Saturday, July 13, 2019

Every Pizza Must Have a Porpoise

When I was in college, I had a class called "The History and Philosophy of Education."  It was a night class, and I can't remember much that was taught, but I do remember "Every pizza must have a porpoise." 

I would imagine you're confused, but you have to know that:
  1. My teacher had a pretty strong accent  - and -
  2. My roommate was also in this class.
Because this was a night class, it was very long and we were given a short break in the middle of class.  During one of these breaks, I went to talk to my roommate and noticed a picture similar to the one at the top of this post in her class notebook. 

It took me a while, but I eventually realized that the professor had been teaching us that "Every teacher must have a purpose!"

I've been thinking about this, because I'm realizing that every church must also have a porpoise purpose.  It is not enough to just be there.  It is not enough to show up because we're supposed to, or we've always done it.  It's also not enough to keep doing things just because they've always been done that way.  Always been done doesn't work anymore.  We don't live in that kind of society.  We have become much less traditional and more progressive over the years, and maybe that's not a bad thing. 

The good part about this is that people are no longer walking through their religion asleep.  They aren't just going through the motions.

The bad part about this is that many people have given up religion entirely as something archaic and irrelevant.

The church has been trying for years to be "relevant."  We've relaxed rules and modified our music so that we can better relate to the society around us.  But is that what people are really looking for?  I'm a musician.  I like to think I'm pretty good at it, but I know I can't match popular music, even with the best worship team out there.  There is no way that the church can compete with YouTube.

We have been trying to get "butts in the seats."  But is this a good purpose?  We have the idea that if only people would come and hear the message, they would become Christians.  But what if that's not true?  What if people can sit in church for years and still miss it completely?  What if our methods have done more harm to the gospel, than good?

First Peter 4  is a great chapter that gives us an idea of our purpose as God's people.  I can't print it all here, because it is too long, but I encourage you to follow the link and read it for yourselves.  Here is my summary: 

Christ suffered to overcome sin.  As followers of Christ, we are not to live for our own pleasures, but can expect to suffer for following Him.  We are to love others, be hospitable to them, and use what we have been given to serve others.  We are to speak as God would speak, and serve in His strength, so that God will be glorified in all we do and say. 

Telling people about Jesus is not enough.  Jesus asked his disciples to follow him.  He meant this in a physical way, not just "in the spirit."  He left instructions to his first disciples to go and make more disciples!  That is, followers, not believers.  James gives a good rationale for the idea that we actually have to do something as followers of Jesus.  Saying we believe is not enough:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:14-20)

We have cheapened Jesus.  We have made him into a good luck charm, or a "Get out of Hell Free" card.  Christianity is not free.  It is a calling.  And in this world, it is a calling to work, and to suffer.  Jesus said:  "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." (Matthew 7:21).  

The purpose of the church is not to "save" people for the afterlife. That is up to God.  Our purpose is to use the power that God has so richly bestowed on us to make this world a better place for the people in it.  God made this world, and made people to be a part of it.  This is not some sort of testing ground for our "real" destiny.  It is what we were made for.  If God had wanted more souls for Heaven only, he could have created more angels!  He wanted a world that would show his glory.  And he gave human beings the job of manifesting that glory on his earth.  Instead, we have preached an escapist view that once we get off this cursed planet, our true life will begin.  And all you have to do to have eternal bliss is to say you believe in Jesus.

We are living in mortal bodies.  This means they will one day die.  But humans were not originally made that way.  Mortality came because the original people decided to live for themselves, rather than for the glory of God.  They lost their purpose.  Jesus came to show us that we can overcome that original sin, or missing of the path that God set for us.  He came to lead us into our true, God-given purpose.  And when we once again turn back to God and fulfill the purpose He has for us, as Jesus did, we will be granted eternal life in Paradise, as God intended for all of us.

Our hope is not in saying a few words, but in the Word of God who became flesh to show us how to live as true sons and daughters of the Living God (John 1).  

The church is supposed to be Jesus' body.  As a body, we are to do physical work.  Let's get going!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Idolatry in the Church

Definition of idol

1 : an object of extreme devotion 
2 : a representation or symbol of an object of worship  
broadly : a false god

 When you think of idols in the church, what do you think of?  Statues, maybe?  Throughout the Bible we see idols depicted as images made out of stone, wood, or metal.  They appear in the second of the ten commandments:   
 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." (Exodus 20:4-5a)
Not many protestant churches have likenesses in their sanctuaries.  Catholic churches have statues, but I don't think they're looked at as things to worship or serve, so they might not quite meet the definition.  However, I want to think about the first of Webster's definitions, above: "An object of extreme devotion."   And as I think about it, I would argue that many churches and Christians do have idols today.
Paul identified idolatry with covetousness (Eph. 5:5), and greed (Col 3:5).  Jesus identified the great commandment as  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 6:27).  The second, he said, was  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’(Matthew 6:29).  These commandments leave no room for covetousness or greed.  But we are a greedy people, even in our worship and service.
The church is described in the Bible as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of God, and the family of God.  All of these refer not to objects made by hands, but to the people who make up the church.  They also depict things belonging to God, not man.   So any time that we raise the importance of a physical object, ministry, or ritual, we are creating an idol in our mind.

