The Lord’s Day should not be seen as consisting of a dry list of dos and don’ts. It is about relationship to the Triune God. Putting aside other things is in order that one may call on God, read his Word, share fellowship with others, attend worship – these are all activities that ought to be driven by a hunger for enjoying God.
I am reading a book in which the great 19th century Anglican J. C. Ryle is quoted, writing on the value of public worship:
Never be absent from God’s house on Sundays, without good
reason,—never to miss the Lord’s Supper when administered
in our own congregation,—never to let our place be empty
when means of grace are going on, this is one way to be a
growing and prosperous Christian. The very sermon that we
needlessly miss, may contain a precious word in season for
our souls. The very assembly for prayer and praise from
which we stay away, may be the very gathering that would
have cheered, and stablished, and quickened our hearts.
-J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John: Vol. 3 (Banner of
Truth, 1999), 454–455.
Note: Ryle was not merely urging attendance as some detached, abstract ‘good’. He was urging attendance so that people may enjoy God.
So, at SPC we pray for attendance, but also we pray for hunger for, for enjoyment of, and satisfaction in God on the Lord’s Day.
I have always been uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament. I have at times been uncomfortable about being uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament (after all, I am a preacher!) Now, I am more comfortable about being uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament.
The problem I am well aware of is the tendency to preach a moralistic sermon such as “Be a David!” or “Don’t be a Saul!” In the hunt for relevacy and personal application in Scripture, this is an easy route to take in tackling a piece of OT narrative.
One book that has helped me is Dale Ralph Davies’ The Word Became Fresh. Early in the book he points out that the most relevant lessons are drawn out the “slop” of people’s lives as they are portrayed in Scripture. After all, the fact that David was an adulterer and murderer somewhat undermines the “Be a David!” message. The point is not to keep our eyes focussed on the characters, but on what God is doing in their lives:
…we must read Old Testament narrative with a theocentric focus. In all our reading we should keep our eye on God – what he is revealing about himself and how he is working.’ We should feast our eyes on the triune God. Some may immediately object: Don’t we need to start at the other end? Don’t we need to begin with the needs of people? Shouldn’t we be ‘existential’ before we get ‘theological’? Must we not ensure that our biblical study is relevant? I don’t even care to argue. I will only assert: if you keep your eye on God you will address the needs of (his) people. It happens in the process. And my way is far more interesting, because there is no one so disturbing, so surprising, so steadying, so fascinating as the God of the Bible. So if I had one piece of hermeneutical advice to give it is: keep your focus on God if you want your biblical interpretation to be accurate, interesting, nourishing, and relevant.
– Dale Ralph Davies, The Word Became Fresh, pp.121-2
That still leaves us uncomfortable with the OT text. And that is as it should be. Preachers need to do the sweaty graft to make sure they get the theocentric message to pass on.
Recently at SPC we have been studying 1 Timothy. One thing is clear about that book – false teachers were lurking in the background stirring things up. They had a habit of making peripheral things central things and sought to persuade others of the same. Timothy needed to confront them.
The Apostles’ letters – in fact the rest of the Bible too – tackle teachers of a false gospel more often than I think we realise. Martin Downes has an interesting post on this issue, gleaned from the puritan, Thomas Brooks. It’s well worth reading and pondering.