You know the often-quoted book title of over thirty years ago, I’m O.K., You’re O.K. Some people seem to think that Christianity is fundamentally a religious therapy session, where we sit around trying to help each other feel better about ourselves. The pews are couches, the preacher asks questions, and the text to be expounded is your own inner self. And yet, when we have finished plumbing our own depths, why do we often still feel empty? Or even dirty? Is there something about us and our lives that is incomplete or even wrong?
That’s a good question. The Bible utterly rejects the idea that we are okay, that the human condition is just fine, that everyone is really in need of simply accepting their current condition, their finitude, their limitedness, their imperfections, or that we simply need to look on the bright side of things.
We can’t just say, “Oh well, I only broke seventeen of God’s laws this week– that’s not so bad.” No, the issue is, what does it say about our relationship with God Himself if we knowingly disregard His law? What’s going on between us and God?
The Bible presents God not simply as our passive Creator but as our jealous Lover. He wants all of us. For us to think that we can disregard Him sometimes, set Him and His ways aside when it suits us, is to show that we have not understood at all the nature of our relationship with God. We cannot claim to be believers and yet knowingly, repeatedly, and happily break His law.
True Christianity is realistic about the dark side of our world, our life, our nature, our heart. But true Christianity is not finally pessimistic or morally indifferent, encouraging us merely to just settle in and accept the truth about our fallen state. No, the news that we as Christians have to bring is not just that our depravity is so pervasive but also that God’s plans for us are so wonderful-because He know what He made us for.
When you begin to realize that, you become thankful for the fact that Christianity is not finally about anesthetizing you to life’s pain, or even about waking you up to it and teaching you to live with it. The message of Jesus Christ is about teaching us to live with a transforming longing, with a growing faith, with a sure and certain hope of what’s to come. The Gospel is not simply that we’re okay.
Dever, M. “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” Crossway. Wheaton, IL. 2000
“… the fifth commandment involves freedom, as formulated in the prologue of the Ten Commandments: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
We can illustrate the connection between the fifth commandment and freedom quite well from Deuteronomy 6. Israel received the mandate to impress deeply upon her sons (children) all of Yahweh’s commandments. Those commands arouse questions from the children: “What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statues, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?” they might ask their father (Deut. 6:20). The answer given was to be an indirect answer, not a direct one. First the father would tell the story of Israel’s bondage in Egypt and of the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. Then the story would be concluded: “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statues, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day” (Deut. 6:24).
First came the gospel of liberation; then the avenue for staying liberated was explained. Israel’s well-being was connected with listening to and obeying God’s commandments. But then it becomes clear how important instruction in God’s commandments was. Israel retained her freedom in the Promised Land when her sons and daughters obeyed their parent-teachers.”
Douma, J. “The Ten Commandments” P&R Publishing. Phillipsburg, NJ. 1992
Another excerpt from Matthew B. Redmond’s “The God of the Mundane” from chapter 10. This book is sending me back to my Lord and increasing my ability to do His will according to 1 Thessalonians 5:18: In everything give thanks for THIS is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do you want to know His will? It is to develop an ever thankful heart. Especially knowing that all things He works out for those that are His (not for those who are not His) are for their good and His glory. Beth M.
If it is true that the Kingdom is at hand then we had better get rid of the “gospel of something else entirely.” The gospel of “going to heaven and not hell” and the gospel of “feeling great while listening to sermons and worship songs” is woefully inadequate.
I agree, it is great news: we, followers of Jesus, are not going to hell and instead are promised a glorious eternal existence. And I’ve nothing against enjoying sermons and worship songs… well, some worship songs. But one is a gospel dealing with only later, and the other leaves us in the position of experiencing the indwelling presence of our God at church or if we have our headphones handy. What about now? While we are eating with our families? sitting in the library? Mopping the floor? Doing homework? Shopping for a new belt?
When people would walk away from the Christian faith I used to find it odd. And it is still compelling and lovely enough for me to be astonished. However, now I do wonder. I wonder why they would stay if the faith they are adhering to is all about something else entirely. oh, our faith can be about now, if we give our lives to Jesus fully and go overseas to tell others about Him. or go into full-time ministry as a pastor. But if we are a banker, or doctor, or a barista, well, we only get Sundays (maybe Wednesday nights), the drive home if we listen to Christian music, and the annual missions trip. But there is nothing for the bulk of our lives. They are unspiritual, which must mean they are devoid of the Spirit of Christ our King – our Savior, our Friend. What happened to all the good news? A life of millions of millions of moments that are of no consequence is terrible news.
I advise no one to walk away. But what I do advise is a rejection of the gospel of something else entirely – the gospel that has nothing to do with all the times and places which are not typically called “spiritual.” I enthusiastically advise a rejection of any gospel that demeans the day-in and day-out labors of homemakers, who must vacuum the Cheerios out of the sofa, courtesy of the resident toddler, by suggesting such a thing is not of eternal consequence. When in fact, they are pushing back the effects of Adam’s Fall itself.
