Are our services too long?

There is perhaps not a religious subject that is at once completely carnal, and at the same time prompts more conflicting and passionate points of view. How long should the worship service last?

Short sermons, concert-like productions, and overall brevity are the order of the day. We want our worship with ‘heat-and-serve’ instructions. As Frank Chesser notes, “the hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with philosophy has found a home in the church.” But why?

The old saying “if a man can’t find oil in 20 minutes, he is drilling with a dull bit” is funny, but does it really apply to spiritual matters? If we are intent on drinking sumptuously from the living water that Jesus promised, what place would time ever play? Seriously, can you get too much “living water,” consume too much “bread of life”? I understand the corporate assembly is not the only place where spiritual nourishment takes place – it ought not even be the primary place. But in truth, for a not-insignificant number of folks, the Sunday service is where they get the bulk of their spiritual feeding.

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Yes, Jesus is the Christ

Paul writes in Ephesians 3.3-6 how God revealed to him that which was kept secret and hidden from Old Testament prophets and teachers,

how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of the Messiah, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus the Messiah through the gospel.

Names given to Jesus in the Old Testament foreshadowed things to come. One of the most significant of these names was “Messiah.” The word simply means “anointed one.” Messiah is the Hebrew term. The Greek term translated from Hebrew is “Christ,” which has the same meaning: “anointed one.”

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The Gospel is enough

Paul wrote in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.

It is a verse so common to us, and yet one we fail to appreciate until we see its amazing manifestation.

Over my lifetime I have had the privilege by God’s providence to be able to talk to a lot of people about the gospel. I have no special message or attention-grabbing approach – just the simple gospel truth of Jesus’ saving blood. Sometimes I forget just how powerful a message that is to people who want to hear. Continue reading “The Gospel is enough”

Sin’s deceitful charm

A story recently published in a North Carolina newspaper recounts the tragic circumstances of one Rae Carruth. Carruth was a star football player at Colorado University in the late 1990s. He was drafted into the NFL and enjoyed some early success before injuries seemed to sidetrack his career. But behind the scenes, Carruth’s life was a lagniappe of deceit, indulgence, arrogance, and disaster. His dalliances with drugs, his abusive behavior toward women, and his mismanagement of money were not shocking, but the depth of depravity these problems drove him to cost more than one life. Today, Carruth is incarcerated (though scheduled for possible release later this year), after being found guilty of hiring the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in an apparent attempt to abort the birth of his child. The child was born after its mother was shot, but also after having been deprived of oxygen for more than an hour. Rae Carruth’s son, today 18, has cerebral palsy, and is being raised by his maternal grandmother, who continues to fight off repeated legal attempts by Carruth to gain some element of custody or visitation rights, albeit, for now, only through prison visitation. So far, she has managed to keep Carruth’s son away from his father.

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Real hope

It is hard for us not to envy people who have good things happen to them. When something good happens to a friend or family member, we can sometimes become bitter with a “Why not me?” attitude. How do you react when something amazing happens in the life of one of your friends? How did God’s blessings for a friend benefit you?

Consider the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1. There is nothing extraordinary about this couple. He was a priest of God, but not the high priest. They were godly people, but not nobility. In fact, with no children to succeed him, Zechariah was looked down upon, until Elizabeth was found with child. Notice the reputation he had unfairly garnered because of their circumstances:

“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:25

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A cursed life

Many are the times in my life that I have heard a countryman express thanksgiving for the privilege of living “in the greatest country the world has ever known.” There is surely some truth to this assertion – no previous society has been as productive or made the advancements in human existence as America. Yet, as is the case of every great civilization before ours, the future will take care of that heady arrogance.

I am rather struck by a different observation of our providential lot. That is, the curses we suffer because of where we find ourselves living. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but living in America in the early years of the 21st century may be the best human experience one could hope for, but from a spiritual standpoint there is another side to the story.

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Are you conservative?

Recently while perusing some Internet humor, I stumbled upon a rather amusing exchange that supposedly took place across naval radio waves some years back. To wit:

  • Voice 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 1: This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
  • Voice 2: No, I say again, you divert your course.
  • Voice 1: (Angrily) This is the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. We are a large U.S. Navy warship. Divert your course now!
  • Voice 2: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

It’s amazing how a slight change in perspective can alter behavior rather radically. In religion we have a tendency to be bullheaded – until such time that a change in perspective enlightens us to our willful ignorance. For as long as I can remember I have been part of the what would be described as traditionally “conservative” religious bodies. But what does that mean?

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An unexpected answer

John’s gospel is unique, revealing personal stories of mercy, repentance, and redemption that the synoptic gospels do not report. John 8.1-11 is such a story.

It was early in the morning, and already Jesus drew a crowd. He began that day’s lesson innocently enough, perhaps just a random Tuesday or Thursday, another day to feed the righteous hunger of many who followed Him. But thundering footsteps interrupted – the approach of scribes and Pharisees, bent not on learning from the Master, but on trapping Him some how, discrediting Him, ultimately destroying Him.

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Obstacles to service

The 12 men who spent roughly two extraordinary years in the company of our Lord during His earthly ministry, often had difficulty understanding the nature of the spiritual commitment that Jesus demanded. Their struggles are emblematic of the same spiritual obstacles we often face today.

In Luke 9, Jesus sent out these 12 men on a limited mission, preparing them for the obstacles they would face when He was gone. When they returned, Jesus began to seriously prepare them for what lay ahead, and the spiritual challenges they would encounter. He foretold His death (9:21-22), He exhorted them in the nature of true discipleship (9:23-27), and then He foretold His death again (9:43-45). Meanwhile, the disciples argued about who was greatest. It must have been maddening for Jesus to see this. In the closing verses of the chapter, Jesus got down to brass tacks: the cost of service.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. – Luke 9.58

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Serving in difficult times

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1.9

Whatever time a person lives, there is always the prevailing belief that “we live in extraordinary times.” Yet Solomon’s observation is proven true time and time again.

We are witnesses today to the fruits of corruption, incompetence, greed, and arrogance — much of it in our public figures, who spend more time pointing fingers than searching for wise and prudent paths to lead our nation, our states, our cities, and our homes. To us, prophetic dreams, rescues from fiery furnaces, and silenced lions seem like fairy tales rather than realistic expectations. The prophet Amos, writing 2500 years ago, could have penned an op-ed piece for our local newspaper:

You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. – Amos 5.12-13

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