Come to Church! Five Compelling Reasons Why

January 21, 2014

coming to churchOne of the my earliest sermons was entitled, “Forsake Not the Assembly.” It was based upon the “go-to” verse on this topic–Hebrews 10:25. Since then, I have spent a considerable amount of energy trying to urge; convince; beg; encourage; and challenge folks to grasp the eternal significance of gathering weekly with the church.

I will give it another shot. Here are five compelling reasons why you should worship with the church every Sunday.

  1. Church is a big deal to God. How big? Christ started and endorsed the church–Matthew 16:18; His sacrifice purchased the church and made it whole–Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27. He married it. The church is the bride of Christ–Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2,9. The idea that we can have Christ without the church is unthinkable to God. From heaven’s perspective there is no “take it or leave it” option when it comes to the church. God is all in on the church. Jesus gave all to the church.
  2. Worship matters. What goes on in church is also a big deal. When we gather with the Spirit of God in our midst, events of eternal importance occur. Communion takes us to the cross and beyond. It anchors our gathering with reflection, thanksgiving, and anticipation. Our singing is designed to encourage, teach, and build up each other. Our prayers are like sweet incense to God. Biblical teaching expands our understanding of God and his will for us. The sweet fellowship we enjoy strengthens and refreshes. None of this is accidental. It is thoroughly God-designed–just for us. Why deny ourselves this incredible blessing?
  3. Church is a redemptive community. It is usually at this point in this discussion when all the church warts are pointed out. Yes, it is true. The church is made up of all sorts of less-than-perfect people. Folks in the church do dumb things and often fail to model Christ consistently. It is also a fact that our exercise of worship can occasionally seem repetitive and less-than-inspirational. We are after all, human. But we are not what makes the church such a compelling place. It is Christ and his redemptive work within us. The apostle Paul recalled the sorry former state of some who made up the Corinthian church. But that was before Jesus. He tells them, “Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a frest start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah and by God present in us, the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:11 MSG). This is the church–full of a bunch of sinners given another chance by Jesus. The church celebrates; reflects; and embodies his redemptive work. When we can focus on that–on him; our attitude about church and our experience in church will likely change.
  4. We need you. You have a place in this redemptive community. God has arranged it (1 Corinthians 12:18). You belong. You fit. We need your giftedness; your heart (especially if it is broken); your presence. Your background does not matter. Without you here, we are not complete. Please do not ever believe otherwise–we need you.
  5. God loves you. Ultimately this is what it is all about. Earlier, I referenced Ephesians 5:25-27. It is a beautiful text on many different levels: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The church is about the love of God working in you to bring about transformation; to bring about God’s eternal will for you to enjoy a relationship with him forever.

To the skeptics; to the burned out; to the suspicious; to the bruised; to the turned-off; to the struggling; to the disappointed; to the disillusioned; to those who no longer believe; to those who doubt; to the tired: to the former faithful; to anyone who has given up on or never were interested: give church a chance. Come and worship with us Sunday. It will be far from a perfect experience. But that is why we are here. We need redemption. We need Jesus. And yes, we need you.


Five Reasons Why It Is Easy to Bash the Church

January 15, 2014
  1. It is easier to criticize than to praise. It requires much less effort to point out what is wrong, than to celebrate what is right. A church may be engaged in all kinds of encouraging, life-changing ministry, but it is the flaws that seem to get most of the focus. And there are flaws and always will be. Which means…
  2. The church is an easy target. Yep, we have hypocrites, liars, the immoral, the insensitve, the intolerant, and the self-righteous. Often we seem out-of-touch and archaic. Name it (and the critics do) because we got it. Never mind that we also have the faithful, the loving, the pure, the servant-hearted: you know, folks trying to model Jesus. Forget the fact that by its very nature the church welcomes all of the above to enter into a transformative relationship with Christ. Ignore the reality that we are and will contiune to be (until Christ returns) a work in progress– never claiming perfection. Our mistakes just make too big a target for many to see beyond.
  3. Misery sells. Good news creates much less buzz than bad. The media has grasped this for decades. Church bashing simply has broader appeal than church praising. It has become a cottage industry.
  4. Everyone is an expert. Just ask and you will discover that almost everyone has an opinion (usually a strong one) about the church. These opinons usually contain criticism complete with a “how to fix it” plan. Very few experts see themselves as part of the problem, however.
  5. It is self-serving. For many church bashing serves to create justification for their own choices. “The church is bad therefore I will not support it” or “The church is bad and I need to change it” or “The church is bad therefore I will oppose it”- is the idea. Obviously, this is not true about criticism across the board, Also, it must be acknowleged that some have suffered genuially terrible experiences in churches, which has created difficult personal spiritual struggles. But for many criticizing the church simply serves their own purposes.

