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Christian Living

December 08, 2009

We set high expectations for our pastors, and rightly so, I think. Ministers of the Word have a high calling before God to be his mouthpiece, to bring his Word to his people. We expect that every Sunday we will sit under the pastor’s teaching and learn sacred truths from his mouth. We expect that he will spend his week studying Scripture and digging deeply into God’s Word so that he can teach us something on Sunday that will change our lives. We expect him to be true to Scripture, to make a good presentation of it and to keep us engaged all the while. It is a difficult and often thankless task.

What we consider less often, I think, is that while a pastor bears great responsibility in preparing for and delivering the Word of God each Sunday, the listener shares in the responsibility. The church has no place for an audience. We are all to be involved in the preaching, even as listeners. We may drive home on Sunday muttering about the pastor’s lack of preparation after a less-than-engaging sermon, but how often do we drive away reflecting on our own lack of preparation? How often should we trace our lack of learning or our lack of engagement right back to our own lack of preparation?

Weekly Preparation
Preparation for the worship service needs to begin before walking into church on Sunday morning. The Bible exhorts us in many places to pray for our pastors. In Romans 15:30-32 Paul begged for the prayers of believers. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, … that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints…” To the Thessalonians 3:1 he writes “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” We should be in regular prayer for the pastor, asking that God will continue to work in his heart and illumine the Word to him so he can in turn teach us. The congregation cannot grow beyond the pastor, so it is crucial that he continue to learn and grow in his faith. At the same time we should pray that the pastor would not fall to the attacks of Satan who is always opposed to any fruitful ministry and who will work diligently to disrupt it.

Physical Preparation
When I was a teenager, I usually tried to sit in the back rows of the sanctuary along with my other friends. We took pride in being able to be the first person to fall asleep during the service. Often we had been up well into the wee hours on the morning the night before and were now looking forward to an opportunity to catch up on our sleep. And what better opportunity is there than when the pastor is speaking for thirty or forty five minutes?

One of the most important things congregation members can do is be prepared for the service. This means that we need to be well-rested and attentive rather than tired and glassy-eyed. Our minds need to be alert and both ready and able to hear the Word of God. As a child I was told that preparing for Sunday begins on Saturday night, the implication being that a good night’s sleep is an important prerequisite to attending a worship service. And I have come to see that this is the truth. Little wonder that Christians have often written prayers and hymns meant to be prayed and sung on Saturday night as a means of preparation. Little wonder that the Jewish Sabbath began at sundown rather than sunup! Going to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday evening is one of the best ways you can prepare for a meaningful Sunday.

Personal Preparation
When we attend church we should do so with the eager expectation of hearing words that will challenge, convict and change us. We come expecting to hear Divine words. We should approach the service with these goals in mind. We should seek to allow the words of God, as summarized and explained by the pastor, to convict us of sin and shortcomings, to challenge our presuppositions and comfort zones and to begin the process of change in our lives. George Whitefield says, “Come to hear them [pastors], not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.” Come eagerly, come expectantly, come excited.

Spiritual Preparation
Knowing that we hope to be challenged, changed and convicted during the preaching of the Word, we should be certain that we are spiritually prepared. Our hearts must not be filled with unrepentant and unconfessed sin. Prior to hearing the proclamation of the Word, we should take opportunity to repent of sin and to make sure we come before God with clean hands and pure hearts. This can be done before even leaving for church or during times of quiet preparation in the service. We should seek the Spirit’s illumination for the words we will hear. Psalm 119 models this as David prays “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (verses 17 and 18) David asks the Lord to open his eyes that he might be able to truly understand and apply the words of Scripture to his heart. In the same way we should ask the Spirit to work in us so we can understand. Matthew 5:24 warns against coming to worship while harboring anger or bitterness against a brother. Again, that kind of disunity be reconciled and resolved, as far as is possible, before we come before the Lord in worship.

Pay Attention
This seems almost too obvious, but we should make sure that we are paying attention during the service. It is easy to look around, to chat with the person next to you or to count heads. It is even easy enough to get involved in a “righteous” pursuit such as reading the Bible. But we have just one hour or two hours a week to listen to our pastor so we should be sure that we are making the most of the time. It is not just a good idea, but is our responsibility. Listen, learn and grow. Take a pen, take your Bible and make a dedicated effort. This is a very good thing to pray for throughout the week and on Sunday morning, that God would give us both the desire and the ability to heed the Word as it is preached.

After the Service
Traditionally a portion of Sunday afternoons was dedicated to gathering as a family and speaking about the sermon and perhaps looking over notes taking during it. Many families would sit down together and re-read the passage of Scripture that had been preached on that very morning and would share what they had learned. It was an opportunity for the father to ask his children for their understanding and to help them make application. This is a custom that has largely been lost, but we would benefit, I’m sure, by its recovery.

