RESOLVE NOT TO BE A CHURCH HOPPER

How are you coming with your New Year’s resolutions so far? Are you making progress, or have you given up already? One resolution worth making is deciding to attend church regularly. In a church fellowship, you can develop relationships with others who are going through the same life events you are facing.

One reason people give for not attending church is that they cannot find one that is a “good fit.” Therefore, they hop around from church to church like a water bug. Water bugs can walk on the surface of the water because their feet never break the surface tension between the water molecules. Their feet never penetrate beyond the surface, so the water holds them up as they scurry from place to place. Finally, a fish comes along and devours them.

In “Made to Count,” authors Bob Reccord and Randy Singer wrote:

Recent polls show a dramatic increase in “Church hoppers”—those who flit from one church to the next like a water bug, never fully landing and immersing themselves into a local body of believers. Something is never quite right. The preacher preaches too long, the members are not very friendly, the music is ‘not my style.’ There’s got to be another church that will better meet my needs. And so the water bug goes, from one church to the next, landing for a flicker here, a moment there, constantly in search of the perfect fit and missing a vital part of their calling. They need to understand an important truth about the church. The church does not exist to serve them. That mindset—consumer Christianity or ‘McChurch’ as some call it—is simply not scriptural.”[1] (https://amzn.to/2RGyhaC)

Instead of church hopping this year, why not penetrate the surface and actually get involved in a church? Go below the superficial level and get involved in the lives of the people there. They are not perfect. The music will not be perfect. The pastor is not perfect, but then again, neither are you. All of us are in the process of becoming more of whom Christ designed us to be. We will never find that perfection in this life, but as Paul said, we need to press on toward the upward calling in Christ Jesus (See Philippians 3:14).

While some would argue that church attendance is not necessary for salvation, the writer of Hebrews exhorted us not to forsake the assembling together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25) Apparently it was a first century problem as well. Many in our country claim to be followers of Christ, but they never attend church except on special occasions like weddings and funerals.

In Revelation 21:9 and 22:17, the Apostle John calls the church the bride of Christ. Reccord and Singer also ask the question of how you could say that you love a friend but can’t stand his or her spouse. Your friend would say, “You must find a way to love my spouse as well if we are going to be friends.” Yet many people want to say that they love Christ, but they can’t stand church. That is like saying, “Jesus, I love you, but I can’t stand your bride.” Christ loved the church and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). The church was important enough to Christ for him to lay down his life for her. The least we can do is to learn to love her, too, despite her imperfections.

Paul compared the church to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-20) All believers have a part in that body. The part you play is an important part of the church. Attending church allows you to exercise your spiritual gifts. If you have the gift of teaching, how can you exercise that gift if you are not involved in church? If you have the gift of exhortation, you need to be involved in the lives of people you can encourage. You will also find encouragement in your own struggles. “As iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), so we sharpen each other. We need others if we want to stay sharp. Without you and your spiritual gifts, the church is incomplete.

If you only flit from church to church, you will never really know what is beneath the surface. Stay sharp this year. Get involved in church

[1] Bob Reccord and Randy Singer, Made to Count: Discovering What to Do with Your Life, (Nashville: W Publishing. 2004) 91. https://amzn.to/2RGyhaC

 

 

 

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WHY WE NEED CHRISTMAS

Most of us recognize the opening to the famous Christmas poem: “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clark Moore, first published in 1823. Its real name is “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Many of our Christmas traditions comes from this poem.

We are familiar with stockings hung by the chimney with care and visions of dancing sugarplums. We know about mother in her ‘kerchief. We relate to Saint Nicholas coming down the chimney and then dashing away from a snow-covered roof in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Each year it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling like the fur he wore from head to foot.

This is what many of us relate to at Christmas. Nothing in this poem has anything to do with the biblical concept of Christmas. It is perhaps a story about generosity and gift giving, but none of this relates to the birth of Christ at all.

Others would say that the concept of giving gifts come from the three magi opening their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Think about the last nativity scene you saw. Usually it takes place in a stable. There you see shepherds and sheep and wise men and camels. What’s wrong with this picture? If the wise men came from the East, i.e. Babylon, they could not have arrived at the same time as the shepherds. It would take months to make that journey. Nor is the number accurate. No mention is made of their number or their names. That is tradition, not Scripture.

