Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Not Give Sunday Evening Worship a Try?

Soon after my husband and I moved back to St. Louis from Philadelphia and rejoined Covenant Presbyterian Church, we got a call from a friend inviting us to join a new supper club that she and her husband were forming.  After she described it to me, I asked when it would meet.  

“On Sunday evenings,” she replied.  

“Do you mean you’ll have it after the evening worship services?” I asked.  

“Well, no, Mary Beth…you know, we’re not under the Law anymore; we’re under grace.  You don’t have to attend your Sunday evening worship service.”  

“Oh,” I said, “I know I am free to miss it—but why would I want to? These are the people that have stood with me through the hardest times of my life.  It’s the most wonderful way to end the Lord’s Day, being with them and worshiping together.  Thank you for your gracious invitation—but we would just miss too much if we intentionally missed evening church once a month.” 

It was clear that my answer surprised my friend, but it impressed her, too.  It piqued her interest to the point that she and her family visited our church for a while, just to see what caused me to love it and its people so much. (They continued to hunt for a church home and ended up in the church where she grew up—perhaps that’s where she found her people as well.)

My answer also caused me to reflect on why attending Sunday evening worship is the habit of our lives.  Even before we met, both my husband and I had the habit of regular Sunday evening worship attendance.  So, when we married, it was only natural that the habit would continue, as it has to this day, 42 years later.

One reason why both of us attended evening worship as single young people was the fact that we were both relatively new Christians and had a hunger for learning the Bible and being with other believers.  Both of us really liked our pastors (before we met we belonged to different churches in different denominations) and their preaching.  Both of us had made good friends at our churches that we enjoyed being with during and after the evening services.  I especially loved our elderly Scottish assistant pastor who led the hymn singing with passion and a heavy brogue!  For both of our congregations, the evening service was simply an important part of the life of the community.  And as typical singles, we liked being out and about with other people rather than being home alone.

After we got married, we received more teaching about the Sabbath principle of observing the Lord’s Day.  When George Robertson was preaching through the Psalms, he showed us how Psalm 92 refers to evening worship.  The introduction to the psalm says “A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day.” And the first two verses say, 

It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High,
to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, [italics mine]
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.

We learned that the principle of Sabbath rest goes back to creation.  That is how the Lord explained it when He gave the fourth commandment to Moses in Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In the New Testament we learn that Jesus fulfills all of the Law for us, and He Himself is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8-10).  We find the disciples, after His Sunday-morning resurrection, gathering on the first day of the week, “the Lord’s day,” or Sunday.  So, as G. I Williamson explains, “it is the proportion alone—and not the order—that is fixed by the commandment.”[1]  J. I Packer concurs: “The relation is just a new way of counting six-and-one, so that Lord’s Day observance is the Christian form of Sabbath-keeping.”[2]

Whether you call it the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, the day recurs weekly; it recognizes some sort of distinctiveness for one day in seven; it celebrates redemption in Christ and his resurrection, which is a fulfillment of the concept of rest embodied in the Sabbath; the one who is worshiped on the Lord’s Day is the bringer of the truth of the Sabbath rest of salvation to which the Old Testament Sabbath pointed (John 5; Hebrews 3-4), prefiguring the future rest of the consummation; and includes the notion of worship and, finally, the concept of lordship.[3]

There is great freedom in how we choose to keep the day “holy” or set apart, yet we ignore observing it to our peril.  God made us; He knows we need rest.  And He has graciously provided the means that give us true restoration—including a day of rest set apart unto Him and for us—because we were created “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (WSC Q & A #1), which includes the here and now.  