Pray For Application
After the service, perhaps during some quiet time on Sunday afternoon, we would again do well to pray that the Lord would help work in us what we heard in the morning. We should ask that He would allow the words to continue to convict and change us and that they would not simply fall out of our minds and be lost. In Revelation Jesus said “He who has ears, let him hear.” Hearing goes beyond the ears, but into the mind, the heart and the life. Hearing involves application and application usually requires dedicated though, reflection, meditation. Who knows what application of truth God will draw out of us if we spend time reflecting on what we have heard.

Be Bereans
Our final responsibility is to imitate the Bereans of old who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). We need to be sure that we do not blindly accept what the pastor teaches us, but that we diligently compare his words to the Scripture to ensure that “these things are so.” If your pastor is a godly man, he should be willing and eager to answer questions you may have, and be humble enough to accept correction when he has erred. I do not know of a pastor who would claim he has never made mistakes from the pulpit. When we do detect (or think we detect) error, we should approach the pastor humbly and prayerfully, going to him with our questions and not first to others.

Conclusion
While the responsibility of the preacher cannot be underestimated, the listener is also responsible before God. We, as those who sit under the preaching of the Word, are to prepare ourselves even during the week. And on the Lord’s Day we are to listen attentively, to search the Scriptures and to apply what we have learned to our lives. I fear that far too often we expect the pastor to do the work and while we coast along as the beneficiaries of his hard labor. It is time for us to take seriously our role in the preaching of the Word of God. I post this article on a Tuesday. Perhaps it is worth asking: what are you doing today to gain the greatest benefit from the sermon you heard just two days ago? And what are you doing today to prepare yourself for the sermon you will hear just five short days from now?

December 04, 2009

This is the fifth and final part of this series on leadership in the home. You can read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here and the fourth part here. Having looked at the husband’s responsibilities in leadership and protection, we turn today to provision.

December 03, 2009

This is the fourth article in a series dealing with leadership in the home. You can read the first part here, the second part here and the third part here. We’ve seen a brief defense of male headship and we’ve seen that God calls men to be leaders in the home. Today we look at the husband’s role in protection.

December 02, 2009

This is the third article in a series dealing with leadership in the home. You can read the first part here and the second part here. As we saw yesterday, a husband is called to lead his wife. Though this is an unpopular statement in this day and in this culture, it is one that Christians must affirm. Male headship is taught so clearly in Scripture that to deny it leaves us prone to fall into any number of other radically false teachings. If we can read the Bible and walk away denying male headship, we can walk away denying any doctrine that offends our sensibilities.

December 01, 2009

Yesterday I began a series dealing with leadership in the home (read part one). Today I want to continue the series by providing a brief (and undoubtedly inadequate) defense of male headship.

November 30, 2009

This is a series about leadership in the home. It is geared specifically to men and I hope it will be of some use to guys of any age though perhaps it will be most at home in the hands of young men—those who are newly married or those who are to be married in the near future. I hope it is also the kind of series that a wife can pass to her husband and say, “Honey! Read this and tell me what you think of it…” When the series is complete I will put it together into a PDF file to make it easier to share in that way.

November 16, 2009

A few days ago I was talking to some friends about fatigue. It is a popular topic when you’re in the stage of life that includes young children (though, from what I’ve overheard, it also seems to be a popular topic as you begin to hit old age). I got to thinking about the topic and found something I had written about fatigue a couple of years ago, apparently after a particularly tough night.

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I got to bed just a little bit later than usual last night. But when I settled into bed, I felt that kind of comforting fatigue—the kind that is not so overbearing that I’m exhausted, but the kind that means I’m really looking forward to a good night’s rest. You know the kind, I’m sure. It’s the kind of tired that makes stretching out between the sheets a real pleasure.

There was one false start before I got to sleep. I was just drifting off when I heard the bedroom door rattle and Abby walked in. She told us that she couldn’t sleep. Aileen got up and tucked her back in, turning on a light to make sure she wouldn’t be scared. A few minutes later we were all asleep. But then, probably around 1 AM, I heard Abby calling for me. She was scared again and was crying. I have no memory of what happened next, but I guess I must have tucked her back into bed, convinced her that everything was fine, and crawled back into bed. A couple of hours later it was Nick’s turn. He marched into our room and woke me up, telling me that his ear was hurting so badly he couldn’t sleep. All things pain-related are Aileen’s department, so she dosed him with some kind of medication, put some hot cloths on his ear, and we went back to sleep. An hour later Michaela was awake, scared by the sound of the strong winds blowing through the trees outside our window. We awoke to her cries of “Mommy!” She ended up in bed with us—all twenty five hot, pointy, squirming, fuzzy pounds of her. At this point I turned off my alarm and figured I’d just have to let myself sleep in so I wouldn’t be completely comatose all day. And so the night went. I awoke at seven in the morning (which is sleeping late for me) feeling not the nice kind of tired, but the exhausted kind of tired that comes from too little rest; too little sleep. It’s the kind of tired that leaves circles under my eyes and requires an extra kick of caffeine to be able to go about the usual routine. It just wasn’t a very good night.