Are you devoted to your church building?  
It doesn't matter the age, size, or location of your church, or whether it is plain or ornate; do you feel that without the building, your church would cease to be?  This is idolatry.  You have taken your devotion to God and transferred it to a building.  You cannot love God with all your heart, soul, and mind if you are worried about a property, and you cannot love your neighbor as yourself if you are worried that "those people" would in some way harm your beautiful "church" or the physical items inside or around it.
Maybe you're not that physically minded.  You may not care so much about the building or the objects in it.  Good for you.  But what about your church service? 

What is the service like at your place of worship?  Is it structured or free-flowing?  Are there certain things that happen every week?  Month?  Year?  What if these things suddenly stopped?  Or what if something was inserted that was not usually done?  What if you had no music?  No sermon?  No prayer?  No quiet time?  No offering?  What if your church suddenly changed its meeting time to Thursday?  Could you still worship?  Or have some of these things become idols in your mind - replacing God with worship?

Maybe this isn't a problem for you.  You can worship God in any circumstance.  But what about your ministry?

Many of us are involved in "ministry," either within the church or outside it.  It may be music, Sunday School, community programs, visiting the sick, or even taking care of the building or setting up for communion service.  I'm sure I've missed many ministries that you may be involved in!  But what if your ministry suddenly stopped?  What if your church decided to stop funding the ministry?  What if you, yourself, became unable to contribute to the ministry you've been part of?  Would this put a rift between you and God?  Believe it or not, it is possible to make our service to God an idol.  Remember the great commandment?  Love God with ALL your heart, soul, and mind.  And love your neighbor as yourself, not as God!

I'm going to add one more thing that can be made an idol.  Your church.  This time I'm not talking about the building, but the people.  
God loves all people.  We are to love all people.  But we are not to love them more than we love God.  When serving others and having fellowship with our church family becomes more important to us than our devotion to God, we are allowing them to become idols.  If church has become a social club for you, a place to find human companionship, or a group of people to help, you may have started worshiping people instead of God.  People are not perfect.  If you equate God with the people in your congregation, even with your pastor, get ready to be disillusioned.  We are meant to be a family, but we are all fallible people on a journey to God.  We can and should help each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but the only one who will never ever let us down is God himself.  He is perfect.  

Why am I going through all this?  Because idolatry in the church is damaging to church members and those we are trying to reach.  Any time we elevate something above God, we are cheapening him in our hearts and in the eyes of the unsaved.  If we teach devotion to any of the things I've mentioned, Heaven help us!  Jesus told people to drop everything and follow him.  No one was allowed to follow him until they had given up the things of this world.  Unfortunately, we have used the past 20 centuries or so to heap more and more things onto our backs.  What if Jesus walked into your church this weekend and asked you all to follow him?  How many truckloads would you take with you?  Could you go with only one set of clothes and no money as he told his disciples to do?  Or would you have to bring your Bible, hymnal, piano, notebook, flat shoes, purse, sunglasses and extra sweater...Oh, maybe that's just me.  Sorry!  

We're all searching for the "perfect church."  Well, the only perfect church is the bride that Christ will introduce at the wedding supper of the lamb.  Until then, we have to rely on God to perfect us, and remember that His ways are not our ways.  In the meantime, take a look at the idols in your life, and turn back to God himself.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Who Stole the Church?

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;  and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:43-47 NASB 

Where did this go?  Where is the Bride of Jesus Christ?  What have we become?  

I read the book of Acts, and all I can feel is a sense of emptiness.  The church I know is nothing like the church described in the Bible.  There is no sense of awe anymore, no sharing, and we are definitely not  "continuing with one mind."  

I haven't posted here in quite a while, partly  because I was writing weekly posts on my church website, summarizing the Sunday sermons.  But I am getting discouraged with my church and my community.  Another church in our town closed its doors yesterday.   The attendance at our church is very small.  What happened to "the Lord adding to their number those who were being saved?"  What are we doing wrong?

Jesus said:
 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20), 
 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (John 15:12).

But I see a church that is locked up in its own four walls for a couple of hours a week, and then disappears from sight until the following Sunday.  It's like the musical "Brigadoon," where a town appears for one day every 100 years.  In the story, this spell was cast to preserve the culture.  The people would never be in any century long enough for their way of life to be influenced by it.  Is our church trying to do the same thing?  Are we so afraid of becoming like the world that we insulate ourselves into our own church culture?  And are our children like the ill-fated Harry, who is kept in the town against his will because if anyone leaves the town, the spell will be broken?  

What spell are we under, that makes us afraid of the very people we should be ministering to?  How can we make disciples of all nations if we won't leave our pews?  How can we love one another if we only have this superficial, once-a-week relationship with our fellow hostages church members?

I do not believe that all of Jesus' church is like this.  I believe that there are people out there doing great things for God's Kingdom and His children around the world.  I am frustrated because I don't see it happening in my town, and I feel that there is a great void here.  

What can we do to change this?  Will you pray with me that my church and my community will experience a new filling of the Holy Spirit, like the disciples did on Pentecost?  I would sure appreciate it.  And I would love to hear your suggestions for how to effectively minister to a small-town community!  Thank you! - Robin

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