Why go to Church if it doesn’t mean anything to me?

IMG20049

The problem here is that the non-Christian sees the Church as irrelevant. This is half-true. Many Churches gave up trying to be relevant years ago, just focusing on preserving what few they have left and keeping up appearances until Jesus comes back. I have seen churches give up on trying to reach the world because it costs too much. For them, evangelism isn’t relevant to their mission. The lost-ness of the world doesn’t mean anything to them. Many “little old church ladies” are more concerned about making sure their preacher’s shirts appear ironed than about making sure their neighbor knows about Jesus.

A man will not see any logical reason to attend a church service in order to preserve his soul. It simply doesn’t make sense. How does attending an hour or more a week with a group of people you kinda know change your eternity? The answer is, it doesn’t. That answer is in the saving power of Jesus Himself. Only then do you understand the spiritual significance of His Body, the Church. The non-Christian will not feel compelled to come to Church until their soul has been touched and made sensitive to its need for redemption. It is odd too the animosity expressed toward Church, since for the most part it is harmless, except when it isn’t.

But Christians too fall victim to this problem. Some might say, “The message I hear on Sunday morning is not the same truth that I read in the Bible.” Others might throw in that they feel the Church just doesn’t speak to them where they are, or that the Bible they hear on Sunday morning isn’t relevant to their lives. This is usually a symptom of a Christian who doesn’t spend much time with God through the week. For a person far from God will fail to pick Him out of a crowded soul.

For Christians, the answer is easy. Spend more time with God, and just with God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) You want to come away from a Church service filled? Hunger for righteousness. Thirst for Righteousness. Desire even more time with God, and you will not leave unsatisfied.

Non-Christians will acquire a desire for Church when they see such desire modeled. When they see the fire kindled in believers for the Word of God and the fellowship of the Church, they will have a desire for God, a hunger for the presence of Jesus in them. They look for His face in yours.

Advertisements

Why go to Church when I am not loved there?

IMG20049

It ought to be to the Church’s shame that this statement is every uttered. This hearkens back to the last question, but it is the more naked resentment and hurt feelings. It is hard to win back those who have had a prior relationship with your church. “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” (Pro 18:19 ESV)

Again, the problem seems complicated. There are a couple of possibilities.  The person in question is complaining because he or she doesn’t “feel” loved. At some point in the past, someone offended them and now they believe that everyone in the church feels the same way as that individual, since no one else offered an apology, or came and visited their home (I have heard this expressed). More likely no one else knows about the offense. It is just as likely, everyone knows the person who did the offending, and don’t want to “rock the boat”. This kind of church believes that one person leaving the church is easier to stomach with than confronting with the Offender. Personally, I believe that such an Offender needs to be dealt with as Ananias and Sapphira, but that is God’s judgment to decide, not mine.

However, for the offended, they are depriving the whole fellowship of the Body of Christ by not attending any Church because of their own hurt feelings. The Whole body suffers when one suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26). This behavior is selfish, that is, it cannot see past itself and its own pain. And such a one believes that it is he who deserves the apology from all, or even a few, rather to take the example of Christ, and accept the suffering for His sake. They may well be owed an apology, but is it for them decide whether this grievance should keep them from all fellowship? Did Christ demand an apology from the Jews who insulted him at the foot of the cross? Does Christ demand an apology from you every time you insult Him by ignoring Him, or pushing him aside for your own priorities? What this question shows isn’t a greater holiness, but a lack of grace, though such was extended to them through Christ. (Matthew 18:21-35)

Why go to Church if Church is unfamiliar and uncomfortable?

IMG20049

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Heb 10:24-25)

Most non-Christians avoid the Church because it is unfamiliar. They believe that they need to have “church clothes” in order to attend and not be shunned. Sadly, many churches shun new attendees exactly because they are unfamiliar, especially close-knit and clique-ish type churches. (James 2:1-4) Then again, people will attend church even if it is standing room only, if its message is relevant enough, its people warm enough, and its worship inviting enough.

First, we must dispel the notion that we require a certain type of person we accept for attendance. We ought to be welcoming to all. Shame on any believer that makes style of clothing a standard for fellowship. When the church began, it was the clothing of slaves and ordinary people that made the cut. There was no such thing as Sunday clothes. Sunday was a work day back then.

