Happy Birthday, Church!


Today marks another birthday for the Church. Today the church is 1990 years old (assuming an early date for the resurrection of AD 30). We mark today as the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, and the day that the Holy Spirit fell upon the early disciples and empowered them to deliver the good news to the people gather in Jerusalem. By contrast, Tabernacle/ Temple Judaism lasted from 1440 BC to AD 70, which was about 1509 years (you don’t count the zero year). From a group of 120 on the day before 3000 were added, to today, where a quarter of the earth’s population (about 2 billion) is considered Christian, that’s quite a feat. I think the Church is here to stay.

The church has suffered countless persecutions and been nearly wiped out in one area after another, and yet even today “the gates hell will not prevail against it.” The Church survives, thrives and continues. Jesus is that important. So a three-month closure of church buildings in the United States is not the worst thing to ever happen to the church. Asking Churches to close due to COVID-19 will not destroy the church.

I don’t know who said it, but I have heard the saying that the tree of liberty has to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots. I think that means that from generation to generation, there need to be tangible examples of why we continue to strive for freedom. I also hold that the same ought to be true for the church. For the church to resist complacency, there ought to be from time to time the onus of persecution placed upon the church. The church needs to suffer occasionally to remind everyone that we do not belong to this world. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven. And when Christians are made to stand out in a crown of their peers, mocked or even jeered, we find faith tested and made sure. Will you still believe when the world singles you out? Will you testify to your faith or duck behind the cover of conformity?

1900 years ago or so, Christians were ordered, along with everyone else, to pay homage to the Emperor by coming before an altar, pouring out a little oil or wine, and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” This was no casual usage of lord, as it was meant to say, Caesar is the almighty deity. Christians in good conscience could not do this. They could not bow to the will of the state. But not all. Some Christians reasoned among themselves that it’s only words. It’s only a little oil. And they looked down on their brothers who would not give such “respect” to the governing authorities. Those who refused were arrested for atheism (yes, that was a legal charge in ancient Rome) for refusing to worship the Emperor. Many were beaten, some even put to death. All because they wouldn’t pour out a little oil and say a few words.

I think we need this “light and momentary affliction” upon the church. We need a little persecution, and little inconvenience, to put our faith to the test. Do we really believe what we believe, or is it just words? Do we really believe God is sovereign? Or do we allow the State to tell us when and where to worship? I can admit that for a short time, the Church can listen to Science and heed its warnings. I also believe that short time has passed. States that continue to hold on their their power of forbidding assembly, particularly for the Church, are putting themselves in the place of God, and have never had the right to do so.

If Science is true, then in a few days, we will start to see the rioters and looters begin to get sick, and their hospitals will be overloaded, and Science will be vindicated. But if they do not, why should Christians be arrested to meeting together peacefully and worship the Creator and the Savior through the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when they let pass hordes of rioters and looters without reprisal?

The time for abundance of caution has passed. Now those who love God will be revealed as they emerge from their homes to worship in the Lord’s house. Can you worship in your own home? Absolutely. I hope you do everyday. But let us not forsake the meeting of ourselves together in the assembly. It is a strong statement to the world that the Church is alive and well, even after 1990 years.

God grant us the strength and courage to stand against those who would keep us from You, who by their demands for “an abundance of caution” and “flattening the curve” keep peaceful Christians from meeting together for worship. Lord I know the issues are complex, and the Church is flexible, but Father let us not shun one another. We were not called to shun and “social distance” but to love, to expand the gospel, and this You have placed upon us as Your ambassadors. Lord grant us wisdom in this. Help us to be as peacful as doves, but as wise as serpents. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Thoughts and Prayers


While it is always in vogue to mock Christians, non- Christians were unusually brutal in mocking the Christian habit of sending “thoughts and prayers” when disaster happens. Yesterday saw the death of a celebrity basketball player. Though I have not seen then, I have no doubt that many sent “thoughts and prayers” to the family. Is there anything wrong with that?

That is the subject of today’s text, for the Psalmist asked the Lord about it. He was concerned both for the words of his mouth (prayers) and the meditations of his heart (thoughts) would be acceptable to God. As a Christian, we better be sure that the thoughts and prayers we send are likewise.

What the non-Christians mock is hypocrisy. It is very easy to type “thoughts and prayers” and go on about your day. It would be a sad thing to offer both and do neither. To which the non-Christian rightly responds that you have done nothing. In fact, it is worse than nothing. Because you have offered to intervene before the King of the Universe on their behalf, praying for their comfort and peace, and done neither. It is akin to apathy to say such a thing of love and compassion and then forget it. Words mean things. If your words are empty, then your faith is hollow.

If you offer thoughts and prayers for the hurt and grieving, then follow through. Pray for that family. Put their needs before you and meditate on them. What if it was you. What would you need right now? Pray for that if you cannot offer it yourself.

