Why Going to Church on Sunday is An Act of War

Okay, so maybe that title is a bit melodramatic. But I wanted to get your attention, because I think faithful, weekly attendance at your local gospel-preaching church is important. It’s important for all the reasons we know, right? To hear the Word preached. To develop community in the body of Christ. To exercise your spiritual gifts. To support the gospel proclamation both local and international. To obey the Scriptures.

Yes to all of these reasons for going to church. And also yes to the well-worn clique, “You can go to church every week for your whole life and still be far from the Kingdom of God.” Yes, I’m still preaching that because it’s still true. Going to church won’t get you one yard closer to the pearly gates.

And yet, the simple act of going to church–I’m assuming here a church who preaches the gospel and declares that Jesus Christ is King–is in and of itself a declaration of war. When your weary legs rise for another verse of the chorus and you offer praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, you are saying, in effect, that the reigning prince of the power of the air, Satan (Ephesians 2:2) is really not the King He thinks he is. There is another King, another Kingdom and it’s coming one day in it’s fullness and power. When you gather with your fellow believers and worship Christ, you are saying to the rest of the world that man is not ultimate. You are saying that the great movements of this world may have some power, but ultimately they are part of God’s gathering of history to Himself and for His kingdom. When you worship the risen Christ every Sunday at your church, you are telling the world that in your life, for this moment, Christ is ultimate. He is to be worshipped above all else. You’re making a statement that there is Someone deserving of more adulation and worship than the lesser things to which we pledge allegiance. You’re inviting them to ask you, “Why do you think the Kingdom of God is better than the Kingdom of man? What is it about Christ that gets you to roll out of bed, get dressed, get your family dressed, hop in the car, and go to church every single Sunday? 

Now I know you don’t feel like this on most Sundays. I don’t even feel like this and I’m a pastor. But that doesn’t make it less true. So go to church for all the reasons you should go to church, the ones we mentioned above. But also go to church so you can tell the world, by your actions, by your praise, by your not being somewhere else, that there is another King. And he’s worthy of your worship together with other citizens of His kingdom.

Going to a bible-believing church, in a largely Christian culture, may not seem so courageous. It still may even seem to be the good and right thing to do (though it has less cultural cache than it once had). But that doesn’t make it less significant.

So this Sunday, think about that as you scrape yourself up and make the decision to go to church.

Why Your Spiritual Growth Matters to the Community

Last week I preached a Mother’s Day message from 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9. Paul compares discipleship to the actual practice of a mother nursing her child. In this, the mother is a source of life for her child. So it is that we as Christians, must be conduits of life-giving spiritual nutrition for those around us.

This has a lot of implications for the way we live. First, it matters what we ourselves are eating. A mother who is breast-feeding has to be very, very careful about her diet because what she consumes will then make up the milk for her baby.

As a Christian, what are you consuming? Are you growing yourself? Are you taking in the meat of the Word so you can feed others. You see, there is a progression here. You can’t exactly give a baby a steak or pork chops or pizza. A mother has to take in the food, chew it up, digest it, and then her body produces milk. A baby’s digestive system needs the simple formula that breast milk gives.

When our little Emma was a baby, she had such digestive problems that we had to purchase very expensive formula–$45 a can. It broke down the proteins so finely that it enabled her sensitive system to process it and for her to get good nourishment. Paul’s comparison to a nursing mother and her baby tells us something about the way we grow. We begin, as spiritual infants, with milk. Another Apostle, Peter, picks up this theme:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:2-3 (ESV)

Notice Peter’s words. We begin with the pure spiritual milk of the Word—not diluted or polluted–but the pure milk of the Word. Kingdom as children, taking in the very basics, the very pure, refined, simple milk.

But, God doesn’t intend for us to stay that way. He intends for us to grow up. To do that, according to Paul, it seems we need to be fed and nurtured by someone more mature than us. Someone who can take the heavy meat of the word and feed us and help us to grow.This is why pastors and teachers and spiritual leaders are given to the Church (Ephesians 4).

Sadly, there are some Christians who still drinking milk who don’t pursue growth. Paul discussed this, in his frustrations with the Corinthians:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (ESV)

This is a crisis. Imagine my little Emma Rose—now three years old—is still on that expensive $45-a-can formula. When she was a newborn, it was a stage we knew she’d get through. But if, at three, she is still on the milk, we’d be going to doctors and experts and wondering what is wrong. She should be on to the meat by now.

And so it is with some Christians. They are still drinking milk. They’ve not pursued, with intentionality, the deeper things of God. They are content with milk. And something is wrong. It’s not always a matter of how old you are or how long you’ve been a Christian. It’s the way you approach your spiritual nourishment.

Sometimes you can present a child with food, but he doesn’t eat it. A good parent makes their kid eat. God as a good father, bring circumstances in your life that force you to look deeply into the word, to lean on him, and to grow up in your faith. But if you continue to resist, you will not grow. It’s up to you to take your fork and eat.

