Church

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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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.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

An Ordinary Church

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“And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” –Acts 2:42-47

In Acts Chapter 2 we see the birth of the very first church at Pentecost. Now what I’m about to say about this church may catch some of us by surprise. Many of us have probably heard a few sermons on this passage and about what a powerful example this church is for how a church should look. This is certainly true. But in these same sermons we’ve probably also heard the preacher say something about what an extraordinary church this is.

Now certainly this church was birthed and came about through extraordinary means. This can’t be denied. But in my mind, this church isn’t any more extraordinary than any other church.

At the beginning of Acts Chapter 2 we see that the Spirit of God came upon the believers. We see in verse 14 of Chapter 2 how empowered by the Spirit of God Peter preached a powerful sermon. Peter preached Jesus. Peter preached Jesus crucified. Peter preached Jesus risen from the grave and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Peter preached Jesus as Lord of all! Through the powerful preaching of Peter the Bible tells us that 3,000 folks were saved. So, certainly this was an extraordinary event. I’ve never preached a sermon in which 3,000 folks got saved. And not many preachers can say that they have!

But this being said, aren’t all churches pretty extraordinary? All churches are made up of sinners who have had the scales removed from their eyes and have seen clearly who Christ is, and have chosen to follow him. This is an amazing thing. It’s not natural. Salvation is all a work of God. This is true whether we are talking about 3,000 people or 30, or even 3.

So, even though this event was powerful. Even though we can say this was an extraordinary event…this first church was no more extraordinary than any other church. This first church was no more extraordinary than my church or yours.

And do you know why I can say that? Because the same Spirit that empowered Peter to preach on this day, is the same Spirit that empowers men today to preach. The same Jesus that Peter preached in Acts chapter 2 is the same Jesus that faithful preachers today preach. And the same Spirit at work through this Church that we read about working so powerfully in and through this church, is the same Spirit that will work through our own churches, IF we will faithfully preach this Jesus and be obedient to His Word.

So, yes. This church came about through extraordinary means. It was a wonderful event. But, in a lot of ways this church was simply an ordinary Church. The Church we see in Acts 2:42-47 was not some unreachable standard for us as the modern church to attain. The Church in Acts 2:42-47 was God’s ideal local church, and what God desires every local church to look like.

May it be so…

The Pastor’s Wife

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The call to peach the Word of God and to shepherd God’s people is a strange thing. Obviously it is an honor and a privilege that I don’t take lightly. It is also humbling because few things make me feel so small and so inadequate. Because it is such a large task it is very easy to get caught up in yourself and your work that you often neglect other areas of your life. Because it is such a humbling task that makes you so aware of your own limitations you can easily get overwhelmed at the things you have to do to prepare and you can begin to lose sight of those around you and their own struggles.

Because I have six kids and a part time job outside of my church work I do much of my studying and sermon prep late at night. I often feel like I’m a step behind where I need to be. My wife works night shift as a nurse so our quality time together is very limited. When she is home and able to help out with the kids I often find myself letting her handle things as I give myself over to study or writing. Saturday nights and Sunday mornings are always a bit tense as I make my final preparations to my sermon or getting the music ready for our worship service. I’m not complaining, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade my life for anything…But there is a point here I’m trying to make.

I often get so caught up in myself and my own work that I forget how hard my wife works. I’m not even talking about her “job” as a nurse. She is the one who picks up the slack around the house and with the kids while I work on my sermon. She is the one who makes sure I get to escape to my office so I can work on my Sunday School Lesson. She is the one who allows me to “sleep in” those couple of days she’s here, because I was up late writing. She is the one who goes to get the kids from school while I make my pastoral visits. She is the one who stays home and makes dinner and gets the kids ready for bed when it’s late on Wednesday night when I come home from our mid-week service. And she is the one washing the girls, and brushing their tangled hair on Sunday morning when I’m making the final tweaks to my sermon or yelling at everyone to hurry up out the door so we aren’t late to Sunday School. She is the one who wrangles the kids in the front pew while I preach and proclaim the truths of God’s Word.