Dear Father, if we have been hypocrites when it comes to interceding for others, please extend Your grace to us, but also with our repentance the reminder of this lesson. We have an important role in this world. From our lips the world hears the gospel message. Let that message be pure and undefiled. Let it be free from denominational dogmatism. Let it flow purely from Your grace into the hearts of men. Help us to be more like You dear Father. Help us today we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Does No Wrong


I believe we have been lured into one of Satan’s most ingenious traps. As Christian people, we have first been lured into the idea that we are all about love. We have been told that Love trumps all, and that God is a God of love. For the most part, this is true. But love has been emphasized so much, it has been emphasized over truth and logic. Is that so wrong? As the first part of this verse suggests, love does no wrong, thus, if I do something in the name of love, it cannot be wrong. Do you see where this is going? 

Now Christians are known for being people of love. Our God is love. Our own book says so. So how can we possibly say a thing is wrong if it is done in love? People living together who aren’t married? That ‘s not living in sin anymore. That living in love. People of the same sex who love each other? No problem! They’re in love. What’s the issue? People who love children? Don’t fret yourself. It ‘s still love even if only one party consents, right?

And now all of us Christians have to keep our mouths shut. We’ve been preaching love for centuries. We can’t go back now. This is all love. It’s all good. We are hypocrites if we say these kinds of love are bad. And a hypocritical Christian is a charge we cannot recover from. Oh what a clever trap. We have preached ourselves into a corner because we have only emphasized part of the Word. In our effort to appeal to the masses, we have ignored the weightier matters.

In this verse is the solution. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love does not and cannot break the law. Love does not make new law, or what was wrong now right. Love is the fulfillment of the law, for what the law prevented by its “don’t’s”, love fulfill by emphasizing its positive. Thou shall not steal becomes respect another’s property. Thou shalt not commit adultery becomes respect the boundaries of your marriage and otbers. Love even calls us to resist anyone else who who would trod upon these values. See must uphold justice when others cannot do themselves. We must advocate for those that cannot speak. If it is in our power to do good, then it is a sin not to.

Love is far more powerful than law, but love never contradicts the law. If we are to love, we must also respect the law, for both come from God, and God does not contradict Himself.

God bless you on this Friday!

Strength for the Journey


Looking at this verse I came to a revelation. Trust isn’t passive. When you look at the verbs this verse uses, it begins with “trust in the Lord” and then continues with three action verbs that describe this renewal of strength. The first is “soar” as if in active flight. The second “run” as in rapidly moving across land, and third “walk” at a slower pace, but still moving. All of these verbs suggest movement. Trust is not passive, something you receive. Trust is active, and calls for movement.

Trust requires exercise.

How do you exercise your trust in God? You can do things He has told you He would equip you for. You can volunteer at church and trust that God will provide with ability to fulfill it (like kids ministry). Or you could witness to others, with the confidence that God has already prepared hearts to receive the gospel. You could practice your faith before others, trusting God to give you a ready defense in that hour you are questioned about it.

Passive faith is never tested. Passive trust stays in the shadows of our life. “Faith without world is dead” said James many years ago. He’s not wrong. If people can’t tell you are a Christian by your actions, don’t bother telling them. That’s where hypocrites come from. Don’t be a hypocrite.

God bless you today. Exercise your faith. Be strong!

Why go to Church when all the Church people I know don’t act any different than I do?


“Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
(Mal 3:13-15)

The basic problem here is Christian hypocrisy, though it includes the world’s definition of what being a Christian is. The world expects Christians to behave in a certain way, always cheerful and happy, saying, “Hallelujah!” every so often, heads bowed in prayer over just about everything. They believe in the caricature of Christianity, rather than the real thing. That said, the world sees us as hypocrites when we say we are Christians, but then have divorces, and cheat on our taxes, or cheat others in business dealings, or use foul language, or a host of other vices we succumb to. Perhaps their judgment is justified then. As Christians, we ought to be more aware of our behavior, especially as it is before God. We need to be reminded of 1 Peter 2:12.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
(1Pe 2:12)

While we may not change the caricature the World believes in, we can change our behavior. We must make it plain that we do not consider ourselves better than anyone else, and we are sinners too, though saved by the grace of God. (Ephesians 2:8) That only comes through a closer walk with God. Then we must build relationships with non-Christians, so that they can see what a Christian is really like.

A Neglected Issue

Should the church check your pay stub at the door and demand the first ten percent off the top? Should the church ask you a list of personal accountability questions when you’ve reached the pew to see if you are worthy to take communion? Should it do background checks on potential members before we baptize them? Does the church make Jesus’ blood too cheap, God’s grace too cheap, that we will ignore obvious sins for the sake of keeping people happy? Since these are biblical issues, we need to address them.

I’ve seen some churches who take a soft line when it comes to sin. They will let anyone in, and ask no one to change their lifestyle, their habits, or their attitudes. They say that God’s grace is open to everyone, and no one should be put out. Paul talks about this attitude in 1 Corinthians 5 when he chastises the Corinthian church for permitting a couple of members to attend who were ostensibly living together, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1Co 5:1-2) Now we may try to justify such behavior with platitudes, saying that you just don’t know all the facts, and if you just knew, you would be more understanding, and ignore what is at the root of the thing, sin.

