I have written on the topic of ‘worship’ in the past, particularly the way so many Christians find it apparently easy not to come to worship. Although regularly non-attendance to worship services is a still a concern for me, this meditation has more to do with the concept of worship itself, and especially for ministry workers, whether it be preachers, seminary lecturers, office bearers or others involved in church ministries.
One of my former lecturers at College said the following to us very early in our training, “We will teach you many things here, but not least, you will be taught how to be a theologian.” He was right, and I have appreciated much that I have been taught, not least the ability to think ‘theologically’ about things said, taught and preached. But with every positive, there is also the risk of a negative sneaking into the side door, and it did with me, at least to some extent.
Some time ago now, when I was already an ordained minister, we had opportunity to worship elsewhere, as you do when you’re on holidays. It didn’t take all that long before someone close to me said that I needed to learn how to relax and ‘worship’ all over again. Obviously this person knew me well and had observed my demeanor as I sat close by them through the preaching of God’s Word. One moment I would look relaxed during the service, but at other times I would even appear annoyed, agitated and fidgety. Sometimes my family members would even tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “Relax, it’s not heresy, and worship.”
I initially thought it was strange they would say that to me. In their defense, they were not suggesting that I shouldn’t be discerning or like like the Bereans in Act 17:11; but to sit back, take my ‘theological’ head gear off and worship, after all, that is why we had come. And they were right!
It was rather an important lesson that I had to learn. As a minister of the Word, I was so inclined to think ‘theologically’ about every word, phrase and sentence that was spoken by the preacher, that I failed to worship. I was so intent on dissecting everything that was said exegetically, that I failed to allow the Word proclaimed to touch my heart and solicit praise from me. Yes, there have been occasions when the Word proclaimed was poorly done, but generally that isn’t the case. Sure, it may not even have been exactly as I would have done it, yet, it was done well enough for me to enjoy and solicit worship if I had been in the right frame of mind.
It seems that as ministry workers, we can be so engrossed in our work, that we find it difficult to worship. Actually, when one thinks about it, to not be engaged in worship when you are with God’s people is rather sad and sinful to say the least. Although our preaching, lecturing, and teaching in Christian ministry is important, it’s no defense for not bowing down to worship. After all, my Saviour God wants my heart in worship before I become the preacher, the lecturer, the Sunday School teacher, the musician, or whatever ministry I am involved in.
Thankfully, when I do worship elsewhere now, I have learnt to relax a little more and to join in worship. I seriously want to worship, for the Saviour I teach about, speak and preach about is my Lord too and He is worthy also of my praise and adoration. JZ
The Apostle Paul writes the following to the church at Rome, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom 13:1-2).
I have often wondered about these verses for some governing authorities, particularly overseas, have been down right terrible, if not altogether evil. Yet, somehow, God institutes them and does so, not necessarily for their or our material welfare, but first for His glory and the salvation of the elect and hence also for our spiritual welfare.
Sadly, that is usually not the way we think about the governments the Lord has placed over us, nor does society in general. Usually at election time, people’s voting patterns indicate concerns about their own future and how their hip pockets will be effected and not necessarily about what is going to give greater glory to God or be beneficial for extending His kingdom on earth.
It now seems from all the media reports, that there is a federal election about to occur. So before I get inundated with everyone’s preferences of who I should pray for during our worship services and which party we should be promoting as a church and denomination, allow me to nail my colours to the mast a little.
In the past people have asked me to pray for a major political party’s victory during a worship service as part of a congregational prayer. On one occasion I had two people come with a request to pray for victory for opposing political parties. And then it goes without saying that people have asked me to pray for various Christian parties, after all, who wouldn’t pray for a Christian party.
Well, let me just say where I am at with all of this ‘election’ stuff. I don’t pray for the victory of any particular party, major, minor, Christian, or otherwise, not even for independents (just in case you’re inclined that way). What I do pray for is that the Lord will bless us with good, godly government.
