites should still be afraid.

The point is, yes we should make disciples and bring them to the church. We should purposefully live with love and speak with grace and tell the truth to unbelievers next door or across the hall or behind the checkout counter. But we should not expect those who are at enmity with God to want to worship Him in the splendor of His holiness. Redefining church won’t fix that.

Alright, quote #2:

We don’t care if you’re wearing a suit or a T-shirt and jeans. What we care about is the condition of the heart.

One thing I learned from my dad is that there are jerks everywhere. That includes the church. It is possible that some people care more about what you wear rather than the condition of your heart. But is it also possible that someone could care about the condition of your heart and what you’re wearing?

How about a hypothetical story…what do you care about more in a bride, her pure heart or her white dress? Obviously you care more about her heart. If her heart was chaste but all she had or could afford was a pair of capris from Old Navy and a nice tank top, would we say that she couldn’t get married? No. Would we say the marriage was in trouble? Probably not. But would we also conclude that her heart must be pure because at least she wasn’t trying to fake it with a white dress?

If the tank top is all she has, no argument. If the tank top is what she really, really, really prefers. OK. But just because another bride spent time and money on a nice dress does not equal that her insides are ugly, nor are we forced to conclude that a pastor or parents are superficial if they ask the first girl why she decided to go with short pants.

Instead, we understand that the bride’s dress is one way to reflect her heart. What she wears isn’t the only reflection, but it does communicate something. A wedding is a special occasion, a solemn, worshipful ceremony. It should be treated as such and what we wear is part of what makes it unique. Worshiping God when the church gathers, though more regular than our weddings, is also a special celebration. Sure, in different times and different cultures, different dress communicates thoughtfulness. And yes, we’re under grace, not law. I get it. But I also want to be sober-minded when dealing with serious things, inside and out. On top of that, Hawaiian shirts aren’t necessarily more spiritual than three piece suits.

And then third, this quote is so close to being good and yet is still so potentially misleading.

Truth is not a set of rules to be obeyed, mysteries to be known or evidences to be mastered, but Christ, by whom we know and are known. Truth is not discovered, it is revealed in relationship to both the head and the heart. Therefore, Truth is not something merely known or proclaimed but Someone experienced, tasted, and seen as the psalmist says, by grace, faith, and presence that not merely knows the Truth but loves Him.

“Truth is not a set of rules to be obeyed,” but truth does include God’s law that we are responsible to keep. “[Truth is not] mysteries to be known or evidence to be mastered,” but truth does explain mysteries and provide reason for faith. “Truth is not discovered, it is revealed in relationship to both the head and the heart.” That’s okay if the author meant to say that intellectual information alone is insufficient. But we do “discover,” or better yet, God reveals truth to us by illuminating Scripture as we read and study and meditate. It is not magical or mystical revelation that bypasses our brains.

Finally, “Truth is not something merely known or proclaimed but Someone experienced, tasted, and seen.” The key word is there but it is buried. It is the adverb “merely.” I agree that truth is not merely known, but to be of value it cannot be less than known. John Piper put it this way in a recent sermon I heard:

Knowing the person of Christ salvifically requires knowing propositions about Christ truly.

That is absolutely why the early church was consumed with the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). That’s why the Lord commanded the apostles to “speak to the people all the words (the facts) of this Life” (5:20) and why they were committed to preaching the word of God over performing (good) acts of service (6:2, 4). It was “the word of God” that kept increasing and multiplying (6:7; 12:24) as people received it (8:14; 11:1). Preaching the good news was of highest priority (8:12; 8;35; 10:36; 13:32; 14:15). With the unbelievers in Athens Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer” (17:2-3). With the believers in Ephesus Paul was concerned to proclaim the whole counsel of God (20:27). He was “occupied with the word” (18:5). His ministry partner Apollos was “competent in the Scriptures” (18:24) and “spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (18:25), “powerfully refuting the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (18:28).

Knowing and proclaiming was apparently important in the mission of the early church, both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). That shouldn’t surprise us because we know it is the word of God which is able to build a person up (20:32).

