What’s Your Bedrock?

Screenshot (1440)Caption:  A typical family, as they “shelter in place,” worshiping in spirit and in truth via FBC of Sycamore livestream on Sunday, March 22 @ 10:30am.  FBC Sycamore Livestream

The magistrates ordered [Paul and Silas] to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  (Acts 16:22–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings –  Greetings from northern Illinois (the “s” is silent), where we are sheltering in place.  Yesterday Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order telling all Illinois residents to shelter in place until at least April 7. “My bedrock has been to rely upon science,” Pritzker said of his decision.

I don’t mean to disparage science (after all God created the science behind His creation) but our bedrock is, and always has been to rely upon God.  Whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.  Even when we “shelter in place.”  Maybe it will be an inconvenience.  But we have not been “stripped and beaten.”  We have not been “severely flogged.”  While some may feel like it, we have not been “thrown into prison.”  Under such extreme circumstances, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”  We can do the same.

A final musing: “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  During these scary times, the world around us is listening to and watching us.  What are they hearing? Are they hearing griping, complaining and wailing, or are they hearing positive, reassuring words of encouragement and hope about the God we trust?  What are they seeing?  Do they see the same kind of fear that is gripping the world around us, or do they see calm, peace and assurance?

My Advice – Our circumstances have changed.  Our attitude, behavior and outlook need not change. Our bedrock is on “Christ the solid rock.”  Be like Daniel. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree [executive order] had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”  (Daniel 6:10–11, NIV 1984).  In Illinois, for a season, we cannot come together in person to worship, as is our custom.  But we can still gather together “virtually” to worship in Spirit and in truth “just as [we] had done before.”  And that’s what really matters.  And as you do, remember, people are listening and watching what the Christians do during “such a time as this.

God bless, and have a “yabba, dabba do time,” and draw closer to God and your family  whether you are required to shelter in place or not.

 

Be The Church

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42–47, NIV 1987).

My Musings – While these are clearly challenging times as the world comes to grip with this global pandemic, (perhaps unprecedented to most of the world’s population living today), they pale in comparison (at least to date) to challenges that previous generations have endured.  Our grandparents sent an entire generation of young men off to fight fascism and aggression in Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.  This came just a few short years after the great depression, where U. S. unemployment peaked at nearly 25% (probably much greater in other countries).  The Spanish Flu (probably not a politically correct name by today’s standards) infected an estimated 500 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million (some estimates go as high as 199 million) souls.  This was when the world population was around 1.8 billion.  During the 14th century, it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the world population of 450 million died from the Black Plague.

One might ask, how does the Church respond to the crisis facing the world we live in today?

I would propose that it should have very little to do with how we “dochurch and very much to do with how we “be” the Church.

In certain respects, the above text gives many a overly romanticized impression of the first century Church.  “Why can’t we be more like the first century Chuch?”  But we must remember, as persecution spread, the Church in Rome was driven underground into the catacombs beneath the city.  Then, of course, there was persecution in the middle ages where people like Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, More and Tyndale were put to death, not to mention the religious persecution the led to settlement in the “new world.”  Even today, in certain communist and Islamic countries, Christians constantly face persecution and death.

In light of all this, how we “do” church (worship style, time of service, length of sermon, systematic versus topical versus textual preaching, color of carpet, etc.) is fairly trivial compared to how those mentioned above were committed to being the Church.  As we reflect on the crisis facing the world today, our focus as well should be on how to be the Church in a world that needs the hope that only Christ offers.  Especially if we are just beginning (much worse to come) to experience the “birth pains” that Christ warned about in His Olivet Discourse and the tribulation to follow that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation.

My Advice – Be the Church.  What are some practical ways we can put into practice some of the following ways of being the Church to our neighborhoods and communities?

Love One Another – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35, NIV 1984).

Do Unto Others – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12, NIV 1984).

Live At Peace With Everyone –   “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18, NIV 1984).

Be A Servant – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV 1984).

Do For The Least Of These – “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”    (Matthew 25:35–40, NIV 1984).

Practice Pure and Faultless ReligionReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27, NIV 1984).

Be A Witness – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

Be Prepared With Your Reason For Hope Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV 1984).

