So, Are You Coming?

If you are one of those 33% that don’t go to church anywhere, then this article is for you. So those of you who are already members AND regular attenders at a church, either this one, or elsewhere, I ask you to give this article to someone you know.

Now, it’s just us. You the rare-if-ever church-goer, and me, the minister of a local church. The question that plagues me is what can I do, or what can I say that might encourage you to darken the doors of our church building? You may have some objection to coming to church, and this I fully understand. There are times when 9:30am is really too early to be in a church building on a Sunday morning. Sometimes I am tired from my busy weekend and would really just rather stay in bed. I can’t. And its not just the fact that I have to preach on Sunday morning, but that I want to be in this church. This is where all my friends are. The people I love come to church. This is my family.

Some people just don’t like church. It’s filled with too much politics. If you agree with this statement, I am your newest best friend. You are the kind of person that truly loves the Lord. Amen, brother. Because you have a place reserved for you in Heaven. I hate church politics. It only gets in the way of real worship and expression. What we need here at Jesus’ Church are more people that think like this. They are willing to worship Jesus no matter what. If you are willing to trust in Jesus alone, then you have a home here with us.

Some people have been to this church before and have either been burned or felt that they weren’t welcome here. I want to tell you that this church isn’t your father’s church or the preacher’s church. This is Jesus’ church and it belongs to Him. We have the great privilege of being invited to belong.

Listen, I don’t want to beat you up over this, but it’s very important that you find out the answer to this question: If you were to die tonight, and God asked you at His throne, “why should I let you into my Heaven?”, I want you to be prepared to answer. Only Christians can say with confidence, “Because Christ has died for me.”

Christ isn’t just an odd concept. He is a living, real person. He has done a marvelous thing for us. He lived just like we do. He was working-class, and never made any bones about it. He lived his life, the best life that was ever lived, and died for you. He died so that you, and I mean you on a personal level, could stand before His Father, and answer. Your eternity depends on it. Don’t wait any longer. You need to decide today.

Free, Free at Last!

Hey, It’s Independence Day again. Another year, another birthday for our wonderful country. But when we look around us, we might wonder, freedom from what? In a land where our income is taxed, our property is taxed, our sales are taxed, and even our death is taxed, we might ask, “Where was the freedom promised to us on “Independence Day”? What are we free from? We can’t do anything that we want to. We live in a society that governs our behavior, from the kind of toothpaste we use in the morning (approved by the FDA) to the kinds of television we watch (approved by the FCC) to the roads we drive on (managed and patrolled by State Troopers). Almost everything we do has had a government hand in it at one time or another. But we have freedom at the expense of security, and security at the expense of freedom.

As Christians, we celebrate freedom of a different kind, the freedom from sin. You may not be aware of it, but if you have not made a confession of Christ, you are in slavery, to sin. What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God. You may say at this point, but I don’t sin, I haven’t killed anyone, or stolen anything big. I might remind you that God’s standard is far stricter than one or two major sins. James (2:10) tells us that any sin, from a white lie, to looking too long at a pretty woman, can convict us in God’s court. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” In God’s court there is only one sentence, life, in the worst prison ever devised, Hell. The Bible calls this the second death. It is eternal life in torment and suffering. Does that sound like freedom to you? It doesn’t to me either.

You see, true freedom doesn’t come from a bottle, a pill, a checkbook, or even a TV. It doesn’t come from being able to do whatever you want. It comes from doing what He wants. He wants you, all of you, to live with Him, for eternity, in paradise. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But this is no bait and switch tactic. The hours will be long, suffering will be part of the territory, and all the things you wanted to do before will have to be checked against a ever-loving yet just God. The freedom here is within you. You have the choice between slavery to sin and death, or servant hood to a loving, graceful Father. You might be asking, how do I sign up? It’s easy. Just tell Him you want to serve Him. The Bible says that if you are not willing to confess His name before men, so will He be unwilling to confess your name before His Father. (Matthew 10:32) It’s not tough. Be free, at last!