Another tradition we often take for granted, if not for gospel truth, is the “angelic choir.” This concept comes from the line in the carol, “Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains.” Luke’s account mentions nothing of a choir. The heavenly host of Luke 2:13 means a heavenly army, not choir boys. No wonder the shepherds were sore afraid. When an army gathered around a city in those days, it meant that you were about to be destroyed. They would send an envoy to ask if you wanted to surrender peacefully or die in a siege. This army came in peace. They did not say that there would forever be peace on earth. They were saying that they did not come to destroy the earth, which they very well could have done.

So much of what we celebrate as Christmas tradition in our culture is mere sentimentality spread through Hallmark movies and Christmas cards. The danger of sentimentality is that it obscures reality. Why do we need Christmas? Retailers would say we need it to boost the economy, but there is a deeper, more valuable reason.

The angel summed it up: “Unto you is born this day…a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We need Christmas because we need a Savior. Christ came because we could not save ourselves. We need someone to save us from sin and death. Romans 8:2 says that we are subject to the law of sin and death, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from that law. Judaism could not do it. All Judaism could do was point them to Christ and the need of a Savior.

For centuries, the Israelites had looked forward in faith to the coming of their Messiah. The angel announced that the Messiah (the Christ) had been born. Today we look back in faith to Christ as the promised fulfillment of those Messianic prophecies. Many Jews did not look at Christ in faith, and they missed the significance of their Messiah.

Today we risk missing the Messiah because we are too wrapped up in the babe lying in a manger and not a Savior hanging on a cross. We feel that there is some good in us. Like Scrooge, all we need is a large dose of sentimentality that will turn us from a miser into a benefactor. Maybe we just need to do a few good deeds so we can earn our angel wings like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Never forget that Christ came to save you from your sins. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. At Christmas, God gave us the greatest gift he ever could. He gave his Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. Have you received his gift yet? If not, you can do so today. If you have, don’t forget to thank him for it.

 

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WHY CREATION MATTERS

While visiting a church where I was to be the guest speaker a couple of years ago, I helped myself to a cup of coffee during the Bible study hour. I could not help but overhear the adult class meeting in the open room nearby. They were discussing a friend who had lost her faith due to watching programs on public television. That network notoriously runs programs to explain “what really happened” in the Bible. As a result, she came to reject the Bible as a collection of fairy tales and “just so” stories.

Excusing myself as I entered the room, I said, “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.” They invited me to join them, which I did. I continued. “It’s not difficult to believe that many so-called Christians lose their faith.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “I mean that if you stumble over the very first verse of the Bible, you will have trouble accepting the rest of it.” Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” I asked them, “How many of you believe in a literal six twenty-four-hour day creation?” They seemed stunned.

Today many Christians believe they are too sophisticated to accept that simple premise. They rationalize. They compromise. The call it a secondary, non-essential doctrine. In fact, the teacher of that class responded, “The Bible does not teach that God created everything in six days.” I had them all turn to the Ten Commandments. In laying down the guidelines for the Sabbath, God told the Israelites: “In six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is within them, and on the seventh day he rested” (Exodus 20:11). Nothing here indicated billions or even millions of years. A straightforward reading indicates six literal days. The teacher was shocked. If this were not true, there would have been no basis for the Israelites to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.

John 1:3 says, “All things came into being through him (the Logos, i.e. Christ), and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being.” Let that sink in. First of all, Christ is not a created being. He brought everything into existence, but he did not bring himself into existence. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have to do mental gymnastics with this to show that Christ was the first created being. This passage does not support that interpretation, which has gone around since the first century heresy of Arianism.

Colossians 1:16 says, “All things in the heavens and on the earth were created by him, things visible and things invisible…all things were created through him and for him.” The New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses blatantly adds the word [other] to change the obvious meaning of the passage. They claim that although the word is not found in the original text, it clarifies the meaning; but it actually distorts the clear equating of Christ with Jehovah, a claim they cannot tolerate.

In the last Gospel presentation made to mankind, the angel says, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship the one who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7). The glory of God is related to his nature as Creator.