It’s very easy for me to think about all that I do or need to do in ministry. But I often forget how important my wife is to my ministry. The truth is apart from her hard work I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. While I shake hands and chat with folks after Sunday Service, and breathe that breath of relief because another one is “in the books”,  I often see her exhausted face and slightly disheveled hair after wrestling with a one year old for an hour and don’t give it a second thought.The fact is, she has worked every bit as hard as I have that morning.The call of a Pastor’s wife is just as sacred and just as important a call as the call to Pastoral ministry. The difference is the value of one is often overlooked, even by the Pastor himself.

I know I often take for granted what my wife does and how important she is to my ministry. I have a feeling I’m not alone. So Pastors…Tell your wife thank you and you love her and give her a kiss. Thank God for her. If you’re not a Pastor but find yourself reading this, show your Pastor’s wife some love…she deserves it. And please, pray for both your Pastor and his wife.

And just in case my wife happens to stumble upon this…Thank you Babe, I love you.

Cross-Cultural Gospel

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There is a big push in many churches these days to make our churches ethnically diverse. I was reading a social media post by a local pastor and he was speaking about how we need to make our worship services “cross-cultural” so that our churches could be “ethnically diverse.” And on one level I believe many of us would give a hearty “Amen!” to these two thoughts. On the surface these things sound good and true. And lest you misunderstand me, nothing gives me greater joy than to walk into a church and see a group of people of all colors, backgrounds, generations, and even shapes and sizes, for this is indeed a foretaste of Heaven…But as I reflect on this thought…of making our worship services “cross-cultural” to make our churches “ethnically diverse” I can’t help but think we might be missing something…

The fact is, we don’t need to make our services cross-cultural. The Gospel IS already cross cultural. Frankly, it disturbs me when churches say we are aiming for this group, or this demographic. The call of a church is to preach the Gospel to the area in which they are called to. If you have been called to a ethnically diverse city, then yes your church should look ethnically diverse. But, the church should resemble the city/area to which it is called. If you are called to a small town filled with older white farmers, then your church is probably going to be made up of older white farmers. If you are called to a college town, then your church is probably going to be made up of mostly younger college kids…I think you get what I’m saying.

My point is…The Gospel is cross cultural. Jesus is cross cultural. If you faithfully preach Jesus and His Gospel as a church to the place where God has called you AND live it out, then I believe people will come and I believe people will be saved and lives will be changed. Paul says in both Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 that we are all one in Christ, the walls that separate us according to cultures or ethnicity have been broken down. People are reconciled and united in Christ!

So, we don’t need to make the Gospel anything other than what it is…The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.(Romans 1:16) We don’t need to make the Gospel cross-cultural…it already is. Our goal is to be faithful to the Gospel, not try to change it or mold it into something else in an effort to attract certain people groups to our church so that we can point out to others how diverse our congregations are. When we do these things, we end up changing the Gospel or watering it down, and sometimes end up with a false Gospel which has no power at all to save.

We don’t need to strive to be cross-cultural, but we do need to strive to have a culture of the cross. It is my conviction if this is true of us, then God will work powerfully through us in our communities to draw all peoples to Himself. And depending on our locale, this is going to look different for us all.

A Lord’s Day Prayer

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A Lord’s Day prayer as we head off to worship:

“We are going to the house of prayer, pour upon us the spirit of grace and supplication; We are going to the house of praise, awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion; We are going to the house of instruction, give testimony to the Word preached, and glorify it in the hearts of all who hear; may it enlighten the ignorant, awaken the careless, reclaim the wandering, establish the weak, comfort the feeble-minded, make ready a people for their Lord.”

Shared FromValley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

The Joy of Fellowship

“…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:3-4 ESV)

“Fellowship”

Fellowship is a bit of an under appreciated word these days. Fellowship I think is also an under appreciated aspect of our new life in Christ. For those of us who read Scripture and who have spent lots of time in the Bible or have had it preached to us on a regular basis…I think we sometimes lose the power of the words inspired by the Spirit of God and written down for our edification. To read those two verses above should awe us. To read that we have fellowship with God the Father and his son Jesus Christ should drop us to our knees in wonder and amazement…

As I said, the word “fellowship” has fallen on hard times in our day. Even amongst us Christian folk, even though we hear it quite often, the word has lost its power. Perhaps a way to help us get a handle on the word in a way that helps us see the beauty of the statement is to use the word “relationship”. The two words certainly aren’t exact synonyms, but I think there is enough correlation to help us get a grasp as to what John is trying to get us to see.

