Nearness to God and Public Worship (Nye)

There are times in the Christian life when it seems like God is far away, when it doesn’t feel like the Lord is near. We know Jesus promised to be with us always, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem that way. To be sure, God’s people throughout history have experienced this. More than a few Psalms contain prayers of anguish like those in Psalm 13:1, “How long, LORD, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (NIV).

Sometimes we don’t know why the Lord seems far away. Sometimes the Lord seems far away because we’ve wandered from him or sinned against him. Whatever the case, when God seems distant we certainly need to pray to him, read his Word, and keep doing our Christian best to trust and obey him through it. When God seems distant, we must also continue to regularly join the other people of God in public worship. We cannot expect to experience the presence and nearness of God if we forsake the assembly where he speaks to his people! Skipping out on worship during those times in life when God feels far away will only make things worse. Here’s how Chris Nye explained this:

“If we desire to live close to God, we cannot ignore His family…. ‘Going to church’ is not the best description of what we’re actually doing. We are joining with brothers and sisters from all walks of life to hear God’s word, worship His great name, and practice humility together. We may fancy ourselves a better person than the pastor, but hopefully in attending church regularly the Spirit would work that pride out. We may not love the music, but in time He will teach us what the American church must learn: worship, by its very nature, is not about us at all.”

“Church attendance grows us, humbles us, and shapes us because we hear God’s word, worship, and partake in His supper…. Missing church isn’t just missing a sermon, it is missing an opportunity to rehear the gospel in a variety of formats, whether it be through music, prayer, preaching, communion, or a neighbor.”

Chris Nye, Distant God, p 131-132.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105

The Church and the Rise or Fall of a Civilization (Lovelace)

The following observations by Richard Lovelace were made in the late 1970s in his book, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life. Although these words were written over 40 years ago they could have been written very recently! Here’s Lovelace:

…America and the rest of Western culture now seem to be more on the edge of dissolution than on the point of renewal. A cloud of irony hangs over our festivities. The situation in this country seems to call for a jeremiad, not a celebration. The worst scandal in our government’s history still lingers in our memories. Race prejudice, latent under the surface of political campaigns, seems intensified by our very efforts to correct it. The crime rate is outstripping police restraint and turning private surveillance into a growth sector. Pornography and violence filled the media, and a host of other social problems run in counterpoint with an uncertain economy.

In the rest of Western culture the situation is no less grave. Economic problems which are only painful in America are critical elsewhere. The open market of ideas which has sometimes accompanied free enterprise is yielding to closed totalitarian systems of the right and left in country after country. The Western civilization rooted in Christianity is increasingly faced with Arnold Toynbee’s rephrasing of Nicodemus’s is question, “Can a man be born again when he is old?”

Of course, as Augustine pointed out, a civilization can decline and fall without implicating or affecting the Christian church. The City of Man cannot blame the City of God for its own decay, and the church may well prosper at the same time that other powers fail. But Toynbee and other historians have argued that the fate of civilizations reflects the strength of the religious ethos around which they are built, and observers during this century both within and outside the church have expressed doubts about the savor of its salt.

Richard Lovelace, Dymanics of Spiritual Life, p. 25-26.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Going Through Grief with the Family of God (Sittser)

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss

One of my favorite resources on grief and sorrow in the Christian life is A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser. Jerry lost his daughter, wife, and mother in a single car crash. The story is beyond sad. But the story has Christian hope in it as well. The book isn’t a theology of suffering. It’s more of a Christian journaling about his grief and letting the reader know what he learned through it. I’ve blogged on this book several times. You can use the search function here if you want more info.

Today I re-read the section where Sittser talked about his church family’s role in his grief. I’ll give you two related take home points before I give the quote. First, when grief hits someone in your church family, be there for them with open arms of love and prayer. Second, if grief hits you, don’t run away from the church. Run into her open arms! Here’s the quote:

…I was a member of First Presbyterian Church when the accident occurred. Members of the church immediately rallied to my side. In the short run they overwhelmed our family with food and attention, and in the long run they joined me in grieving our loss. But not ours alone. My tragedy was so public that it gave many people in the congregation permission to face their own losses, some of which had been buried or ignored for years. I have observed churches fail, as many people have. Many churches are full of hypocrites, bigots, and lukewarm Christians, which should surprise no one. Still, I found my church community sympathetic and loyal. I risked giving the church a chance, and the church came through for me and my family.

