One of the distinctiveness of ‘reformed’ teaching and preaching is the centrality of Christ, often referred to as being “Christocentric”. We do so for that is the way Scripture presents Him. Scripture records for us that all things made in heaven and on earth were created through Him (Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). Immediately after the fall of mankind into sin, God the Father speaks about the Saviour who would come and crush the serpent’s head, even though the serpent would bruise His heel (Gen 3:15).
Scripture records God’s promise to king David that his seed would be on the throne forever (2 Sam 7:16), an obvious reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ancestry can be traced back to king David, from the house of Judah (Lk 3:31). When Jesus came, He lived among sinful man and performed many wonderful miracles, clearly indicating that He was the Son of God Who came with power. Throughout His earthly life, He did not sin, thus making Him the perfect sacrifice for our sin.
However, a Christ who remained dead could never be our Saviour and so Scripture records for us with ample evidence that He rose victoriously from the dead (Lk 24; 1 Cor 15). More than that, Scripture records for us that Jesus ascended (Acts 1) and is now seated (standing) at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:55), a place of absolute authority. It is from that exalted position, Jesus continues to reign and rule all things for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the elect.
Scripture also teaches that this same Jesus is coming again and will judge the living and the dead and those who have been called by the Father, saved by Christ, quickened to life by the Holy Spirit, will enter into eternal life, all to the glory of the Triune God.
But it is not only Scripture that is Christocentric, all of human history is serving the salvation of the elect who have been saved by Christ to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Under God’s sovereign rule, everything that happens, all the good things and yes, even the bad, are used by God to draw out the elect, so that they will inherit eternal life in glory, won for them by Christ.
So, if we are agreed that Scripture and all of history and any future event is about God’s glory and the salvation of sinners through his Son, surely then as Christians it is incumbent on us to be Christocentric now. Christocentric with all ministries, whether it be the Sunday worship services or the latest mission venture. All must be subject to just one test and that is to glorify Christ. If our ministry or our mission works fail that test, then we can be certain the Holy Spirit is not involved, for that is His primary role (Jn 16:14).
Now being Christocentric doesn’t mean that every message or every mission project has to speak specifically about Jesus’ life, birth and resurrection every time. What does need to happen is that there is an unmistakable Christocentric pattern in our ministries. If the value of Jesus life, death and resurrection are never mentioned or seldom spoken about in our ministries, then the time has come to refocus.
Finally, being Christocentric in ministries and missions can only occur if Christ is central in our personal lives. When He is, we will increasingly become Christocentric in all we do with the Holy Spirit’s help. JZ.
One of the creation ordinances is that God the Creator set one day aside in seven to rest. On that one day, the seventh day, the Sabbath in the Old Testament, He asks the pinnacle of His creation, mankind, to just focus their attention on who He is and to delight in all His goodness to them. They could delight in the beauty and diversity of creation and all that God had made. They could marvel at the heavens above and the billions upon billions of stars and galaxies that He created. They could give thanks for all His provision for them. Even after the fall into sin, God’s desire was that they could show their love and adoration for Him by gathering together for worship at the temple. There, God made provision for them to offer their tithes, various offerings, and give thanks for His redeeming love and bringing them out of exile in Egypt to the Promised Land.
The New Testament Church now meets for worship on the first day of the week, resurrection Sunday, following the pattern of the early church. However, the reason for worship hasn’t really changed. We are also God’s covenant, redeemed people. God’s desire for us is also to set this one day aside when we can delight in our wonderful God for all the things mentioned above. We can also thank Him with our tithes and offerings and indeed our very lives for He has redeemed us from enslavement to sin to a wonderful forgiveness and eternal life through His Son.
However, it seems that over the years, Sunday worship and gathering with God’s people has become an inconvenience for so many Christians. Just consider for a moment how many churches, both within our own denomination and beyond, now only meet once on a Sunday. I am also aware that some churches have exchanged the evening service with a prayer and praise time. I can live with that too – not an issue. Oh, that we would spend more time in prayer and praise! Sadly, though, some churches who did go to that model no longer do so, for attendance has dropped right off. Obviously, even prayer and praise evenings have become inconvenient for some.
