Why go to Church just to obey a set a rules?

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Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(2Co 3:17)

Many feel that the Church is a system of rules, or that it is legalistic. Perhaps you’ve thought that mandating Church attendance is a legalistic pursuit. That we should be free to attend as often, or as little as we wish to. The operative word here is “me.” A me-centered faith doesn’t do a whole lot, and ends up being legalistic. The same statement might be applied, “I only need to go to church once a month to be a Christian.” Now who’s being legalistic?

The question again isn’t about what I must do to be saved? That’s well established. It’s, “what must I do to grow in Christ?” When asked that way, we realize the hill is a little steeper. How often should I go to Church in order to grow in Christ? How often should I read my Bible, pray, go to Bible study, witness to my neighbor, in order to grow in Christ? I know that if I don’t do any of those things, I will not grow.

We know that faith in Christ isn’t based a set of rules, but that we often resort to rules to make our conscience comfortable. Abolish the rules you have set in your own life and pursue Christ with abandon. Demonstrate to others that Christianity is the free-est form of living there is, because we have total freedom in Christ.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Php 4:8-9)

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They Shall Look on Him They Have Pierced

Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced. (John 19:37)

The apostle John inserts this remark at the foot of the cross. Only John, of all the disciples, stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other women who followed Jesus. He is actually reciting an Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, one of the post-exilic prophets in the 5th-4th centuries BC.

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

This is a sad moment for the followers of Jesus, but something about this “piercing” has always bothered me. Why is “piercing” the operative word here? Certainly when Jesus was crucified, his hands and feet were “pierced” by nails and His side was “pierced” by a spear. And even after His resurrection, the evidence of these “piercings”
are still evident (John 20:25-27). Long after, in Revelation 5:6, Jesus’ appearance is as “a slaughtered lamb” standing in Heaven.  Forever Jesus bears the evidence of his crucifixion, the piercings in his hands and feet and side. But why? Couldn’t Jesus have chosen to rise in a body that doesn’t bear evidence of such trauma?

I believe part of this answer is found in the Law.

But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you, take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way.  (Deuteronomy 15:16-17)

Slaves who wished to stay with their masters after their term of slavery was up (seven years) were pierced with an awl in their ear. This means in symbol they were physically attached to your house, they belonged to you and your family for life. With our modern conceptions, this may seem a barbaric practice. But a slave, who previously sold himself to pay off debt, may find himself in a much better position serving someone else and their household, than by trying to make his own way. He may have found love and family in this new situation, and accepting the piercing was a permanent reminder of their decision.

Jesus was willing to be pierced as a slave. We had all been sold into slavery as sinners (Romans 6:17) and had no hope of redemption since no one could resist temptation and be free. Sin held us down and trapped us in death, and we have no hope without Jesus. In fact, slavery is a powerful image often employed in the New Testament to illustrate our plight.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death–that is, the Devil– and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)

But how did Jesus take all of our slavery upon Himself? He became a slave and bore the penalty of our sins. He had never sinned Himself, but offered Himself, His perfect sinless life, as payment for our debt. In exchange for His permanent enslavement, He was pierced, according to the Law. Instead of his ear to the doorpost, it was his hands and feet to the cross. As long as He lived, he would bear the payment of our sin.

But wait, Jesus died. Doesn’t that mean He is no longer a slave? Yes. But you see His payment was once for all.

so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.  (Hebrews 9:28)

Now He is alive, and no longer the slave. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, He still bears the marks of our slavery in His own flesh. Those are marks He received not because of necessity, but because of His love for us. Just as the slave gladly received the piercing to continue to be a part of the family, so Jesus accepted the piercing so that we could become part of His.

Interestingly, John again quotes the Zechariah passage above, but more completely in the book of Revelation.

Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him. And all the families of the earth will mourn over Him. This is certain. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Perhaps all the families will mourn because of the coming judgment, and that is certainly a part of what Revelation is about. But maybe many will mourn, remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for them, because they see the piercings in His hands and feet. They will see the piercings and weep because Jesus paid all of their debt and all they can give is their gratitude. Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions” and still bears the mark of His piercing.