Over recent years I have been encouraged at the number of Christian Parliamentarians that are playing an active role in some of our major parties. I am encouraged how the Lord has used them to influence policy and new legislation. I am thankful for the Lord’s blessing on us as a nation, despite the fact many of our governing authorities do not profess Christ as Saviour. I am also thankful, that despite several Prime Ministers over recent years not being Christians, God has seen fit to use them and their government to bless this nation and continue to give us freedom of worship and not directly hindering the the gospel from going forth.
So as the time for the federal election approaches, be in prayer for the various parties and leaders. Pray that they may be godly and be able to lead this great nation in a way that is fair and compassionate to all its citizens. Pray that their policies may be of a high moral standard. Pray that any new legislation or direction introduced does not hinder the gospel going forth. Pray that God will continue to bless us, not because we are deserving, but out of his abundant grace. And finally, pray that this great nation may turn to Him in true repentance and thankfulness for all His goodness to us. JZ
Meditation: “Preaching focus”
There are two things I remember very well when attending my first homiletic (Preaching) class at the RTC. I was starting my third year of five year’s study, and our professor made the following comment, “Guys, before we start on this very important subject, if there is anything you would rather do than go into the ministry, please get up and go and do that now. No one at the RTC, and certainly not the faculty, will think any less of you.”
This was no ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comment, for my professor was absolutely serious and genuine about the offer he had just made. My professor knew from years of experience that preaching every week from God’s word, and sometimes twice, is never going to be easy. He knew that there were always going to be some people who are not completely satisfied with either your exposition of the text, your delivery, your application or perceived lack of it, your ability to be engaging, and sometimes even the exegetical choices you have made in the study.
A second thing my professor said by way of a question was, “Men, you who are married, what did your lovely wife cook you for tea last week Wednesday evening?” To our shame (I think) most of us married men could not be certain. We took some wild guesses, “Perhaps it was spuds, peas and carrots again, or was it something else?” Our professor then made the following comment, “Don’t think your congregations will remember your sermons any longer! However, just because you cannot remember what you had for tea a week ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t do you some good. That meal along with all your meals has sustained you physically. Similarly, sermons, even though we may not remember them a week later, when all taken together sustain us spiritually.”
It is a never ending dilemma for preachers to know what their focus should be in preaching. Someone sent me this article which was written about the famous preacher and lecturer, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and what he said, and I found it helpful.
“Preaching is first of all a proclamation of the being of God . . . preaching worthy of the name starts with God and with a declaration concerning His being and power and glory. You find that everywhere in the New Testament. That was precisely what Paul did in Athens—“Him declare I unto you.” “Him”! Preaching about God, and contrasting Him with the idols, exposing the emptiness and the acuity and uselessness of idols.
The preaching that begins with God, Lloyd-Jones affirmed, is worthy of divine approbation. This is precisely where he chose to focus his expositions. The Doctor looked for the grandeur of God in every text and sought to magnify Him above all else. He was constantly elevating God to the highest priority in his pulpit ministry. Even as he listened to other men preach, he was willing to overlook their mediocre delivery or disorganized presentation if the man could simply convey a true sense of the greatness of God.
I can forgive a man a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that though he is inadequate in himself, he is handling something which is very great and glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the gospel. If he does that, I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.
Lloyd-Jones believed the focus of the sermon is to unveil God. Asking himself the question, “What is the chief end of preaching?” he succinctly answered, “I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” This is the very essence of what Lloyd-Jones understood authentic preaching to be. He believed it is to be an exaltational exposition, that is, preaching that is always exalting God.” (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/chief-end-preaching/)
Well, after nearly twenty years of ministry, I agree with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is only when God is exalted in our midst for all his bountiful blessings, not least being His Creation; not least being His faithfulness; not least begin His covenant love; not least being our wonderful salvation in His Son; not least having the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is still to come, that God’s people will do the things that God has prepared for them to do, not as a meritorious duty, but out of thankfulness (Eph 2:10). JZ
Death, Taxes and Eternity
There is a famous saying that many of us have come accustomed to and is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I would like to add one more thing, “Eternal life.”