OK, it’s not about going to church twice, for that isn’t even ‘prescribed’ in Scripture. Indeed, going to church is not even a salvation issue perse because some Christians, due to serious illness, cannot come to a public worship service. However, for those who could come, who claim to be active, living Christians, is their non-attendance or at best, irregular attendance, a sign that worship with God’s redeemed people has become somewhat of an inconvenience for them?
Personally, I have always found it disappointing when fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who could be at worship, have no good reason for not being there, except that it was inconvenient for them. I cannot help thinking that some of our flimsy excuses must grieve the Holy Spirit within us.
I have often been reminded that ‘all of life’ is meant to be one of worship and we should not allow this to become a legalistic or Sunday issue. Agreed. I have even been told that it is unfair of Session to expect people to worship every week and that we should be pleased that they come at all, for the preaching isn’t all that great and the services are boring! Some even have the gall to suggest that because their weeks are so full with work and going here and there, that Sunday is the only day they have left to do ‘their’ thing. Someone even hinted to me that to expect Christians to come to worship on a weekly basis is just ‘old-school’.
Really? The Session didn’t stipulate that we put this time aside for worship, but our Almighty, Creator God who has redeemed us and promised forgiveness and eternal life in Christ has stipulated that we worship Him. What a wonderful privilege we can worship with like-minded Christians, enjoy fellowship and encourage one another in the faith as we see the Day drawing nearer. Where would you rather be?
I am not very good at mathematics, so I asked Dr Google what percentage of the week one hour of worship is (perhaps two hours when taking into consideration travel and fellowship time afterwards). Dr Google came back with the answer. It's 1.19047619048% (-: One day we will spend eternity in glory with fellow Christians worshipping our Saviour God (Rev 5). Hopefully, it will not become an inconvenience then. JZ.
Word & Deed
The topic that receives some discussion in our circles from time to time is how “Word and deed” ministries come together. On the one hand, we like to take some pride in the way we have a high view of Scripture, crossing our ‘tees’ and dotting our “i’s” carefully when it comes to doctrine and the teaching of God’s word. It’s an important aspect of any ministry. We all wish to be absolutely faithful to God’s word.
On the other hand, however, and without any disrespect intended, I wonder whether we are all that good with our ‘deed’ ministries. It’s not a question about whether ‘word and deed’ should go together, that’s a given. But are we on occasions reluctant in doing good ‘deeds’ lest we are labelled as ‘works’ driven for our salvation rather than ‘Word’ driven, trusting in Christ alone for our salvation?
I was reading the story of Dorcas’ (Tabitha) in Acts 9:36ff again this past week and it struck me that she was a lady known for her “good works and acts of charity”. She wasn’t known as a ‘preacher’ or as a ‘gossip’ or as ‘works’ driven, but as someone who was “full of good works and acts of charity”. It certainly seems from the account in Acts that she was much loved and well respected. When she died, many of the widows who had come to grieve her passing showed the various tunics and other garments that Dorcas had made while she was with them (v39).
I find this story interesting for sometimes we consider Word ministries as something particularly ‘spiritual’ and deed ministries as something less. Sometimes ‘good works and acts of charity’ are labelled as totally horizontal with no spiritual value.
I think that is very unfortunate, for Scripture recognizes both “Word and deed” as spiritual ministries. The Holy Spirit uses both to be a witness to the world we live in. Hence, ministers of the Word are no more special than the ‘Dorcas’ in our midst who have gifts of sowing and helping people with clothes to wear or some other gift.
It’s also worth noting that Dorcas was “full” of good works and acts of charity. So this wasn’t just a Sunday deed or a special event deed where she utilized her gift, but a constant use of her gift. And it is obvious that many widows had been helped by her. Doing good works and acts of charity was a way of life for her.