There is a difference, of course, between healthy criticsim which seeks to instruct and improve. I see the apostle Paul engaged in this kind of criticism as he dealt with the first century churches. He pointed out their flaws; their sins, but always with the goal of correcting them in the most productive way in Jesus. He never engaged in bashing. His was redemptive criticism. Some, who survey the church today and offer a critique do so in the same spirit and for the same purpose. We need that. It is healthy.

What we do not need is the type of critcism reflective in my five reasons. It is counterproductive and damaging.


Too Busy To? Five Signs of Being Too Busy

October 31, 2013

I just ordered the book, Crazy Busy by Edward Hallowell. It has not arrived yet- so no comment on it, but I eagerly await it. Hopefully it will give me some insight on how to slow down a crazy busy life.

Kid’s soccer games and basketball practice; work responsibilities and work-related meetings; church events; school events; work-around-the-house concerns; they can become all consuming. The calendar gets full in a hurry. You know the drill. Some of it is important; some of it is urgent; some of it is neither, but we rush into it all none-the-less.

It is busyness and often we embrace it with pride. It becomes a symbol of our significance. Amazingly, not being busy now equals not mattering. We do it. We post it on Facebook. We tweet about it. We matter! It has become embarrassing to admit that we actually have nothing to do on Saturday night.

But is staying busy really all that?

God, knowing the tendencies of his creation, mandated a Sabbath rest for the Hebrews. Jesus, who indeed was a busy man with a most important agenda, often “withdrew” from the bustle and demand of the crowds to rest and pray. Scripture encourages us to, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Without a doubt, we can become too busy for our own good. Here are five signs that we are there:

  • You cannot remember what is next. In a conversation with my wife recently, I expressed relief that nothing was planned the next night. She quickly corrected me. We did have something planned– kind of a big deal church event which had long been on the calendar. At that moment I had completely forgotten about it. When we have too much going on to remember it all, perhaps that is a sign that we have too much going on.
  • You can no longer just relax. Whether it is from being too overstimulated for too long or you feel guilty for taking a break–if you cannot “be still” that likely is not healthy.
  • It bothers you that other people are not as busy as your are. Having experienced life in other cultures, it amuses me to see Americans adjust to slower-paced countries. Often they conclude that the locals are simply lazy. The locals, on the other hand, look at us and ask, “what’s your hurry?”
  • You must multi-task. Yesterday, I heard about a movie theater chain that plans to open up a section in each of its viewing halls for texters. The two hour viewing time for a typical movie is now way too long to stay off the phone. Ah, the phones. Ever try having a conversation with someone who cannot keep his eyes off the screen? Too busy to talk! Busyness can be an addiction with technology being the drug.
  • You have less time for God. Ultimately, this is the lasting danger of busyness. When we overstuff our calendars, something will get squeezed out. Quite often these are the very things which strengthen our relationship with God. We become too busy to pray; too busy to praise; too busy to interact with God in any meaningful way. Other appointments take precedent over Sunday worship. Devotional and Bible reading opportunities get lost in the shuffle. Instead of seeking “first” Christ’s kingdom, we find ourselves able only to give God a few minutes here or there.

Recall the story of Martha in Luke 10:38-42. The occasion was a visit of Jesus to her house. Rightly, we would think, she became busy with meal preparations. Her sister, Mary, did not join her, choosing rather to pause to listen to Christ’s teaching. This bothered Martha and she complained to Jesus about it. His words to her speak to our busyness now: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

Let’s not get too busy to choose the “best part.”


