According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Tag: Church

Things to Look For in a Church

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When I went to college, I was a very zealous eighteen year old with quite a bit of legalism in me. I began to try out churches in the city where I was. The first church I went to was First Baptist Church.

As a critical guy, I took a notepad and I sat in the service, not as a worshipper, but as a critic, searching for the perfect church. On one side of the notepad, I wrote the good things about the service and on the other side the bad things. There might have been two good things and a whole sheet of bad things I found.

However, all of the things I wrote were not matters worth being critical over. They weren’t issues that really mattered all that much.

Don’t do what I did. However, it is absolutely important that you know important issues about a church before you commit to attending and joining there.

There are likely three groups reading this post. Here is my word to each of you going into it.

The one who doesn’t attend church – Jesus established the church (Matt 16:18) and the Bible commands attendance (Heb 10:24-25). So if you claim to be a Christian, start seeking out a church to join and be a part of.

The one searching for a church – The church you choose is going to greatly affect your spiritual life from here on out. Read this post and consider these things in choosing a church.

The church member – Consider your own church. Hopefully these essentials are all strong there. If they are not, consider how to help your church grow in them. If your church doesn’t have these and are opposed to them, it may not be a church you want to be part of.

It is important to know that just because a church appears thriving and active doesn’t mean they are a good church for you. Just because they have countless children’s activities, breakfast every Sunday, a calendar full of events, a lively praise team, and a charismatic pastor doesn’t mean they are a good church Biblically.

When you are looking for what a good church is, look for these essentials.

Expository Preaching

You probably have no idea what this term means. Many people have different definitions for what expository preaching is. Some churches spend three years going verse-by-verse through a four chapter book of the Bible. This is not necessarily healthy expository preaching. Expository preaching may look a little different depending on the preacher, but primarily, is the preacher opening the Bible to a passage, reading it, and then spending the bulk of his sermon explaining what this passage means and how it applies to your life?

Many preachers get up and never open their Bibles. Many read a passage and then never talk about it again for the entire sermon. Many preach a sermon on a topic and just pull out verses to support what they are trying to say. This is bad preaching.

Good preaching believes the Bible is what God has spoken and seeks to explain the passage they are preaching to the audience and tell them what God is saying. A good way to tell if the church you are at preaches like this is to ask yourself the question, “Do I have to look down at my Bible every now and then to follow along with the sermon?”

Good Theology

While you are likely never going to agree with any Christian on every little detail of what the Bible says, it is important to have certain theological beliefs that the church agrees on puts their faith in.

Is God described as the glorious, all powerful King of the Universe who has all sovereign authority? Is the Bible completely free from error and authoritative over our life? Is the church’s hope in Christ, crucified to provide salvation for those who believe and then raised bodily from the grave to reign over the universe? Does the church believe in the doctrines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000? These are crucial.

One of the best ways to figure out what the church’s theological beliefs are is to listen to the worship music they sing. Are the songs proclaiming how great God is and how powerful the cross and resurrection of Jesus are or is it all about how special and awesome I am? If a husband can sing the worship song to his wife and it still carry the same meaning, it’s probably not a strong song theologically and thus, the church may not be very theologically sound.

But if you can’t figure out the theology of the church by being there, you may just have to meet with the pastor and ask what they believe. Do so in wisely and respectfully, but you need to know the theology of the church as it will affect your own theology if you join there.

Membership Process

How does one join the church? For many churches, you simply have to come up and sign a card and you are in. Is membership valued at this church? Does it take more than a simple card signing to join? If the church doesn’t think you have to be born again and baptized to join, they have a false view of church membership.

Some churches are a bit too strict with this, but most are not strict enough. Is there a class someone has to attend to join the church? Does a new member have to affirm a church covenant or doctrinal statement to join? Some churches even go as far as a pastor having to meet with a member to get to know them before they can fully be a member.

Is there evidence that the church values membership far more than it simply being a tradition they have always done.

