The Whole Christian Life Every Sunday
In this brief service, we have the whole Christian life neatly summed up. And as we progress through such a service, we trust that the downcast are lifted up and encouraged, that the apathetic are stirred and challenged, that the weary are fed and revived. We trust that they can take what they have experienced on Sunday morning and imitate it through the week as they live the Christian life—they, too, can pray and read and learn and sing and serve. On Sunday we give believers what they need not just on Sunday but on every other day as well.
A well-planned worship service is a tremendous blessing to those who participate in it. A well-planned service is not necessarily one in which the projector never flickers and the microphones never buzz, or one in which the transitions are smooth and the sermon doesn’t go long. Rather, a well-planned service is one whose elements have been carefully planned to fulfill God’s purposes for the public gatherings of his church.
How, then, do we plan our services? What elements should a service have? There are many ways to answer the question, but at minimum, the service needs to have singing, praying, Scripture-reading, and preaching. On a regular basis, if not every week, it should also have the Lord’s Supper. Each of these elements is demanded or displayed in the New Testament.
But I want to look at it from another angle that I believe can be helpful in planning our services. It’s unfortunate but realistic to assume that many people come to church on Sunday having given little thought to their faith the previous week. Many people worship on Sunday, then get busy living their lives and neglect the disciplines of the Christian life. They mean to pray, but don’t discipline themselves to actually pray; they intend to read the Bible, but allow laziness or the tyranny of the urgent to keep them away. Then a new Sunday approaches and they come to church feeling weak and needy and probably a little bit guilty.
Such people are genuine believers, but immature ones or ones who are going through those tough periods of spiritual stagnation.
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Prayer Tips: GuidanceBy Martin Blocki — 2 years ago
Talking to God…You would think it would be simple, right? Yet, we struggle. We don’t know what to say/ask. We fall asleep or our minds wander. We struggle to be discipled to pray every day, much less “without ceasing”! We are unsure, not knowing if God is listening or if He will hear and answer. It is good know that the LORD Jesus has given us guidance!
What is prayer?
Prayer is talking to God.[i]
A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.[ii]
Prayer is spiritual communication between man and God, a two-way relationship in which man should not only talk to God but also listen to Him. Prayer to God is like a child’s conversation with his father. It is natural for a child to ask his father for the things he needs.[iii]
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.[iv]
Talking to God…You would think it would be simple, right? Yet, we struggle. We don’t know what to say/ask. We fall asleep or our minds wander. We struggle to be discipled to pray every day, much less “without ceasing”! We are unsure, not knowing if God is listening or if He will hear and answer. It is good know that the LORD Jesus has given us guidance! Luke records a time when Jesus had been praying…
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”[v]
One of the disciples (who had likely been observing Jesus in prayer) asks Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus gives His disciples a guide, we know it as “the LORD’s prayer”. These verses are not a mantra to repeat or a formulaic address to God that we borrow so that we have the right words. No, Jesus is answering a request for instruction, he is teaching the disciples “how” to pray. We might say these short verses give us Jesus’s guide to prayer. Jesus give us:
A way to address God: “Our Father”
This is followed by five topics or petitions:[vi]
Hallowed by your name.
Your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
Lead us not into temptation.
Transformation of a Transgender TeenBy Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra — 11 months ago
One in five Gen Z Americans now identify as LGBT+, double the number of millennials (one in 10) and quadruple the number of Gen X Americans (about one in 20). A surprising number of them—40 percent of Gen Z and millennials—also identify as religious. Increasingly, Christian pastors, youth pastors, and parents are fielding questions and declarations from young people examining their own gender or sexual orientation.
Eva was in a church luncheon when she got an email from her 12-year-old daughter Grace. (Their names have been changed.)
“Mom and Dad, I need to tell you I’m not actually a girl,” she read. “My pronouns are they/them.”
Eva couldn’t breathe. She felt like she’d been punched in the gut. She hadn’t seen this coming—in fact, a few months before, Grace had shared on social media her belief that God created people male and female.
Back then, Eva was sure that statement was going to earn Grace—who attended a progressive public school—some social problems. Instead, it seemed to blow over right away.
“I would’ve gotten bullied,” said Grace, who is now 16. “Instead, they decided to reeducate me. I got invited to groups where all they wanted to talk about was the transgender stuff. Over the course of a few months, I decided I was going to be agender. And then I ended up deciding I was a boy.”