A Post-Racial Church?

July 16, 2013

As evidenced by the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case—America is a long way from being post-racial. This case has pealed back layers of deep-seated emotions—raw and on full display 24/7 on various news outlets.

Folks from all sides have seized this unfortunate series-of-events to posture; profit; accuse; and vigorously fuel the racial divide.  On one level this should be a huge disappointment for our nation. Shouldn’t we be beyond this? On another level maybe this should be expected. After all, we live in a broken world and racism remains an entrenched part of it.

Caught up in this furor is, of course, the church. If ever there is to be a place that is post-racial it is God’s kingdom.  Scripture is clear:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.  (Acts 10:34)

For God does not show favoritism.  (Romans 2:11)

On the surface both of these texts demonstrate God’s plan and desire is for all people to be embraced equally and fully share in the blessings of God’s grace regardless of racial, social, economic, or gender status. And certainly it is in his church where this ideal should be most evident.

But unpacking both of these texts and understanding their context demonstrates the challenges embedded within this- both for them and us.

The apostle Peter spoke the first sentence as he was first beginning to realize that God’s kingdom extended beyond just the Jewish community. He had a struggle with his own racism to overcome (see Galatians 2:11-13) before he could finally fully embrace a post-racial church.

The second sentence was a part of the apostle Paul’s preamble in his correspondance to a Roman church strictly divided along racial lines. Throughout most of that letter he presented a thorough theological treatise revealing God’s original plan to have a fully integrated church before finally urging them to, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).

“In order to bring praise to God.” If I understand the nature of the church as the present manifestation of God’s kingdom this is foundational to all we do (see 1 Peter 2:9).  What better way to accomplish this now- in the sound and fury of a racially divided America- then to truly love and accept one another regardless of skin color?

A post-racial church? Absolutely! Clearly this is who God has called us to be. It is heaven’s alternative to the harmful emotions and actions that result from racism. The church as a place of refuge from this is God’s desire.

But let’s be honest. This can remain as challenging for us as it was for the first century church. None of us have escaped the social and racial conditioning influence of our culture. So we must remember that only in Christ is racism really and completely solved.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want the angry, partisan, self-serving, race-based politics of our culture to influence the church. I want the post-racial ethic of a church that looks and acts like Jesus to influence our culture.


Just Want to Say, Thank You.

June 13, 2013

Occasionally a preacher’s life can become difficult because of the job. I have had a few moments like that over the years. Some I created. Some other’s instigated.

I have heard all of the lame preacher’s jokes, but hardly ever were they delivered mean-spiritedly. I can only remember  a few times when I took them personally.

In reflection, whatever difficulties I have endured have been more than overshadowed by love, support, understanding, encouragement, acceptance, and grace.

The churches where I have served have overwhelmingly embraced me and my ministry– even in spite of my human weaknesses. God has provided me many FOPs (friend of preachers) along the way. What blessings and joy I have received throughout my ministry!

Now, I just want to say, thank you.


Truth, Propositional and Relational

February 14, 2013

The excellent article below was written by Cecil May, Jr. who currently serves as a Dean at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. Brother May is a highly respected scholar of the Word, educator, and preacher. The article first appeared in the February 2013 publication, Preacher Talk. It is presented here with his permission. Brother May’s email is cmay@faulkner.edu if you would like to contact him about the article. 

A frequently heard postmodern statement is “Truth is not propositional; it is relational.

It is worthy of notice that much of postmodern writing and conversation, including this sentence, is self-contradictory. “Truth is not propositional; it is relational,” is itself a proposition. Is it true?