Tragedy for Horry

“In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was all over, 300 people were dead and 100,000 were homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he’d lost a great deal to the fire. And his one son (he had four daughters) had died about the same time. Still, for two years Spafford–who was a friend of evangelist Dwight Moody–assisted the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken ruined by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel in Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the

Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio’s wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters–Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie–were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: “saved alone.”

Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. “It is well,” Spafford told him quietly. “The will of God be done.”

Though reports vary as to when he did so, Spafford was led during those days of surely overwhelming grief to pen the words to one of the most beautiful hymns we know, beloved by Christians lowly and great.” That hymn was titled, “It Is Well With My Soul.” —from geocities.com /cott1388 /spafford.html

It Is Well With My Soul speaks to a subject rarely breached in Christian hymnals, the theme of suffering. In keeping with the author’s circumstances, the song begins, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll.” Spafford writes amidst his tears, not about how bad life is and how he longs for something better, but about joy. He writes further, “That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.” Despite all the loss and sorrow, Spafford still looks to Christ, because Christ suffered far worse for him.

Job speaks to suffering. It is the one human emotion we all have in common. Job is met by four successive servants who tell him his fortune is being destroyed, all in the space of a few minutes. “Then Job arose, rent his [cloak], shaved his head, fell down upon the ground, and worshipped.” (Job 1:20) Job suffered despite being a believer. God is no guarantee for comfort, but He is a guarantee for peace amidst suffering. “In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:22)

I don’t know what you are going through today, but I do know of someone who suffered even worse that Job. He suffered, not only because He was righteous, but also because He loves you. Jesus suffered whipping and nails piercing his flesh. Jesus suffered the incredible wrath of God, God’s anger over all sin, including yours, so that you might live. Please believe in Jesus. Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and live the life of a Follower of Christ. I encourage you today to make that decision, for the rest of your life hangs in the balance. Jesus said, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavily laden (with work and trouble) and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Are you feeling that the world is dumping on you? Let Jesus lighten your load.

Where To?

It is the Sunday before Mother’s Day. I tell my wife that we ought to go out to eat, since next week we will probably go out to eat with my mother. Her first choice is to go out to Ryan’s in Lafayette. Ryan’s, I think, Mmmmm. Let’s go. By the time we are on our way to Lafayette, Ryan’s gets downgraded to Long John Silvers. Ok, fish, not as many options, but still ok. By the time we get there, instead of dining inside the restaurant (because it’s too busy), we go through the drive through and end up eating at home anyway. What I had imagined as an elegant dining experience out became a rushed lunch at home.

Like our ill-fated lunch journey, many churches end up exactly where they started, only more frustrated than when they set out. One of the biggest problems that churches run into when they hire a new minister or make any drastic change is that they don’t know where they are going. When the minister has exhausted himself trying be a one-man operation, the church fires him because he “just doesn’t understand the way things are done around here.” We want to fulfill what the Lord had commanded us, to go out and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching the apostles’ doctrine and empowering them in Christ, but, how do we do it in a way that is culturally relevant? How do we attract these people to the gospel? How do we get there from here?

What the New Testament teaches is “every-member” ministry. (Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-14) All of us are empowered to become ambassadors and witnesses. Evangelism is the function of the entire church, and so must be a part of everything we do. .

Any large church has hundreds of ministries to many different kinds of people. As a small church, we don’t have that luxury. We must be willing to do a few things well rather than trying to do a lot of things poorly. What things do we do well as a church? I would suggest that we find out and use those outlets as a springboard for bigger and better things, when our numbers justify the change.

First, does your church know how to eat? I’ve been in many churches that serve good food. Why not use this ability for evangelism? What about making meals the center of home-based Bible Studies and Small groups. What we put to God’s use, God will not neglect.

Secondly, is your church a giving church. What about helping in local projects, like building a shelter for the school kids in the morning, or letting them come into the building for hot chocolate. What about some after-school tutoring and programming. God will use what we can give to further His kingdom.