If all that still isn’t convincing, consider the actual Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:18-20.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are responsible to do more than merely introduce others to Jesus. We urge them to identify with the Triune God in baptism that could cost them their lives. That’s not all. We also train them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” There are rules–Christ’s rules–that must be obeyed if we are going to be His followers. His rules are not burdensome, they are for our joy, and His Spirit enables us to obey them, but there is a way of life demanded of true disciples.

These standards for discipleship are truth, the kind of truth that sets us free. Truth must be “known and proclaimed” as well as “experienced, tasted, and seen.” But it starts with proclaiming accurately so that others might know precisely. Without building a solid foundation the building will not stand and eventually the “experience” of Jesus will be experience of another Jesus in whom there is no salvation.

About a year ago I wrote a couple posts connected to the idea of contextualization, incarnational ministry and being missional. [Those articles are Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0 and 4 Tools for Great ComMissional Disciple-Making.] In the meta of the first post a friend and Emergent-sympathizer expressed similar concern to the quotes above:

My argument would be that the vast majority of churches today are not on God’s mission but are most concerned with “building up the saints” (or at least maintaining them). When churches ignore their need to embrace their Great Commission calling as something that should impact everything about how they operate…they end up being social clubs that you can join if you want but you’ll have to walk, talk, and look like everyone else.

I think his point fits well in the context of this post, and my response to his comment still applies:

So God’s mission is conversion? Evangelism and spiritual rebirth is the completion of our Commission? That is not only narrow but unbiblical. The Great Commission does not exhort us to make great number of converts but disciples. Seeing people get saved (your description) is only part of our responsibility. After repentance and faith they must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. God’s mission is more than just evangelism but also edification and equipping. “Building up the saints” is part of God’s mission for the church, hence why He gave leaders to do just that.

To say that some churches end up being “social clubs” is a straw man. What about the churches that end up being skate-parks or concert halls in their effort to contextualize and reach the lost?

[An insular church full of insular people is no good] but perhaps we should also be afraid of churches full of professing believers that in fact are not followers and lovers of Christ. Even more than that, perhaps we should be afraid that the Head of the Church will return to find us investing in someone else’s kingdom.

Our lives are about mission, the mission to praise God’s name above all others. Therefore, reaching the lost and making friends and building community is important in so far as it is consistent with the truth about God that He reveals in His Word. That means sometimes people won’t want to go to church and it isn’t a problem with church; they don’t like the God they meet there. It also means that wearing a t-shirt instead of a tie is not a certificate of authenticity that your heart is right. It also means that those who glorify God most passionately and make disciples most purposefully are those who know God most clearly and love Him most intimately.

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Puritanic Rigidity Is not the Problem

Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Ah, sirs! there may have been a time when Christians were too precise, but it has not been in my day. There may have been such a dreadful thing as Puritanic rigidity, but I have never seen it. We are quite free from that evil now, if it ever existed. We have gone from liberty to libertinism. We have passed beyond the dubious into the dangerous, and none can prophesy where we shall stop. (quoted by MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, p.87)

Even though Spurgeon was specifically confronting the church’s general lack of holiness in the Down-Grade, I think the quote applies equally well to our modern day disregard for the Lord’s day.

Perhaps we don’t value the Lord’s day because for all our talk, we’re not that desperate for God after all. We treat the Lord as if He were dispensable and we take delight in other things. Maybe if we hadn’t been busy all week trying to drink from broken cisterns we would thirst for the fountain of living waters and come for a corporate drink on His day.

Still the discipline of celebrating the Lord’s day every first day reminds us how much we need Him and how important His Body is. I think that’s why John Calvin said about Sunday corporate meeting,

we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the Church. (Institutes, 2.VIII.33)

This is especially so for those of us in student ministry. I am convinced that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that we are part of the local church. We will always be sickly and weak if we do not participate and praise the Lord on His day with His Body in “big church.”

As we lay to rest this series on the Lord’s day, let me conclude with one final thought. My son Calvin is almost two. He doesn’t know a lot of words but he’s at least learned (his own version of) the names of all the people living at our house. Since he can’t call things by what they are, he identifies an item by the person who owns it. He’ll circle the room and point out everything he recognizes by who uses it: books, chairs, ladders, coffee cups, cars, whatever. The question is, if someone looked at how you spend your Sunday, who would they say owned it? You? Or the Lord?