At that time, people will be given a choice to worship the Creator, or the Beast. Revelation 14:11 says of those who choose the Beast: “the smoke of their torment went up forever and ever, and those who worshiped the beast and his image did not have rest day and night.”

By downplaying the doctrine of Creation, you are actually robbing Christ of his glory as the Creator. Creation is not a secondary, non-essential doctrine at all. If you doubt the truth of the very first verse of the Bible, you will have trouble all the way through it. However, if you do not stumble at the first verse, you will have no trouble believing that the God who created the universe controls it and sustains it. You will have no trouble believing that the Creator can intervene in his creation at any time, and that he is directing it toward a purposeful end. When that end comes, what side will you be on? Will you stand with the Creator or sit with the assembly of scoffers? (Psalm 1:1). Will you worship the Christ of Creation or the beast of destruction?

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It Can’t Be That Easy

That was how the young couple I was training in FAITH Evangelism responded. They had accompanied me to make an evangelistic presentation to a family. The teenage daughter, after hearing the presentation, decided she wanted to repent of her sin and trust Christ. After a simple prayer, she became a follower of Christ.

When I asked for feedback about the training experience, the young man said becoming a follower of Christ couldn’t be that easy. We want to make it a difficult process. We add rituals, ceremonies and festivities to show we are sincere. A Syrian officer named Naaman contracted leprosy. A Jewish servant girl told him to go to Israel to see the prophet Elisha to get healed. Elisha sent a servant out to greet him and tell him to go dip seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. Naaman went away angry. However, his servant stopped him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

One criticism of “Sola Fide,” or faith alone, is that once people “pray the prayer,” they can live any way they want. “Once saved, always saved” or perseverance of the saints does not mean that at all. Once people believe in Christ, a change needs to occur as a demonstration of that faith. Both the Apostle Paul and Apostle James point to Abraham to prove their points. Paul says Abraham was justified by faith alone. James said that his deeds justified him. There is no conflict. It is not a case of faith or works, but a faith that works. Abraham was credited with righteousness twelve years before he was circumcised and four hundred years before any one of the laws was given to Moses. He could not have kept the Sabbath, Passover, or any feasts, yet he was considered righteous because he believed. So how did he demonstrate his faith? He packed up and moved to a land that God had not yet even revealed to him.

When God approached Noah to tell him that he was going to destroy all flesh, he told Noah to build an ark large enough to carry all the kinds of land-dwelling animals. God gave him the dimensions and told him how to prepare for the coming deluge. How did Noah demonstrate his faith? Genesis 6:22 says that “Noah did according to all that God commanded him.” He went from being a farmer to being a ship builder. As James stated, he showed his faith through his actions.

As Jesus approached the town of Jericho, he encountered a man named Zacchaeus up in a tree. Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus, but the crowd would not permit it. Jesus told him to come down and take him to his home. There Jesus participated in a hospitable meal. Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.” What did Jesus mean by “a son of Abraham”? Wasn’t Zacchaeus already Jewish? Galatians 3:6-7 says, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore, know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” True sons and daughters of Abraham are not those who keep Jewish rituals and festivities, but those who simply believe what God says.

Notice the changes in all three of these lives. Abraham left the place where he felt at home and moved to a place that God had not yet revealed to him. Noah’s belief in what God told him motivated him to begin building a ship. Zacchaeus’ faith motivated him to restore those whom he had defrauded and give generously to the poor. Their lives drastically changed.

Believers often use Ephesians 2:8-9 to justify spiritual inactivity: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Yet they forget to add verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We are not saved by works, but for works.

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Led by The Spirit

The Judaizers in Paul’s day brought false charges against him much like the Judaizers of this century. Because he taught that people are saved by grace, not through observing the law, the Judaizers accused him of teaching lawlessness. Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to deal with the deceptive effects of the Judaizers bewitching the Galatians with their distorted gospel.

Salvation is only through faith in Christ, not religious works. Paul points to Abraham as an example. Romans 4:3 quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” In Galatians 3:17, Paul writes, “the law, which was 430 years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ.” Clearly Abraham was not saved by keeping the law or by circumcision. Passover, the feasts, and the sacrifices did not come until after the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.

