As I set around a table with three or four other preachers one morning last week it didn’t take long for the discussion to turn to politics. We were not debating the finer points of economic recovery strategies nor how to solve the social issues of our day. The conversation was strictly on the presidential candidates and if we should even vote. There was a unanimous agreement of one candidate who we all could not endorse. Then the conversation quickly ruled out the viability of many of the lesser party platforms. Now we were down to this question “Should we as Christians even vote at all in this election given our choices?”
I advocated that we should cast our vote for the best qualified candidate on the ticket that held views closest to our own regardless. This was quickly met by the idea of just writing in the name of someone we wished the president could be. But this is not a vote. The time to pick the candidate that you want to run for the office is during the primaries. Surprisingly, all of us voted for the same man during the primaries but he did not receive the nomination. A “write in” is not a vote, it’s just an ineffective way to protest your options with no positive benefit in the electorate.
Then the idea of only voting for a Christian candidate was introduced into our little discussion. Stating that to unite with an unbeliever is to advance the cause of Satan. This opened a whole new can of worms but very little Biblical support. (never mind that none of us can truly know that state of another’s soul) The position was that we should look for the fruits of salvation and vote for the candidate that professed and possessed them. Regardless of their political or social views we should only vote for a Christian. I fond this to be an absurd idea for a number of reasons.
For starters, it would require us to have a personal spiritual knowledge of each person we vote for. (from the school board and JP to the President) Who can do that? Secondly, I know a number of professing Christians that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, much less function as a public official, even if they wanted to. Thirdly, there have been thousands of unbelievers who have served there fellowman well throughout history. Fourthly, When have we had the opportunity to vote for a Saint? Fifth, it is true that every lost person is spiritually dead, but they are in varying degrees of decay. (some are worse than others) Sixth, the person is not being elected to teach Scripture, they are being chosen to protect and uphold the laws of our land. Seventh, the Bible does not tell us to abstain and withdraw from society if there are no Christians to associate with. (it’s actually the opposite)
I could go on but I’ve ran out of paper. I wish we had a professing Christian on the ballot, but we don’t. So vote for the one closest to your values and trust God.
I want to ask you a few questions but I don’t want to hear your answers. I know, it sounds weird but I would like for you to answer them to yourself. Since no one else will know how you answer, be honest with yourself. Why did you go to church today? No, I don’t want a theological answer or seven Bible verses on the importance of church attendance. I mean why did you personally come to church? What did you expect to accomplish by attending a church service today? What was your motivation to be here? Careful now, don’t just plug in a text book answer that you’ve programmed to say through years of sermons on church attendance.
Allow me to offer some potential answers some of you may have thought. It’s Sunday and that’s what I have always done. It’s what Christians are supposed to do. I want to set an example for my kids/husband/wife. I want to be faithful to the church. I want to visit with so-and-so. I signed up for nursery today. I want to here the Bible taught and sing. Who am I kidding? I’m here for the food! These are all good reasons to attend church services, well maybe not for the food.
Churches have labored so hard over the years just to get people to attend that we’ve come to believe attendance is all that matters. Churches used to (some still do) post their attendance on little boards in the front of the church. We could look at those numbers and know that we were part of them and feel good about ourselves for being there. Attendance is still the common measure for the health of a church. But is that a accurate way to gauge a church’s health? Obviously not.
Church is not about attendance it’s about participation. We must take part to benefit from a church service. The substitute for participation is to offer activities of interest for everyone to do. “Give each person a reason to be here.” So we have volunteer opportunities that give us responsibilities and keep us busy. That’s not a bad thing unless we only go to church because they are counting on us.
God is not recording our perfect church attendance in Heaven. Nor is He giving bonus points for the activities we volunteered to do. The “participation” He seeks is our commitment to worshiping Him. With that said, do you sing His praises on Sunday? Or just hum along? Do you love your fellow Christian as God loves you? Or are you just being polite to them? Do you attentively listen to the preaching of his Word? Or do you just try to stay awake? Do you pray as the church prays? Or does your mind wonder to the things you have do that afternoon? I don’t know your answers, but I know I have some repenting to do. Some of us only went to high school to play football or band and never really participated in class. We sure wasted a lot of time there. Don’t waste your time here, come to worship Him today!
“Today is a perfect day to just be happy!” I saw this little bit of advice on a church sign this week. I began to sweep the cobwebs of my brain trying to find some biblical support for this statement from my memory. I couldn’t think of any passages where we are all told to “just be happy.” Oh I can find many verses where believers are told to rejoice in the lord and delight in him, but “He” wasn’t anywhere on the sign. Since that the majority of people who are reading the sign do not know Christ and find happiness elsewhere, few questions came to my mind How is this sign pointing people to Christ? What is the sign conveying to others?