Church Discipline

On the opposite side of membership, is it possible to be removed from membership at this church? Is it possible that depending on some serious, public sins in a member’s life, they can be confronted about that sin and if they will not repent, their membership can be revoked? This is a Biblical practice laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.

In short terms, are you going to be confronted and held accountable for your sins in this church? That may make you uncomfortable, but it is absolutely crucial to your Christian walk.

Discipleship

Are there avenues for you to grow in your faith at this church? Are there small group Bible studies for you to meet at during the week? Is the Sunday School department strong and sound theologically? In attending this church, are you challenged to be a stronger follower of Jesus and given practical ways to grow in your faith?

Evangelism and Missions

Is sharing the Gospel a regular practice of the church? Are they involved in doing evangelism to the local neighborhoods, the city, and the nations of the world? Jesus left the church one job: Make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) A good sign of the health of a church is if they are regularly doing this outside of the church walls.

The Perfect Church Doesn’t Exist

When I was eighteen in First Baptist Church with my notepad, I had a false assumption. I assumed the perfect church existed. It doesn’t. Every church will have flaws. Every church will have some problems. But at the core of a church, they need to have these things mentioned. If they don’t, it is not a church you want to join.

Find a good church that honors and glorifies the majestic Lord and the risen Christ through worship, discipleship, and missions and join it. Become part of it and serve with everything you have for the glory of God.

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The Most Important Part of the Church Service

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I have a confession to make. I enjoy the singing during a church service more than the sermon. I know, it’s really bad, right? In fact, what typically goes through my head during the music is, “Man, I hope this isn’t the last song. I don’t want it to be over.” Then when the worship pastor tells us to sit as the pastor comes to preach to us, I think, “Darn, worship is over.”

I’ll bet you think I’m a worship leader. I’m not. God has actually called me to preach. There is something within me that enjoys getting to sing along and lift my hands during the music and doesn’t like having to sit still and keep my attention focused for thirty minutes.

Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you think the party is over at church after the music ends. Then you have to struggle through thirty minutes of one person talking and no chance to say anything back. You have to be quiet, sit still, and try to maintain attention.

I sit under a great preacher every Sunday who I know and love, but my temptation is to dread the sermon. Something in me and in everyone tends to lean that way.

But the sermon is the central and most important part of each worship service. We will begin to truly cherish the sermon and worship through our listening to it when we understand why it is important.

God’s Choice of Communication

God is all powerful. He is capable of doing anything He wants in any way He chooses. He wants to communicate His truth to humanity. He could do that through writing a message in the stars or the clouds. He could open the skies and speak His truth out of heaven. He could send a pigeon flying to every person with a letter that He wrote with His truth on it.

But the primary way He chooses to communicate truth is through preaching. In the Bible, as early as Noah, we see people preaching. Moses preached. Samuel preached. Solomon preached. The prophets preached. Ezra preached. John the Baptist preached. Peter preached. Paul preached. And the Son of God preached.

When God became a man to walk among the world, He didn’t come as an artist or a musician. He didn’t come as an athlete. He became a preacher.

God’s choice of communication in the world has always been and will always be preaching.

Foolishness

The reality is that this foolish. I’ve met a lot of preachers in my life and most of them are dorks. God doesn’t seem to be choosing the beautiful and successful people to be His messengers. He doesn’t choose Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to be his preacher. He chooses Billy the farmer from the middle of nowhere in Tennessee.

The average person would look at God’s plan and conclude that God doesn’t know what He is doing. However, God is seeking for the glory of His message, not the glory of the preacher. Paul called preaching foolish in 1 Cor 1:21. He said, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

God uses a means that appears foolish to do His work in the world so that He will receive glory and not the preacher. What are His purposes that He accomplishes through preaching?

God’s Purposes in Preaching

In Romans 10:13-15, Paul says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But then He asks, how will they call on Him if they haven’t heard about Him? And how will they hear about Him unless someone preaches to them? This is why preaching is so important. It is the primary way that God saves people.