The communities to which I belonged before the accident, in other words, were the communities to which I belonged after the accident. They supported me as I mourned, adjusted, and changed. Their commitment to remain loyal kept me from having to make still another adjustment – to form a new circle of friends. Their faithfulness created the stability and continuity of relationships I needed to enter the darkness and find a new life after the loss. I grieved with these friends. I grieved because of these friends, for their presence in my life reminded me of the past I had lost. But I also grew because my friends provided security and familiarity in a world that had fallen apart. They made life both worse and better for me, a reminder of what it used to be and a challenge to discover what it could be after the accident.

Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised, p. 179.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Christian Life Apart from The Church?

Sermons on Ephesians Calvin, John cover image

Scripture is quite clear that God’s people are part of his household (Eph. 2:19). Those who trust in Christ are family. They are an essential part of his body. God has gifted them in various ways to serve one another in love (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12, etc.). They are called to love each other deeply and actively (John 13:34, 1 John 4:7-12, etc). However, sometimes Christians refuse to be a living part of a local church fellowship. Or sometimes Christians think it’s not a big deal so they don’t become involved in the life of a church. This type of thinking is unbiblical to say the least.

Speaking of this, John Calvin had some helpful remarks in his sermon on Ephesians 4:6-8. Notice his mention of pride (self-conceit) and rottenness:

…See what reciprocal communication there is among the members of a body. And now God has so called us to himself that he will have us to become one in Christ Jesus…. Does it then follow that each of us should be a whole body by himself? No, for we see on the contrary how God has so dealt to every man his portion, and to all in general, that it is like a bond to hold us together in concord, in order that we should not be puffed up with such foolish self-conceit as to say, ‘I have enough of my own, I do not trouble myself about anyone else.’

God’s will, then, is not that every man should be a whole and perfect body by himself, but that one should be a hand, another a finger, another as an arm, another as a leg, another as a shoulder, and another as a foot.  In short, God has so dealt out His gifts among us that we must perceive that, if each of us withdraws into his own solitude, he will soon be like a rotten member, for he can have no firm continuance in the whole body if he insists on being separate from the rest of the members.  And what will follow from it?  It is bound to perish.  Even so it is with us.  That, therefore, is Paul’s meaning when he says that God’s grace is given to each one of us [Eph. 4:7].

John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, p. 337.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Your Gifts, Your Church Family (Hill)

A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church - Hill, Megan - 9781433563737

I’m halfway through this helpful book: A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church by Megan Hill. Each chapter is a short exposition and application of the various metaphors in Scripture for the church: flock, body, saints, etc. It’s good biblical resource on the nature of the church and what it means to be a living member of a local church family. Here’s one section I highlighted this morning:

Thankfully, the particular composition of the church doesn’t depend on us. Continuing the image of the church as a body, Paul writes, ‘But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose’ (1 Cor. 12:18). The truth of 1 Corinthians 12 is that however it might appear, the people and gifts represented in our local church are exactly the people and gifts we need. A few verses later, Paul flatly dismisses any suggestion that some people or gifts are more necessary for the body’s well being than others: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (12:21-22).

This truth should give you confidence: your particular gifts have a valuable, God-appointed place. It should also humble you: your particular gifts are simply one part of the body, and you desperately need other people with their particular gifts (see Rom. 12:3). Finally, this truth should increase your love for the local church: the gifts in the body are exactly what God knows your congregation needs. Because of God’s sovereign choosing, no part is missing, and every part is valuable.

That’s so true! If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you gifts to use in the service of other people, including his family. You and your God-given gifts are needed in the local church. But don’t get proud, because you also need the gifts of others to help you along in following Christ. In other words, a local church family is a felllowship of Christians who need one another!

Megan Hill, A Place to Belong, p. 80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015