What Remains? – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV 1984).

Here are some suggestions from my local church: (https://www.fbcsycamore.com/)

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Shall Not Prevail

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Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  (Acts 5:38–39, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Two thousand years and the Gospel has not been stopped.  It is hard to imagine any doctrine or philosophy of human origin could possibly withstand this test of time.  But Christianity has.  Throughout Church history, mankind has fought against it but the light still shines. It may have dimmed from time to time, but it has never gone out.  Because it is from God. God the Father conceived it, Jesus built it, and the Holy Spirit has sustained it.  When you fight against the Church, you are fighting against God.

My Advice – If you are not already, you need to get on the winning side.  See my blog series “The Born Again Experience” to find out how.

 

My Fellow Citizens

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You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2:19–22, NIV 1984).

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  (Ephesians 4:14–16, NIV 1984).

My Musings – We are no longer foreigners, we are citizens of His Kingdom.  No longer aliens, but members of the household of believers.  This we became when we accepted Christ as Savior (justification).  In the secular world we would call it “naturalization,” the admittance of a foreigner to the citizenship of a country.  In the spiritual world, there is nothing natural about it.  It is supernatural, attributed to some “force” beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.

In Him, we are being built (sanctification) together (community).  Spiritual growth works best in community, the geographic (visible) church.  When we were foreigners and aliens, we were outside the body of believers, the universal (invisible) Church.  We could not be “joined together” any more than oil and water can.  For what fellowship can light have with darkness?  Like aliens, we could live amongst the community, but not be of the community.

As citizens of the Kingdom, members of the body, being built together, we will eventually “grow up into Him.”  For “we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  (1 John 3:2, NIV 1984).  This is glorification.

My Advice – If you are not yet a citizen of the Kingdom, it is open to all.  There are no “walls” preventing your entering in other than those of your own construction.  Why not “apply” for citizenship today?

If you are are citizen of the Kingdom, but are not associated with a local body of believers (a church), you are not enjoying the full benefits of being a member of the body (The Church).  Why not “join” one today?

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Today’s musing was inspired by Worship and Youth Pastor Nate Miller’s sermon on February 16, 2020. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.

 

Change of Habit

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And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV 1984)..

My Musings – “As some are in the habit of doing.” A habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition.  Acquired means gained by effort.  Effort means conscious exertion.  Conscious means critical awareness.  A committed Christian does not unconsciously, without effort, fall into the habit of not regularly attending Church. Many reasons (excuses) are given for this, none of which can be supported by Scripture.

Rather than focus on the excuses, let’s focus on the positives of regular Church attendance.  The above text provides two reasons: encouraging one another and stimulating each other to positive (love and good deeds) action.  Things one cannot get in isolation.   Here are a few more.  Bear with another.  Serve one another. Love one another.  Challenge one another.  Sharpen one another. Care for one another.  Belong to one another.   Commit to one another.  Accountable to one another.  Comfort one another.  Complete one another.  Worship with one another. Fellowship with one another.

And all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Why wold this be increasingly important?  Do we see the Day approaching?  Do we see Church attendance declining?  What’s wrong with this picture?  Wake up Christians!

My Advice – The things mentioned above are all things that people generally crave.  Things that we do not get (or are able to give), when we “give up meeting together.”  Have you forsaken the Body?  It’s about time for you to consciously make the effort to make regular Church attendance your habit once again.  Whatever habit you have is your choice.  Choose wisely.  Choose community.

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Today’s musing was inspired by Lead Teaching Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon on February 9, 2020. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.

 

What He Said Was Important

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28–30, NIV 1984).

My Musings – How does one move from “weary and burdened” to “easy and light?”  By being “gentle and humble.”  By being imitators of Christ.  In Jesus’ day, the Jews were looking for a political or militant solution to their years of bondage.  Their early excitement over Jesus (“could this be the Messiah“) gave way to disillusionment and hostility, as gentleness and humility did not quite meet their expectations of a deliverer.   They preferred ruthless and pompous.