It is important to understand that Christian truth is personal and relational. Jesus is a person and he is truth personified (John 14:6). Jesus said in a prayer to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you are the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In order to know “the only true God and Jesus” we must know what Scripture tells us about them; or better said, what they tell us about themselves in Scripture. But an unbeliever can know everything Scripture says about Jesus and still not have eternal life. It is one thing to know about him and another to know him. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). There is a real person to whom the facts in Scripture speak, and we know him, the living Christ by faith. Christian truth is relational. It also brings us into precious relationships with others who by faith follow Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Christian truth is also propositional. Any sentence intended to state a truth is a proposition and that describes  many Christian truths. Jesus’ statements, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), are often cited to show truth is relational. But they are propositions, and if they are not truth, there is no basis for saying truth is relational.

Simon Peter’s statement to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), is a proposition. If it is not true, any relationship people may think they have is not with Jesus, but with an invention of their own subjective imaginations.

“Jesus is Lord” and “God raised Jesus from the dead” are propositions. They are true and they must be believed and confessed if we are to have a relationship with Jesus and God. “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Jesus himself asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Propositional truth  becomes relational truth when we trust and obey.


A Belonging Place

November 8, 2012

Imagine the tension among the collection of folks who made up the first century church.

Christians from a Jewish background had extreme difficulty accepting and trusting non-Jews (and visa-versa). Each group brought an entirely different worldview with them into the church including a long history of racial tension between them.  (Spend some time in the NT books of Romans and Galatians to get a feel for this struggle.)

Then there was the economic divide to overcome. Masters and slaves worshipped together. Rich and poor both were called to follow Jesus. Politicians and patrons were invited to come to Christ along with common laborers and prostitutes. Even though they lived in the same communities the daily life experience of these groups was incredibly inequitable.  (Revisit the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 to catch a glimpse of this difference.)

Gender roles also added to the overall challenge. Men had the monopoly on calling the shots in first century culture. Women were a long way from anything resembling equal rights. (Check out 1 Corinthians 11 to understand a little more about this.)

Yet into this mix Paul would write:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26-28)

Among their cultural realities, Paul wanted God’s people to strive for something better—a true belonging place where relationship with Christ trumped everything else and created a wonderful kingdom alternative that erased all of the political, racial, class, and gender barriers.

Notice his use of language and image to this end.

Clothes say much about our identity.  In Paul’s culture it would have been easy to spot the wealthy in their purple attire and gold jewelry. Most slaves would have been identifiable by their simple garments. Jews dressed quite differently than Greeks.  Women literally wore their social and marital status on their clothes.  The poor had to get by with whatever they could find.

Paul’s expressed desire for God’s people was to subvert these societal norms through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. His message was to “wear” Christ—to allow their identity as Christians to supersede everything else.  In so doing they would destroy the divisive social, racial, and gender barriers and become one in Christ.

In this way their Greek identity; their Jewish tradition; their expensive (and prideful perhaps) displays of wealth; their shame of poverty; and even their gender status would melt away at the foot of the cross. All that meant everything outside of Christ would mean nothing in him. (Paul personally modeled this- read Philippians 3:4-17.)

This was Paul’s vision of God’s church. It was to be a belonging place where everyone was not only welcome, but also able to freely and equally enjoy the blessings of God’s mercy and grace—a place free of the divisiveness and tension of the harsh world.

And how did this all work out?

Well, just read through his New Testament letters. God’s ideal and human reality clashed. There was a learning curve here. Folks entrenched and indoctrinated in the worldviews that created the tension had to learn a new way of doing and being in Christ—actually an entirely new way of conceptualizing the world and viewing one another.  (Which puts his statement of no longer regarding anyone “from a worldly point of view” in 2 Corinthians 5:16 into context. That entire text is very informative to this overall discussion.)

It is no different now.

In our factious culture still so defined by class, race, gender, and other layers of social and economic status and so polarized by the pandering of our political party system— God’s kingdom alternative of a welcoming place that eradicates all of those divisive labels and allegiances through the unifying force of Christ is both desperately needed and refreshing.

That place is God’s church. Here there is neither black nor white; Republican nor Democrat; rich nor poor; male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. (If this statement increases your blood pressure then you are relating to the challenge of the NT church.)

Wearing Jesus trumps all the rest.

What an undeniable witness to heaven this truly is.

Are we up to the challenge?

Is your church a true belonging place?

To genuinely follow Christ do we really have any other option?


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