Thirdly, maybe you are the only church in town. Many in in a community consider the only church to be their church who have never been in a Sunday Service. Why not capitalize on that and use it to your advantage? Your facility is your number one physical asset. Why don’t we use it to bring people inside?

Many of you have ideas that you would like to see your church work on. It’s time to step up to the plate and get involved. Get involved in Youth Ministry, or Missions, or Worship, or even Benevolence. What great things can God do with a church that is listening to Him? Think about it. Think about where you want to go with your church. Draw the “map” and plot the course for your church. Then act to accomplish the goals you’ve agreed upon. Let’s make your church’s community a “city that cannot be hid”!

Making Time for God

IMG20089At last! School has resumed, and the kids are back on schedule, which means my schedule can become a little more regular. My hope is that your schedules also become more regular. Yet this is also the danger of falling back into the regular schedule, as we get so busy doing the same thing every day we miss the wonder that God surrounds us with. Remember what God said about our schedules? “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.’ You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring – what your life will be! For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)

You only have to change the terms just a little bit, and you can put your schedule right in there. We try to plan ahead, put dates on calendars, and so on. But James’ caution is this, “Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ (vs. 15) James isn’t talking about lip-service here, or a phrase to write on your calendar. Rather, he says that not acknowledging the Lord in your day-to-day is akin to “arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (vs. 16)

You are driving along to the store to pick up supplies for family coming in that evening, plans that you made weeks ago. You come across someone in trouble, a car is broken down and they need help. Your family is on their way. Your plans would have to change if you stopped to help. What would you do? Most people just drive on, because their plans have priority over other’s problems. How would you answer the Lord? Would you pass up the opportunity to bless others to keep your own schedule?

As we re-enter the season of schedules and schools, don’t forget to leave your schedule open for God to work through you. Don’t get so busy that you have no time for kingdom work. Your eternity depends on it.

Love Is In the Air – Put on your facemasks!

IMG20022Love is again on the collective mind. In TV ads, magazines, the newspapers, they are all in on the fun! This is the time of year when jewelry sales are up, flower sales are up, card sales resurge from their New Year lull. Heart-shaped candy and chocolates make their appearance. Men and women start to look at one another fondly again, even if their married. We’ve come a long way from the feast of St. Valentinus, second-century Christian martyr. His greatest connection to the modern “holiday” is that he helped poor girls get married by tossing a dowry through their window. His greatest act of love was dying for his faith in Jesus.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the modern world from taking full advantage of yet another Christian memorial. Oh we try and put a good spin on it, turning it into a day to celebrate marriage and real, authentic love between married couples, but we end up making it another Christmas, the one day a year we celebrate a Christian virtue when we ought to practice it every day. Is Valentine’s Day the only day you buy flowers for your wife, or make that special meal for your husband? Can you count on one hand the number of times a year you make your mate feel special?

God thinks a lot of the gift he has given to married couples. In fact, one whole book of the Bible is dedicated to the relationship a husband has with his wife, written by the second wisest person who ever lived. It is also the one book in the Bible some believe is written like a drama, an art form made popular in Greece at the time. It is the Song of Solomon. Even a casual reader will notice that this is not your average holy book. It is at times sexually explicit, but always God-honoring. (Take for example the husbands’ description of his wife in Song of Solomon 4:1-7 and then the wife’s description of her husband Song of Solomon 5:10-16 – try these for romance) God intended for the intimate relationship between men and women to be kept sacred, holy, and honorable. He says in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers.” It is only in the “marriage bed” where intimacy is permitted, hence God’s judgment on everyone else.

God takes sex seriously, and for God’s holy people, this gets more difficult every day. The media gets it. Sex sells. And they attempt to associate sex with practically everything they can get away with to sell their products. It’s harder for men today because men are attracted much more to images of women. It’s getting more difficult for wives to compete against the retouched photos of supermodels hawking the latest sets of tools, sports cars, or “free” sex online. Because of a man’s visual proclivity, he must work to relate to the real woman in his life, who thrives on communication and relationship. She needs him to talk to her, which he can’t do when his thoughts are enslaved with images.