They failed to understand just what kind of bondage the Messiah came to deliver us from.  They were seeking “peace in our time.”  Christ came to offer peace for all time.  They were seeking deliverance “at all costs.”  Jesus offered peace that demanded the greatest cost.  They were seeking liberty in the land.  Jesus was offering liberation of the heart.  They wanted vengeance.  Jesus offered forgiveness.  They wanted unconditional surrender.  Jesus offered unmerited grace.  They wanted independence.  Jesus offered relationship.  They wanted a manifesto.  Jesus offered their names written in the Lamb’s book of life.   They wanted rebellion, Jesus required surrender.

My Advice – So what have we learned in 2000 years?  Will we as the Church advance the Kingdom of God through pollical activism or by proclamation of the Gospel?  Through force or faith?  Harshness or gentleness?  Arrogance or humility?  By becoming 21st century Pharisees or by modeling ourselves after 1st century believers?  By engaging in crusades or by taking up our cross?  Let’s learn from Him.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you …”  Our country’s and the world’s problems will not be solved from the outside in, only from the inside out.  It’s the heart not the head.  It’s the eternal, not the temporal.  It’s the narrow path, not the broad path.  It’s the Great Commission, not the great omission.  The time is short.  The harvest is great.  The workers are few.  Let’s get on with it.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

Engaged With The Church

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My Musings – While not the only reasons, some believers have forsaken the church because they feel it is full of hypocrites or they believe they can worship at anyplace or anytime. It is true that there is a certain degree of hypocrisy in some who attend church – they pretend to profess, but they do not really believe. The church should not turn these away for they need continued exposure to the truth, so they eventually will believe. True believers, on the other hand cannot be hypocrites. They do not pretend at something that they do not believe. It is just the opposite. They believe, but have trouble living up to what they believe. But let’s be realistic. All true believers profess Christ, but none fully live like Christ.

We must remember that accepting Christ (salvation) is an event that occurs instantaneously. Becoming like Christ, on the other hand, is a process that takes a lifetime as we increasingly yield our lives to Him and allow Him to work in our lives. Some are further along the road than others, which is the very reason we should not forsake the fellowship. We all need the encouragement, accountability and authority that the Church provides. We all need support at one time or another. We can all also return the favor by providing the support that others need at some time or another. But a support group needs a group. It cannot function in isolation and it functions best when all members are present.

Worship and praise can occur in isolation, however. It frequently does and should. But that does not mean that it is the only time we can experience worship and praise. The thing about good experiences is that we usually cannot wait to share them with someone else. That is what makes worshipping and praising God together such a profound experience. We get to share it with others.

God has characterized the Church as a body. Like a body the Church is made up of many members, yet it forms a whole. If one part is missing the whole body suffers. An ear can, to some degree, compensate for the loss of the eyes, but the whole person will suffer nonetheless for the loss of the eyes. So it is with the Church. It functions better as a whole, if all of the members are accounted for and functioning in harmony with the rest of the members.

Besides being a support group, the Church serves as the primary means by which the world is evangelized and once evangelized, they are assimilated into the body and are discipled. Without a doubt Christ is the head of the Church. But the body is what carries out His commission to go, be witnesses, win converts and make disciples. This is a continuous cycle. We go out into the world as witnesses. When converts are won to Christ they are brought into the body where they can be discipled. Eventually, they are able to go out and the cycle begins anew. While this can, and does happen one-on-one without the involvement of the larger body, it works best when the entire body becomes involved.

Of course, as we all know, the universal Church consists of a multitude of local churches. In fact, today each locality has many different churches. But the same concept applies.

Individual Christians within a community should be part of one of the local bodies, rather than trying to fulfill Christ’s commission as an individual agent.

Typically, a new convert is brought into the local Church that the one who won them to the Lord attends. Often this is the person’s parent’s Church. But sometimes people have moved away from family or came to faith in a manner (e.g., evangelistic meeting, radio ministry, personal crisis) where there is no one to introduce them into a local body. Other times Christians who are already a member of a local assembly moves to another community and must find another church to attend. In these cases, the question becomes which one?