When the Master died, the disciples, too, died. Their hopes, their aspirations, their deepest affections and fondest anticipations were buried with their Lord. If ever hope was to be revived in their hearts, their souls would have to be rescued from the grip of death. There would have to be a new beginning … and that … by all the laws of human logic … was impossible!
“A new beginning! Light in the darkness! Life conquering death! The Lord is risen indeed! Here all changes. The Cross, the very instrument of despair, becomes an object of glory. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the source of a living hope. Listen to the message of exuberant joy, praise, and thanksgiving. Hear it from the lips of one who experienced the deepest darkness of despair and remorse. Says Peter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
“Born again to a living hope” Now Peter can smile again. We can all be happy once more. A living hope, living, real, a desire plus expectation plus conviction that our lives here are not in vain. A hope not based upon legend or fancy but upon the immovable Rock of Christ’s resurrection from the grave. The apostles proclaim the resurrection because they cannot do anything else. The proof is clear!
He lives. Hence, life is worth living. Hence, all things work together for good to them that love God. Hence, we too shall live. Hence, the curse is going to be removed from the universe and we expect a new heaven and a new earth. All the darkness is dispelled. Hope lives again.
A stream of light descends from veiled skies: an angel mighty and terrible arrives. His appearance is as lighting and his garments white as snow.
And the angel says: “Fear not ye. I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified. He is not here. He is risen as he told you.” He is risen … and hope is revived.
Hendriksen, William , John
Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI p.471
“Let me ask you a plain question. Do you know anything of a spiritual thirst? Have you ever felt anything of genuine deep concern about your soul? I have learned, by the painful experience of the third of a century, that people may go on for years attending God’s house, and yet never feel their sins, or desire to be saved. The cares of this world, the love of pleasure, the “lust of other things,” choke the good seed every Sunday, and make it unfruitful. They come to church with hearts as cold as the stone pavement on which they walk. They go away as thoughtless as the old marble busts which look down on them from the monuments on the walls. Well, it may be so; but I do not yet despair of anyone, so long as he is alive. That grand old bell in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, which has struck the hours for so many years, is seldom heard by many during the business hours of the day. The roar and din of traffic in the streets have a strange power to deaden its sound, and prevent men from hearing it. But when the daily work is over, and desks are locked, and doors are closed, and books are put away, and quiet reigns in the great city, the case is altered. As the old bell at night strikes eleven, and twelve, and one, and two, and three – thousands hear it who never heard it during the day. And so I hope it will be with many an one in the matter of his soul. Now, in the plenitude of health and strength, in the hurry and whirl of business, I fear the voice of your conscience is often stifled, and you cannot hear it. But the day may come when the great bell of conscience will make itself heard, whether you like it or not. The time may come when, laid aside in quietness, and obliged by illness to sit still, you may be forced to look within, and consider your soul’s concerns. And then, when the great bell of awakened conscience is sounding in your ears, I trust that many a man who reads this paper (or hears the gospel) may hear the voice of God and repent, may learn to thirst, and learn to come to Christ for relief. Yes, I pray God you may yet be taught to feel before it be too late!”
J. C. Ryle ‘Holiness’
Charles Nolan Publishers: Moscow, ID p.328
A CHILD WAS BORED IN THE SERVICE By Geoff Thomas
An elder preceded the minister into the pulpit and then come to the front and addressed the congregation. “Last week…a child was bored in the service!” A gasp went through the congregation. Men looked at their feet, women cried quietly, and children went white. “The church officers are meeting with the minister during the week and will announce our conclusions next Sunday. In the meantime, we want to apologize to that child and his parents and all the other children”, the elder concluded before leaving the pulpit. The ashen-faced preacher came to the pulpit, and in a trembling voice began the service…
This imaginary scenario is not very far from the prevailing ecclesiastical situation today in which many consider the worst sin a church can commit is to bore children. Yet is not the routine and dull pattern of much of our toil the very life which all mankind must face, especially in the Third World. We shall be ill-equipped for living if we do not come armed and trained to be bored much of the time. Many of the hours fathers spend at work are boringly repetitive, while the work mothers do is a regimen of tedious chores.
The background to the churches’ determination to make their worship “boredom-free zones” is a era of rampant materialism which the western world has never experienced before. For example, at parties today each child who comes expects to go home with a party bag full of goodies. Entertainers are booked, magicians, and clowns and who knows what (one performer for example will bring half a dozen exotic animals–a snake, a huge owl, a spider, a lizard–that entertainer charges $1000 for a visit).
Parents spend ridiculous sums of money on clothes, toys and other fripperies for their children. Almost every boy and girl has more than they can possibly enjoy. Nobody can imagine that they are happier for this glut. Impoverished parents often feel under pressure to work insanely long hours or to contract unsustainable debts–or both–to buy superfluous luxuries for their children. We have lost any idea that austerity–not unremitting poverty, but a decent restraint–might actually be of benefit to children. It is not easy for the churches of Christ to preach self-denial and cross-bearing in the midst of a frenzied spending spree. It has become a disaster for many congregations, especially in the USA.