First, concerning death, one doesn’t need to say much about that for the ratio is still 100%. Death has been on this planet since the fall of man (Gen 3), and Genesis 5 has the reoccurring refrain, “and then he died…and then he died.” One day, our name will appear in the obituaries. That's not life, but death!
Second, there are not many people who like paying taxes. However, you cannot get away from it even though we all like to be minimalists when it comes to paying tax. Former Australian billionaire, Mr. Kerry Packer was asked by a Senate enquiry, “How come you pay so little tax?” Kerry Packer quipped back, “I don’t pay much tax because you guys (referring to the government) don’t spend it all that well.” However, paying tax is quite a biblical thing to do, for Jesus said that we should give to God what belongs to Him and to Caesar what belongs to him (Matthew 22:21).
Third, eternal life is also a certainty. Granted, many people don’t like to necessarily think about it, but it will surely be, for the Scripture teaches that there is such a thing as ‘eternal life’ (Mat 19:29; 24:31-46; Mk 10:30; Jn 3:15; 3:36; 5:24 and many more), both for believers and non-believers alike.
The question we all need to deal with is where will we spend eternity? The Scriptures answer that question by stating unequivocally that all who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for their forgiveness and salvation will spend eternity in glory (Jn 3:16; 2 Cor 5; etc). Those who do not believe will spend eternity away from God’s presence in a place where there will be gnashing of teeth (Mat 25:30; Mk 13:28).
So three things are certain in life, death, taxes and eternity. The first two are a given and we have very little choice, even though we would like to think we have. However, when it comes to our eternity, Scripture gives us two options, eternal life in the glorious presence of our Saviour God, or eternal life away from God’s glorious presence. So, how do we decide? Well, let's allow Scripture to answer again, “So, as the Holy Spirit says, today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:7; 15; 4:7).
Prayer: Lord, may your Holy Spirit cause us to embrace Your Son as Saviour, now and forever. Amen. JZ.
“Preserved so that we can persevere”
Most ‘reformed’ Christians are fairly good when it comes to quoting the doctrines of grace. Sometimes we refer to them by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. The one I wish to highlight is the “P” which stands for “Perseverance of the Saints” or “Preservation of the Saints.”
It is a wonder truth that Scripture teaches and when understood correctly is reason for comfort and great joy. We understand and believe Scripture to teach that God the Father who has called us in Christ before the foundations of the earth were set in place (Eph 1:4), will keep us in the faith until He brings us safely into His eternal presence.
That means, once we have experienced the saving grace of Christ, applied to us by God’s Word and Spirit, we are safe for eternity. As Paul so aptly describes in many passages, not least Romans 8:28-39; there isn’t anything in all creation that can separate us from God’s love to us in Christ Jesus. Debilitating illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s will not be able to separate us from God’s love. Nor will catastrophes, whether it be terrorism, accidents, natural disasters, indeed, nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not live in the comfort of that truth. There have been occasions when Christians have asked me, “How will I know for certain that I will still be a Christian when I die?” Sometimes this is followed by all sorts of examples, real and imagined, of people who have seemingly left the faith or where illness has left someone incapable of proper cognitive function.
The answer is rather simple really. On occasions I have explained it like this, “If we are true Christians, our faith in Christ as Redeemer will remain, for our Almighty God preserves us so that we can persevere.” It would be foolish, therefore, to say that you will persevere because you have such a “strong faith” and that will see you through. Rather, what we should be saying is that we know we will persevere for Scripture teaches that not only is our God powerful and has promised to keep us in the faith, He is faithful.
Note the following texts:
(1 Cor 1:8-9) “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
(1Thess 5:23-24) “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
(Jude 1-2) Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
There are other texts (cf Romans 8:1; 30; Phil 1:6; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 24), but allow these to fill you and bring joy to your hearts. There is no reason to fear dear Christian that your faith will fail. He who did not spare His own Son to secure our salvation, will surely preserve us so that we will persevere! Praise Him! JZ.