Church Hopping

All churches have problems. There is no such thing as a perfect church. A lot of us can get a “grass is greener” syndrome, thinking that some church in another location is just awesome and our congregation just stinks. We can get all worked up about all things we don’t like, and we look for ways to justify leaving. But then we go to the “awesome” church, and after the honeymoon period, the “awesome” church…isn’t. We then move on to another, and another, and another, until we run out of options. Some even try to return to a previous congregation and make another go at it. This is called “church hopping.” Church hopping is pretty prevalent, especially in areas where there are many congregations from which to choose.

What you will find is that the problem wasn’t really with all those congregations, it was with the individual. Those expectations are too high or not even Biblical. There is far too little introspection to see what’s going on inside me; maybe I’m the one who needs to change, not the church. The church hopper is lacking also in humility and mercy. Sometimes folks are looking for a church to serve them, instead of trying to see how they can be a servant alongside the brethren. Another part of this is that some want to serve how they want to serve, but do not look to see what the needs of the congregation are. Maybe the way I want to serve is not what is needed at the time; I might need to serve in a way that is different and uncomfortable for me.

How often in Scripture do you see Jesus or any inspired writer telling the Christians to split and start another church? There may be a time, and there have been times, when Christians are forced to part from a group and go elsewhere. Maybe they even start a brand new congregation. But that is not the rule, it should be the exception. The rule is that we need to work things out with humility, be patient, and have some mercy toward our brethren.

If you look at the churches of Asia for example, you can see that the Lord was incredibly longsuffering with them. Jesus stood at the door and patiently knocked, even when a church like Laodicea was so lukewarm it made Him want to vomit. The congregation in Thyatira had a woman there like Jezebel who somehow was encouraging the brethren to commit sexual immorality and leading them into idolatrous practices. Jesus gave them “time to repent.” Sardis was identified by Jesus as “dead,” but he encouraged the few who were still walking in white garments to keep on going and be faithful.

So, before you go running for the door, run to Jesus and have a heart check. Do some real introspection in prayer to make sure that leaving this congregation is what Jesus really wants you to do. He may want you to change you, not try to change a congregation.

Paul was with them

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
(2 Timothy 2:2)

Timothy was charged by Paul through the Holy Spirit to think of the next several generations of Christians, specifically those who would be teaching and leading in the churches. It is not enough merely to think of what is going on in our time and who is leading us now, we must look to train and nurture the next leaders.

But at a practical level, how is this done? For today, we will simply consider the point that Paul was “with” these future leaders constantly. Pay attention to words like “with” in the book of Acts and Paul’s letters. He’s pretty much always with someone, isn’t he?

Paul wanted to have him (Timothy) go on with him…
(Acts 16:3)

Be diligent to come to me quickly…. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.
(2 Timothy 4:9-12)

This really isn’t that complicated, but in order to influence people you have to be around them! In order for our young men and women to learn how to teach and lead they have to be around those constantly who are doing those very things. Just at the church building on Sunday and Wednesday isn’t enough.

Also of note here from 2 Timothy 2:2 is that Timothy was to be an initiator of this teaching. Don’t get in the trap of waiting for everyone to come to you to learn about the stuff of leadership. We can tell ourselves things like, “Well, if someone has a question or wants to learn something, I’m happy to show them.” You may be waiting a long time for that to happen.

How about this?

  • Plan a visit to one of the widows or shut-ins of the congregation, and take someone with you on that visit.
  • The next time you visit someone who has not been attending services, take someone with you.
  • When you have a study with someone who is not a Christian, take someone with you so they can see what you do.
  • Initiate a work day at the church building, and bring some of the young people who may not normally be involved in such things and have them help in the work.

It’s a start, but again, the key is to be with others. If you find that a lot of your mornings / evenings are wrapped up with watching TV and doing projects around the house, you might want to re-evaluate things. How about taking just one of those nights and spend it mentoring the next generation?

At Least In My Days?