But second,  understand that this question is probably a smoke-screen. It is not the building or pews, or most times even the strangers they meet there that give rise to this question. It is the emotional attachments to previous buildings or relationships that make a person feel truly uncomfortable in church. Whether a person attended a funeral at a church, or went there as a kid, or knows someone in the church who has hurt them or whom they have hurt, a person will feel uncomfortable with church. Help them work through their hurt, maybe even the resolution of hurt feelings. But most importantly, love and understanding will help this person overcome their fears. It will take time, but “don’t give up on meeting together.” If the person feels uncomfortable with going to church, offer to pray with them, and offer to sit with them.

Third, now that they have settled into a particular routine of not going, even going to another church will be difficult. People go to new churches because that is where their friends are going. Having an inside connection like a friend will go a long way to getting someone to try going to church for the first time. This also means that simply “inviting” someone to church isn’t enough. If you invite someone to your church, who do they know? Your best kids program and preacher’s sermon won’t be enough to keep a casual attender. They will stay because of who they know. Try being that person.

Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places

image

Christ arose! He arose! Hallelujah Christ Arose! Let us shout it from the mountain tops and proclaim it to the nations. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Son of God. He is the Messiah! And He’s Alive! So that the world may know Jesus is Lord!

But there is wrongness to the world. We see it in the various symptoms: abuse of illicit and prescription drugs, the sexualization of children whose definition gets younger every day, deficit spending at all levels, from personal to federal, an irrational selfishness in adults, single and married, parents and children, and even a redefinition of traditions and social foundations (marriage, lifestyle, gender).

In all of this there is a lostness, an ever-further seeking of happiness and contentment, which refuses to be satisfied; lust for power, lust for sex, lust for possessions. It is a lust whose goal is elusive, for man was not built to be satisfied with the things of this world. No amount of depravity or perversity will ever be enough. For in man’s heart is an immortal soul. “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccl. 3:11) Therefore only the means of God can fill it, and give man the endless joy he craves.

“Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, she had tried marriage. She was trying living together. She still wasn’t satisfied. Not until she met Jesus, for in Jesus she found joy. In Him, she found fulfillment.

As a nation, our problems are grave. The question is becoming “How do we manage its loss?”, rather than “How do we save it?” As His Church, we bear some responsibility, for the church has been silent. But we don’t have to be silent any more. This news, this greatest news of all time, is not ours to keep to ourselves. There are millions of people, just like the Samaritan woman, who hunger for fulfillment and finding nothing. They are trying everything but the one things, the one person who can truly satisfy them. His name is Jesus. He is alive today, because He is Risen! Because He is alive, He can be known. Because He is resurrected, He can also hear you, fill you, and abide with you.

God’s Plan for Church Growth

IMG20098

When we see the empty pews, there is a sense of wrongness to it. Church growth seminars and conferences try to lay out cookie-cutter versions of sure-fire means to add more people to those pews, but we are always missing something, some drive, some gift, some fire that sees us into sustainable growth. In the early days of the church, growth was explosive and dynamic. When we read those passages, we marvel at how easy it was to add 3000 (Acts 2:41) or 5000 (Acts 4:4) in one day. Are we doing something wrong?

Some say we need more door-to-door canvassing, like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While that may be a helpful tool (as home visits are for church members), we never see that used in the New Testament (unless God directs you to visit, like the story of Peter with Cornelius). Paul’s method was going synagogue to synagogue, finding people who were already attracted to God’s Word. Of all the conversion stories in Acts, almost all of them were already believers in God, or followers of God in some way, like Jews or believing Gentiles. In Philippi the Jailer was converted after listening to Paul and Silas sing all night surviving a miraculous earthquake. In Athens, a couple of people were converted after listening to Paul preach to the Areopagus.

In all of the letters to the Churches we rarely read anything related to our idea of Church growth. You would think that there would be an occasion for some apostle to write to a church about how to make it grow, but in fact, no church is ever given evangelism ideas, programs, or gimmicks to get pews filled, membership rolls expanded, or churches bigger. You would think that this subject would be of vital importance to the early church, but the only instructions we get are contained in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) with the Church’s strategic plan in Acts 1:8. But the greatest plan the New Testament reveals is in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” For us, we are called to plant, and to water, but God gives the increase.