The Life Application Study Bible lists three distortions of Christianity: Judaized Christianity, Legalistic Christianity, and Lawless Christianity. Judaized Christianity’s definition of a Christian is: “Christians are Jews who have recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. Therefore, any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew.” This is what the Hebrew Roots movement wants to do today. They say that Christians must observe the same rituals and festivals that Jesus and the apostles did. The New Testament never teaches that Gentiles must become Jews first, in fact, it teaches quite the opposite.

Legalistic Christianity defines Christianity this way: “Christians are those who live by a long list of don’ts.” Good behavior earns God’s favor. Lawless Christianity says, “Christians live above the law. They need no guideline. God’s word is not as important as our personal sense of God’s guidance.” True Christianity teaches, “Christians are those who believe inwardly and outwardly that Jesus’s death has allowed God to offer them forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. They have accepted that gift through faith and are seeking to live a life of obedient gratitude for what God has done for them” (Page 2149).

The Judaizers’ claim that true Christianity leads to lawlessness shows that they did not understand the basis of salvation. Paul summed it up well: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). You received the Holy Spirit when you accepted Christ. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into lawless activities. In Galatians 5:18 Paul wrote, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Later he enumerated the fruit of the spirit in verses 22 and 23. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into the works of the flesh mentioned in verses 19-21.

Accepting Christ means that we have a new master. We are no longer slaves to sin. We no longer live lives of lawlessness. Accepting Christ means that we have repented from our old way of life and have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

2 Timothy 2:19 says, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” True Christians must turn away from sin and let the Spirit produce fruit in our lives. So what law do Christians follow? In the Old Testament we find three categories of laws: Ceremonial law, Civil law, and Moral law. As Christians we are certainly to keep moral law. Being free from the law does not mean that we are free to murder, steal, or commit adultery. Laws against those things still apply to Christians today, but the Jewish Ceremonial law no longer applies to Christians. Its purpose was to point toward Christ. These laws are no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection. Although not binding upon us, they teach us a great deal about a holy God. We can learn from their principles, but we do not have to become Jews first.

The Judaizers in Galatia had convinced the Christians to return to the “weak and beggarly elements to which [they] desire again to be in bondage. [They] observe days and months and season and years” (see Galatians 4:9-11) like the Jews had. Paul felt as though he labored in vain since they were returning with the Judaizers to the Jewish ceremonial law which Christ had fulfilled.

Walking with the Spirit is more difficult than being able to check off a list of religious activities. Walking with Spirit requires a relationship, not merely external behaviors.

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The Sinner’s Prayer

The concept of the sinner’s prayer has come under much scrutiny recently. A co-worker one day asked me, “where do you find ‘the sinner’s prayer’ in the Bible?” He genuinely wanted to know. The sinner’s prayer is often found at the end of gospel presentations in tracts or books. While it may appear in various forms, it goes something like this: “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I believe that you love me, and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I now repent of my sins and ask Jesus to come into my heart to forgive my sins. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

After that prayer, the text of the tract, or the person presenting it will say, “Congratulations. You have just been born again. Welcome to the God’s family. Now that you have prayed that prayer, never let anyone or anything cause you to doubt your salvation.”

Is that person truly saved? Many evangelicals would say yes. After you have “prayed the prayer,” you are saved no matter what. “Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Romans 10:13). Only time can answer that question. In reality, many who have “prayed the prayer” often return to life as usual. Young people, once they move away from home, may go off the deep end morally. Yet when someone asks them if they are saved, they often reply, “Yes, I ‘prayed the prayer.’”

That view makes “the prayer” little more than a magical charm, an amulet that is supposed to protect you from evil spirits. Once you pray the prayer, you can live like the devil thanks to the “assurance” you received about never doubting your salvation. This has led some denominations to separate over the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Some churches call it “perseverance of the saints.” Several denominations believe that you can lose your salvation if you don’t “toe the party line.” In other words, you backslide into the world. You may have a habit that a particular denomination does not accept. I have heard of certain groups that do not allow you to play dominoes because they are the “devil’s bones.” If you continue to play dominoes after “praying the prayer,” you are in danger of falling from grace.

Where does the Bible contain the “sinner’s prayer”? It does actually exist, however in a different form from the one above.