Countless lists can be found with suggestions about what should and should not be done on Sunday.  A simple and helpful one comes from H. G. G. Herklots.  Paraphrased, he says that the Lord’s Day should be:

1)      A day of worship.
2)      A day of rest in the sense that Christians do not cause others to do unnecessary work for them.
3)      A day of real recreation, which by its changed occupation refreshes the mind and body and spirit “after divine service.”
4)      A day when a Christian goes out of his way to help those who are in need.[4]

He sums it up this way: “For Christians, Sunday is the most important day of the week.  A week without Sunday can be like a ship without a rudder.  On the Lord’s Day Christians come together into the presence of their Lord: it is here that the Christian family realizes its unity as at few other times.  This does not happen automatically.  Sunday must be remembered.  But if it be also hallowed it may hallow all the week.”[5]

                On so many Sundays, such as one recently when assistant pastor Chris Smith gave a wonderful message during the evening service on Psalm 13, we drive away from the church saying, “Can you believe what we learned today?” And, “What better way could there be to end this day?”  To be able to express prayer concerns and have them prayed for by the men and women of the congregation; to see a little hand go up during hymn requests and hear the child’s voice say, “Number 100, please, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ verses 1 and 4;” to hear God’s word faithfully and thoughtfully preached; to sing new songs as well as familiar old hymns; to spend time afterwards talking with church family members—yes, I’m free to miss all that.  But why would I?

                If attending Sunday evening worship is not the habit of your life, I encourage you to give it a try—especially during the summer, without having to get your children up for school the next day.  Train your children and your own hearts in the blessing of setting aside the whole of Sunday to the Lord, book-ending it by morning and evening worship.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, and believe you will find it to be a very good thing.

[1] G. I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970), 43.
[2] J. I, Packer, The Ten Commandments (Appleford, England: Marcham Manor Press, n.d.), 6.
[3] A. T. Lincoln, “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical and Theological Investigation,” ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 398-400.
[4] H.G.G. Herklots, The Ten Commandments and Modern Man (Fair Lawn, NJ: Essential Books, 1958), 81.
[5] Ibid., 81-83.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Growing Old Gracefully

You don’t think that day will ever come.  But eventually, in every woman’s life, comes the moment when someone sees your high school graduation portrait or your wedding portrait and says, “Is that you?!”

It’s shocking to hear.  The change has been so gradual.  It seems to you that the same face has been looking back at you from the mirror since those days.  But obviously, that young face has been replaced by something that is unrecognizable to those who did not know you then.

That happened to me some years ago.  I was tempted to respond, “Well who in the world do you think it is?” but it took me so off guard, thankfully, that I didn’t. However, it does makes me want to say, when I meet someone new, “Hi, I’m Mary Beth, and I didn’t used to look like this!”

There are other consequences to this change in looks that comes with age.  There is a loss of power.  When you are a young woman, you’ve never been anything else, so you are not aware of the power of youth to make a good impression, to open doors, to turn heads.  It’s all you’ve ever known.  But as the years go by that power diminishes.  There is a freedom that comes with that, too—as men look at you more like a mother or grandmother—no more wolf whistles or men trying to strike up conversations in airports.  But the power factor has changed.

There also can be a crisis of identity, depending upon how much of your identity is tied to your looks.  It surprised me how much this challenged me as time went by.  I was ashamed to realize how much I had depended upon my youth to “win friends and influence people.”  I had thought that my identity was in Jesus Christ, in the fact that He died and rose again to save sinners like me, that through Him God had made me His child and had given me purpose for living and hope in death.  How could I be so shallow?  I knew that looks don’t make you who you are.  I gained 30 pounds my junior year in high school and saw how people’s response to me changed; I became virtually invisible to boys.  Then I lost those 30 pounds my senior year, and guess what?  I became visible again.  So I have always thought that I had a handle on not judging people by their outward appearance.  Except my own, apparently: I struggled to believe that I was as valuable a human being when my looks faded.  Intellectually, I knew that to be a lie of our culture but, emotionally, it felt that way.

Observing the pattern of life, I knew that eventually “Father Time and Mother Nature do a job on all of us.”  I had always said that I wanted the lines in my face to be laugh lines, to chisel joy rather than sadness or bitterness into my countenance.  But things happen—profound grief, difficulties, loss, genetics…and the lines just get chiseled as they will.  And when it happened, when those wrinkles and sags appeared in ways I did not anticipate, there was a point of decision:  Who am I, really?  And who do I want to be now?

