Making the Truth Shine

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The work of the Holy Spirit is all about your character transformation (2 Cor. 3:17-18).  Jesus speaks of this as a “new birth” by water and the Spirit (John 3:3, 5).  Paul speaks of it as a washing of water through the word (Eph. 5:26).  The Holy Spirit himself and the Word of God work together hand-in-glove to bring about transformation of a life.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis vividly describes what God, by the Holy Spirit, is doing in the life of the believer:

 “Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage:  but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

             Paul instructs us to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  Are you allowing the Spirit of God open access into every area of your life to renovate and renew you?

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bulletin Article, Christian Living, Holy Spirit, Spirituality | Leave a comment

You Don’t Need Communion

comunion-640x426Some Sundays it takes herculean strength to keep from spilling the grape juice. Parents with small children know exactly what I mean. Focusing on the body of the Lord is nearly impossible with two little monkeys swinging from your arms as the trays are passed. I pray that the Lord understands and I think he does.

There are many reasons why Christians take communion. The Supper involves a vertical focus (1 Cor. 11:23-26), an introspective concentration (1 Cor. 11:28) and a horizontal statement of unity in Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). But there is also a teaching aspect to communion.

This memorial is a retelling of the story of Christ and the part we play in that story. When the Jews observed the Passover meal, children would ask about the meaning of the ceremony. Parents utilized this event as a teaching opportunity to explain why this day was different than all other days (Exod. 12:26-27). The feast was an opportunity to pass down the story that defined the Jews as a gathering of people.

Recently, my two-year-old daughter whispered in my ear while communion was served, “What are they doing?” It was time for me to pass on the Christian story. As she sat in my lap, I whispered the grand old story in her ear. I explained, “God loved us so much that he sent his little boy to this world. His name was Jesus. He showed us how God wants us to live. Then he made a way for us to go to heaven one day. When mommies and daddies eat this cracker and drink this juice, we are remembering Jesus because we love him.” I tried to explain, on her level, why the first day of the week is different than all other days.

Then the words every Christian parent has heard were whispered from her lips, “I want some.”

There is more to the story than I had explained. It is true that communion is how we remember Jesus because we love him. But it is also a way that we “proclaim his death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus came into the world for sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He died to cleanse us of our sins and make us innocent like children (Eph. 1:7Matt. 18:3-4). Children do not have the guilt of sin (Ezek. 18:20). Children come freely before Jesus and in their innocence they belong to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:14). Children do not have sin. They do not need the cross. They do not need Jesus’ death. Children do not need communion.

One day our children will grow up and become adults. One day they will need the cross. One day they will take communion. For this father, I thank God that day is not today. God has gifted parents with the beautiful innocence of little children. We must pass on our story until the day it becomes their own. I pray that God will give me the wisdom to help guide my children through the darkness that is the losing of their innocence. At the right time, they will need the story of the cross. They will need forgiveness. They will need communion.

But on this Sunday with a two-year-old little girl in my lap, I am thankful to God that day has not yet come for me. She sat there in my lap with her innocent eyes as communion was passed. Her little lips whispered, “I want some. ” And I whispered back to her, “You don’t need any. ” And I thought to myself, “I’m so glad you don’t. ”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bulletin Article, Children, Christian Living, Communion, Parenting | Leave a comment

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

photo6Often at the end of sermons, I emphasize the importance of having a “personal relationship with Jesus.”  Living as a disciple of Jesus must not be merely academic and intellectual, it must be something intimate and personal.  Frequently the Bible stresses that we need to “walk with” and “abide in” Jesus in our lives (Colossians 2:6; John 15:4; et. al.).

Once after a sermon, I was called to task for using the language “personal relationship with Jesus.”  My critic argued that this language is not used in the Bible and wanted to know where the Bible taught such an idea.  This encounter broke my heart.  Although the exact language cannot be found in the Bible, the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus” is actually the major theme of the entire Bible.  If you miss this, you have missed it all.

Jesus defined eternal life as coming to “know” the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:2).  The word “know” here is not merely cognitive, but has to do with relationship.  This is keeping with the Hebrew use of the term “know” used to describe the most intimate of human relationships (Gen. 4:1, LXX).

Perhaps the text that most emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus is 1 Corinthians 6:17.  Here, we are warned not to engage in sexual immorality because sexual intercourse involves not only a physical, but a spiritual union of people (vs. 17).  Then we are reminded, “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”  This is true because the Spirit of God resides in the physical body of the baptized believer (vs. 19; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).  Using the spiritual union of husbands and wives in marriage, Paul teaches that this same intimate union exists between Christ and his followers (Ephesians 5:31-32).