 

P.S. I want to warn anyone who has ever had a Near Death Experience or talked to someone who has. Many of these people who die in the operating room or under similar circumstances may claim to have seen Jesus, be filled with peace and light and so on. If they have claimed to see Jesus, ask this simple question: Did you see the marks on his hands? Only the true and authentic Jesus bears these marks. That was how He proved Himself to Thomas. Any other Jesus is false cannot be trusted. And beware the false Jesus and his teachings.

Why go to Church when I am not loved there?

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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?

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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.

Why go to Church to hear someone tell me how to live and believe?

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This is the response that we should and do expect from someone resisting attending Church. “Why do I need to go to Church? I’m a good person.” This is probably the most honest question of all of these questions, because it comes from the heart of an unredeemed man. This is the basic struggle we all have, Christians or not, but it is its most bare when asked by a non-believer. For Christians, the question takes on different forms, like, “I like my own interpretation of God and my own beliefs and my relationship with God.” But it’s the same question. It is the question of rebellion and submission. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Pro 14:12; 16:25 ESV, also Romans 3:9-18)

When Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God in Genesis 4, Abel brought a lamb, freshly killed, to be burned upon the altar. Cain brought the produce of his fields. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Many scholars have weighed in on the story, saying that Abel’s sacrifice was offering the life of the lamb in place of himself, a pre-Mosaic understanding that only blood is an acceptable offering for atonement for one’s own sins. These same scholars then turn to Cain’s sacrifice saying that because it was not blood, it was not acceptable. While certainly possible, I think it goes deeper than this.

In every other religion in the world, aside from Christianity, a man was earn his salvation, doing more good than bad, tipping the scales in his favor. Somehow, every man’s heart knows that if there is to be an afterlife, he must account for his actions today. Therefore, every man who does more good than bad, or even those who are saintly in this life have certainly “earned” their way to heaven and earned God’s favor by doing such good. This is the essence of Cain’s sacrifice and all human religions. We have just enough truth in us to know that there is an accounting that must take place. Like Cain, We invest in ourselves, in our work, producing the very best crops, the best life we can, and at the end present the very best of our own efforts to the Lord to gain His favor. Yet God isn’t impressed.

Rather what impresses God is the understanding that we are insufficient to save ourselves. We cannot, in whatever fashion we create, invent or perform anything that will gain His favor. God made the universe. We cannot top that. What God sees is the submitted heart. He sees the sacrifice of Abel, the “I can’t do this on my own” of his offering. God isn’t looking for pride, but brokenness.

In Steven Spielberg’s movie “Ready Player One” this is illustrated beautifully. In the challenge of the movie’s premise, everyone must run a course with the very best car they can afford and win the race. Time after time, defeat after defeat, no one can win the race. It is unwinnable. It is finally discovered by the hero that the only way to win the race is to run backwards. Instead of racing forwards with all the other players and going as fast as you can, you put your car in reverse, and suddenly you are the winner, because it is the way the game Designer built it to win. In the movie, it is the only way to win the race, by not racing.

Like those characters, everybody is trying to win by putting their own best efforts into it. They are piling up their good works and trying to impress God. In truth, the only way to gain His favor is by admitting you have no good works, and you depend on Him for salvation. He has freely provided this in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. The only way to win is to lose.

Again, prayer is an appropriate response. The Spirit of God convicts a man of his pride and sinfulness (John 16:8-11) and we must pray for that, for their defenses to be softened by prayer. He will not care who died for him. All he wants is his freedom to sin. If you have answered the objections above, then you can lovingly confront him with the gospel and God’s Word. An ongoing, loving relationship will bring the rebellious to the foot of the Cross. A caring relationship with you will establish a caring relationship with your church, because a Christian without a Church is like a sailor without a ship.

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

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“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.

Growing Up

All it takes is a seed, and under the right conditions, a mighty plant will soon take its place. But growing righteousness is a careful thing. You must have light front the Son, His truth as your daily diet. You must surround yourself in the right environment, not immersed in the temptations that we easily fall prey to, but making every effort to live unstained by the world. As you grow, you will meet challenges to match your faithfulness. Storms will come that will try to blow you over back into the dirt. But the Master Gardener is there to pick you back up again. He is never far, and sees all your trouble. He wants you to grow, and will do all that you allow Him and maybe a bit more. Be firmly rooted in His soil, grow in His light, and feed faithfully upon His truth. God bless you today.