Of course, God can save people through a drama. He can save people through Christian films and through the message of a song. He saved me through me reading a book of fiction. There are a number of born-again believers in the church who were saved by some form other than preaching. However, the way God saves most people is that the Gospel is preached and they believe. The church should therefore capitalize on that model. There is value in doing dramas, making and watching movies, and reading books. But these must never be done at the expense of preaching.

What about those who already believe? If preaching saves those who believe it would stand to reason that after you believe, you don’t need preaching. But there is a second purpose to preaching. Preaching sanctifies those who believe. It makes those who are believers believe more. It shapes and fashions Christ’s followers more into the image of Christ. This is Christ’s heart for the church. Before His crucifixion, He prayed for His disciples by saying, “Sanctify them in the truth: your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Christ wants the Word to be what does the transforming work in the believer.

There are aspects of this sanctification that can’t be accomplished through anything else other than preaching. Truth is communicated through preaching in a way that does not happen in a drama or a movie. When it comes to any area of the Christian life, a film or drama just can’t look the believer in the face and tell them what to do and what not to do. This isn’t even communicated in the worship music of the service. It only happens when the preacher opens the Bible and says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says…”

A New Perspective on the Sermon

When we understand the glory that God has chosen to communicate His truth through the preaching of His word, it gives new meaning to listening to the sermon on Sunday morning. Now, we are not just listening because we are supposed to, but we can be fully aware of the fact that God is using this sermon to teach us more about Himself and what it means to be His child.

Many may say, “I can get all of what you just said by listening to my favorite preacher on a podcast in my car on the way to work.” There are a lot of great preachers in the world and I encourage listening to a wide variety of them. But understand that if the only preaching you hear is on a podcast, you won’t have the proper diet of God’s Word. With podcasts, you can choose what topics you want to listen to and you can be free to turn it off the minute it gets boring or makes you uncomfortable.

And God intends to feed His people through them gathering together in a body. The pastor that He puts over that body is to pray and discern what His church needs to hear and then He chooses what to preach and feed them with. Then the body of believers can hold one another accountable to what is preached. If you do not listen to preaching regularly in a church, you will not get a healthy diet in God’s Word and you will be malnourished.

Conclusion

I enjoy the music in a worship service more than the sermon. But I have to mentally surrender my mind to the fact that God does more work in me through the sermon. So I have to listen to the Word preached and ask the question, “How can I change in light of what is being proclaimed?”

So find a church that has solid preaching, join that church, and listen to the preaching regularly. The sermon is the most important part of the worship service. Make the sermon the part that your heart most longs for in a worship service.

Why Christians Should Regularly Gather for Worship

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One out of every eight people who call themselves a “born again” Christians do not attend church. Almost half of Americans have come to the conclusion that “the Bible does not command people to attend church; that is a man-made requirement.”[1]

Is this correct? Are Christians wasting their time going to church every Sunday when they could be doing a number of other things? While most people in the previous generation went to church because it was the thing to do, less people today see it as necessary. Many attend but get bored because it feels like there is nowhere to be involved. The nursery is full and they don’t feel qualified to lead or teach a Bible study.

What the Bible Says

While the culture may scream that attending church on Sunday is a man-made concept, the Scriptures do actually speak of it.

Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to either churches or pastors of churches. Romans, Ephesians, and Philippians are written to the church at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. Revelation is written to seven churches throughout Asia. The letters of the New Testament were not written to generally all Christians, or “the church universal”, though they certainly have application to all Christians. The letters were written to specific churches in specific cities that met together.

It likely didn’t look exactly as meetings today look with pews, a pulpit, the Lord’s table, and such things, but the Scriptures do speak of the church assembling together. Paul mentions the church coming together four times in 1 Corinthians. (5:4; 11:18; 14:23; 26). James gives instruction to the church about how to treat rich people when they come into their worship gathering. (Jas 2:1) The book of Acts is filled with believers meeting together for worship. To assert that meeting together for worship was man-made later is to ignore the church of the New Testament.

