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?

A Cry For Revival

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My Musings – The above verse is a conditional statement.  Conditional statements contain a hypothetical (if) and a consequence (then) when the conditions of the hypothetical are met.

If – Something(s) that must happen:

  • My people, called by My name – In the context of the above verse, this was Israel.  Today, we could apply it to the Church.
  • Will humble themselves – Freed from pride and arrogance. An expression of deference or submission.
  • Pray – To speak to God especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something.
  • Seek My face – To go in search of, to look for, to try to discover.
  • Turn – To face an opposite or different direction.
  • From Wicked Ways – Morally very bad, evil.

Then – Before something else can happen:

  • I will hear – To pay attention to.
  • I will forgive – Pardon, cancel a debt.
  • I will heal – Correct or put right an undesirable situation.

My Advice – We often attribute the declining state of morality on society in general.  Yet the above verse places the responsibility on the people of God.  We know what we (the Church) need to do (if) in order for God to hear our appeal for the “land” to be healed.  A verse from an old song states “that it only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon those all around, can warm up in the glowing.”  Be a spark in your local Body, then “pass it on.”  We have to have a spark before we can have a fire.  We have to get it going, before we can expect the glowing.

Carried On To Completion

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My Musings – “I thank my God every time I remember you.”  Really?  Well, family  certainly.  Friends, possibly.  Partners in the Gospel?  Well, maybe not every time.  But you see they don’t always share equally in the partnership.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.”  With joy?  All, all, always?  Well maybe not all my  prayers.  Maybe not all of them.  Maybe not always with joy.  But you, know, some times they disappoint me.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”  Confident?  But you don’t know them like I do.  They’ve wandered.  They’re inconsistent. They’re far from complete.

Always Thankful – We have the family, friends and partners in the Gospel that God put in our lives.  And He put us in theirs.  If we are not thanking God every time we remember them, maybe it is us who are not sharing equally?

Always Pray With Joy – In all our prayers, if we don’t pray for them with joy, maybe we aren’t as thankful as we should be.  If we were, wouldn’t we always be joyful when we prayed for them?

Confident of Completion – If God did begin the good work, He will bring it to completion.  If we lack confidence in this we are focusing too much on the wandering and inconsistency and not enough on the “author and perfecter of our faith.

My Advice – Always thank God when you remember the people in your life.  They are a gift to you and you are a gift to them.  Pray with joy in all your prayers for all the people in your life.  They may not always make you happy.  Don’t let those periodic lapses and disappointments rob you of your joy because of them.  Place your confidence in God. That He will complete what He started in their lives.  Don’t let their temporary detours cause you to lose confidence in their ultimate destination.  Be encouraged.

Read the text again.  Wouldn’t you like to have people in your life that are like Paul?  Then why not “do unto others what you would have them do unto you?”  What would our family, friends and Gospel partnership relationships be like if we did?  Talk about thankfulness. Talk about joyfulness.  Talk about confidence.  All wrapped up in a passion for Christlikeness.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 8, 2019.  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 too.

 

 

My 85 Year Old Mom Is A Cheerleader

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My Musings – The above quote from Jesus follows immediately after Peter’s great confession to Jesus’ inquiry ““who do you say I am?”  Peter replied, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16, NIV 1984).  Most of the focus on this verse is on what Jesus meant by “this rock.”  Did he mean Peter?  Was He referring to Himself?  Or is the rock Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah?  Learned theologians cannot agree on this, so I am sure I cannot shed any light on it.  But what I want to focus on in today’s musing is “My Church.”

“My Church.”  There is no mistaking whose Church it is.  But today, many within the Church  want to wrest control from Jesus and make it (keep it) their Church.  They want the worship style to be this way or that.  The time of the service must start no earlier (or later) than this time or that time.  The preacher must not speak any longer than… Well, you get the picture.

Now today, the Church is under increasing criticism, if not downright persecution.  With the increasing influence of secular humanism, relative morality, and it’s “my” view or no view in our schools, in the media and society in general, we (the Church) are in danger of losing the “next generation.”  While there are many things worth “fighting” for in the Church, the above mentioned “non-negotiables” (style, time, length) don’t make the list.

