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My in-laws used to have a home by Lake Michigan. From their house they had circular stepping-stones that led to the top of the dune overlooking the lake. On summer visits there, we loved walking barefoot on this path of carefully placed stones in order to stand and gaze at the beauty of the water.

I often remind my congregation during Sunday morning worship that we have collectively taken one step closer to heaven since the last time we met. Like stepping-stones, our weekly Lord’s Day gatherings point toward the great day of the Lord that awaits us. Worship is a time to gaze ahead in wonder and awe that the Lord Jesus Christ will return, for “he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 96:13). As such, God’s people should not only prepare to go to church, but they should see the worship assembly itself as preparation for that great day.

Yet how do we prepare for the day of judgment as we worship on a Sunday morning? Of particular concern is that congregations often do not view their worship as God does.

We know what the day of the Lord will be like. Jesus has told us so clearly in Matthew 25. When He comes in His glory, He will gather all the nations and separate people one from another like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The sheep, or true believers, will be blessed and inherit His kingdom. Why? Because the reality of their faith in the Lord was clearly evident in lives that showed compassion to others. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (vv. 35–36). In contrast, unbelievers will be damned and cast into hell by their lack of such works (vv. 41–46).

Therefore, even now, when the church gathers for worship, the Lord examines us like a vineyard owner to see if we are bearing the fruit that He desires (Isa. 5:1–7; John 15:1–8). Psalm 82 tells us that as we worship, “God takes His stand in His own congregation” (v. 1, NASB). Why? To judge whether His people are rescuing the weak and the needy as He desires (vv. 2–4). God knows if we are practicing true religion in visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27) and living out the understanding that “faith apart from works is dead” (2:26).

As you pause, then, in worship on each Lord’s Day stepping-stone, you should examine whether your faith in Christ is leading you to be more like Him in the way you treat others. Have you brought forth fruits of your faith this past week by visiting a lonely widow? Given to a person in need? Showed hospitality to someone new? Supported persecuted saints? Helped someone who was ill? And are you making plans to do so this coming week as you humbly prepare to glorify your Savior on judgment day?

Typically, questions like these can leave us feeling ashamed or overwhelmed. Our hearts protest that we have more pressing obligations. Let me offer, then, a reflection on the Lord’s gospel, a reminder about the Lord’s ministry, and a refresher on the Lord’s Day.

The Lord has provided us the basis, the example, and even the time necessary to visit, give, and care for others.
A Reflection on the Lord’s Gospel

When God commands care for the poor, the commandment is based on remembering how He cared for us in our poverty. For instance, He undergirded His instructions to Israel to care for the widow, the fatherless, or the stranger with a reminder that He had brought them out of Egypt. “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Likewise, Paul urged the church at Corinth to show genuine, tangible love in giving to the poor saints in Jerusalem with an appeal to what Christ had done for them. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Reflecting on the mercy we have received in the gospel creates renewed compassion in our hearts for others.

A Reminder about the Lord’s Ministry

Have you ever noticed in reading the Gospels that Jesus appeared to be most active on the Sabbath day? In addition to preaching, He performed numerous works of healing on this day. The list of Sabbath healings includes the man with the withered hand, the demon-possessed man in Capernaum, the woman bent double for eighteen years, the man suffering from dropsy, the man born blind, and the man lying by the Pool of Bethesda who was sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus clearly taught and fulfilled an Old Testament theme that the Sabbath was a day for showing mercy (Matt. 12:1–14). His example should guide us.

A Refresher on the Lord’s Day

Christians should remember that the fourth commandment is not fulfilled simply by attending church. We should honor Him throughout the day, and one key means is by showing mercy. In speaking on sanctifying the Lord’s Day, the Westminster Directory for Public Worship encourages believers, in addition to such activities as worship and prayer, to spend time in “visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity, and mercy, accounting the sabbath a delight.” Thus, the Lord has provided us the basis, the example, and even the time necessary to visit, give, and care for others.

The Lord has clearly laid out the stepping-stones for us. Following His steps each Lord’s Day will help prepare and lead us eagerly to our final meeting with Him.

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From the February 2018 Issue
Feb 2018 Issue