The key command in Scripture to go to church is found in Heb 10:23-25,

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.

The writer of Hebrews commands to not neglect meeting together as Christians. What is the purpose of this? There are two primary reasons he gives.

First, it is that Christians can faithfully hold to the hope they confess. The writer says “Let us hold fast…” It’s not an individual matter. Many say they have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our relationship is very personal, but it is not private. It is to be shared with other people. Christians cannot grow to full maturity in Christ without interacting with other Christians who can help them continue believing what they believe.

Secondly, the writer says to not stop meeting together so that Christians can continually encourage each other to participate in love and good works. What good works is he speaking of? The writer is not talking about what the world perceives as good works. It’s not simply about Christians helping each other recycle better or protect the environment. It’s about Christians participating in good works that are going to expand God’s kingdom, help each Christian grow, and ultimately glorify God.

A Model Church

Since the Bible does include a church that regularly meets together, it is that church that must be examined to see what these good works look like. At the beginning of the Christian movement, Luke gives us a concise picture of what the early church looked like:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of 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 people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Within this passage, there are seven characteristics of what it looks like for a church to operate and for Christians to faithfully gather and encourage each other toward good works.

  1. Preaching and Teaching

It is crucial for Christians to read the Bible on their own throughout the week. But this does not suffice for proper diet of the word of God. Along with personal Bible reading, Christians need to regularly be sitting under someone preaching and teaching God’s word to them. The early church was “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”

It is not enough to listen to podcast sermons. Doing this is good for Christians, but podcasts allow the Christian to listen to whatever topic they want instead of getting a steady diet decided by a shepherd and it allows Christians to stop listening when they get bored or uncomfortable.

Attending church means Christians are listening to preaching and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them through the work of the Word.

  1. Friendship/Community

People often speak of this aspect as “fellowship”. But fellowship is different. Fellowship will be discussed later. The believers in the early church were best friends. They were eating meals in each others’ houses every day. The closest friends of a Christian should be those in the church. When a believer begins to be led into flawed thinking such as believing a false doctrine, ending their marriage, living in sin, and such, it is their friends who can best correct them and they need godly friends who can.

  1. Fellowship

The word “fellowship” comes from the greek “Koinonia.” Koinonia is a relationship that goes far beyond two people eating at Chick-Fil-A together. It is used for Christian fellowship, but it’s also used for sexual intercourse.

Fellowship is more than socializing. It is when two or more people are partnered together with the same vision and goal in mind and headed relentlessly toward that. For Christians to have fellowship means that they are striving together for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom and seeing fellow believers reach full maturity in Christ. (Eph 4:13)

  1. Prayer

The church must be praying together. Prayer fuels all of the Christian’s work. It must be more than Christians praying for the healing of Uncle Frank in the hospital. Those things must be prayed for, but the church’s prayers must be laser focused on the mission of the church which is to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.

  1. Generosity

The early church sold their property and possessions to help one another out. They did way more than drop a check in an offering plate. The early church had a generosity that allowed them to be sacrificial for the benefit of each other. God expects the church today to have this same kind of generosity.

  1. Worship/Praise

Many people quote Rom 12:1 and say that worship is not about singing a song, but is about offering your life as a sacrifice. While that is true, the early church was daily praising God in the temple. Worshipping through song was a regular part of their Christian lives and it should be the same with Christians today.

  1. Multiplication

Finally, the mission of the church is that more and more Christians will be created through its work. The church is supposed to be about helping the poor and reaching the outcast, but if that is done apart from the Gospel being proclaimed and people coming to Christ, it is not functioning right. A good sign of a faithful church is if God is adding to their numbers daily of those who are being saved.

Conclusion

It is absolutely crucial that Christians go to church. Christ left the church on earth to make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) This best takes place as local churches gather every week to encourage one another to love and good works. So go to church. Begin to serve in the church. Fall in love with the church.