Earlier this week I pondered a church sign that said “God fixes broken hearts but he has to have all the pieces.” Yes, God has promised to bind up the broken hearted but when were we told to keep up with all the pieces? What does that even mean? Could we be hiding a piece of the puzzle from God? Are we somehow incomplete until God has all of us, maybe? If so, How did God get the first few pieces of our broken heart? And the bigger question how are we keeping some of it from him?
A good church sign ought to make those that read it ask some questions! But, we should be able to find the answers in the Bible. Therein lies the problem of many of the messages conveyed to the world by churches today, there is no biblical support for what they are saying. These days you can’t distinguish the message on a church sign from the one in a fortune cookie.
You say, “Oh bro Harold, it’s just an encouraging message, lighten up.” Well, I would lighten up if I didn’t see so many professing Christians comfortable in their sins. So many church members who can’t even articulate a biblical gospel. If they are giving a lost and depraved world wisdom from fortune cookies, is it any wonder no one takes the church serious anymore? It’s a problem and it has led to a whole generation who’s ideas about Christianity have been shaped by one liners from signs and social media without one shred of Scriptural support. What’s even sadder is the people in those churches are so biblically illiterate that they don’t see anything wrong with it. Add to that their claim that we are just mean, judgmental, and unchristian for even pointing this out. I glad Jesus never called anyone wrong, corrected false teachers or warned others of their errors. (that was sarcasm)
If this is what churches put on the street, what do they say from within? As I eluded to last week, churches are preaching happiness at the expense of holiness and their church signs reflect it. There are scores of passages that promise joy, peace, rest, etc, etc but they only apply to the believer. Our message to those passing by should encourage faith and repentance, not health and happiness.
I was grieved this week to hear of another friend who destroyed his marriage by adultery. It seems like I am hearing these reports more and more these days. I was sad because I see the hurt that his wife is experiencing and the uncertainty that their children are facing. One of these days he too will experience the pain of his failed marriage, but for now he “just wants to be happy in life.”
The world has built into our minds that this kind of behavior is completely normal. You may wonder how the world programs us this way, so let me explain. Watch any prime time network TV show this week and count how many umbilical relationships you see. Listen to one hour of Country, Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, Rap or Classic Oldies radio and count how many cheating songs you hear. Pick up any popular news magazine this month and you’ll find that it’s filled with these stories. Oh, not the stories of broken homes, lawyers, step parents, child support, and restraining orders. Instead you’ll hear which famous person is fooling around with some other famous person. You’ll hear a song about a singer cheating to get revenge on the one who cheated on her. You’ll watch a “normal” family on TV that has no concept of a man and a woman committed to each other in marriage. To top it off, they all appear to be happy and having fun while you’re not.
This seems to be the justification for every moral failure committed these day: “It makes me happy.” What makes a us think if we is not happily married that we can run out and have an affair with someone else and be happy? How can we think that breaking God’s law will bring us joy? This is the same logic used by Satan when he encountered Eve in the garden. He claimed that God is holding blessings back from Eve by not allowing her eat off this one tree. So it is nothing new to think, what God forbids must be fun and will make us happy. Man has always wanted what he could not have and he has never been satisfied with what he does have.
One of the unique problems we face today is that the pursuit of happiness is preached in our churches. It is often proclaimed that God wants us to be happy. The problem with that is that it is only half true. God wants us to be happy, serving him. When you leave the “serving him” part out, then you can be the judge of what makes you happy and you can justify your disobedience. Our service to God will not always put us in happy circumstances but we can find joy in serving him in these circumstances. If you’re in a difficult marriage you will not be happy out of it or unfaithful to your vow. That is the lie Satan began and the world around you is propagating. Christian, marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for his church. Our happiness is seen by living that kind of commitment out to our spouse till we die.
For those who do not know, we have began a study of Baptist history on Wednesday nights at 7:00. Any time you teach history instead of Scripture you open yourself up to some of the harshest critics. “Why don’t you just stick with the Bible?” “No one cares about what happened 400 years ago!” “History is boring.” Allow me to point out a few of the benefits of historical study. We Study history:
#1 To understand how we arrived to our present position. I have always said if you properly understand the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the rest of the Bible will make perfect sense. Most of our theological issues today result from a lack of knowledge about Gen 3 alone. Likewise the modern church goer has no clue what “the faith once delivered to the saints” has endured up to this point in time.
#2 To avoid the errors of past generations. Satan is not developing new schemes or tricks to divert the paths of pilgrims. Why would he? What he has employed for the last 6000 years has worked. When we neglect to look at our forefathers we miss the lessons they learned in their time. My dad always told me “If you can learn in 20 minutes, what took someone else 20 years to learn. You’ll be 20 years ahead of your time.” Neglecting this lesson will set us back centuries.