We no longer expect children to endure boredom for a second. In my early years we bounced balls, fed the rabbits, made a model with clay and watch the ascent and descent of a yo-yo. We also read books. We ran around outside with other children. Our meals were pretty predictable, and a visit to the local park was an event. Today, visits to the zoo, inflatable bouncing castles, and jumping on a trampoline are considered routine necessities. Daily playgroups and day-nurseries fill every vacant minute with watching videos, learning how to play with computers, and bouncing on rubber mats. Everything is wound up to a pitch of noisy razzmatazz. The toys children play with are made of garish plastic in primary colors to give stimulation. The child who would cheerfully have eaten mashed potatoes and vegetables every day is now encouraged to stimulate its palate and develop a taste for various exotic foods like chilies, aubergines, vindaloo curry or garlic.
A. N. Wilson has written, “Pascal said that all human trouble stemmed from our inability to sit quietly in one room. If he was right, then we have serious trouble ahead, with an extraordinary restless, vacuous generation of human individuals waiting to take over the world. The lesson of how to be bored must be learned if the child is to grow up sane, and this is for two reasons. First, boredom is what most human lives consist of. Few jobs are interesting all of the time; and when retirement age has been reached, the long days of emptiness cannot possibly be entirely devoid of tedium. Learning how to cope with these periods of vacancy can actually reduce, or eliminate their boringness. A human being who has only grown up with the notion that he or she must be stimulated all the time will never be able to assuage ennui in the way that we grown-ups do–by walks, gardening, crosswords, or the inward life. And this is the second and greater reason for hoping that a child will learn how to cope with an eventless afternoon. Out of what feels like boredom come the capacity to be inward. Unless you have been bored, an essential part of your imagination will never have been allowed to grow. Stories, poetry, prayer and mathematics, all activities which have stretched the human race…have developed out of its capacity to live with boredom.”
But into the morning services all over the land come children carrying bags, and in their bags they have coloring books, pencil boxes, toys, small computers, reading books, etc. This is because there is no “Junior Church” going on at the same time as the sermon, and it would be an unthinkable disaster if children were to be bored. These families never bring their children to the evening service for the same reason. I know a church in Africa which has a white pastor. Several other white Christian missionaries and their families worship there, but the other white mothers and their children do not attend the morning service, leaving the building and going home after Sunday School. Only the men remain and worship, but every other family in the church, who are all African, and whose second language is English, are there for the entire service. Is it the western world’s hatred of boredom that is affecting us?
We are speaking of churches where there is the power of God in the ministry. There is relevance, application, affection for the congregation, illustration and the presence of the Spirit upon the Word. Men and women are being converted and sanctified. The children are always spoken to, and the whole service is over 75 minutes in length. Yet still during those services the children are encouraged to be stimulated by anything other than the message being preached to them. Would you go with a bag full of distractions to occupy your children during the sermon, or would you pray that they would be touched and converted during the pleading message?
Where there are enough bored families a great change takes place. Sunday mornings are designated as “Family Worship”, and everything is done in a lively manner with the children in mind. The focus is no longer on what pleases Almighty God. The tunes are lively, accompanied by a band. There are all kinds of visual stimuli, overhead projectors, choreography and drama spots. Laughter registers the successfulness of the service. Many people take part, and the role of the minister is to be Master of Ceremonies. Every item is brief, and before the short sermon the children are taken out–even up to age 15-16–to have their own classes of “Junior Church” somewhere else. They are taken away from the man whom God has called, given authority and teaching gifts to, and they are taken to people who based what they say on what they understand will please children. There is no likelihood of a man of the Word being called to the pastorate in such congregations. They are doomed to a future of superficial religion.
But children are unregenerate. They do not know God. There is a natural enmity in their hearts against Him. Their boredom is not principally caused by their immaturity but because of their hearts of stone. This is to be combated by the loving lives of their parents, regular family devotions in which they become familiar with the stories and the teaching of the Bible, where they learn the language of prayer and the claims of the gospel, and they are confronted with their need to be born again. Their parents’ love, respect, enthusiasm for the church services, the pastor and his preaching will be contagious. They will admire and hear the man to whom their parents pay such attention. But where the parents themselves are bored–or just one parent–then there is little hope for the children becoming gripped with the most exciting and important message in the world–the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to earth to save us from the wrath to come!
When children have been taught to sit still at home, and hear the Word of God read each day, and listen to parents coming with thanksgiving and petition to a Heavenly Father who cares for and provides for every good thing the children experience, then they sweetly learn to be still during a sermon on Sunday morning, and to cry from their childish hearts to the Lord for help in worship and serve Him, the true and living God.
Pastor Geoff Thomas
Alfred Place Baptist Church
Aberystwyth, Wales United Kingdom