[1] Whitney, Donald S. “Why Go to Church.” Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, 15-17. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1996.

Sanctification in Ice Skating

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Last night, I went ice skating……if you could call it that.

I went with 10 other friends from seminary. I’ve roller bladed maybe twice in my life and I didn’t do that correctly at all. I was hugging the wall the whole time. So, I never learned how to move my feet in a way that would actually move me in skating.

So, when I tried to ice skate, I failed. I didn’t know how to move at all and hugged the wall the whole time. Thankfully, some of the people there with me helped me. I had a person holding my left arm, a person holding my right arm, someone in front of me, and someone behind. It looked kinda like I was Santa’s sleigh and they were the reindeer. It was pretty pathetic and I got pretty frustrated. I didn’t fall very seriously at any point. I did go down a couple times but they all let me down slowly and helped me back up.

God has given me a weird ability to be able to find a Christian lesson in just about anything during daily life. So, a lesson was running through my head while I was on the ice.

Picture me as a new believer, the ice rink as the Christian life, and my friends there as the church. The second I step on to the ice rink is when I come to faith in Jesus. And now I have to navigate the waters (or in this case, ice) of being a Christian.

If no one comes to help me, I will not get anywhere. I will hug the wall the whole time, slip and fall, and bust my face open. But when the body of Christ comes and grabs a hold of me to help me learn how to do it, I will become stronger and be able to know what I am doing. If I fall, they can help me to go down slowly and then pick me right back up.

Christians, this is what the church is. Discipleship must be done as part of the church and so older believers must latch on to new believers to teach them how to be a Christian. If not, they will never grow up into maturity. They will grow only in years of being a Christian and be a 30 year old that looks like a baby.

Grab on to someone at church and teach them how to follow Christ. It’s the whole purpose of the church.

Young, Restless, and Taking Ourselves Way too Seriously

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I am in my twenties. In our current world, that means I am dubbed a millennial. However, in the current Christian world, that means I am part of the generation of the Young and Restless movement.

The Young and the Restless movement consists of a lot of hipster young adults and overly-ambitious college students. In a nutshell, this movement is all about changing the world and doing really big things in mission. Hence they are called restless.

So these young, hip men and women are always found sitting around coffee shops reading books like David Platt’s Radical or Katie Davis’s Kisses from Katie. They are very adamant about the causes they are passionate about.

These people like to go to conferences and get really excited about movements. One example is the annual Passion conference in Atlanta, GA. I love Passion. I went in 2013. Half of my favorite worship songs come from Passion.

I don’t want to go to Passion again. It’s the same stuff every year. John Piper is going to preach a sermon that you barely understand, Francis Chan is going to cry, the band is going to sing a song with massive jumping and dancing, and they are going to get you to draw red X’s on your hand in order to release 27 million people from slavery.

People go to Passion to change the world. “By going to Passion, we are shining a light on slavery!” “We are going to save all those people from slavery before we die!”

No you’re not. There will be slavery until Jesus returns. No matter how many Instagram pictures you post of your red X, those people are still in slavery.

This is my hang up with the Young and Restless movement: We take ourselves way to seriously. We sit around coffee shops talking really passionately about things like ending slavery, but in reality, we never do anything about it, except give money to a cause. 99.99999% of us are never going to pull a Liam Neeson and save a slave from their captor. And if we do, we’d have to do it 27 million more times to successfully end slavery. We are just going to talk about why everyone else needs to.

I do have a friend in Germany as a missionary working with women in slavery, but most people are going to be used by God for mission in the context of where they live. Most of us are like Timothy (doing ministry in one spot) instead of Paul (traveling around).

