Every Sunday morning, lots of people head out their door to “go to church”, or as some people put it, to attend a “church service”. The vast majority of these services will have a remarkable similarity, no matter what brand, denomination, or non-denomination the church is. Everyone will sit shoulder-to-shoulder, facing a stage on which a select few people will be actively involved in “ministering” to everyone else. There will probably be a greeting, a time of singing, some form of announcements, a sermon, and possibly an altar call. The style may vary to some degree but the format will be pretty much the same in every church; so much so that you would think there must be some place in the Bible that clearly outlines this particular format that everyone is following. But the reality is that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible give any kind of support for an order of service at all, much less the particular order of service that most churches follow so religiously.
Man’s highest calling is to put God first. Jesus made this clear when he said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt 22:37). This statement encompasses everything within our being, and Jesus drives the point home by using the word all three times. All that we are is to be directed towards God with loving devotion. Jesus’ statement of man’s ultimate purpose has great clarity in its simplicity, yet is very profound in its all-consuming goal.
Just as man’s highest calling and purpose is found only when we put God first, our greatest failings have their roots in putting ourselves first. Original sin was the result of Adam and Eve putting themselves before God, putting their reasoning before His command, and giving in to the temptation that they were somehow missing out if they remained under God’s authority. When man chose to put himself first, sin, and all the suffering and misery it brings, found entrance into the world (Rom 5:12), and our relationship with God was broken by our rebellion (Rom 1:21, 25).
The gospel is God’s message to fallen man, telling us how we can be restored to right relationship with Him. Since the root problem is man putting himself first, the goal of the gospel is to restore God to His rightful position of being first in our life in every way. Yet, the gospel is frequently reduced to a people-centered message of personal salvation. The message I hear many Christians and churches proclaiming is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. While this is true, it’s only a portion of the truth and lacks the power of the gospel of the Bible that restores man back into right relationship with God.
Most Christians consider preaching to be a fundamental requirement of the church, and the Sunday morning sermon is commonly revered as the most important event that takes place in the church each week. While there’s no doubt the Bible strongly endorses the ministry of God’s word, is the church’s traditional notion of preaching consistent with the way preaching is presented in the Bible?
A mystery is something that is veiled and not easily understood. The word mystery is used over twenty times in the New Testament. One example is in the last part of Ephesians chapter five. This passage is expounding on the relationship between husbands and wives, but at the end it takes a surprising turn and finishes with an astounding revelation.
Jesus said he came to “seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10). He finished one parable with the statement “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23). These statements communicate the passion and commitment Jesus has to see people restored to right relationship with God. However, if we read objectively through the gospels and observe Jesus in action, it becomes clear that his desire to see people saved never led him to compromise what he required of them. Instead, he routinely challenged people to come to him through surrender and obedience.
The Bible refers to believers as sheep. Over the years I’ve heard preachers take this analogy to an extreme and come to some very unflattering conclusions about how dumb and helpless sheep are. Rather than coming to negative conclusions based on our perception of what natural sheep are like, we should look closely at how Jesus describes the relationship between himself and his sheep. Jesus makes some very positive and encouraging statements about the shepherd/sheep relationship. Continue reading “His Sheep Listen To His Voice”