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther observed, “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person” (53).  Christ living in us is our only hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).  Christ comes to reside in us when we crucify ourselves with him (Galatians 2:20), being buried into his death in baptism (Romans 6:3-4).

Jesus and his followers become one flesh and one spirit.  Sounds like a “personal relationship with Jesus” to me.

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Christian Living, Conversion, Discipleship, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Love for God, Mid-Week Devotional, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Worship Wars–Principle #5: Worship Must Be Understandable and Orderly

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God intentionally designed diversity to be an integral component of the church.  The various gifts given in the church are to be used for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).  Each member of the church is to use his/her gifts in a spirit of love for others (1 Corinthians 13).  Love should be the guiding motivation in worship so that Christians act in a way that “builds up” and not in a way that “tears down.”  In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives specific instructions to help guide the worship assembly in the Corinthian congregation.  In this chapter, Christians are instructed to make sure that worship is both understandable and orderly.

Christians with an elitist attitude in Corinth had apparently argued that tongue-speaking was the greatest spiritual gift (cf. 14:13-19).  Paul shows that prophecy is more beneficial for the assembly.  It is a “greater gift” because the one who prophesies is able to “build up” the church by clearly communicating God’s message to others (14:4).  One who speaks in a tongue needs an interpreter (14:5).  Like a harp that is out of tune or a random note played on a bugle, speaking in tongues is worthless noise in the air if the meaning of the sounds are not interpreted (14:6-12).  Likewise, prayers and songs in worship are useless if those assembled cannot understand what is said (14:13-19).  Visitors to the assembly will think Christians are crazy if the worship is not understandable.  But if they can understand the meaning, they will fall on their face and worship God also (14:20-25).  The point is that everything done in the worship assembly must be understandable.

            There are several applications of this principle for contemporary worship assemblies.  Most basic is that everyone must be able to hear what is said in the worship assembly.  Worship leaders must speak loudly enough to be heard (and properly use public address equipment) using understandable language.  When prayers are filled with advanced vocabulary and complicated theological terminology, it becomes increasingly difficult for worshippers to say “Amen” when they don’t understand what is said (14:16).  It is impossible to join in the “Amen” when worshippers cannot hear clearly because of a soft tone taken by the leader or because of a malfunctioning microphone.  Worshippers must be able to pray with the spirit and the understanding (14:15).  Also, Paul mentions singing with the spirit and understanding.  When worship leaders choose songs with antiquated language or highly symbolic poetry, it becomes extremely difficult for worshippers to worship with the “understanding.”  Thankfully, the contemporary church has a storehouse of worship songs that express praise utilizing current English and phrases that resonate with today’s worshiper.  Many older hymns have powerful and needed messages, but usually outdated language needs to be explained by the leader prior to singing the song so that all can sing with understanding.

            The worship at Corinth was highly participatory and spontaneous.  The worshipers were encouraged to come to the assembly prepared with something to offer: hymns, lessons, revelations, tongues and interpretations (14:26).  Apparently there was a natural and somewhat fluid order to their worship that was always fresh and engaging.  Everything was to be done in the worship to spiritually inspire and build up the worshippers (14:26b).  But apparently, the spontaneity of their worship had become somewhat chaotic and confusing.  Therefore, Paul gives some rules for ordering the tongue speakers (14:27-28), those who prophesy (14:29-33a), and women in the assembly (14:33b-35).  So that everyone can understand and participate in the worship, it was important that “everything be done decently and in order” (14:40).

            An important principle emerges from Paul’s direction to this congregation: we must balance spontaneity with order in worship.  In the worship wars among us, some people prefer a predictable worship order that they can anticipate.  The “traditional order” gives comfort and assurance to some worshippers.  For others, a predictable order feels stuffy, inauthentic, regimented and stagnant.  These worshippers want something fresh, unexpected and creative.  The worship at Corinth was highly spontaneous needing some orderly instruction.  Conversely, many modern worship assemblies among us appear highly programmed, needing some fresh spontaneity.    Surely, modern worshippers can love one another and be willing to balance both spontaneity and predictability.