Most of us know how the story goes…Our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and brought the curse of sin into the world. A curse that all of us are under. There are many consequences that we experience as a result of the curse, but the one from which all the others flow is broken fellowship with God. A broken relationship…And because this relationship with God is broken, every other relationship is broken.

Sin is the reason you and your spouse argue. Sin is the reason your parents drive you nuts. Sin is the reason your kids sound like they want to murder each other. Sin is the reason your church can’t decide on the color of their carpet, or agree on a worship style. Sin ruined every thing…and one of the primary ways it did that was that it destroyed relationships and how we relate(fellowship) with each other…and of course all of this springs forth from the fact that sin destroyed our relationship and the way in which we relate(fellowship) with God.

That’s the bad news…

But the good news is that Jesus Christ came and lived and died and rose again.(more on this later)

Because of the work of Jesus, we now have fellowship with God the father, His Son Jesus…and amazingly we can now enjoy fellowship with each other.(again more on this later)

Part of our new relationship with God is the fact that we want to share Him and the glories of His Son and His Gospel with the world. We desire to bring others into this relationship that we have with the God of the universe.(think about that statement for a minute…we have a relationship with the God of the universe. WOW!) Nothing gives us more pleasure than telling someone about Jesus, and seeing them embrace his truths for themselves. At least this is how it should be…

And this is what John was telling his church. We’re writing these things to you, “so that you too may have fellowship with us”. And what fellowship do we enjoy…”our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.”

That is why John is writing these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “so that our joy may be complete…” Telling others about Christ, seeing them begin to follow the Way of Jesus, experiencing that fellowship with God, with Jesus, and with them…that is the fulfillment of our joy as a Christian. Certainly our joy is in Christ and Christ alone…but through Christ we get to experience immeasurable joy as we share our lives and faith with other believers…

We will talk more about what this looks like next time…

This Unfathomable Love

If we use anything other than Jesus to gauge our relationship with Jesus, that relationship will suffer.

Let me explain…

Many times we will measure where we are with Christ based on our feelings. We either feel close to Jesus, or far from Jesus based on our affections for Jesus. Sometimes Christians measure their relationship based on performance. Other times we use how others perceive us and our walk with Jesus to determine how we are doing.

The problem is, in all of these situations our relationship will be found wanting.

The problem is, in all of these situations, instead of looking at Christ we are looking at ourselves. As long as we are gauging our relationship with Jesus based on how we are doing, our relationship with Jesus will suffer. This is simply because we can’t perform well enough, love Jesus enough, or do enough to make ourselves feel worthy of Christ.

If you think you can, or if you think you have, or if you think you are…then chances are you don’t understand faith. Chances are, you are yet to truly grasp the Gospel.

The essence of the Gospel is that IN CHRIST you are accepted. The essence of faith is that IN CHRIST you are loved unconditionally by the God of the Universe. These things are true in spite of ourselves. In spite of our daily failures, God still loves you, Jesus still wants to know you and fellowship with you. IN CHRIST you belong to God. You are loved and treasured by God…But this isn’t because of you, or how wonderful you are, or how much you love Jesus…It is simply because of Christ and what He has done on your behalf in this beautiful and unfathomable story that we call the Gospel.

We gauge our relationship with Jesus based on one thing(or better to say one person).

Jesus

As we look to Jesus we see that He has done enough. He is affectionate enough. He has loved us enough. We don’t need to worry about falling away, because He has us safely in his arms. Christ has placed us in the Father’s hand, and no one or nothing can remove us(John 10:29)…not even ourselves.

I’m reminded of Mark 14:26-31. In this passage, we see the disciples and especially Peter telling Jesus that they will stand by him no matter what. Peter says that he will fight to the death if he needs to. Jesus of course informed the disciples that they would indeed fall away. Not only would they fall away, but Peter himself would deny Jesus three times.

Peter and the disciples are basing their relationship on two things. Their affections for Jesus, and their performance.

We know what happens…The disciples scatter. Peter does indeed deny Jesus three times.

But of course, it doesn’t end there.

Peter and the rest of the disciples are later shown that in spite of their lack of faith and failures they belong to Christ and he will use them mightily in the building of his Church. Peter is shown specifically that Christ and Christ alone is to be his focus.(John 21:22)

This is no less true for us.

Jesus is the measure of our relationship with Jesus.