Grace was experiencing what is often called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” in which friendship groups begin to experience similar gender questions at the same time. One in five Gen Z Americans now identify as LGBT+, double the number of millennials (one in 10) and quadruple the number of Gen X Americans (about one in 20).
A surprising number of them—40 percent of Gen Z and millennials—also identify as religious. Increasingly, Christian pastors, youth pastors, and parents are fielding questions and declarations from young people examining their own gender or sexual orientation.
“Martin Luther King Jr. talks about the long arc of justice,” said Falls Church Anglican rector Sam Ferguson, who has spent time with multiple transitioning young adults and their families. “The Bible also envisions the long arc of redemption, which aims at the resurrection of the body. There is continuity—the end reflects the beginning. Our Creator doesn’t need to start over. If your child has an XY chromosome, then he’ll be raised from the dead as a male. We need to work along the arc of redemption, not against it.”
That takes patience, Eva and her husband Seth found. (His name has also been changed.) For more than two years, they prayed for Grace. They searched the Scriptures. They built their relationships with her. They drew boundaries around how she could express herself. They took her to counseling and to church. They started homeschooling her. They asked her questions.
Basically, they played the long game. And when she was 15, Grace desisted—that is, recognized her body is female and switched her identity back.
These days, Eva and Grace often talk with other families whose children are transitioning.
“The church is the only place that has the freedom to address this, because the activism around this has been so powerful and well-funded,” Eva said. “When I think about where we were three years ago, and where we are now—God doesn’t waste anything.”
‘Ended Up Deciding I Was a Boy’
In many ways, it’s surprising that someone like Grace would struggle with gender identity. Her mom and dad love Jesus and each other. She’s got a couple of siblings, a strong church family, and a sharp mind. For as long as she can remember, she’s believed in God.
When Grace was 12, she logged onto a social networking site called DeviantArt. “At first, I was posting artwork with my friends, but eventually the ‘gay is good’ message became unavoidable,” she said.
She’d never heard of someone being transgender before. “I was like, ‘What is this?’ and they were like, ‘Oh, there are guys who are actually girls, and girls who are actually guys, and some people are actually neither.’”
Grace asked her mom about it, and Eva explained they didn’t agree with those categories of thinking. Grace, who is on the autism spectrum and thinks in black and white, told her online friends she didn’t agree with them.
They didn’t fight her or bully her. Instead, she was invited to the Gender & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) club at her school. Eva thinks she was targeted, and that’s not a crazy idea. Teachers in California have shared recruiting tactics, including “stalking” students’ Google searches or conversations for any indication they might be open to joining the faculty-advised, student-led clubs.
Grace began going to the weekly unsupervised lunchtime meetings, listening to other kids from her middle school and high school talk about sex, gender, and how they felt uncomfortable in their bodies.
Being a 12-year-old girl, Grace felt uncomfortable in her body too. She also didn’t like the tights, short shorts, and crop tops that other middle school girls were wearing.
“I believe strongly in modesty,” she said. “I started to associate womanhood with being sexualized. I wasn’t even really thinking male vs. female, but non-sexual vs. sexual.”
She thought maybe she was agender, which means not identifying with either sex. But as time went on, Grace realized she’d prefer to be male. After all, she’d love to be as tall and strong as her brother. And it seemed like all she needed was some testosterone.
“Nobody in the GSA club had gotten prescription hormones yet because we were all fairly young,” she said. “Nobody knew about all the side effects of giving girls testosterone—the bone demineralization, increased rate of cancer, heart attacks, and vaginal atrophy.”
Instead, what everyone talked about was the drama of coming out.
National Coming Out Day is October 11, and it has expanded to include National Coming Out Week and even National Coming Out Month.
“All my friends on social media and I were going around with each other, dramatizing coming out,” Grace said. “I made it way more dramatic than it had to be. I emailed my parents with my announcement and my pronouns.”
She’d already asked to cut her hair short and quit wearing skirts, but that was all the warning Seth and Eva had.
“It was a nightmare,” Eva said. “I’ve never suffered from anxiety before, but the first two weeks [after Grace’s announcement] I didn’t eat or sleep.” She couldn’t believe this was happening—didn’t kids who identified as transgender come from broken families or abusive childhoods?