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A Week on the Merry-Go-Round

Obviously our whole lives are to be worship; worship is more than just a Sunday activity even though I’ve tried to make the case that there is something special about the Lord’s day. Not only that, there may be times when the best way for us to worship on a given Sunday means we might miss the meeting of the church. Yet I do believe our customary course toward the corporate meeting of the church on the first day of the week should be like water in a steep, downhill pipe.

Here’s the linchpin to the previous paragraph: The Lord’s day is a part of whole-life worship. Worship is not a one day a week activity, nor is there only one way to worship on that day.

Of course, that teeters the totter to the other side. In everything I’ve said so far about the Lord’s day, maybe it seems like we’re supposed to pause from life on Sunday for worship. In that case Sunday is like a big fat guy at the bottom of a seesaw, laughing at six little school girls of the rest of the week, suspended high above the ground. And to be sure, Sunday corporate worship is weighty. The neglect of the Lord’s day is a serious threat. That is, after all, why I parked here so long to preach and press and plead.

But the above paragraph is not my attempt at being “balanced,” it’s my appeal for being passionate. Sunday and the other six days are on not on opposite sides of a seesaw. Instead, Sunday is like that same big fat guy propelling those little school girls on the merry-go-round faster and faster till they squeal with delight. First day gathering isn’t an interruption of life for worship, it incites and impels whole-life worship.

That’s precisely why the Lord’s day is not a list of “can nots” and why occasionally our best worship may not be with the Body on Sunday and also why I still think the first day is the best day. So as we talk with each other/students/parents, let’s not be balanced about Sunday, let’s be passionate about worship.

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Passionately Exult in Worship

This is the fourth piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

4. Celebrate

Isn’t this the whole point? Anticipation and participation and concentration culminate in worship. Sunday service is not a funeral, it is a solemn party of praise for our risen Savior! Surely there is a place for repentance, for mourning and sorrow over sin, but didn’t Jesus say those were the truly happy (blessed) people (Matthew 5:3-4)?

With Heart Integrity

Integrity and authenticity are buzzwords today. Some pastors are changing “church” because they feel like too many Christians camouflage their misery with polite, cheesy, Christianese speak; that’s not integrity. And I agree to some extent. We ought not pretend that everything is alright if it isn’t. That’s hypocrisy. But we also shouldn’t act like there’s no forgiveness and remedy our sin. That’s folly.

The heart is at the center of each piece of practical advice and at the core of each possible activity for the Lord’s day. Of course, genuine worship comes from the heart. At the same time genuine worship is commanded in Scripture. So how do we obey the command to worship if our heart isn’t right? It doesn’t mean that we worship superficially or that worship is out, it means we first need to get our heart in line for the sake of worship.

So if our heart isn’t right, let’s not act like it is. But if our heart isn’t right, let’s get it right by the gospel. That’s integrity.

With Multiplied Intensity

If all the other things are in order, watch out, Sunday is going to sizzle. There is something strong and resounding about an orchestra, even though an oboe could play the same song solo. And even though even one match catches fire, it will not burn with the heat and intensity like a whole heap of sticks.

There are multiple ways to articulate these four pieces of advice. Prepare your heart, be present, pay attention, and praise the Lord. Arrange your schedule, attend the services, adjust your spirit, and adore your Savior. Eagerly expect to worship, actively engage in worship, intently endeavor to worship, and passionately exult in worship. The important thing is that we celebrate the Lord’s day.

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Intently Endeavor to Worship

Here is the third piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

3. Concentrate

Each piece of advice flows naturally into the next. If the Lord’s day is worth our anticipation and participation, certainly it deserves our concentration.

Free from Distraction

It’s not just the leader’s responsibility to create an atmosphere that is as free from distraction as possible. We should and do try to achieve that. But there’s plenty enough to distract most people right inside their own head. Assignments, bad news, a particular guy/girl who’s there, a guy/girl who isn’t, lunch, etc., are all kinds of interference that will hinder the signal from coming through. But instead of allowing our heads to wander, we must deliberately aim our minds in adoration to the Lord.

Free from Disregard

This is dangerous. Any given person could stroll through every external thing we’ve mentioned so far and yet it all be an abomination to God. If someone’s heart is far from Him, if they come it to flaunt their righteousness, the whole show is vain. We must not disregard and disrespect the Lord (ever and definitely not) on the Lord’s day. I may not know. In fact, I may think he’s a hot snot worshipper. But I am not the audience; the Lord knows all our hearts and whether we’re concentrating on ourselves or on Him.