#3 To strengthen our convictions of the doctrines we now hold. Perhaps if you see how those before you suffered to be able to pass this knowledge on to the next generation, you too will take these doctrines seriously. Kids seldom realized the sacrifices their parents made to provide what they receive. Baptist history introduces us the sacrifices of our spiritual parentage.
#4 To drive us to Scripture in defense or correction of our storied beliefs. Baptist have always been “people of the book.” In other words, they let the Bible shape their theology and practice. When we look into the past we see the proper use of Scripture as a sword, piercing and trimming the story of Baptist. We don’t do things this way because we have always done them this way. We do this because God’s Word commands it.
I could list a number of other worthy reasons for studying Baptist history but let me close with a question (or three). Why are Baptist so weak on their historical knowledge? I will have to answer that we can’t know things we haven’t been taught. Why haven’t we been taught this before? “Because history is boring and no one cares what happened 400.” Why are churches today in such a weak state? Because they are falling victim to the same old lies our forefathers fought against. History may not be popular but it’s very important. I’m not interested in teaching the popular but it is my duty to teach the important. ~HWS
What is it that brings a pastor joy? I might be tempted to say preaching. When God calls a man to preach the Word, preaching becomes something he longs to do. God instills this desire in the preacher’s heart. He may have been shy and an introvert until this call was placed on his life and now speaking before others things of God is his greatest joy.
But preaching often brings sadness. It is very hard to issue God’s commands and warnings only to watch them fall on ears that cannot hear. Then the preacher must watch congregation struggle with the catastrophes brought on by rebelling against the counsel God. Jesus felt this way when he looked over Jerusalem and its rejection of the prophets. The Bible says “Jesus wept.” So sometimes preaching brings tears of sorrow. That is just the nature of a preachers calling.
Is there anything in a preacher’s life that brings more joy than preaching? After some thought on this I have to say there is. The preacher’s greatest joy is seeing the positive effects on his audience. Preaching is like planting, you labor with the hope for much fruit. Seeing a ripe crop and knowing that your efforts have produced a positive result in others is the greater joy.
There is no guarantee that a preacher will see the fruits of his labor. Most of the time the preacher has no idea what is going on in the hearts of men. Some preachers live there entire life and see only a few converts and minimal spiritual growth. They continue on knowing that on That Day when they stand before the One who called them they will receive their reward.
But when God chooses to encourage a preacher in his work he often shows him a little fruit. That fruit is the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of his congregation. David Clark told me a long time ago that a preacher’s ministry is like looking at an iceberg. You can only see the top and most of it is hidden under the water. When a pastor can see the congregation loving one another, serving other, interested in Scripture and seeking to shape their lives after Christ that is his greatest joy. Because he knows God is doing so much more that he cannot see. I praise God for what I’ve seen at Lee Creek over the years. May His work among us continue.
“_____ is the best church in our area. They have more stuff going on than every other church combined. They go on camping trips and fishing trips, have a soft ball league, have a special event for every holiday, ride ATV’s together, offer free nights at the water park and the go-cart track, they even have their own ice cream truck.” Well, that settled the debate for all who were listening, what other church can compete with an ice cream truck? I mean after all, to be viewed as a pillar of Christian religion in our community these things are now mandatory. A W Tozer once said “Most churches can’t operate having only a hymn book and a Bible.” Most shocking of all was Tozer made that statement in the 1950′s.
This is the view of many a church goer in America. Church is no longer a place of prayer, praise and preaching. While these three elements may remain in the church to some degree they are no longer the the primary role of the church. The driving force is now numbers, and by numbers I mean people, and lots of them. The surest way to attract people is to offer the things people want. You won’t win any BBQ competitions with tofu and you won’t attract large crowds by only offering preaching, prayer, and praise for a holy God. It’s simply does not appeal the masses.
But if you take it to be the goal of the church to “reach” people, then by all means reach them. Use every available option to get their attention. If I or anyone else criticizes this ideology, well we don’t love Jesus and aren’t concerned about lost people. Even worse, were just jealous of their success.
One has to wonder how the early church gained such a strong footing in the world with out the resources of modern churches. A study of this topic will quickly reveal the early church had a resource the modern church is void of: power from the Holy Spirit. Man kind does not like to rely on God’s help, he wants to do it all by himself. Therefore todays churches have found out how to draw people to themselves without the power of God. They have even made it their mission. The world agrees these are the best churches. Ravenhill said “The apostles had no gold, but lots of glory. We have lots of gold and no glory.”
It is no secrete that we preach the sovereignty of God in all things. Many people hate this doctrine. They are okay with God being sovereign over some things like the climate and solar system. Some go a step further and grant God to be sovereign over life and death, he may even control some governments they say. But when we say God is sovereign over the salvation of men’s souls they lose their minds. They will not back off their claim to man’s free will to choose or not choose to follow God.