Eva took Grace to the school counselor, to the pediatrician, to the principal. “They all tell you you have to affirm or your child will commit suicide,” Eva said. “But my background is in education and psychology, and I knew that didn’t make sense. I could think of 15 reasons [other than being transgender] why a young girl might do this.”
It took two weeks before she found her first ray of hope. “It was a blog run by liberals, but it had all kinds of gender-critical resources,” she said. “I found it in the middle of the night, and I just started crying. I was like, I’m not crazy.”
Theology of Gender
That website was a confirmation of what Eva already knew.
“My husband and I talked it through,” she said. “What do we know about God? We know he created us male and female. Are there true transgender people? Well, if there are, they’d be in the Bible. What about eunuchs? Jesus is certainly aware of bodily brokenness—he acknowledges people born as eunuchs in Matthew 19:12—but two distinct sexes are his good design. . . . So if we believe God is sovereign and doesn’t make mistakes, what does this mean for us?”
She couldn’t find many Christian resources—and while there are some now, they’re still few and far between (and not always allowed on Amazon). Her pastors weren’t able to help much, either. “The church helped us find a therapist, which was huge,” Eva said. “But otherwise, we did not get much support. . . . No one at the church had any guidance for us at all. I understand that, because this was all out of left field for everyone. But instead of feeling like we were working together to figure this out, I felt mostly abandoned and ignored.”
Although many Christians know someone who is struggling with gender identity, few churches are well-equipped with policies, counseling, or a deep theology of identity. The transgender movement is both young—entering the mainstream around 2015 when Bruce Jenner announced his transition to Caitlyn—and constantly evolving. Even more confusing, the transgender questions and assumptions are different from the homosexual ones.
The question isn’t “Whom do I love?” but rather “What does it mean to be human?” said Mike McGarry, founder of Youth Pastor Theologian. “The gender identity conversation is really about the created order, and turning it upside down.”
A “Religion of No Efficacy”By John G. Grove — 4 weeks ago
Written by John G. Grove |
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Do politicians in pulpits, megachurch campaign rallies, Bible photo-ops, and governors “claiming” their states for Jesus make it more likely that the American public will express “humility and gratitude before God,” as the National Conservatives hope? Or do such public displays merely signal all the more clearly that the religion being practiced is a creation of partisan politics; a human instrument crafted “for the purposes of a moment”; a “state engine” that will be of no efficacy?
During his first few years in England, Edmund Burke compiled essay sketches and fragments in a notebook published only in the mid-twentieth century. One of the entries in that notebook, possibly co-written with his distant cousin William Burke, is entitled “Religion of No Efficacy Considered as a State Engine.” It is fairly straightforward and not particularly developed—it takes up a mere three pages of the published version. The pithy insight it contains, however, is notably lacking in many contemporary calls for more religion in our politics.
The premise is simple: Religion has salutary benefits for social and political life. But once it is seen primarily in a political context—when it becomes merely a “state engine”—it fails to provide those benefits.
If you attempt to make the end of Religion to be its Utility to human Society, to make it only a sort of supplement to the Law, and insist principally upon this topic, as is very common to do, you then change its principle of Operation, which consists on Views beyond this Life, to a consideration of another kind, and of an inferior kind.
Burke certainly had in his sights “enlightened” clergy who were uncomfortable defending the faith on the basis of the old dogmas and so instead stressed its moral dimension and necessity for peaceful civil life. But he may also have had in mind utilitarian and political understandings of pagan religions. And the general reflection on the outward, social effects can be useful in many contexts.
If he meant that one ought never to speak of the social benefits of religion, there would be ample evidence that he abandoned this view later in life, when he had much to say on the subject. But there’s no reason to think that’s what he had in mind. Rather, his comment is about the way religion is publicly presented and understood.
The social benefits of religion come precisely because it is something that transcends the political, and they depend on the manner in which religion is approached by the people. When we come to think that eternal rewards and punishments are aimed primarily at the immediate, political “purposes of a moment,” they become less impressive to us: “We cool immediately, the Springs are seen; we value ourselves on the Discovery; we cast Religion to the Vulgar and lose all restraint.”
In his later life, as a staunch defender of the established church, Burke would identify the social benefit of religion as its ability to overawe all other social calculations and considerations. It reminds us that all we say and do has cosmic significance. Placing all human endeavors next to the sublimity of God, as he noted in his Philosophical Enquiry, has the effect of diminishing our opinion of ourselves and our capabilities: “Whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him.”