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’ ” So Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good!” For he said, “Will there not be peace and truth at least in my days?”
(2 Kings 20:16-19, NKJV)

Take a moment to re-read what Isaiah said to King Hezekiah. Devastation. Plundered. Captivity and being conquered. Children castrated. This is bad stuff.

What is King Hezekiah’s answer? “Will there not be peace and truth at least in my days?” The English Standard Version reads this way,

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”
(2 Kings 20:19)

Well, that’s really bad stuff, but at least it won’t happen in my time. I can understand how the King would be led to think that way. But before this event, King Hezekiah had taken his eye off the ball. After he was healed by God from a fatal illness, he became lifted up with pride (2 Chronicles 32:25-26). He humbled himself and repented of that pride, but the punishment was already put in place. It was during those years that Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, was born and raised. Manasseh turned out to be the worst, most evil king God’s people ever had.

The mentality of “At Least In My Days” is not just found in Hezekiah’s life. It is found in the church. Sometimes leaders, preachers, elders, parents, etc. are not thinking generation-ally. “Things are going well now at our congregation,” we may think, but are we planning for the next generation of leaders (teachers, preachers, shepherds?). Do we even see the need to do that? If we are going to be faithful to God as leaders in God’s church, then we must diligently and purposefully mentor the next generation of leaders.

Listen to the words of Paul,

and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
(2 Timothy 2:2)

Consider the above verse. Do you see four generations in that passage? Paul –> Timothy –> Faithful men –> Others

Paul wants us to think, talk, plan and behave in a generational way in the church. You see, if you read later in 2 Timothy, Paul through the Holy Spirit knew that things would get worse for the churches. Evil men would grow worse (2 Timothy 3), and people would develop itching ears and heap up false teachers to themselves (2 Timothy 4). Yes, that is bad, but our solution is not to say, “Well, at least we have great leaders now. At least things are going well now and our church is strong now.” That’s not good enough. Think generation-ally.

But how we do that on a practical level? More to come on this soon.

What are your boundaries?

Our daughter was having a conversation with someone the other day about worship, and the person in this discussion (with all good intentions) said that the veil has been taken away in our worship. His thought was that we have all kinds of freedom now in how we worship God.

Her response to him was a simple question, “What are your boundaries, then?” Great question! If we can decide how we worship God, and there is this freedom in Christ, are there any boundaries in how we worship Jesus? Does the freedom in Christ open the door to anything and everything?

We can look in the religious world, and see that the doors have been blown wide open as to what churches find acceptable. But again, what are the boundaries, and who determines them?

Jesus answered this for us. He says plainly that, “Yes, there are boundaries. I set them, and you must stay within them.” Look at the following words from Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:21-24)

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
(Luke 6:46-48)

Even in the New Testament churches as we live under the grace and liberty of Jesus, we have boundaries and they are set by Jesus Himself.

Doing the “Lord’s Work”

Today’s thought from Scripture is a reminder to be careful about compartmentalizing our work for God. There are times when we say we are doing the Lord’s work in connection to what we do with and for the congregation. Preaching, teaching, leading in other parts of the worship, etc. are called accurately the “Lord’s work.”

But what about my responsibilities at home? Is that not also doing the “Lord’s work”? Think about what Jesus told the Jewish leadership when He condemned them for their hypocrisy.

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)– then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
(Mark 7:9-13)

Are we doing the Lord’s work by taking care of our parents? Or are the time and money we offer to the church the only part of our work that is “God’s work”? I believe Jesus answered that for us. Yes, we work for God when we donate our time, efforts and money to the congregation, and at the same time we are working for God when we take time, money and effort to help our family in times of need. We are to do both, but don’t ever minimize the importance of taking care of mom and dad.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.
(1 Timothy 5:4)

The reason I say this is because it can get easy to feel guilty about not being able to do more for God because of the pressing obligations of taking care of aging parents or a special needs child. What did God say “pure religion” was anyway?