The Young and the Restless have great passion and energy, but we need to realign our focus. We need to stop thinking so global/big picture for ourselves and think in our actual context. The Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like a tidal wave, pouring over the entire land all at once. According to Jesus, it operates like a seed. (Mark 4:3-8; Matt. 13:31-32)

Jesus calls us to make disciples. (Matt. 28:19) This happens slowly. We have to plant a seed and nurture it as it grows. No forest springs up over night. It takes decades, even centuries for a forest to reach it’s full beauty. The church of Jesus Christ does not consist of individual persons each building their own forest. It consists of a group of people working together to build one massive forest by each individually cultivating a few trees.

It takes a lot of time. You aren’t going to build a fully learned disciple over night. In fact, they won’t be fully developed until Jesus returns. (Phil 1:6) It is going to take a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of meeting with that person to grow them as a disciple. This year is my seventh year being a Christian and I have grown exponentially since I chose to follow Jesus, but I still have more imperfections than I could list in this blog post. I still have to be cultivated and nurtured by other Christians to grow more.

So Young and Restless movement, I love your vision. Your passion to see things done for the Kingdom of God is great. But start putting words to your actions. Stop thinking extremely big picture and get down to your actual context. You are not going to obliterate modern day slavery or bring the entire nation of India to Christ in a single day. But you could make disciples of a few people in your life. These people will in turn make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples and it will all spread.

Disciple making happens in small amounts. Jesus made 11 in his whole ministry, who each made disciples until the whole world was reached. So stop trying to change the world and start building the church.

Jesus doesn’t call us to be restless, but to be faithful. Truly being radical in your faith doesn’t mean you have to go across the world, though you can do that if you want. It means that you are fully surrendered to Jesus. Your heart is completely his. Whatever he says to do, you will do.

Let us lay down our restlessness at the feet of Jesus. He is standing in front of us saying, ““Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Rethinking Christian “Fellowship”

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I’ve been to a lot of “fellowships” in my time as a Christian. Super Bowl fellowships. Swimming fellowships. Basketball fellowships. Disney fellowships. Movie fellowships. Halloween fellowships.

They were all great and I had a ton of fun. Some of my best friendships were built at those. But I don’t know if we can call it a fellowship. Sure, it was Christians hanging out together, but we weren’t doing anything related to our faith. We were watching sports and eating chicken wings. We were dressing up like Disney characters or superheroes. We were watching the Hunger Games.

Christians often say things like, “I am going to the restaurant with you all, but I’m not going to eat. I’m just going for the fellowship.”

I’m not sure the Bible has this kind of mentality on what fellowship is. I’m not sure fellowship in the Bible is the same thing as hanging out with people.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” -Acts 2:42

“We who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.” -Psalm 55:14

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” -Philippians 2:1-2

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to hang out with people outside of “Jesus settings” but fellowship is something much deeper than watching the Super Bowl. Fellowship is deeper family time in which brothers and sisters strive to lead each other farther in Christ and grow in him.

Think about it. If you are trying to have fellowship with Christ, you don’t just sit in your living room and say you are hanging out with Jesus. You spend time in the Word. You spend time in prayer. You sing praises. Likewise, the Bible describes Christian fellowship in that way.

“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” -Ephesians 5:19-21

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” -Colossians 3:16

 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling 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

Again, I think it is good for Christians to hang out with one another. I do it all the time. But let us seek for our “fellowship” to be more than eating chicken wings and watching television, barely talking because we are caught up in the action on the screen.

Rather, let our fellowship be a time when we encourage one another, build one another up, gracefully get in each others’ faces, and discuss Jesus. All of this so that those in the fellowship can grow to know Jesus and love Jesus more.

Word Up!

The New Testament is full of language of how Christians are supposed to talk toward one another. Here are a few examples:

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

So encourage each other with these words.” -1 Thessalonians 4:18

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” -Ephesians 4:29

We love that preacher who will get up in front of a crowd and talk about how bad Christians are doing. “You need to get out of Facebook and get into the Book! You don’t pray enough! You should be evangelizing more! You are not giving enough effort in your walk!”