            A fifth principle for worship assemblies is:

 “Worship should be guided by what is understandable and orderly while balancing spontaneity with predictability that will draw the entire assembly to participate.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bulletin Article, Church, Unity, Worship | Leave a comment

Worship Wars: Principle #4–Love Must Guide Our Worship

love-God_vs1Many Christians consider 1 Corinthians 13 as one of their favorite chapters in the Bible.  It is the “love” chapter.  Countless topical sermons are preached from this text.  Many wedding ceremonies use this text as a focus.  Yet, many people likely do not realize the context of this great chapter.  Paul is addressing conduct between Christians especially as it relates to worship assemblies.  Believers at Corinth were segregating themselves over social class (chapter 11) and even over spiritual gifts (chapter 12).  Chapter 13 is a strategic section (in the broader discussion of chapters 11-14) regarding the conduct of Christians especially when assembled for worship.

            There was no shortage of spiritual gifts present among the believers of this congregation (12:4-11).  For some reason, it appears that an elitist attitude had infiltrated the church.  Some apparently were teaching that tongue-speaking was the greatest spiritual gift (cf. 14:18-19).  Paul later makes clear that the gift of prophecy is of greater value than other spiritual gifts (14:1).  However, there is a “more excellent” way than even the spiritual gifts (12:31).  God wants his children to do everything with a spirit of love for one another.

            This congregation had all the tools for a dynamic and Spirit-filled (literally) worship service.  But Paul argues that even an excellent worship assembly is nothing but worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others.  Tongue speaking is empty racket without love (13:1).  Even inspired teaching and mountain-moving-faith is pointless without love (13:2).  The highest forms of dedication and sacrifice gain nothing if those actions omit love for others (13:3).

            When it comes to differences and variations in the worship assembly we must make sure we have love for one another (13:1-7).  We must be patient and gentle with one another.  We must not envy one another or boast about ourselves.  We must destroy arrogance and rudeness and we must not insist that things be done “our way.”  We must not be easily irritated and must avoid becoming resentful.  We must not rejoice when the methods of those with whom we disagree fail.  Regardless of the methodology, we must rejoice anytime the truth is upheld and proclaimed.  We must protect one another and give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Even when our best efforts fail, we must not lose hope.  We must not be overwhelmed by circumstances but endure by putting up with more than a lot with one another.  When it comes to our worship assemblies, no matter what else is done, love must “never fail.”

            Why should we put such a premium on having love toward one another when it comes to the “worship wars”? Because all spiritual gifts will cease (13:8-10).  Worship services will end.  And what remains?  When the tongues cease, the prophesy stops, the songs end, and the prayers are prayed, what did it produce within us?  Did we love each other?  There is nothing more counter to the Spirit of God than to be divided over worship.  Worship is meant to bring us together, not isolate and separate us.  Love must be our guide in worship.

            Paul makes clear that love does not “insist on having its own way” (13:5, ESV).  A neglect of this description of love is the fuel that feeds many of the worship wars among us.  If I am acting in love, I will not demand that only older hymns are sung.  If I am acting in love, I will not insist that we sing all contemporary praise anthems.  Equally important is that “love is not rude” (13:5, ESV).  If I am acting in love, I will not insult those who love Stamps-Baxter hymns or songs written by the Gaithers.  If I am acting in love, I will not show disdain for newer worship songs by contemptuously calling them “campfire songs.”  When it comes to our worship assemblies, love dictates that we must not be “irritable or resentful.”  To do otherwise it to act like immature children.

            When it comes to our worship, we must “give up childish ways” (13:11-12).  We must see past petty differences and opinions and look in the mirror clearly.  Worship is all about expressions of love.  We are to love God and love one another in worship.  It is all about “knowing” and “being known” (13:12).  We all want to be understood.  We all want to be “known.”  We must open ourselves to one another and encourage one another to lay down our weapons and open our hearts before God.  We must all stop hiding in the trenches while the bombs of the worship wars go off all around us.  Let’s call a cease-fire of love and meet one another halfway on the field and really look at each other “face to face.”

            The church must always stand for truth.  We must unwaveringly embrace the faith.  We must hold firmly to our hope.  But there is something greater than our faith.  There is even something greater than our hope.  The Bible says it best, “the greatest of these is love” (13:13).  We must always worship in truth, but we must never omit a spirit of love from our assemblies.  Worshipping in a spirit of love for one another immerses us in the very presence of the One who is Himself love.  The fourth principle is:

 “Even excellent worship is worthless noise if not done in an attitude of love toward others.  Love must guide our worship and bring us together not separate us.”

© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bulletin Article, Christian Living, Church, Worship | Leave a comment