Living against the grain…that is what it is like to take a stand for Christ in a culture that does not see eye to eye with biblical faith. On Sunday at Providence, we took time to explain why the Bible is a trustworthy foundation upon which to build our lives. We can trust what He says, of course, but in order to live in the fullness of our new life in Christ, we must learn how to do what He says.
Healthy, new-born babies have a natural hunger that compels them to demand food. Their piercing cries in the night will long be remembered by their parents as a clear indication that the little one desired food. Their hunger and cry for food reminded their parents that a new life needs nourishment.
In the same way, when someone has been born of the Spirit of God, the natural, normal response to new life is to hunger for spiritual food. God’s Word is that food. A healthy, growing church is made up of people who have been born of the Spirit–or born again–and who have a real hunger for the Word of God. Just as physical food helps us grow to maturity physically, so spiritual food helps us grow to maturity spiritually.
Since God has revealed His will to His people through His Word, the Bible, it is essential for us to place ourselves totally under the authority of that Word. In order to grow toward maturity, therefore, we must come together as a church to ask ourselves week by week, day by day, and moment by moment two weighty questions: 1) Are you willing to do what the Bible says? 2) What does the Bible say?
The Bible calls His disciples the righteous ones of Christ. But they will be righteous only as they answer those questions correctly. Paul writes in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” The second part of the verse should give us the answer to the first question. We must be willing to do what the Bible says if we expect to please God and so inherit His blessing in our lives. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)
On this point, we must be very clear. Our willingness to obey puts us under the umbrella of the authority of God’s Word as a rule of life. Therefore, all that is written in God’s Word is applicable to all of our lives. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for compromise. If we are God’s people, we must be willing to do all that His Word requires of us.
What, then, does the Word of God say? That is the primary focus of our attention each time the body of Christ gathers. As a matter of fact, the role of the pastor-teacher according to Ephesians 4:12-13 is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” I am called to teach and preach the Word of God to the end that the saints of God are maturing in Him through a knowledge of what the Bible says. What that knowledge requires is obedience.
So there it is. Will we do what the Bible says? Then, come, let us find together what it says, and then we will put it into practice so that the God of peace will be with us in all of His fullness!
The future is safer than the present because we are less likely to fail something we have not attempted. It takes less faith and sacrifice to anticipate what is still to come than it does to step out right now and trust God in the moment! Don’t get me wrong…I believe in planning and dreaming, envisioning what the Lord has in store for His people one day. But there is a certain sense in which we must make choices and take actions now that will shape what that future will bring by God’s grace.
Sometimes we find wisdom in sources we do not always expect. The Scottish satirist and religious skeptic of the 18th century, Thomas Carlyle, gave us this observation: “Our greatest business in life is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” If we have clarity for right now, we dare not postpone what God has placed before us right now and presume upon tomorrow. James addresses this tendency in James 4:13-17:
Come now, you who say, “ Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “ If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.
What has the Lord shown me today? What do I know is the right thing to do without having to wait for another day to come? The Lord is watching and waiting for a people to be faithful now. His plans and purposes for the days ahead cannot be thwarted. Therefore, we can seize the day we have at hand and do what we know…and trust Him for what is to come!
Various surveys and polls over the past two decades have shown in statistical form what normal powers of observation have noted for quite some time. When asked about their level of participation in church, the typical survey or poll has shown that only about forty percent attend with any regularity. On the local level, we have seen trends that show that for the children and pre-school ministries in our own church, the average attendance for the little ones comes in just about on target with the national numbers–about forty percent attendance for children lining up with that same percentage for the adults who bring them!
A couple of important observations come out of such data.
First Observation: Whereas I have great confidence in the numbers compiled from our own weekly attendance records, that level of confidence is not there with the national surveys and polls. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it has long been discovered that people lie to those asking them questions about their participation in spiritual endeavors! For example, those same surveys indicate that 17% answer that they tithe in their giving to their churches, but the actual numbers in the realm of all charitable giving to spiritual causes comes out to only about 3% leaving a gap of 14% between the reality and the wishful thinking of those responding.
When that criteria is applied to church attendance, the 40% number reveals a highly optimistic view of actual practice. Hard data from churches indicates a much more sobering situation with the percentage falling closer to 20%, half of what is reported in polls! Many suggestions have been offered for the disparity, but perhaps the most telling one is that people want to think of themselves as more connected, more engaged, than they actually are. Why? Because they know they should be far more committed than they are.
Second Observation: The culture has introduced a destructive perception that church engagement is just one of many options available each weekend, even for those who say they believe in Christ, perhaps even trust Him as Savior, but have little interest in following Him into the vibrant life He has designed for them within the body of Christ. Confessing faith in Christ, a majority of those who call themselves His disciples have largely abandoned the church except for the occasional appearance to keep some sense that they have not rejected His plan altogether. Church attendance falls way down the list of priorities when other opportunities present themselves as sports events, travel, even household chores often push commitment to the body of Christ to the side.
A Word of Hope: A positive cry is rising up around the nation. The call to come follow Christ the way He outlines it in Scripture is reaching college campuses, singles populations in major metropolitan areas, among young families who are realizing that they need greater connections than they currently have to others heading in a godward direction.
The biggest objection in every generation is that the church is full of hypocrites so why get locked into a dying institutionalized religious system? And can anyone deny that stinging accuracy of that charge? But does it stand to reason that the answer is to abandon, neglect, deride and eventually reject the body of Christ? For all the blemishes on the Bride of Christ, she is still His choice. He still intends for there to be a marriage of the Bride to the Lamb of God and like it or not, the church is His bride!
So the call goes out. Study the Word and discover afresh the beauty He intends for His bride and determine for yourself to become an active, engaged, reforming influence within the church. We need to depend upon and trust Christ. We need to believe that His way is the best way. Therefore, we need to accept the fact that His way calls us to be the church He longs for us to be.
If you have bailed out, when do you plan to jump back in? What will it take for you to return to your calling from Christ to be one of many “living stones” chosen by His grace to be called His people? Many have stated correctly that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. True. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Scriptures never give any indication that a follower of Christ does so apart from a body of committed believers who love Him and each other as they seek to grow up together to spiritual maturity.
So before you dismiss this challenge as the ramblings of an out-of-touch pastor, consider the exhortation of the following great passage from the book of Hebrews to a Christian culture in the first century that was already witnessing the same trend we see today. And after you consider this passage, search the Scriptures for yourself and see if it is not true…Christ Himself calls you to belong, to serve, to grow and to be sent from the local assembly called the church!
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).
So…where are you going to assemble with others tomorrow morning? And will you commit to engage there and find the sweet satisfaction of a whole-hearted commitment to follow Christ in everything…even in the church?