We live in an age where true, lasting marriage is the exception, rather than the rule, and though thousands of dollars are spent on marriages, marriage itself is harder and harder to afford. Now more than ever we need the “old hands” at the marriage game to mentor the young couples, to teach them how to keep their marriages from falling apart. Our society stands or falls on our ability to keep marriages thriving. Divorces cause irrevocable damage in the hearts of children and families. Even our President is a child of divorce. Would life have been different for him if his parents stayed married? Marriage is easy, but divorce is easier. God hates it (Malachi 2:16) because it destroys his intention for the marriage: godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). If the children of each succeeding generation are less godly than the last, what will happen to a nation as a whole?

We need to restore the biblical definition of love, for our marriages’ sakes, and for our children. We need to restore the place of Love, because it has been usurped by a poor substitute, Lust, or what the Bible calls “envy”. And, with the Scriptures in hand, we will discover those answers.

A Christian Necessity for Holiness

There is a decided air of un-holiness today. It is cooler to be “irreverent” and even sacrilegious. I heard recently of a Lady Gaga music video in which she played a nun, a fairly sacred occupation, only, her nun habit was decidedly unholy, made completely out of latex. That’s the same material used for condoms. Of course, Madonna did much the same thing in her video “Like a Prayer” when she play-acted a romantic relationship with an angel about twenty years ago, so nothing is new. That was “cool”. That was “hip”. Because of their permissive attitude toward child molesters in the pastorate, the once “holy” Catholic Church has come under fire. It seems that every other preacher, on TV or at the pulpit at home, is under a cloud of suspicion, damaging the reputation of all them. I could give countless examples, but all to prove that the permissive, unholy attitude is pervasive. No question holiness itself is under fire, painted with the broad brush of hypocrisy, because so many Christians have been bad at it. Just as the following verse from 1 Timothy predicted.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Ti 3:2-5, emphasis mine)

If there is a time for holiness it is now. The world needs to know that there is a difference between the world and the church. Though we are to be relevant and engaging with the world, we need to be identified separate from them. Even though we speak the language, we need to be from another culture. We are to be “in the world, but not of it.”

There is only One God and we are to be holy before Him. We are to separate ourselves from the world to be holy before God. Holiness isn’t cheap, but it is free. It’s like being given a Mercedes-Benz. It is free to you, but you know the giver paid a terrific price for it. Holiness is our response to that great gift. By the gift of grace we are saved, and this not because of what we have done, but because of the love of the One who saves us. Holiness is our response to God for His grace. Some people call it works. Others call it gratitude. But the Bible calls it holiness.

How do we do this? First let us establish that we must do this. We have a holy calling as his people, a mandate to be holy. This isn’t an optional command, or a command to obey when it is convenient, or un-contentious, like Sunday morning. This is a call to holiness 24/7, so that in every thought, and in every act, we are a holy people. Jesus was able to accomplish this. Can we do it too? We must. And God’s grace be upon us where and when we fail.

But if we are holy, won’t that make it more difficult to minister to the world? I mean, if we come off as “holier-than-thou” wouldn’t people stop listening to us and to the message we preach? In a way, that’s like saying that the plate has to be a little dirty in order for the food on it to be appetizing. People aren’t attracted to food served on dirty plates. They won’t be attracted to the gospel served by “dirty” people. Would you listen to a lesson on sexual purity from a preacher who had been caught in adultery? Or fiscal responsibility from a thief? Or how to eat healthy from someone morbidly obese? The messenger colors the message, no matter how pure the message may be. People need to see Christians for whom the message has impacted and changed before they will listen to it.

What has the message changed in your life? How has it made your life different? That’s the difference holiness makes. But Christians get busy, and busy-ness makes for lazy holiness. We end up saving holiness for Sunday and when the preacher is looking. Is that the holiness the Bible calls for?

 

A HOLY PEOPLE

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

(1Pe 1:14-16)

A HOLY BODY

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

(Rom 12:1)

A HOLY CALLING

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2Ti 1:8-9)