Friday, April 5, 2013

How Much are you Eating?

This post is an accumulation of thoughts and conversations with various peoples through the years.

Around the time I started to study philosophy at Taylor, my younger sister and I had a conversation about how much philosophy is helpful to read. She mentioned that our neighbor and elder in the church said we ought to read more of the Bible then any other book. At the time we both found this preposterous since I was finding myself reading up to hundreds of pages of philosophy in a week.

Soon after, I was walking with my older brother about music. Back then there was a lot of discussion about what type of music was helpful to listen to, particularly rock and CCM. At the time, he thought it helpful to understood rock music like candy. A little can be fun and ok, but too much and you'll get sick.

Last summer, this same brother convinced me to listen to a sermon series. I struggle to listen to sermons, and they have been of little help in my life. There is really only one pastor's sermons who have been of great spiritual significance in my life. Anyway, he convinced me to listen to this series on assurance of salvation. He made the point that it's important to have a large quantity of spiritual things in our lives. At the time, and for a while by then, I thought it was more important to have a few high quality things in our spiritual life.

I listened to the sermons. Didn't get much out of them. These three stories have one thing in common, quantity of spiritual things. Rarely do we think about the quantity of spiritual things in our lives. We often analyze of the quality of spiritual things, thinking their their orthodoxy and application.

Jeremiah Burrows was a puritan minister who wrote "Gospel Worship." It's a series of sermons he gave about how we ought to worship. In talking about the Lord's Supper, this is what he said. I apologize for the length of the quote, Puritans are always long-winded, but it's worth reading through. If you don't just skip and read my summary below:

This is the communion of the body of Jesus Christ and of his blood, and therefore there ought to be hungering and thirsting desires of the soul after Jesus Christ. Therefore you must take heed that you do not come with your stomachs full of trash, as children do when they can get plums and pears and fill their stomachs with them when they come to your tables. Though there is never so much wholesome diet, they have no mind to it at all.  
So it is with men of the world. They fill their hearts with the trash of this world, with sensual delights, and whence it is that when they come to such a great ordinance to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ, then they feel no want at all of Christ. They only come and take a little piece of bread and a draught of wine, but for any strong, pausing desires to meet with Jesus Christ there in the ordinance, to come so as they know not how to live without Christ, even as a man who is hungry cannot live without his meat and drink, and so for the soul to to have such a disposition after Christ is a rare thing." 
The point being, when we approach the Lord's table, don't be feasting on the things of this world or you will come to the Lord's table with a full stomach of trash. You will not desire to feast on Him.

In the Old Testament, the Kings of Israel were required to read and study the Law day and night. King David expressed a love for God's law (See Psalm 119, all of it). In the New Testament, we see Jesus as a child having a great depth of God's law as a child (Luke 2). Furthermore, Paul himself was well versed in the Law and it almost got him killed a couple times by the Jews, Acts 9. Paul tells the Philippians to approve the things that are excellent in Philippians 1 and later to meditate or think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or praiseworthy. In Revelations, John claims to "be in the spirit" when he received the revelations of things to come. 

By reading more of the Bible then any other book, filling my mind with excellent things then the Lord's Supper becomes much more desirable. Likewise, I find my relationship with Christ to be much stronger and prayer, bible study and worship comes easier to me. If we increase the quantity of spiritual things in our lives then we will desire them more. The more of the Bible I read, the more I enjoy it and realize how much I don't know about it. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Worship Service vs. Discipleship

In our church* there is a tension/debate about placing priority on the worship service or discipleship. On one side, you have people claiming that if we just bring people to worship on the Sabbath and place them in front of the pastor and they hear the word, then they'll begin to grow in Christ. On the other side, meet with the person weekly, share your applications from your ABC Bible study, check each other's memory verses and talk.

Arguments for which side? 
It's easy to take a side on this debate depending on how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life. In my life, relationships with men who shared their applications and reviewed memory verses with me have helped me grow in Christ more then listening to sermons on Sunday. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have grown tremendously from hearing sermons week after week. In fact, some claim that the spirit works primarily through the preaching of the word. Perhaps this means I'm a stunted Christian....

So, what should the church emphasize? Discipleship or the worship service? In answering any question, I have always tried to say "both" as much as possible unless a clear contradictions presents itself when you agree with both sides. So, public worship and discipleship are both of equal importance and worthy of equal emphasis in the church. I haven't understood why this is the correct answer, until now.

A Question that Explains why "both" is right
I've been reading Pipa's work "Public Worship, 101" for a class I'm taking on public worship at 2nd RP. He asks this profound question in chapter 2, "where do we anticipate our most profound encounters with God?" It is profound on a couple levels. First, we encounter God on different levels in different contexts. The question asks whether we work to figure out where? Second, in our relationships with people, we know that there are certain things to anticipate. For instance, I anticipate that I need to converse with my coworkers about NCAA basketball so I make sure to know who is in the Final Four. Likewise, we should anticipate what kindles our relationship with God. Third, where does God most profoundly affect us?

Pipa points to the worship service, citing Revelations 5. If you think about it, the most profound experience we will have with God is going to be in heaven, worshipping King Jesus. The worship service is a preparation for that glorious day, and it's no surprise for us to find that our most profound moments will be in the worship service.

Here is where we pause. At this point, one will think that this means the church ought to emphasize the worship service over anything and everything else since its a preparation for the most glorious encounter with God! It's a "well, duh!" thought. But no, there is more.

Why It is Both
I don't know about you, but if I don't know the people around me and how God is working in their lives, it is difficult for me to worship God with them. It's like being around a really good friend with a stranger. You can't focus on getting to know better your good friend as much.

The greatest and closest encounters I have had with God in a worship service are at my home church, 2nd RP where I know my pastor's life, he knows mine, I am meeting with others in that particular body, and we're praying for each other. If I know the people I'm worshipping with better then I'm much more able to have a close encounter with God.

So if worship is to take a priority in the church, it won't fully blossom unless there is discipleship. At the same, time, discipleship can't fully function on its own since the worship service is a bringing together the body of Christ. It doesn't make sense to neglect Worship when throughout the New Testament worship is seen as a very important part of the Christian life.**

*This debate takes place at my church as well as in theRP Church broadly speaking.
**I myself have noticed that when I miss church, I tend to have a tougher week. I'm crabbier, sullen and things just don't go as smoothly.