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told the story of two men who went to the Temple to pray: one a Pharisee who religiously kept the law. In fact, he reminded God of that during his prayer. In essence he said, “I keep the law. I do not extort money. I don’t commit adultery. I fast in accordance with the law, and I tithe. I am not like that tax collector over there.”

In the other corner of the Temple, the unrighteous tax collector could not even lift his eyes toward heaven. He made no pretense of being able to keep the law. He knew how far short he fell. All he could do was beat his breast in contrition and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said that man went home justified rather than the one who tried to keep the law. The law-keeper impressed no one, least of all God.

Notice the simplicity of the tax collector’s prayer? No flowery prose, no King James English unless you are reading the KJV. No theological explanation. He just knew that he needed God’s mercy.

God’s salvation does not come to those who pridefully think they are made right with him by keeping his law. Only Jesus could do that. The law was never designed to save, only to show us our need for mercy and drive us to Christ. One man exalted himself and went away unjustified although in his own mind he kept the law. The other humbled himself, threw himself on God’s mercy and went home justified.

The problem with “praying the prayer” is that you may deceive yourself into believing you are saved, when you are not. You have never repented of your sin, and you are trying to justify yourself in God’s sight by your good deeds. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that we are saved by grace through faith that is a gift, not of works so that boasting is excluded. We are not saved by works, but for works. Have you “prayed the prayer” or did you get saved?

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Everyday Evangelism

Evangelism doesn’t have to be scary. When Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world, he didn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up everything and move to another country to be a witness for him. In Matthew 28:19-20, commonly known as the Great Commission, Jesus simply meant, “as you go…” As you go about living your life, you look for opportunities to share the message of Christ with those you come into contact with regularly. Think of your family and friends. Do they all know Christ? What about your co-workers or fellow students? Have you ever talked with them about Christ?

God wants to use you to reach others.

Christ did not command only a select few to go. He wants all of us to tell others about him. On the evening of his resurrection, Christ talked with two of his disciples as they walked toward Emmaus. He explained the role of the Messiah using Scripture. When they realized who he was, they ran back to Jerusalem to meet with other disciples. While they were talking, Christ appeared to them again and explained his purpose. Then he told them that they should preach repentance and forgiveness of sin in his name beginning where they were. They were his witnesses (Luke 24:13-49).

God wants you to begin right where you are. Begin with the people you know and come in contact with daily. Talking about repentance and forgiveness is more difficult than inviting someone to Church. Christ never commanded the world to come to the church and learn. He commanded the church to go into the world and teach. He wants us to leave the four walls of our church buildings and take his message to people who have not come into the building.

You can reach people that others can’t.

People have many reasons for not coming into a church building, but it is more important for you to invite them to Christ than your church meetings. You may not think of yourself as a great speaker. You may be tempted to think your pastor or youth minister should do the talking, but you will contact people your pastor or minister may never meet.

You never fail when you share Christ.

If all you know is your testimony, you may not think it is spectacular, but God will place people in your path that maybe only you can reach. I like Darrell Robinson’s definition of being a successful witness in People Sharing Jesus. He basically says that a successful witness is sharing Christ and the way to know him in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God. Doing that, you will never fail.

You listen for other’s needs.

Opportunities to talk about Christ often come up in normal everyday conversations. As you are listening, others may talk about needs in their life. They may talk about stress or other difficulties. They may express questions or doubts about the future. Many years ago, when I was in college, I worked in an optical laboratory. One of my co-workers asked my opinion of fortune tellers and mediums. Rather than launch into a tirade against them, I simply let him know that I did not worry about the future, but that I trusted God with my future. That led to an opportunity to share Christ with him. If you train yourself to listen for those types of comments, you will find you have plenty of opportunities to share Christ.

Get Outta here!

When you get out of the church walls, and speak naturally about Christ, you will find that people aren’t as offended by the gospel as you may have heard. People are often pleasantly surprised when you naturally transition to talking about Christ without grabbing them by the collar and shouting, “Brother, are you saved?” You don’t come off as “churchy.”

God wants to use us more than we realize. Don’t sell yourself short by saying, “I don’t know how God can use someone like me. God has created you uniquely and he wants to use you if you are willing. All you have to do is go. Telling others about Christ is one of the most exciting parts of being a Christian.

 

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