Let’s be honest, there are several sins that have become permissible in modern society, as Paul would say, “among the pagans”. The boundaries of marriage have become quite fragile. We have been sold a lie that consenting adults are just as good as married (to one another) adults. Broken homes, loveless, faithless marriages resulting in divorce, cohabitation, single parents, even homosexual couples are everywhere. Marriage isn’t as inviolable as it used to be. Pregnancy out of wedlock isn’t as shameful as it once was. Is Paul’s standard here what is permissible or not among the pagans? If it is ok among pagans, does that mean it is ok in the house of God? That sounds to me a shameful way to decide if something is permissible among the church’s membership.

Yet, there are several sins that have become permissible in the church setting. We excuse people who don’t attend the Lord’s worship, even though Hebrews 10:25 says we ought not to “neglect meeting together.” I know there are several that are holding grudges against one another for past grievances, even though we are told in Matthew 18:15, “”If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Mat 18:15) We are told several times in the Scriptures to share the gospel, but we rarely do it because it makes us uncomfortable. Let’s be clear (to coin a phrase), we have all sinned, and continue to do so, and will do so until we mature sufficiently to overcome them.

All Sin is sin, and equally dangerous to one’s salvation, regardless of the circumstances, and it should be repented of and removed. But, I think it is safe to say that we all sin, and we will disagree as to how much church discipline ought to be enforced in such matters, because we all know somebody caught in one of these sins (including ourselves) we want to be gentle with.

Paul is pointing out an extreme case to shame the church for her permissiveness. These are symptoms of a sin disease that only the church has the cure for, and they weren’t supplying a cure, but a medium in which the sin could thrive. Sin should never be encouraged, but the sinner should be loved. Was a person ever shamed into accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, or were they loved into it? Does Jesus call through shame, or through grace? But isn’t that just the thing, we experience shame for our sin, but grace through the cross?

This is what leads churches to take a soft line when it comes to sin. We all fall short of the glory of God, and for me to point out someone else’s sin is tantamount to Jesus’ words in Matthew, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mat 7:2-5) We are warned against being judgmental, and taking pride in our relatively “righteous” position. Taken to the extreme, this attitude forbids any judgment whatsoever, even when the behavior is clearly prohibited by Scripture. This is a kind of “no rules” Christianity where everyone is permitted to do as they please, because “Everyone is going to heaven anyway”. This is usually the position of the Unitarian Universalist Church, or the Mainline Disciples of Christ or United Church of Christ.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2) A Church’s leaders have a responsibility to shepherd the flock and to keep them away from trouble, but of course, some take that to an extreme. They preach that they must be free from certain obvious “sins” to be considered members in good standing, such as: No dancing, no card-playing, no cohabitation, no pregnancy out of wedlock, no homosexuality, no drug or alcohol abuse, must be in good physical health, must be attending a certain number of services every week, and contributing a certain percentage of their income, as figured based on their submitted pay stubs. (Remember I said “obvious sins” because hidden sins are usually fostered in this kind of environment, namely pride, conceit, judgmentalism, and legalism, but also murder: remember that the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader (arrested 2005) was a leader in his Lutheran Congregation, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Rader) These are the churches where the horror stories come from. These are the churches that have “complaint night” where members attend a special meeting to present their grievances against other members before the Elders, so that the elders can pass summary judgment. (I am not kidding, I heard about a church that regularly had these kind of meetings.) These are also the churches at which only men are allowed in any church officer position, and only men are considered for service at the table. This is Westboro Baptist Church writ large.

Now, considering our church, I’d say we are somewhere in between these two positions. I would say we have attendance and membership standards, but to be honest we are fairly lax, because we don’t want to offend anyone (and thus cause someone who doesn’t attend to never attend again. This statement is probably considered offensive all by itself).But let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t do as well in our walk as we know we ought to. We always want to keep the door open for the Prodigal and the sin-weary, because we believe the church is a place for healing and growth. Sometimes that growth is painful, which is where the Word comes in, instructing us and teaching us the right path to follow. We don’t all come in on that right path, but Christianity never forces anyone to approach Christ. It is completely voluntary.

But this is also why we ask our leaders and our officers to be individuals of exemplary moral character, because the blind can’t lead the blind, otherwise both will fall into the pit. If you are considering a position on the Church Board, you will be vetted, just a “heads up”. Because even though the member in the pew is still growing and maturing in faith, the member who serves the congregation ought to be mature in faith. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. . . . They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1Ti 3:6,9)

We are not a church that will ask you for your pay stubs at the door, but we will ask you to be an example for the flock if you aspire to service in this congregation. We would not force you to do anything you don’t want to do, but we will encourage you to do something,. We may not be perfect, but we are willing to serve. Let us serve Him who saved us, the Risen Lord!