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:26-27)

I Wish They Were Here to Hear That Lesson

And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
(Acts 10:24)

So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
(Acts 10:33)

“I wish they were here to hear that lesson.” Sometimes a sermon is preached or a Bible class is taught, and our minds naturally go to some who really could have used that lesson, but were not there. Many times the reason those on our minds were not there was because they simply had other priorities. Just like Absent Thomas missed the first chance to see Jesus risen from the dead (John 20), others may miss a great opportunity to have their souls stirred up by some really good lessons. Here are some thoughts about that.

It may be that the lesson was designed for me, not for them. Spending time on wishing others were there can end up as time wasted if I fail to contemplate on what the lessons did for me and how those lessons can help me grow. I was there to be encouraged and maybe even rebuked, so the mirror was not placed in the face of those who were absent, but in my face as I heard the word preached. Remember how Peter was so concerned about John’s life, and Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21).

Those who were there were edified and stirred up, and maybe those who were stirred up will be a great influence on those who chose to miss the great opportunities to be with God’s people. The church at Sardis was a dead church, but it was not a church without hope or without help, because Jesus charged those who were still alive spiritually to strengthen what remains (Revelation 3). We need to remember this as teachers and preachers. We have to teach those who are there, not obsess over those who are not. Preach to those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and be thankful for their hearts. They will be the catalyst for growth as God works through them. Preach to those like Cornelius and his household, who had gathered together eagerly to hear the word of God.

What if those you wished were there were actually there? Would it have had the effect you wished it would have? Please think about this, if someone’s heart isn’t right or isn’t ready for certain lessons, we can hog-tie them to the pew or guilt them into being there but the word isn’t going to have the effect we would like. There are times when those we are really trying to influence are actually there, and they hear some great lessons, but then we are disappointed because the change doesn’t happen that we are looking for.  By the way, who is that about? I think we are making that about us. Are we truly interested in nurturing someone’s spiritual growth, or are we trying to muscle someone into heaven? In our frustration, we have to remember that God is at work, this is His work, His Word is at work, and God works on His time. God’s word does not return to Him void, it accomplishes what He purposes (Isaiah 55). God gives people a lot of time to repent, to understand, and to “get it.” We have to have that same patience and perspective. Remember that Elijah was despondent and ready to give up because he thought his ministry was ineffective, he was all alone and nobody was listening. God showed him the truth on all those incorrect conclusions (1 Kings 19).

Thankfully, with the benefit of technology, a lot of those great lessons can be preserved, sent all over the world and reheard as much as needed. The opportunities are always there if a person is hungry enough.

Real People

I was talking with Anna this morning about several things, part of which was regarding attitudes and relationships among God’s people. In the midst of that discussion, she shared a thought that she hoped others would realize:

“Congratulations, you just learned that the church is full of real people. Welcome aboard!”

God’s family is made up of broken people who have come to the Great Physician for healing. We are scattered and wandering sheep that have returned to the Great Shepherd of our Souls. We are lost souls who need a Savior.

Keeping that in mind, when we come to worship with God’s people, what are you and I expecting to find? Are we expecting everyone to throw a parade for us, falling at our feet with adoration because we walked into the building? Are we expecting everyone to have a smile and not have a care in the world? Is our assumption that anytime someone frowns, that he or she is upset with you personally?

Listen, real people who are really broken come into the assembly and that may really be showing on their face and coming out in their speech. Real people are sinners in need of grace from God and from you. Real people have bad days and are heavy-hearted. Real people are not always on their “A” Game – It may be a “Y” or “Z” Game that day.

Yes, there certainly are times that God’s people have some areas where we need to improve. We need to be reminded to be more friendly and inclusive. Sometimes cliques do form in the church, and people are left to feel like outsiders. It really does happen.

But I have also seen that every kindness in the world is shown to someone, and he or she still isn’t satisfied, which reveals his or her own spiritual deficiencies. If I am looking to be offended by my fellow Christians, then I will find something to be upset about. If I want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, then Satan will keep me readily supplied with a Sam’s club-sized portion of chips.