Certainly, there are times when it is necessary to rebuke and correct. However, we hear this kind of teaching and we start thinking about how terrible everyone around us is doing in their walk and we boast internally to ourselves that this guy is talking about all of them. We hear this kind of talk and we yell, “Preach it, brother!”

But if a speaker gets on the stage and encourages the audience in their walk. If he tells them that they are doing well, the crowd isn’t so entertained. Now, I understand, sometimes this can be bad. Just recently, Joel Osteen’s wife got on stage and “encouraged” everyone to do good  for themselves because God is happy when we do things for ourselves.

However, there is such a lack of encouragement among Christians. We are really good at being critical of others. But we rarely encourage one another in the Lord to continue following after Jesus.

So do that. Think about people you know who are doing well in their walk with Jesus and go encourage them to continue in him. Based on the New Testament, that is what the church community is for: To encourage one another because Christ’s return is near!

Why Many Church Kids Leave the Church

I’m sure you know at least one of them. You know those people who grew up in church. They were at all the fellowships. They went to church camp every year and probably even cried during that emotional final night of the week. They might have led worship during youth group and maybe even taught a Bible study.

But today, they are grown up and they are not in the church. In fact, they might even be professing atheists today. And you look at them and wonder, “What happened to you?” Maybe you believe in the doctrine of eternal security which says that you can’t lose your salvation (as I do) and this kind of person makes you question it. Yeah, people will say that those kids probably never knew Jesus, but that is hard to compare with how passionate they were for him during their youth years.

I have known many people who fit the bill for this description. I’ve even had really close friends who fit this description. I can’t say I know the answer to the question above of “were they ever really saved?”, but maybe I can offer some insight as to why I think they are no longer in church and no longer following after Jesus.

Disclaimer: I am not claiming that this is the case with every kid who grew up in church that is not in church anymore.

A big reason that church kids leave the church is because of the adults in their lives. That could be their parents, the adults in their church, or any other Christian adult they know.

You get well-meaning adults who genuinely do want the best for kids and they begin teaching Christianity to those kids, but in a wretchedly wrong way. They don’t teach them the truth of the Gospel. Rather, they teach them morality.

So those church kids grow up knowing a list of moral commands that they must keep in order to be a “good” Christian with no emphasis on Jesus. They know that true love waits. They know that we shouldn’t drink beer or cuss. We shouldn’t do anything more than hold hands with someone we are not married to. We shouldn’t see any movie that is rated “R” (we make an exception for “The Passion of the Christ”). They know that every good Christian votes Republican and only votes on 3 issues: traditional marriage, pro-life, and the right to bear arms. They know that being a good Christian means that you are a generally nice person in public and don’t end up in jail. They know that in difficult situations, they should ask What Would Jesus Do (and they probably wear bracelets with WWJD on it). They are taught to pray when they get up, before their meals, and before they go to bed.

And they are taught that if you don’t do these things or if you screw up and slip into a sin, God is sitting in heaven disgusted at you. In fact, you’d better ask for forgiveness quickly or he might blast fire out of heaven and kill you where you stand.

So this exhausting list of moral impossibility is taught to the church kids while they are young. During their young years, they understand it as proper obedience, until they move out or go off to college. Then they realize they are free to do whatever they want. With this freedom, they leave the church and start doing everything they were ever told not to do.

While some of these things above are true laws for the Christian to flourish in their relationship with Christ, if they are the basis of salvation, we are no different from the religions that seek to earn God’s approval. Often, people openly say they don’t believe salvation is by works, but then they teach a works-based system like this.

Church kids, along with all the church, must be taught over and over again the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. We did nothing to obtain salvation. It was all because of Jesus. In fact, we are completely unable to reach God’s perfection. It’s time we stop splitting the world into good and bad people. You and all your friends and loved ones are not the good guys. We are all the bad guys and Jesus is the good guy who took on our badness to save us from ourselves.

