Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Can you imagine your life without worship? Can you imagine your life without regularly gathering with God’s people to worship him together? Corporate worship is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. And perhaps it is one of those privileges that over time we can take for granted. When I pause to think about it, I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t even want to. But I guess it is worth considering: What would I lose if I lost worship?
We live in a consumeristic culture where we tend to evaluate life in very selfish ways. We do this even with worship. “The sermon really didn’t speak to me today. I just couldn’t get into the songs we sang this morning. That Scripture reading was a little bit too long in my books.” When we speak this way we may be proving that we are coming to church as consumers, people who want to be served rather than to serve.
Yet the primary point and purpose of worshipping God is his glory, not the meeting of our felt needs. We worship God in order to glorify God. God is glorified in our worship. We is honored. He is magnified in the sight of those who join with us.
In this way worship cuts completely against the grain of consumerism and demands that I worship for his sake and for his glory. I have heard it said that “Worship is the art of losing self in the adoration of another.” And that is exactly the case. I forget all about me and give all honor and glory to him.
What would I lose without worship? I would lose the opportunity to grow through hearing a sermon and to experience joy through singing great hymns. I would lose the opportunity to join with other Christians in prayer and to recite great creeds with them. But more than anything else, I would lose an opportunity to bring glory to God. If I stopped worshipping, I would neglect a means through which I can bring glory to him.
Do you see it? Worship is not about you or me. Worship is about God. And really, this changes everything.
When I view worship as something that ultimately exists for my good and my satisfaction, it is easy to take a day off, to think that my presence makes no difference. But when I come to bring glory to God, I understand that no one else can take my place. God means for me to lift my hands, to lift my heart, to lift my voice to him.
When I view worship as something that is really all about me, it is easy to jump from church to church, to always be looking for a better fit for me. But when I view church as something that is really all about God, I find myself looking for the church that is the purest and best at worshipping in exactly the ways the Bible demands—I look for the church through which I can bring him the most glory.
Worship is a privilege, to be sure. But it is also a requirement, a responsibility. And the greatest responsibility and the greatest privilege in worship is to bring glory to God.
Publication date: September 9, 2015
Friday, September 4, 2015
Who would have guessed that introversion would become such a popular subject? Who would have guessed it would even carry a book to the New York Times list of bestsellers in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking? Her book brought into the public eye a personality type that is both common and misunderstood. While I cannot agree with all she wrote, I was glad to see her open up what has become a fascinating conversation.
There is no doubt that I am an introvert. If we place introversion and extroversion on opposite sides of a line and say that each one of us falls somewhere between the two extremes, I would be pretty far from center along the introvert side of the scale. I may not be as far along as some people, and I still enjoy some exposure to crowds of people, but at heart I gain energy and perspective in solitude and then expend it in a crowd. My default reaction to a crowd is to run away to find a place of quiet. I love and enjoy people, but do better with small groups than large ones. Even after several years of public speaking, it still takes a lot of effort and self-denial to stand in front of a crowd. I walk to the front of a room slowly and, when finished, sprint to the back. That’s just the way I am.
Quiet allowed me to better understand myself. In some ways Cain introduced me to me. I had all kinds of those “Aha!” moments where things I’ve long thought or felt suddenly made sense. It was refreshing. Yet as I progressed through the book, I found it doing something unexpected deep inside. I began to feel a kind of peace with my introversion that may have gone a little too far. Even Aileen noticed it in me and pointed it out. She noticed that I began to feel justified in fleeing crowds and being by myself. She said I was becoming selfish.
I believe that God made me introverted. It seems clear that some of us are naturally more outgoing while others are naturally inclined to be quiet. I am naturally quiet and this is part of God’s good design. Neither one is inherently wrong and neither one is intrinsically better than the other. But what Cain does not acknowledge, writing as she does from a secular perspective, is that we inhabit a world of sin where any trait or quality can be used for God-glorifying ends or for self-glorifying ends. Not only that, but God calls us to be always willing to deny our desires in order to serve others. Both introverts and extroverts will face particular temptations to sin. My temptation as an introvert is to run away from people instead of serve people. It is to be selfish instead of giving.
The Christian life is a life of self-denial. It is a life of saying, “Even though this may be what I want, duty compels me to do something different.” There are many times when I am to deny my own desires in order to serve others. Even the desire to be alone. David Powlison says it well:
The Christian life is a great paradox. Those who die to self, find self. Those who die to their cravings will receive many times as much in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:29). They will find new passions worth living for and dying for. If I crave happiness, I will receive misery. If I crave to be loved, I will receive rejection. If I crave significance, I will receive futility. If I crave control, I will receive chaos. If I crave reputation, I will receive humiliation. But if I long for God and His wisdom and mercy, I will receive God and wisdom and mercy. Along the way, sooner or later, I will also receive happiness, love, meaning, order, and glory.
I have no right to crave introverted solitude. Rather, the gospel compels me to deny even that trait and all its desires in order to serve other people. I am introverted, but this does not give me a different calling in life than the gregarious Christian.