Nowadays there are many to choose from. There are many denominations within one community. In larger communities there often is more than one church of the same denomination in the same city. There also are churches with different worship styles. Finally, as our culture has become more and more diverse, and more tolerant of different beliefs and lifestyles, many fellowships have sprung up that do not always hold to the truths of Scripture. They might worship a “supernatural” being or force that is not the God of the universe. Their religious commitment may be legalistic with an emphasis on external observance rather than an internal the change of heart. There may be attitudes of permissiveness, beliefs that are compromised or a quiet profession of the lips without practice in the lives. There may be an undue emphasis on religious conformity with no evidence of spiritual transformation. Or the belief system may be one of convenience and preference, rather than sound in doctrines, that are often inconvenient. So, one must be careful when choosing which church to belong to.

The dictionary defines religion as:

  1. The service and worship of God or the supernatural;
  2. Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance;
  3. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices;
  4. Scrupulous conformity;
  5. A cause, principle, or system held to with ardor and faith.

Let’s take a look at these five principles of religion and how they might be applied to help identify a church that merely “pretends” to follow truth, versus one that “proclaims” and follows the truth.

CHURCHES THAT PRETEND AT THE TRUTH

The Service And Worship Of God Or The Supernatural

Tolerates the service and worship of other “gods” –Be careful or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” (Deuteronomy 11:16, NIV 1978)’

Accepts beliefs in alternate paths to God – “I am astonished that you are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6, 7, NIV 1978).

Commitment Or Devotion To Religious Faith Or Observance

Characterized by legalistic commitment – “You have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV 1978).

Concerned more with external observance – Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’.” (Mark 7:6, NIV 1978).

Institutionalized System Of Religious Attitudes, Beliefs And Practices

Attitude that grace equals permissiveness – “Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible-but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, NIV 1978).

Beliefs often compromise the Word – See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends upon human tradition and the base principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV 1978).

Does not put religion into practice – “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice.” (Ezekiel 33:31, NIV 1978).

Scrupulous Conformity

Conforms to rules and rituals established by man – “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value.” (Colossians 2:23, NIV 1978).

A Cause, Principle Or System Held With Ardor And Faith

Adopts causes, principles or systems that are convenient – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3,4, NIV 1978).

CHURCHES THAT PROCLAIM THE TRUTH

The Service And Worship Of God Or The Supernatural

Insists upon service and worship of only true God – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV 1978).

Acknowledges that Christ is only path to God“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6, NIV 1978).

Commitment Or Devotion To Religious Faith Or Observance

Characterized by spirit of devotion – “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV 1978).

Concerned more with faithful heart – “What does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12, NIV 1978).

Institutionalized System Of Religious Attitudes, Beliefs And Practices

Attitude that grace is evidenced by obedience – “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed.” (James 1:25, NIV 1978).

Beliefs are consistent with the Word – “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9, NIV 1978).

Puts religion into practice – “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22, NIV 1978).

Scrupulous Conformity

Emphasis is on spiritual transformation – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2, NIV 1978).

A Cause, Principle Or System Held With Ardor And Faith

Strives to follow sound doctrine even if inconvenient – “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1Corinthians 15:1, 2, NIV 1978).

One definition, two applications that could not be further apart.  Yet Satan would have us believe that the first application is just as valid as the latter.  A more fitting definition of the one true “religion” would be”

  1. The service and worship of the only true God, accessible only by faith in Jesus Christ;
  2. Commitment and devotion that goes beyond external observance to a faith that transforms the heart;
  3. A personal relationship with Christ that develops an attitude of voluntary obedience and beliefs that are true to the Word, and that results in a faith that is practiced;
  4. Spiritual transformation and renewal;
  5. One Gospel, based on grace, accepted by faith and held firmly by the Word.

My Advice – It should be clear that a church is more than bricks and mortar. A building does not make a church. It is the people inside the building that make up the church. In fact some churches exist without a church building. Most, if not all, of the first century churches functioned quite well without a building program. But like a physical church building, the church body is only as solid as its foundation. It might look good on the surface, but underneath there may structural defects. The defect can be so serious that when the winds and rain comes it risks being blown away or falling.

This is why it must be built on a solid foundation (Christ). What does your Church stand on?  Who does it really serve and worship?  What is it committed and devoted to?  What are its attitudes beliefs and practices?  To whom is it conforming and does it result in transformation of the heart?  Is it following the cause of Christ with ardor and faith?