My identity is in Jesus Christ.  My chief end is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  My desire is to draw other people to Him and to help them grow in their knowledge and love of Him.  My prayer is that He might use me to do this, and since he wants us to “go and make disciples,” He must intend for me to do that in my current physical condition and age.  So, I am asking Him to help me live in a way that will not hinder that purpose.

So, what makes a woman of a certain age winsome?  The same things that make anyone winsome, I’d say: giving smiles, hugs, encouragement…being loving, gracious, empathetic, generous, wise, thoughtful, self-sacrificing, joyful, gentle, kind…basically, being like Christ.  I cannot be those things in my own power, of course—but God’s Word says that He is in the process of making me more like that, through my union with Christ and by His enabling grace (2 Corinthians 3:18).  My job is to trust Him for that and to be about the business of loving Him and loving others.

“Do not let your adorning be external…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”
—1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV).  Lord, make it so.

Monday, February 6, 2017

What would I say to the 25-year-old me?

(This question was given me by our women's ministry discipleship co-leader.  The following is my response.)

First of all, let me acknowledge what you already know:  The Lord has blessed you exceedingly.  Growing up in a church-going home with parents who read Bible stories to you every night when you were a little girl and loved you dearly; given an able mind and parents who supported your education; being convicted of your sin and presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ at age 15 and coming to a saving faith in Him; receiving good instruction about praying for and marrying a Christian man (when you were 20 years old) who loves Jesus more than he loves you; and being invited by your pastor’s wife to a Bible study when you were a new college graduate that ignited your love for God’s Word… just listing such blessings causes the tears to well in my 62-year-old eyes with overwhelming gratitude.

If I could, I’d give you the ability to see into the future.  Then you’d know to stop running when your knees were screaming in pain (and you were destroying all the cartilage in them) and to take up some low-impact exercise.  You’d know that in a few more years you and Bill will learn that you’ll never be able to have children of your own and you wouldn’t need to put yourself through the grueling, dehumanizing process of infertility tests and procedures.  You’d know that even though your parents are telling you that they have prepared for their old age and they’ll “never be a burden on our children” (their words), even they cannot anticipate the way that they will age and you need to be ready for the day when you will need to care for them.  You’d know that even though it’s really hard to keep up with relationships when you move across the country—and you will continue to do so, a lot—you must make the extra effort to do it, because when you get older you’ll see that there’s really nothing more important. You already know how damaging the sun is, and you’ve stopped trying to get tan (good girl!), but you’d know when that “freckle” appears on your cheek to have it checked sooner so that the melanoma would not have gotten as large as it was when it had to be removed.

But, of course, you can’t see into the future and I can’t give you that ability.  But you don’t need it, because you know the One who not only knows the future but orchestrates it.  And, he has given you his Word and his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV).  A verse that will soon capture your heart is Philippians 3:10:  “I want to know Christ-- yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (NIV).  This pursuit will guide your days for the rest of your life.  Knowing Christ will be your greatest delight and your firm foundation, and his church will be your family everywhere you live.  

As you pursue him to know and love him better, the path will not be smooth.  There will be heartaches and temptations and challenges that will shake you.  Some days will be dark.  But he will not let you go; “though [s]he may stumble, [s]he will not fall, for the LORD upholds [her] with his hand” (Psalm 37:24 NIV).  Informed by his Word and seeking him through prayer, you will do the best you can and trust God.  That’s all anyone can do.  But God says that even though our minds plan our way, he directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). He can be trusted.  He is sovereign, yes, but also loving and good and faithful.  The trials in your life will prove this to you, over and over.  Do not fear them.  God will orchestrate them for your good and His glory.

And, by the way, that husband you married when you were 20?  He will prove to be the best man you will ever know, and your relationship with him the source of laughter and sweetness and inspiration for decades to come.  Cherish every day.  They fly by so fast!