What I had to face as in Quiet is that introversion is what I am, not who I am. And this is where the discussion of introversion and extroversion often seems to go wrong. We elevate these traits too high and use them to justify selfishness instead of selflessness. I have to be slow to define myself in a-biblical categories. This is not to say that it is wrong to say that I am an introvert, but that this is a distinction the Bible does not make. With this being the case, I don’t want to allow introversion to define me or to dictate my behavior. Introversion is a useful description, but a poor definition.
Publication date: September 4, 2015
Thursday, September 3, 2015
"Now you be nice to your sister.” “Make sure you play nice tonight.” “He is such a nice young man.” As human beings, it seems that we are drawn to niceness. We like nice people and encourage people to behave in nice ways. We dislike people who aren’t nice or who don’t behave in nice ways. We teach our children to be nice and juxtapose niceness with a host of vices: grumpiness, cruelty, mean-spiritedness.
In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the qualities of fleshly, worldly people with the qualities of Spirit-filled, godly people. He lists the fruit of the Spirit, those character traits that ought to mark God’s people, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (vv. 22–23). Conspicuously absent from Paul’s list is niceness. Kindness is there; patience and gentleness too. But not niceness.
Why isn’t niceness a fruit of the Spirit? Because niceness is a hollow trait that a human can generate even without the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Niceness may require some force of will in the face of disagreement or controversy. It may require restraint. But it does not require an inward transformation.
True love, true joy, true faithfulness and gentleness—these are all qualities for which we are completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s work in conforming us to the image of Christ through the Word of God. As we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, as we carefully seek God and His will through the Bible, the Holy Spirit gradually but surely grants us these qualities in growing measure. Now we are able to love—truly love—whereas before we could only hate and brood and love selfishly; now we are able to display patience whereas before we would always explode with anger or perhaps simply simmer with anger; now we are able to be gentle whereas before we were so consistently harsh.
But niceness? Niceness doesn’t require that work of the Spirit. In fact, niceness is often a clever ruse Satan employs to fool us into following ungodly leaders. Be careful around nice people. Evil and ungodly men often rely upon niceness to cover their sin. Where Christians can be fast and blunt in defending the truth, unbelievers—and especially unbelievers claiming to be Christians—can look good in contrast. They can seem so nice as they nicely undermine the very foundations of the Christian faith. Their smiles, their soft words, their sympathetic questions, their niceness—these are all tools designed to mask their opposition to God.
It is not bad to be nice. It is not an evil trait. But it is far better to strive for the higher qualities, the Spirit-given qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law, because such Spirit-given qualities cannot be faked forever.
Publication date: September 3, 2015
Monday, August 31, 2015
The words are as indelible as any ever recorded: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
That’s how Jesus closed the whirlwind of events and emotions that surrounded His trial, execution, the three days of hopelessness, and His resurrection. But these words weren’t so much as an ending as they were a beginning; they weren’t a close on His story but a launching pad into the future.
The disciples – ordinary, unschooled, some still doubting – stood on the mountainside with their friend and now their acknowledged Lord, and got their marching orders. What they had seen done they would now do; what they had been taught they would now teach; what they had experienced they would now pass on. And so the chain goes throughout history. The story of Jesus and what it means to be His disciple has cut through the generations despite every attempt to stop it. And here we are today, in our own generation, recipients of the same charge Jesus delivered on the mountain that day:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
First to the original disciples, and now to us. That’s who is to make disciples. But if we could, let’s think for a second about who this call didn’t go out to. Let’s think about who, or what, was never told to make disciples. Chances are you, like me, have trusted at least one of these other things to do the work Jesus gave to His people:
- A screen. Jesus never looked at a video and told it to make disciples. Yet many of us have assumed that disciples will be made if the video teaching or preaching is strong enough. There’s nothing wrong with video; it can be a useful tool to make disciples. But if all we ever give people is a screen to watch then we aren’t making disciples; we’re making consumers.
- A line of curriculum. Jesus never looked at curriculum and told it to make disciples. While it’s the ease of video that’s appealing, in this case the appeal is about knowledge. Just as with video, there is nothing wrong with using Bible study curriculum. But if that’s the sole means of discipling people, then we are in danger of helping people accumulate a great deal of knowledge and a very anemic amount of obedience and service.
- A philosophy. Jesus never looked at a particular philosophy, program, or strategy and told it to make disciples. We, on the other hand, tend to be fascinated with the newest and best; we assume that if one particular strategy works in one church that it can be the magic pill in our own setting to manufacture disciples.
Are you seeing the theme? None of these three things are wrong in and of themselves, and yet none of them can be trusted to do what Jesus has uniquely called and equipped His people to do.
So when we set out to create another tool, we wanted to make one that wouldn’t replace God’s people but would equip them to make disciples in a way as unique as they are. At smallgroup.com, you can quickly build custom Bible studies as unique as your groups. Every study is completely customizable by the church at smallgroup.com, from their aesthetic down to the actual text.
With smallgroup.com, you can get the right study to the right person at just the right time. Tools don’t make disciples; people do. Make sure your people have the right one.
Publication date: August 31, 2015