They claim that if you take away free will, you make man a robot. I would argue that man is already a robot. He is a sin robot. He was born in sin and he can not stop sinning. Nor does he want to stop sinning. It is only the consequences of his sin that he fears. No one feels bad about speeding until they see the blue lights flashing. As long as man can justify his sin he’s okay with it and his free will will freely sin as long he can get away with it. That is until the blue lights flash on to his sins. Question: Who catches sinners in their sins? Is it the sinner who self arrests himself? Or is it a power higher than himself that intervenes and stops him in his sins? I think every honest Christian has to answer it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sins and brings us to the place of faith and repentance.
Now that we’ve established it is the Spirit’s role to bring sinners before a holy God for reconciliation in Christ, some more questions are in order. How is it that most humans escape the Spirit? Is the Spirit of our God bad at his job? Is he so over worked and under manned that he catch them all? Or is the free will of man just to much for the third person of the Trinity? Or could it be that the Holy Spirit overcomes the individuals he sets out after?
You say “wait a minute, that makes God unfair!” How so? Did he promise to save everyone? Has he not offered the gospel world wide? Did God not send missionaries to every people group on the earth commanding all men everywhere to repent? The problem has never been that God is unjust but it has been that man is dead in his sins. Apart from a sovereign God taking an active role in drawing us to himself, no one would be saved. His sovereignty over us is not doctrine to be despised but rather an attribute to be praised.
Do you have any church clothes? You know, the clothes you only wear on a Sunday, because Sunday is the day you go to church. I had a friend who had work overalls (Mon-Sat) and new Sunday overalls for church. What is it about Sunday that makes us dress up? I know all the old arguments about wearing your best and I don’t disagree with that line of logic, but…
When did Sunday become our only day to meet with the Lord? I say “only day” because that is often the only day most people have any religious activities. Most church goers feel if they have devoted an hour or two to the Lord on Sunday, they’ve done their duty. They hang up their church clothes, store their Bibles, and get back to the real world. This routine is as normal as church clothes and work clothes. But there’s more to it than clothes.
Church clothes are a recent tradition in the history of Christianity, and so is one meeting a week. The early church held meetings of some kind just about every day of the week. They would have prayer meetings in homes on numerous occasions throughout the week. From Acts 19:9-10 we know Paul held daily classes in Ephesus for two years. Without buildings, it was common for churches to meet in multiple homes at the same time. These meeting were not one hour arrangements, they often went well into the night and some went all night. My how we’ve changed.
Why have we changed? We have our own buildings now, and there is plenty of room. (especially after Sunday morning) So how did this change take place? Well, we got busy, to busy. To busy to meet more than once a week. To busy to study at home. To busy to fellowship and pray with other believers during the week. Busy doing what? Work? Sports? Family? Yard? Hobbies? Rest? Clubs? Dare I say a TV show? Yes to all the above.
I know all these things have a rightful place in our lives. But, have you considered where you spend your time? Our service to the Lord and His saints can’t be fulfilled in an hour. The early church had what we seem to have lost, a daily devotion to the Church. Maybe they felt a deeper need for more time with God and his people? Back then the church wasn’t something you put on and hung back up. May God rekindle this daily desire in our day.
As I came down my driveway this week I noticed the blackberry briars by the pond were covered in berries. My mind began to reminisce of blackberry cobbler, blackberry jelly, blackberry syrup, blackberry… Oh I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, as I looked at them from the truck it appeared that there were so many ripe berries that I could easily pick a gallon after supper. That would be enough for a cobbler and two pints of jelly.
After supper reality set in as I began picking. The ripe berries I saw from the road were not as plentiful upon closer inspection. I would carefully begin picking only the best berries and then realize that there were more ripe berries just out of my reach. So I carefully moved through the thorns to the “better” location only to find that were not as many berries as I had thought. As I moved around this patch of briars looking for the best I saw the mother load of blackberries! It was right where I first began picking. I thought, How could I have missed all those perfectly ripe berries? Did they ripen after I left? I went back an stood right where I started and looked for them but I couldn’t see them until I pulled back the leaves.
You see, if you are going to get all the best berries you’re going to have to pull back some leaves and branches. Blackberries don’t move, they just stay right where God put them. The outer berries are easy to see and pick, but that’s just the beginning of the harvest. The sweetest grow in the shade.
And so it is with the Bible. The truth is right there in front of us, and much of it visible and easily accessible. How ever there is much that goes unseen because we don’t study for a fuller understanding. Much like blackberries the sweeter fruit grows in the shade of the leaves. Sometimes its not until we are reading another passage that a previous verse is brought into light.
Many people take one verse or one phrase and thank they have all God has to offer. This is just laziness seeking low hanging fruit. One passage will never fill your berry bucket up and feed you a cobbler. We must carefully study all the Bible in context. God has blessed us with a bountiful harvest, but it will not be enjoyed by the lazy.