Consider that it may be our assumptions, mindset and perspective that is off. The brethren may be just fine, but our attitude toward them is what is out of line. Stop to think about it, do some soul searching and praying about it. Contemplate how much you have invested into the brethren, rather than what you have not received.

“Congratulations, you just learned that the church is full of real people. Welcome aboard!”

What’s Your Custom?

Today, please look at the following four verses and look for customs, habits, and consistent patterns of behavior. Jesus and His parents had customs, things they always did. Certain Christians had made it a habit not to assemble with the brethren. Daniel had always prayed 3 times a day, so when he was commanded not to pray, he just kept doing what he had always been doing.

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.
(Luke 2:41-42)

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
(Luke 4:16)

…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 10:25)

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
(Daniel 6:10)

Customs. Ways of life. Habits. What’s yours? My wife Anna has a Lebanese heritage, and there are certain yummy foods that we always eat at Christmas time because that is our custom.  It may be that your family always goes to a certain place or cabin every year for vacation.

Is it “customary” for you to be found praying like Daniel? Has it become habitual for you not to meet with Christians to worship with them? Do your kids know for certain where you will be on Sunday or is it left up to chance, feelings, or what else may be going on? There was no doubt as to what Daniel would be doing 3 times a day, and he didn’t do it out of a ritualistic habit, it was because he truly loved his Lord and sought His favor. And the same goes for our meeting with our Christian brothers and sisters to worship and have studies. It is not out of tradition that we do it, it is out of a heart that really loves God and knows we truly need each other to help us walk closer to God.

What is your custom? What are your habits?

We Are God’s Watchmen

A recent report from Florida shooting was that there was an armed police officer at the school while the massacre was ongoing. According to the sheriff of Broward County, the officer took a position outside the school for 4 minutes while the shooting was going on inside the building. The shooting rampage lasted 6 minutes. An investigation will be done to further find out the details on this matter. I certainly do not want to write this to bring in any way a judgment on this police officer. We weren’t there and we don’t know enough.

It just made me think.

What this news made me think about was how God has placed His children in positions of leadership and protection, and our job is to watch out for the souls of those around us. We are God’s watchmen. But do we fail to engage at times? We are in a war, a spiritual battle against the hosts of darkness, and sometimes it is clear that God’s men fail to engage and confront the enemy. It might be from fear, from distractions of material pursuits, from dealing with sin in our lives, or some other reason. But there are times when God has positioned us in certain places for a specific reason, and that is to confront the Devil and his destructive lies. We must not position ourselves out of the line of fire. Souls are at stake.

Let’s take a minute to read a passage from Ezekiel and meditate upon it for the weekend. May God give us the courage to be His watchmen.

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
(Ezekiel 33:1-9)

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
(Acts 20:28-31)

See to it

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
(Hebrews 12:15)

See to it. There are things that require our attention. The toilet is leaking at the base, I need to “see to it” and fix the problem. You realized someone stole your debit card information and is spending your money, and you “see to it.” You instantly know the seriousness and urgency.

The Hebrew writer tells us to “see to it” that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. Christians can and do fall away. Our hearts can be hardened, calloused over by the sin in which we are living. We can lose our confidence and joy and consider throwing in the towel. That’s why all Christians need to be on the lookout for each other, because those very things are going on in the brethren around you. Whether it is happening to you right now or not doesn’t matter, it is happening to someone around you. See to it.

Reach out to them today with encouragement. Say a prayer with them over the phone. Remind them with verses from God’s word about the presence and grace of God. Take them out for coffee. Sit with them. Listen. Be compassionate. Realize that they are at war and Satan is having a heyday with them. See to it that you be God’s instrument to bring a little comfort, relief and hope to their hurting hearts.

We do have incredible power and influence when we walk along with God to encourage our brethren. It makes a huge difference, don’t believe otherwise.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
(Hebrews 10:24)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
(Hebrews 3:12-14)