Jesus himself encouraged His hearers to let our light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mat 5:13). The apostle Paul often speaks about ‘deed’ ministry throughout his letters. In Titus 2:1-10 he speaks much about how we should be a model of good works (v7) so that in everything, they will adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour (v10). Likewise, Peter urges the Christians to keep their conduct honourable – so that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 1:12).
Perhaps it is time for us to think about the spiritual value and encourage those who are full of good works and acts charity in our midst. We all know that good works and acts of charity can be done at any time, but so often things that can be done at any time tend to be done at no time for everybody expects someone to do it and in the finish no one does.
The Dorcas’ story ends with her being raised from the dead by the apostle Peter. These ‘good works and acts of charity’ along Peter’s work through the power of the Holy Spirit were designed to bring people to faith in Jesus (v42). So let us also encourage one another in good deeds and acts of mercy and may we be full of them. Let us pray that the Lord will use them to bring many to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. JZ
It's father's day...
This Sunday is father’s day and we pay a little more attention to our dads whom we still have with us. Thankfully, many of us have great relationships with our dads, a reason for thanks. However, we also live in a world where relationships with fathers are broken. So today, even as we come to worship, father’s day can either be a day of celebration of the Lord’s goodness to us or it is a day with mixed emotion, because the relationship we once enjoyed with our father is now either strained or broken altogether.
There is a little story that has been credited to Jonathan Edwards has been told many times over when he writes to his daughter Lucy, shortly before his death, “Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a father who will never fail you.”
It seems that Jonathan Edwards had a good handle on what it meant to be a father. He realised the important spiritual role they play, not just with a spouse, but also to their children. In Scripture, fathers are often portrayed as the spiritual head of a household. In today’s culture, although things are somewhat different, it doesn’t absolve fathers of their responsibility for the spiritual welfare of our families, should also weigh heavily on us. This doesn’t mean that mothers do not have a role to play, they do. But generally the onus falls on the father.
It’s a rather scary thought, for most fathers are aware of their short comings in this area. I have met fathers who have lamented the fact that they have been dismal failures for not taking their responsibility to teach their children the ways of the Lord more seriously. Too often their emphasis has been on sports or careers while their children’s spiritual welfare was given a back seat. I have also met fathers who have lamented the fact that they were too forceful and over bearing towards their children about the Christian faith and it seems to them that they may have contributed to their children turning away from the Lord. But there are also good stories. On one occasion a father said to me, “I am so thankful that my seven children love the Lord.” Then he immediately added, “There, but for the grace of God go I, and there but for the grace of God go they!”
Of course, our children will probably never learn the ways of the Lord if we don’t teach them or show it to them in our living and loving. Yet, when, with the Lord’s blessing, they do grow to love the Lord, we humbly acknowledge it’s all by grace alone.
Thankfully, fathers also know that there is forgiveness for their mistakes and short comings from the same source all others are forgiven and that is in Jesus Christ. It’s not an ‘escapism’ for being a ‘slack’ dad as far as spiritual nurturing of their children are concerned, but it does give fathers hope for a new day and a new beginning, also with our children. It’s never too late for fathers to be a good Christian witness to their children, even if they have ‘stuffed-up’ for a season or two.
As fathers, we also realise there will come a time when our time will be full of days and we have no more time to influence our children. Jonathan Edwards, acknowledge that earthly fathers do not remain forever, but there is a heavenly Father that never leaves us. And what a great Father He is to have. Not only does He never leave us, He has given His all for our forgiveness and eternal salvation when He gave us His Son.
So today, thank the Lord for the fathers He has given us, even with all their short comings. Keep loving them, not only when they give you gifts, but also when they fall short of the dad you would want them to be. In doing so, you may unknowingly cause your father to turn to the Father above who grants forgiveness, renewal and hope for tomorrow. Fathers (and grand fathers), let us not shirk from our responsibility to be the fathers (and grand fathers) God wants us to be. JZ