The gospel is . . . not just the ABCs of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. Our problems arise largely because we don’t continually return to the gospel to work it in and live it out. That is why Martin Luther wrote, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. . . . Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
Earlier this afternoon, I began working on this week’s sermon from Exodus 20:8—“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”—by rereading a small part of Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. There’s too much here to quote in a single sermon (although I’m sure some of it will show up on Sunday); but it’s also too good to just leave it on the shelf. I hope you enjoy:
The most striking thing about keeping the Sabbath is that it begins by not doing anything (109). [We’re so used to “religion” being a matter of action that to have God command inaction, to have him say, “Stop! Quit! Silence!” is arresting to say the least.]
Sabbath is a deliberate act of interference, an interruption of our work each week, a decree of no-works so that we are able to notice, to attend, to listen, to assimilate this comprehensive and majestic work of God, to orient our work in the work of God (110).
Sabbath and work are not in opposition; Sabbath and work are integrated parts of an organic whole. Either apart from the other is crippled (115).
[W]ithout Sabbath . . . the workplace is soon emptied of any sense of the presence of God and the work becomes an end in itself. It is this “end in itself” that makes an un-sabbathed workplace a breeding ground for idols. We make idols of our workplaces when we reduce all relationships to functions that we can manage. We make idols in our workplaces when we reduce work to the dimensions of our egos and control (116).
If there is no Sabbath—no regular and commanded not-working, not-talking—we soon become totally absorbed in what we are doing and saying, and God’s work is either forgotten or marginalized. When we work we are most god-like, which means that it is in our work that it is easiest to develop god-pretensions. Un-sabbathed, our work becomes the entire context in which we define our lives. We lose God-consciousness, God-awareness, sightings of resurrection. We lose the capacity to sing “This is my Father’s world” and end up chirping little self-centered ditties about what we are doing and feeling (117).
Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister from the 19th century, wrote about this need powerfully in his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In the sermon, Chalmers writes about how most people’s desires change over time. Normally, a person moves from childish appetites to physical pleasure, from pleasure to the love of money, from the love of money to a lust for power.
There is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered; but as to its desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable. . . . Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart, that it must have a something to lay hold of . . . [This means] the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another . . . it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new.
You can read the rest of Chalmers’ sermon here.
All intellectual improvement arises from leisure. -- Samuel Johnson
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. -- Albert Einstein
It takes about ten years to get used to how old you are. -- Unknown
- A sinner is the greatest self-denier. For the love sin, he will deny himself a part in heaven. – Thomas Watson.
- If hell were on one side and sin were on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly commit sin. – Anselm
- However strong a castle may be, if a treacherous party resides inside, the castle cannot be kept safe from the enemy. – John Owen
- If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. – John Owen
- I fear we do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our soul’s disease. We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, “I am your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you for ever in hell.” Oh, no! Sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss, forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve, yet it cast her out of Eden. The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David, yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at its first beginnings. – J.C. Ryle.
- One sin makes way for more. . . The more they sinned, the more fit they were to sin. – Thomas Watson
- The forbidding fruit is sauced with bitter herbs. – Thomas Watson
- The pleasure of sin is soon gone, but the sting remains. – St. Austin
- Listen, I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition. – Billy Sunday
For myself, success is, during this earthly pilgrimage, to leave the woodpile a little higher than I found it.
In preparation for the following two Sunday's sermons (Aug. 19th and 26th), I've been reading up on the concepts of Christian community and fellowship. The following quote from J.I. Packer is perhaps the best two paragraph, devotional definition out of everything I've seen.
J.I. Packer (God’s Words: Studies in Key Bible Themes, pg. 193)
Christian fellowship is two-dimensional; it is first vertical and then horizontal. The horizontal place of fellowship…presupposes the vertical for its very existence. The vertical dimension of fellowship was described by John when he wrote: ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 Jn. 1:3). This fellowship is what makes a Christian; indeed, John’s words afford a precise definition of a Christian. The man who is not in fellowship with the Father and the Son, however upright and pious he may be, is no Christian at all. The horizontal dimension of fellowship is the habitual sharing, the constant giving to and receiving from each other, which is the true and authentic pattern of life for the people of God.
Fellowship with God, then, is the source from which fellowship among Christians springs; and fellowship with God is the end to which Christian fellowship is a means. We should not, therefore, think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercise of private devotion. We should recognize rather than such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment.
So the looming crisis in America may not be an increasingly secular culture that wars against the church, as much as the increasingly secular nature of the church itself that has little to offer a seeking world that it does not already have.