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Actively Engage in Worship

Here is the second piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

2. Participate

By Getting There

Sheesh. Do I really need to say that? Apparently I do. It’s part of the reason I’m writing about the Lord’s day in the first place.

It is true that no explicit command for church worship services on Sunday can be found in Scripture. But Hebrews 10:24-25 does reveal our obligation not to neglect meeting together.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

So even though there is no command for Sunday, it is imperative that we meet. And after everything we considered concerning the Lord’s day and the first day, I think the primary day for meeting was probably assumed.

Get there. Show up. Sunday is not a solo enterprise. After all, the word “church” (ἐκκλησία) means assembly, congregation, gathering, or group. We’ve heard it before, the church is not the building, it’s the people. So where are we? Corporate praise begins with our presence.

Some of my students say things like, “But my parents don’t come for first service so I can’t get here for big church.” And I typically respond, “Okay, well did you at least ask them? Maybe you did and they said no. Did you call someone for a ride? Did you set your alarm and get on your bike and ride here yourself (like one of our students does)? If you want to be here, you’ll get here.”

By Being There

Attendance is where it begins, not where it ends. We are not (to be) spectators and pastors/leaders are not performers. The congregation is not the audience; God is. And He is watching me and you!

After you get there, be there. Engage! Sing! Listen! Serve! Too many come as consumers. They come to see what other people can do for them and how well the people up front can entertain. They watch, they don’t worship. They take, they don’t partake. But the Lord’s day will only be the best day when we all participate.

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Eagerly Expect to Worship

I previously promised four pieces of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day. Here is the first.

1. Anticipate

In other words, prepare for Sunday. Think about it ahead of time. Look forward, count down, and get ready.

(For some additional anticipation advice, see John Piper’s 10 Practical Preparations for Hearing the Word of God on Sunday Morning. )

In Your Schedule

I understand that life responsibilities do not cease just because it’s Sunday. But if we are serious about honoring the Lord on His day, it will require some effort on our part to forecast what needs to get done and then to do all the things we can before Sunday so that we can participate in as many the events of the body as possible without distraction.

The fact is, for most of us, Sunday is the most negotiable day we have. “I have to go to school Monday through Friday.” “I have to work during all week.” But Sunday is flexible. The corporate meeting of the church is like sand that moves around the boulders of all our other appointments and responsibilities.

We plan around other things and through Sunday. We all do it. Our vacations are (often) longer because Sunday is another day off; after all, we’ve got to be back in the office on Monday. We plan on doing homework on Sunday instead of working a little longer on another day so that we can go out on Friday/Saturday. That’s because Friday is the best day for us.

I’m not saying we can’t worship God over a weekend getaway. I’m not saying Sunday homework is an unequivocal no-no. But many times Lord’s day neglect can be preempted by a little planning.

Now what about those who have to work on Sunday? Let me answer that two ways. It is possible that it may be the case that someone must work on Sunday to support their family. I don’t desire to place unnecessary conscience cargo on persons in that position. I recommend they do what they can to change their schedule, but in the meantime, and hopefully only for a short season, they should look for as many opportunities as they can to make the Lord’s day special.

However, I believe most people do not have to work on Sunday in the first place. Many make zero effort to ask for Sundays off or switch shifts with someone. True, sometimes those things don’t work out. And they will probably argue that they need the hours. But why? My experience finds that most (maybe not all) people who need to work on Sundays “for the hours” demonstrate that their life priorities are out of line. The rest of their week is full, but not because they are slaves to some master who is squeezing every second. Instead it is because they are pursuing their own priorities. “But I’ve got school and work and family all week long. Sunday is the only day I’ve got.” My point is that what we pursue on Tuesday plays out on the Lord’s day.