If the Church loses the next generation, where will the Church be?  God will always have His remnant, but how big will that remnant be?  Are we really so vested in the way it’s always been done that we risk that loss?  Are we so insistent that it be “my” Church to such an extent that we have no one to pass it on to?  Now I am not saying we water-down the Gospel to Christianity lite.  There are certain things that are non-negotiable, and we know what those are.

My 85 year old mom understood this.  “Her” Church (the one I grew up in and accepted Christ) was in decline.  It was literally dying off.  Either the lampstand’s light would go out or it needed new oil.  That’s why they voted to become a “satellite” Church of a much larger congregation in a larger town.  And this brought a lot of changes.  Most of which involved those sacred items (style, time and length).  The unadulterated proclamation of the Gospel was not one of the changes.  And in the final analysis, that is what really matters – that the Truth continues to be proclaimed.

While my mom has her own ideas and preferences of what she would like worship services to be, she understood.  She embraced the changes and became one of the leading “cheerleaders” for the Church she knew was not hers, but His.  Her name is not Gladys (its Roberta), and she cannot jam on the electric guitar, but she knows “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24).

My Advice – Always remember, and never forget, it’s His Church.  He wants to build it, not see us tear it down over things that really do not matter.

Here are a couple snapshots of my 85 years young mom:  on her knees on the floor  showing me how to fix her vacuum and snow blowing her sidewalks (plans to give that up this year).

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Keeping It Holy

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My Musings – The Sabbath day, according to the Old Covenant is the seventh day of the week (Saturday).  For most Christian faiths, however, the day of rest and worship is the first day of the week (Sunday), because that is the day Christ rose from the dead and ushered in the New Covenant.

It certainly is observed much differently today than when I was a kid.  Nowadays there is less rest and less worship.  We rush here and there doing this and that and at times are more exhausted by Sunday evening than we were on Friday evening.  We can sit and watch football all afternoon, but the sermon better be over by noon at the latest, so we can get on with “our” day.  Of course, that’s if we are there at Church at all.

My Advice – Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man.  We need that day to set aside for our rest and to commune with and worship our Lord.

Belong

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Romans 12:3-6For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  (NIV 1984).

My Musings – Far too many Christians are going their own separate ways these days, believing that they can worship anywhere (which they can) and can get along just fine with the fellowship of a local church (which they cannot).  Others prefer to skip in, blend in and skip back out, without building relationships within the body.  In they process they gain little and contribute little. Often on their way back home they comment “well, I didn’t get much out of that service,” missing the point entirely.

It is never about how much we get.  It is always about how much we give.  And ironically, the more we  give the more we end up getting.  Iron sharpens iron, and it is hard to sharpen anything without something to rub up against.  It is difficult for anyone to grow sharper spiritually without rubbing up against other believers in fellowship, worhsip, prayer and the Word.  Sure, we can get by, but that’s somewhat like the steward that buried his talents and was only able to give back to the master what he had been given, nothing more.

“As much as we like to think that it is our smarts [spirituality] that get us a head, it is not everything.  Our intelligence [Spiritual maturity] give us ideas and instructions.  But it is our ability to cooperate that actually helps us get those things done.  Nothing of real value on this earth was built by one person without the help of others.  There are few accomplishments, companies, [churches] or technologies that were built by one person without the or support of anyone else.  It is clear that the more others want to help us [and we them], the more we can achieve [grow].” (From Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek).

My Advice – Don’t you want to give back more?  Don’t you want to help others do the same?  Find a local church and do more than just blend in – belong.  Because whether you admit it or not, that is where you do belong.

Enriched in Poverty

Revelation 2:9 – “I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!” (NIV 1978)

My Musings – It’s all a matter of perspective. The world may see poverty on the outside, but God sees the riches of Christ in our hearts.

My Advice – There may be lean years early in your career. But remember, no matter how little you have in your bank account, you are rich because you have Christ in your heart.