This means you prioritize church. This means you make Bible study, reading and prayer a habit. I think of Paul, who at the end of this life, was still asking for his books. I’m amazed that my wife, who watches four children, homeschools our two older ones, runs woman’s ministries, takes care of the house—she still finds time to grow in her faith. She’s probably read more books this year already than many Christians. Did I mention to you that she’s dyslexic and has a hard time reading?

The truth is that there are may Christians who are still spiritual infants, who haven’t grown much in the last few years, and still need milk. And here’s the tragedy of this, really. God has created each of us to a fountain of spiritual nourishment, a conduit of His grace to others. But when we fail to grow, we can’t feed others. We can’t help build the church. We can’t be a light in our communities.This was the concern of the writer of Hebrews:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)

Do you see what Paul is saying here—it should be a sober warning to all of us. You see, to live on milk means we can’t digest, can’t handle the meat of the Word. And the reason we need to handle the meat of the Word is not so we can be Bible nerds and know all the ways to pronounce Hebrew words, but so we can feed and give life to others.

The Christian life is to be one of giving, of making disciples, of growing up into salvation. It is allowing the gospel to so capture us that we grow up, so that we handle the deep things and pass them on to others.

There are people in our world God is calling us to feed, to love, to care for, to disciple, to nurture—are we fulfilling our role?  When we don’t grow spiritually, it’s not just a matter of our own malnutrition, it directly affects the community. People may be starving because we haven’t grown enough to feed them.

A Prayer for Moms on Mother’s Day

I wrote this prayer for the mothers in our church. I thought I would share it with you as you celebrate the moms in your life:

A Mother’s Day Prayer

Dear Father, we approach your throne on behalf of the mothers whom you have entrusted with the care of your most precious little ones. We thank you for creating each mom with a unique combination of gifts and talents. We thank you for the sacrifice of self each mom gives for her children. For the late nights spent rocking a colicky infant. For the hands calloused from washing, wiping, scrubbing, mixing, baking, stirring, hugging, patting, disciplining, holding, writing, erasing, painting, and pouring.

We thank you for the gift of time moms give for their kids, whether it’s stay-at-home moms, working moms, and moms who have some combination of the two. We thank you for the flexibility of moms, for their tirelessness, their perseverance, and their devotion.

We pray you give each mom strength. Help her to see in every mundane task the eternal, cosmic significance that you place on motherhood. Help her to understand that the most radical, world-changing events may be happening anonymously in her home. Help her to forgive those who undermine her significance.

We especially pray for single moms, who must lean solely on you for the fathering of their children. We thank you that you’re big arms surround children who may never know their earthly father. We also pray for mothers who never had the honor of bearing children, but whose nurturing extends to the many poor and needy who cross the threshold of their lives.

We ask you to be the daily bread of tired mothers. We ask you to be their living water. We ask you to be their source of spiritual and physical strength. We pray that the same grace that flowed from Father to Son to us in salvation will flow from mothers to their children. We pray that each mother rejects perfectionism and instead embraces the goodness of the gospel. We pray the rhythms of repentance and forgiveness shape every home.

Lord, give each mother a worshipful reverence of you, the Creator and Sustainer of life. Help each mother to rest in the knowledge that they are but stewards of your children and that only your Spirit can produce change into the hearts of each boy and girl. May each mother find rest in you.

Most of all, Lord, on this day in which we honor mothers, may we love and cherish the special women who have born us, who have nurtured us, and who have prayed for our well-being. May our hearts overflow with gratitude to you, who formed and knitted each of us in a mother’s womb.

Loving Someone With Whom You Disagree

Today in my Friday Five interview for Leadership Journal, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Russell Moore, the newly elected head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ve long admired Dr. Moore for his clear, biblical teaching and his winsome perspective on the Scripture and politics. One of the questions I asked him was about his relationship with the President. You might not expect a friendship between a liberal Democrat and a conservative evangelical, but this is what Dr. Moore said. I think his response gives Christians a good model for how to disagree agreeably:

I have disagreements with President Obama on some crucially important things, such as matters of life, marriage, and religious liberty. I have respect for him as a leader and as our president, and I like him as a person. When you pray for someone every day, it is hard not to love that person, even when he disappoints you in some area or another.

He and his Administration have always treated me with kindness and respect, and I have friends I love in the Administration. We don’t have to agree on everything to work together sometimes, and to seek to understand one another when we don’t agree.

I hope to honor and to pray for the President, as the Bible commands us to do, even when we disagree, and to work with his Administration when we have points of mutual concern for the common good.

I have learned a lot by watching the example of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in his friendship with the President. In a profile of Sen. Coburn in TIME Magazine, written by President Obama himself, of all people, the senator is quoted as saying, “What better way to influence someone than to love them?” I recognize the Spirit of Christ in that statement, and I hope to live up to it.

Read the entire interview here:

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