We always do what we most want to do, and our schedule is a window into our wants. We have so many options. There are lots of jobs. When I described the pre-pastor time in my life when Sundays were so sweet to me, I was going to school full-time and working 30-40 hours a week. In order to steward my spiritual giftedness, serve the body, and not neglect Sunday meetings, I chose the graveyard shift. More times than I care to count I worked Saturday at 11 pm until 7 am Sunday morning, went home and went running so I wouldn’t fall asleep, attended morning worship, napped before evening worship, and returned to work at 11 pm Sunday night. Was I tired? Yes. Was that schedule optimal? No. But Sunday was the best day and I anticipated it.

Most of us don’t have to worry about that anyway. We just need to turn off the TV and go to bed at a reasonable hour so our heads will be clear and our bodies rested.

In Your Heart

The Lord’s day is a workout, not mainly because it’s a long day or there’s a lot to do, but it’s a workout because our hearts are out of spiritual shape. It is unnatural to take a whole day and focus, with full and hot affections, on someone else. Everything in our flesh pulls our attention and our affections back to ourselves. It is a trustworthy statement, if we spend the rest of our week, and especially our Saturdays and Saturday night centered on ourselves, we will resist centering on the Lord on Sunday.

We will blame the music or the preacher for not engaging us and facilitating our worship. But there is no way to please the self-centered with services that are Lord-centered. The center of those two targets are not complimentary, they are contradictory. There is no switch to flip that will instantly redirect self-affection to Him-affection.

That would be like a person laying on their couch, sucking down milkshakes and pizza all day all week long and then wondering why they were sucking wind after two minutes on the treadmill. Following that illustration, some parents make their students come to the gym once a week and it’s brutal. That’s no surprise. But if there was some anticipation and preparation in their heart they might really enjoy Sunday.

So we should anticipate in our schedule and in our heart. The following pieces will probably fall into place if the first one is laid correctly.

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The Best Day

A pastor friend of mine who helps lead a local body on the Lord’s day typically posts the order of service on Saturday so the sheep can prepare. He titled his post a few weeks ago, “Getting ready for the Best Day of the Week.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since. The Lord’s day, the first day, is the best day of the week for Christians.

Sunday has been the center of my week for a long time, not on my calendar but in my affections. As a pastor, Sunday anchors my week. But even and especially before I was a pastor, the Lord’s day was my lifeline. It was rest from the spiritual battle. It was refreshment for my spiritual thirst. Every Sunday was a spiritual family reunion (that I actually looked forward to). It was just the best day.

I earnestly want that for every believer. And I’ve got four pieces of practical advice so that Christians would stake Sunday as second to none every week.

But before I begin publishing these pointers, let me say that I’m almost embarrassed at how rudimentary they are. They do not assume much maturity at all. Yet I am finding that many of my students (and perhaps their parents too) are not beyond a need for the obvious restated. So with that in mind, let us consider how we might regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

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He Will Build His Church

Caveats and Clarification on First Day Conduct

Our Lord’s day practices require consideration and sometimes qualification. Even so, the following ammendments will be of no avail if you haven’t read the previous post on first day activities.

First, I am not saying we must do each one of the first day activities every Sunday in order to properly observe the Lord’s day. There are no commands for proper protocol or procedure of worship services like we conduct today. There are no instructions on the right order of service or how much time we should spend on any particular part of the service.

Unlike Israel’s itemized, formal, and systematic Sabbath and temple worship in the OT, there is considerable freedom for Christians as we plan our time together. My point in identifying the three categories of first day and group activities is that we should use the same raw material even though the shape of our Sundays may be different from the first century church. The style our clothes may not match, but they should be cut from the same cloth.

Second, I am also not saying that we can’t do anything else other than these things on the Lord’s day, either when we’re at the house of worship or our own homes. Like I just said, believers have a measure of liberty as a Body both gathered and scattered on Sunday. We do not want to create a “can nots” list and add extra-biblical burdens like the Jews did to the Sabbath.

But I am saying that we should be careful about what we do on the Lord’s day. For some that does mean they should stop certain Christ-dishonoring pursuits. Others need to incorporate more of the corporate. I am also saying that the various activities we looked at, though not commandments for corporate worship per se, are all profitable as they clear the way for us to comprehend Christ’s worth and provision and salvation and instruction on His day.

The bottom line is that we benefit from setting aside an entire day every week to be reminded that we need God! Starting with the apostles, then the early church fathers, through the Reformers and up till today, the consistent practice of the church has been to observe the first day of the week as a special day for Christians to gather and worship.