Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Go To Church

Christians are part of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. That’s not a beautiful metaphor, it’s a fact. That means we need to commit ourselves to a church so we participate in a local body of believers. Wayne and I have been blessed to belong to several wonderful churches. There are a lot of different kinds of churches with a lot of different styles of worship and different priorities for their members, but God has always led us to the church where He wants us. We don’t entirely agree on worship styles, but we do agree on the importance of attending church.

If we ever had any doubt, these scriptures give a glimpse into what was important to Jesus and to the early Christians. They provide reasons to go to church.

Jesus habitually went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and read the scriptures. Going to church regularly is the first important thing. In our country we are blessed with so many choices that we have no excuse for not attending. But if we lived in a place with only one church and we didn’t like everything about it, we should still attend.

I’ve been to a Bat Mitzvah and a Jewish wedding, so I’ve seen some modern Jewish services, but I don’t know what all happened in the synagogue when Jesus attended. I do know they read the scriptures and talked about them. So Bible reading is important (even if no one brings their Bibles anymore because the scriptures are projected onto a screen).

The early believers gathered on the first day of the week to share the Lord’s supper. There are lots of traditions about taking communion – how it’s served, how often it’s served, who receives it . . . But it’s something the body of believers does together, so we need to go to church for communion. 

Paul preached when he met with the church. I haven’t researched this, but I assume that when he wasn’t there, other people preached. I’ve read that his letters were read at gatherings of believers and passed around the churches. However it was done, believers gathered to hear preaching. We should too.

The early believers took an offering for other churches. Paul advised them to do it weekly when they gathered on Sunday. The offering should be part of the service, but the point here is that churches should care for other Christians who have a need – not just support their own programs. We should go to church to bring our offerings.

To summarize, these are the reasons to go to church:

To follow Jesus’ example
To gather with other believers
To read the scriptures
To take communion
To hear preaching
To bring an offering

The cool thing is that I love doing these things and I love the churches where I’ve been going to do them.

Monday, October 8, 2012


When you drive to South Carolina from the north, before you’re anywhere near the state, you start seeing signs for a place called South of the Border. We’ve never stopped there, but the signs let you know it’s an amazing store/restaurant/vegetable stand where all your dreams can come true. If you don’t believe those signs there are others that promise dream fulfilling attractions in Myrtle Beach. Of course, those aren’t the only kinds of signs you see on the road. There are the speed limit signs, the mile markers, and, the ones I watch for, the rest stop indicators. 

In the journey of life, there are lots of signs too. When my students give speeches some signs that they are nervous are tapping the podium and saying “um” a lot. Wayne and I have learned to read the signs that we send each other without saying anything. And if I look for them, there are signs all around of God’s amazing love for me.

The Sabbath is one of those signs. It’s a sign to remind me that He is the Lord my God. It’s also a sign to remind me that He has set me apart to be holy.

God knows I need reminders. I’m always wandering off on my own and forgetting where I’m going. I forget what He wants me to be doing and I forget that I want to be doing it. I’m distracted by my daily tasks: by cleaning and cooking and exercise and reading and writing and teaching and watching TV. I spend my time in class and at the store and at the doctor. Even when I start my day with devotions, when I put the Bible down my mind moves on to other things.

So God created a whole day to remind me about Him. Spending one day in seven focused on Him and not on my daily tasks puts me back in right relationship with Him. Spending one day in seven with Him actually sets me apart to be holy.

This is a sign I don’t want to ignore.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Not My Interests

My favorite things to do on Sunday:

  • Go to church

  • Watch baseball, the race or football with Wayne

  • Take a nap while watching baseball, the race or football with Wayne

  • Eat something fun that I wouldn’t eat during the week

When I’m willing to admit that my motivation for most of the things I do is my own pleasure, I have to ask myself if I’m keeping the Sabbath holy when I do those things. Probably going to church – especially on the days I really worship Him. But what about the others?

I'm not sure this passage helps; instead it confuses me. Enjoy the Sabbath but don’t pursue my own interests on that day. How can I enjoy it if I’m not pursuing my interests? That’s always been why I hoped that keeping the Sabbath was an Old Testament thing that I didn’t have to worry about. It would be legalistic to try to not do anything I like on Sunday and hypocritical to pretend I like it. But it’s neither legalistic nor hypocritical to keep the Sabbath. The answer to the dilemma is right there in the middle of the verse. 

Speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.

It’s God’s day. I love doing things for Wayne, even things I wouldn’t enjoy doing for myself. I clean and cook for him and I stand around Radio Shack and music stores while he ponders the delights of little wires and metal boxes with mysterious knobs on them. I even enjoy doing those things for him. My enjoyment is in Wayne, not the things I’m doing.

It’s the same with God. My joy is centered on Him, not on me and the things I'm doing. Joy doesn’t come from doing what I want. My delight in the Sabbath is that it’s His special day. 