On balance most of the New Testament accounts speak of people who already believed in God, who then spread the Word through family and friends. God’s plan for growth follows what J. W. McGarvey observes as “The Rule of Success”, witnessing where you will have the best chance of success.

So the question for us is, “where will we have the best chance of success?” The best answer to that is actually people you know, or get to know. These are people you meet every day. But remember another lesson from the New Testament. The people who are telling others about Jesus are completely committed to Jesus, willing to give even their lives to serve Him. This love for Jesus and love for other people are the two best ways to evangelize.

Are You Sure?

IMG20051

Though salvation may not be at the top of everyone’s list, everyone has an opinion about salvation.

First, there are those that dismiss the importance of salvation. “If there is no God,” they repeat, “why do I need to be saved?” Yet behind the atheistic agenda of many in this camp, there is a pious heritage against which they rebel. There is a Christian grandmother who died from cancer, and they blame a God who would let it happen. There is an overbearing Christian father who forced them to go to church every Sunday. A Christian mother who endured a violent marriage, and so on. These folks need our prayers, and our sympathy, not our fear or judgment.

Second, there are those who assume they are saved today because of a distant act in the past, like getting baptized when they were an infant, or raising their hand and praying the sinner’s prayer in front of the TV. These are folks that may be getting only part of the story, and need like an Apollos (Acts 18:26) a teaching more comprehensive of the way of salvation.

Third, there are those who assume that their “salvation” years ago and their name put into a church ledger is all that is required for entrance into heaven, like they passed a spelling test when they were in first grade and can tackle the National Spelling Bee today. Being baptized into Christ is great and effective, justifying us before God in heaven, but there is that element of maturity (sanctification) we still need to perfect.

Fourth, there is still another group who have been saved in the traditional sense, but even today don’t know if they are going to heaven, because their understanding of grace and works is lacking. They worry constantly that their salvation is in constant jeopardy because they still commit sin. Didn’t Jesus die for all your sins, or just the ones you committed before you were baptized?

Of course the point of this series is simple: You can be sure if you are saved. God did not deliver us from sin to live in constant worry and anxiety about our status with Him. God’s word makes it clear for all who have properly applied their faith to salvation, both before and after baptism.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Rom 8:1-2, HCSB)

The Promised Bride

IMG20022

Though the wife and I married in April, our first plan was to marry in December. We made this decision at the end of the year. We had imagined another full year of preparation and planning, but then we came to our senses and realized 12 months was 8 months too long. As it is, I’ve always wondered about the connection between Christmas and weddings.

There is a sense of gift-giving in the marriage ceremony. The father of the bride gives her away to her groom. The bride and groom make promises to “have and to hold from this day forward.” The reception too involves a great many gifts and well-wishes for the bride and groom. In the marriage, the bride and groom, ideally, give of themselves completely for the mutual encouragement and companionship of the other. It isn’t so much a partnership but a sacrificial gift of each to the other. Each gives of himself or herself wholly to the other.

That’s why as we turn to the Christmas season, I remind you of the old adage, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” God promised centuries ago that One promised “from the foundation of the world” would one day come to shepherd his people Israel. “Something blue” reflects Joseph, who struggles with questions of love and justice for his bride to be. “Something borrowed” refers to Mary’s womb, which she willingly offered to the Lord as His servant. But all of this leads to “something new”, something no one had ever seen, the foundation of our faith.

God had divorced ancient Israel for all her abominations and idolatries. When we go through her kings, we discover a gradual slide to her exile and punishment. He had written a bill of divorcement so she would be no longer called “my people.” He extends his hand through His Son Jesus Christ to the bride of Christ. Why did Jesus come, to preach, heal others and die? That was just the beginning. All of this was so that His bride might be born (Ephesians 5:25-27) and made ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) and the consummation of the ages at the last time, and He receives us unto Himself. Will you be ready when He is revealed, and we see Him as He is, when our veil lifted?