And so, as he is nailed to the cross, he cries out to God, “Have you forsaken me?” He says this so that forever, those who believe the Gospel do not have to. They will be forever with God! The “good” Christian is not the one who successfully keeps the ten commandments of American evangelicalism. It is the one who believes the Gospel. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Your works don’t determine if God looks at you with favor. Jesus Christ on the cross determines that you have favor with God.

And the even more exciting news is that you can’t lose that favor. I can’t sin my way out of God’s love and favor, for Christ is the one who died. This means that when you screw up, as you will a lot, you don’t have to put yourself in the penalty box and wait a couple of days to come back to God. You can come back now! You are still righteous before God by the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for those in Christ!

Maybe you think this kind of teaching will lead people to sin like crazy with no worry. And that is a temptation sometimes. But if you truly understand this grace that God has given you in Christ, you won’t do it. Yes, you will sometimes turn, even willingly, to sin, but your allegiance will be to Jesus Christ, who you love with all your heart.

This is the message that youth in the church, as well as adults in the church, need to be taught. That God adopted Christians in Christ. That Christians are his children who he will never cast out. That he has made us holy and blameless in his sight. And that he continues to lavish his grace upon us every day.

Oh, this grace on which I stand!

The Repetitive Baptist Prayer

I am a Southern Baptist. I love it. I don’t think I’ll ever be part of another denomination.

I may love the Baptist tradition, but I do consider other denominations my brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they are true followers of Jesus, meaning they believe the Gospel.

I hear a lot of Baptist speak against Catholics in how they pray. Because they pray the Lord’s prayer or other repeated prayers, they are said to violate Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 where he says not to pray with vain repetition. I would absolutely agree, under most circumstances, don’t pray with repetitive prayers. But I do have to challenge those in my own denomination who say this.

Have you ever heard either of these prayers:

“Lord, thank you for this meal. Use it to the nourishment of our bodies.”

“Dear Lord and Gracious Heavenly Father. Thank you for this day and all your many blessings. Lead, guide, and direct us. In Jesus name, Amen.”

I hear these two prayers all the time. In fact, by habit, I sometimes unintentionally pray the first one.

Baptists, these are just as repetitive as those Catholics use.

Think about it. We get to talk to the God of the universe! The one who created us. We get to speak to God! Why in the world would we ever want to recite something to him when we can talk to him? If I were married, I’d never recite a speech to my wife. I’d genuinely talk to her because I love her! The same with God.

Let us all, Baptist, Catholic, or anyone else, make our prayers like this. The prayer over your meal. The prayer over the offering in church. The closing prayer at church. None of these are transitions to get on to the meal or the next part of church. They are prayers. You are talking to the God who loves you. The God who made you. He has a personality. He has a character. Talk to him like he is a person and not just some genie in a lamp that you have to recite a certain saying to get what you want. Talk to him like he is really there.

Praise God we get to talk to him.

Holy Spirit, Fill This Place?

Often, I think we pray for the wrong thing. During worship services, sometimes we pray that the Holy Spirit would fill the place. That’s a great prayer, but I think it’s a little off target.

Sometimes, I feel like we are praying that a warm breeze would fill the room when we pray that. That wouldn’t benefit us in any way. We’d just have to turn the air up because the people would be complaining that it is too hot in the sanctuary.

Think of the Holy Spirit as water. If the stained-glass windows were to explode in your church and a rush of water came in and filled the room like a scene right out of Titanic, it would not be beneficial for the congregation. They’d drown and die.

However, if you give them a glass of water and they drink it, they have the required strength to live life.

When the Holy Spirit first fell in Acts 2, it did fill the room in a wind, but it wasn’t until it actually rested on the apostles that anything happened in the life of the church.

So it’s not bad to desire the Holy Spirit to fill a place, but what is His target? Is it simply to fill the room and make everyone have warm, fuzzy feelings while they sing? Or is it that the Holy Spirit would fill each person in the room and send them out to do God’s work in the world?

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our people that the Kingdom of God will advance in the world for the glory of Jesus in all nations.