I think it’s probably okay to watch sports and take naps on Sunday. But I love church because it's where His people gather. Last week the church had a dinner after services. I gladly missed part of the football game when we stayed to fellowship with God’s family. Next time the game is at night, I will gladly miss it so I can meet with the parents of teens group that Wayne and I lead. I gladly give up the things I like to do because being with God is even better.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Day for Compassion

My daughter once taught at a school for Hassidic Jews. She had to learn a lot about their lifestyle in order to follow their customs and rules. One thing she told me about was that they prepared extra meals on Friday because they couldn’t cook on the Sabbath. That was the issue the Pharisees raised with Jesus. His disciples broke the Sabbath by picking the grain, even though they didn’t cook it. Jesus responded that the Sabbath is not about work.

Really? But the commandment says you work on six days and rest on the seventh.

Jesus pointed out that the law doesn’t exclude work entirely. Priests on duty in the temple can work on the Sabbath. In addition, Jesus pointed out that there is more to it than work. He used David as an example and the issue there was not that David worked, but that he broke the law by eating the sacred bread. Just like the disciples, David and his men broke a religious law in order to satisfy hunger.

Then Jesus directed the Pharisees to the central truth about the Sabbath. God wants mercy, not sacrifice. Somehow, showing mercy to others is a better way of keeping the Sabbath than the self-sacrifices require by not working. It’s also better than the religious sacrifices God Himself ordained.

Preparing in advance for a day of rest means twice as much work the day before. The Israelites in the wilderness had to gather twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath. Not being able to work on the Sabbath means giving up some of the things I enjoy. But God didn’t give me the Sabbath so I should practice self-sacrifice. It's not just a day for going to church for worship either.

There’s no day of rest from mercy. God wants us to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a deformed man (in church!). Hungry people should be fed. Even the Pharisees would rescue a sheep stuck in a well on that day.

In fact, when you take away the work, the normal every day things that need to be done, there’s more time for mercy. When we set aside time to focus only on God, He will direct our attention to loving others. At church I find myself talking to people I don’t have time to think about during the week. I can get to know them and learn how to pray for them and plan how I can support them - maybe even invite them over for a meal.

Without my daily distractions the Sabbath can become a day of showing compassion.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath but He gave it to me as a gift. Just like with all His gifts, I should use it to serve Him by loving others.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Enjoy the Gift

When I was growing up, Sunday dinner was a big deal. My mom usually made a roast with all the fixings – potatoes, several kinds of vegetables, homemade rolls and a big cake or pie. I’m sure she prepared some of it ahead of time, but when we got home from church we all ran around helping her get it ready to serve, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. It was so much work that on Sunday night we had what we called Sunday Supper. Mother put out sandwich makings and chips and we all helped ourselves so she wouldn’t have to cook another meal.

There were also times when we travelled into the city for church and then we went to a hotel for dinner afterwards. We felt so important sitting in a fancy dining room, being waited on by men in tuxedos. On those days Sunday dinner was still a big deal, but Mother didn’t have to do the work. But somebody was cooking our food, bringing it to us and cleaning up afterwards. Somebody was working to earn a living.

Keeping the Sabbath is a tricky thing. God made it clear in the Old Testament how He wanted the Israelites to keep it. But what does He expect from His people in the New Covenant? Jesus had a lot to say about the Sabbath but I don’t have room here to examine the whole teaching. One thing He said that stands out because it’s a theme I’ve seen as I’ve read different scriptures about the Sabbath is ““The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NLT)

God made the Sabbath for me. Keeping it is not just another rule I have to follow. So keeping it holy is good for me. It was good for the men of Judah too, so when they broke it they not only disobeyed God, they trampled His gift and lost out on the blessing He wanted to give them.

What they did was to work to earn a living. They made wine, loaded their produce on donkeys and brought it into Jerusalem to sell. They brought fish and all kinds of merchandise into Jerusalem to sell. They treated the Sabbath like any other day and didn’t rest. They didn’t take any time away from their regular lives to think about God. Nehemiah, who put a stop to it, held the nobles of Judah responsible. It was not only an accepted practice, it was approved by the government.

But it was wrong. It was the sort of thing their ancestors did that brought trouble on them in the first place.

We also live in a society that approves people working on the Sabbath. In fact, most people don’t think about the Sabbath at all. So how should I respond in this culture? What does God expect from me?

What pleases God is to honor the Sabbath rest He has given His people. I should enjoy the gift He has given me; a day to focus on Him.

What pleases God is to for His people to remember the evil deeds of those before us and not to repeat them. The men of Judah were more concerned about making money than worshipping God. I should seek God’s kingdom first and trust God’s provision for me.

What pleases God is to do what I can to stop the evil that I see being done around me. When Nehemiah stopped the Sabbath commerce, he called it a good deed. He saw the disobedience of the people and put a stop to it. I may not be able stop the Sunday commerce in my city but I should look for ways to help others enjoy God’s gift of holy rest.