One of my favorite preachers from the past is A.W. Tozer. Tozer was a Missionary Alliance pastor, a gifted writer, and a well-known preacher in the middle of the 20th century. He was a strong advocate for the "sacramental quality of everyday living." Tozer wanted Christian men and women to remember that every day is a special day, for every day is a gift from God to be used by believers to worship God with both “everyday” acts and "sacred" acts. Whether therefore we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Tozer was most certainly right. Every day of life is a gift from God, and everything we do that is sanctified by our relationship with Christ is a holy act. Working in a coal mine can be as sacred as is serving in missions or pastoral ministry for the follower of Christ. This led Tozer to conclude: The observation of days and times is becoming more and more prominent among us. "Lent" and "Holy Week" and "Good Friday" are words heard more and more frequently upon the lips of gospel Christians. We do not know when we are well off. Tozer felt that Christians were enslaving themselves again to the law if they let themselves observe special days and seasons. Here is where I disagree with the man I respect so much.
I believe that intentionally setting aside times to focus on our faith and our desire to grow more intimate with God is a good practice. If these practices become spiritual laws they certainly can enslave us, but they do not have to. Spiritual disciplines can become laws that enslave us if we are not careful to remember the freedoms we have in Christ. It is never helpful if there is any attempt to force them on others, yet the voluntary pursuit of intentional times to prepare and equip ourselves spiritually can also be incredibly enriching (Romans 14:5-8). Tozer misses something here, as I believe many Protestants in the western church do as well. They miss the opportunity to put aside the demands our world places upon us to focus only on ourselves and to trivialize every event that is not "concrete" and reproducible. They miss the mystery and the beauty of self-sacrifice - not for the sake of earning favor, but for the sake of placing our focus and our thoughts on something much grander and vastly more important - the God who has saved us and called us out of our bondage to self and into the joyful and majestic pursuit of him!
I love the celebrations of Advent and Lent, but not because I celebrated them as a Roman Catholic. I observed them then out of obedience to my parents. I abstained from eating meat on Fridays not because I wanted to draw near to God through self-sacrifice, but because my mother did not cook meat on Fridays, which I suspect is why I do not much like fish to this day. My parents were wonderful and caring people, and they meant well, but they did not teach me to love the purpose behind the observation. Today I know the purpose of special seasons, and the observation helps me to focus on the God who waits to meet me. He is always there to meet me, of course, but I am typically not focused enough to realize it. Therefore I set aside times, purposefully and intentionally, to regroup and remind myself that the things I see and chase are temporary, while invisible things are eternal.
Advent 2018 begins on Sunday, December 2, and ends on Christmas Eve. The theme we have chosen for this Advent season is Love Came Down. Our four-week Advent preaching series will focus on this theme. As always, you are under no obligation from God, LifePoint Church, or me to observe Advent. Nevertheless, I encourage you to be careful not to lose the sense of mystery, sacrifice, and contemplation that are such a beautiful part of our faith. We put them aside to our own detriment, and the intentional setting apart of four weeks (alongside the majority of Christendom) can be a wonderful spiritual discipline that can help draw us closer to God as we prepare for Christmas Day. As has been my practice since arriving at LifePoint almost ten years ago, I have written an Advent devotional for those who care to utilize it. It will be available on Sunday, November 25, at the Information Center.
I pray for this church family daily. Please do the same if you are part of LifePoint Church. Pray that God will make us (and keep us) a healthy, vibrant, gospel-breathing community of Christ-followers on the south side of Indianapolis!
Grace and peace,