A few weeks after Nick was born, our first child, Aileen and I were facing the exhaustion that comes with a newborn baby. We were just learning to be parents and still assumed that every cough and every sigh meant he was dying. He was a restless baby and didn’t settle into good sleep patterns for a long time. Aileen and I both spent many nights pacing the floors with him. I remember talking to my mother around this time and the words she said stuck with me: “The next time you feel well-rested, you’ll be in heaven.” They may not have been particularly comforting words, but they were realistic. Mom said that, by the time the kids really settled into good sleep patterns, I’d be too old to sleep well anymore. When we had that first child I guess I threw away any hope of really feeling well-rested.

It’s worth it, of course. I wouldn’t trade my children for any number of good night’s sleeps or any amount of rest (though if you asked me in the middle of the night I might occasionally answer differently). But as I lay in bed last night, in those moments where I was just too tired to get to sleep, I began to wonder about heaven. What will it be like to feel really, really well-rested? What will it be like to be able to feel one hundred percent? Will there be fatigue in heaven? Will there be rest? Heaven will, of course, be rest…but will there be sleep?

As I tend to do when I’ve got questions about heaven, I opened Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven this morning and, sure enough, he had some things to say about this. He says:

Our lives in Heaven will include rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). …

Eden is a picture of rest—work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and with other people and animals. Even with Eden’s restful perfection, one day was set aside for special rest and worship, Work will be refreshing on the New Earth, yet regular rest will be built into our lives.

To be honest, I am a little skeptical when it comes to Alcorn’s reasoning here, but he does make an interesting case. But what really stood out to me were his next words:

Part of our inability to appreciate Heaven as a place of rest relate to our failure to enter into a weekly day of rest now. By rarely turning attention from our responsibilities, we fail to anticipate our coming deliverance from the Curse to a full rest.

“Make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It’s ironic that it takes such effort to set aside time for rest, but it does. For me, and for many of us, it’s difficult to guard our schedules, but it’s worth it. The day of rest points us to Heaven and to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rest is innately good. God Himself rested after completing His work of creation—a perfect being resting after completing the perfect work of creating a perfect world. God built rest into this world. And God gave us one day to practice rest—to learn how to rest. How good it is to set that day aside and to use it just to rest. But beyond that day, God also gives us little glimpses of the rest that is to come. When we used to own a cottage, one of my favorite things to do was to head out alone over the lake in the canoe. And halfway across the lake I would just sit back with a Coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the sun shining on my face. And I’d just relax and let the water take me where it wanted. It was such a beautiful time of peace and rest. And maybe it was a foretaste of the rest that is to come. Today a similar feeling comes as I kick back on a Sunday afternoon with a cold Coke, a good book and a comfortable couch. It is rest and it is good.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that only rarely will I really feel anywhere close to one hundred percent while on this earth. To be an adult, to be a parent, is to be tired. But as life goes on, I begin to look to those moments of rest as more than just a chance to rejuvenate. I see them also as a glimpse of what is to come. I see them as opportunities to learn how to rest—to learn how to enjoy the rest that will come with the new heavens and the new earth. They are a taste, even if only a faint one, of the true rest.

November 11, 2009

This is now the third (and final!) entry in this short series written by my wife, Aileen. In the last article she talked about rejection and how it effects both wives and husbands. The day before that she dealt with sexual desire, pointing out some of the differences between men and women. Today the series concludes.

One thing I want to say. In this series she has been dealing predominantly with “average” marriages. It is impossible to write about sex and marriage and speak to everyone equally; there are always exceptions, always special cases, always difficulties. But do realize that in these articles, and today especially, she is writing mostly for “normal” people in “normal” circumstances. If your husband has a serious addiction to pornography or if there are other exceptional circumstances in your marriage, some of this may not apply or may apply very differently.

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by Aileen Challies

November 10, 2009

This short series, guest authored by my wife Aileen, began yesterday with False Messages I: What He Really Wants. Today Aileen picks up where she left off.

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by Aileen Challies

When you thought about getting married and when you anticipated having sex with your husband, did you ever think about how often you’d be saying “no” to him? I know of a few women who decided before they married that they would never refuse their husbands and who have, admirably, stuck to their promise. For the rest of us, though, “no” is is a word we use far more than we ever would have thought possible (or desirable). Maybe we say “no” with our words, whether kind or gracious; maybe we say “no” with our attitudes or body language; maybe we say it with our wardrobe or simply by going to bed long before he is tired. We grow adept at finding new and creative ways of refusing sex.

November 09, 2009

For the next couple of days there will be a guest blogger on this site—none other than my wife, Aileen. She will be sharing a few articles directed specifically at women. Here is how this came about.

Two weeks ago (yes, it was really that long ago) I posted a series called Sexual Detox. One of the unexpected results of the series was a large number of emails from women who read this blog. I passed many of these emails to Aileen and she has engaged in correspondence with some of the women. This has led to some interesting conversation and, I think, an opportunity for her to both learn from and minister to some sisters in Christ. I’ll let her pick up the story from here…

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by Aileen Challies

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