Cafeteria Religion

 

At one time cafeterias were a popular dining option in the United States.  Large chains operated sites in many major cities from coast to coast.  The appeal of these restaurants was in the speed of service, and in the variety of choices afforded the customer.  Patrons passed along a serving counter and selected the components of their meal from multiple options.  Those items they did not prefer could be omitted from their meal.  Each person could construct his or her meal according to personal taste and never have to eat anything he didn’t want to eat.  The formal cafeterias of the 1940s and 1950s have mostly gone the way of the Dodo, primarily because of the fast-food boom of the 1960s.  Their closest descendant is the modern all-you-can-eat buffet, which carries on the time-honored tradition of picking one’s favorites from a large variety of offerings.

Although the cafeteria isn’t as prominent as it once was, the principle behind it continues to live, especially in religion.  Many people look at the scriptures in the same way they might peruse the food line of their favorite eatery.  Grace sounds good, so they take a double helping of it.  Justice, however, isn’t as palatable, so they leave it on the counter.  Faith is appealing, but obedience is too much like spiritual brussels sprouts.  Love, on the other hand, is like the dessert counter.  They heap it up on their spiritual tray because it tastes so sweet.  However, like physical desserts that are loaded with extra calories, they try to ignore the tough things biblical love requires of them.  Perhaps without even thinking about it some treat God’s word like a cafeteria, picking and choosing the things they like, while ignoring the things they don’t like.

As popular as this mentality might be, it is completely foreign to the scriptures.  From beginning to end the scriptures declare that we must conform to everything God has revealed in His word.  On multiple occasions Moses warned Israel to keep all of God’s commandments and not to turn aside from them to the right or to the left (Deut. 5:32; 28:14, et al).  When Paul spoke for the final time to the elders from Ephesus, he reminded them that he had not failed to declare to them “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).  Paul withheld nothing from them because God expects His people to obey all His commands, not just the ones they like.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he encouraged the young preacher to continue to teach what he called “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).  The Greek word that is translated “sound” literally means “healthy”.  In other words, for a Christian to be spiritual healthy, he must be fed everything that God has revealed in His word.  Our souls are just like our physical bodies in this respect.  If we only eat the “sweets” we will be unhealthy.  If, however, we feed on all of God’s word, we will grow and mature in the faith, and we will become the servants God expects us to be.

This is exactly what God requires of us.  The writer of Hebrews chastised his readers because they had failed in this regard.  In Heb. 5:13-14 he said, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  He also said, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).  Therefore, if our goal is to please God, we must abandon cafeteria-style religion.  Instead, we must take delight in all of God’s word and, like the psalmist, meditate upon it day and night (Psa. 1:2).  By eating all of God’s word we will become spiritually healthy, and we will be faithful to Him in all we do.

Thanks Mom!

 

“The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.”  Thus goes the well-known proverb.  It is a truth that is so powerful that it has become self-evident.  The influence of mothers is so important it cannot be overstated.  Conversely, the neglect of that influence is so powerful that it cannot go unchallenged.

We live in a world where certain basic values have been eroded by the influence of skeptics whose godless ways have made a mockery of motherhood and all God intended it to be.  Very often today, “the hand that rocks the cradle” is a stranger, the paid hireling at the child-care center.  Many children spend more time with these care givers than they do with their parents.  This ought not to be so.

Children are a gift from the Lord.  They are a sacred trust.  They are precious souls who are entrusted to parents for spiritual as well as physical nurturing.  When we bring a child into the world we begin a life that will exist throughout eternity.  The eternal destiny of that soul is largely the responsibility of the parents.  The wise man said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).  It is our God-given duty as parents to bring up our children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

No one is better at this than mothers.  This does not excuse fathers from their required participation in this responsibility, but it is the mother who has special power to accomplish God’s purpose in this regard.  The scriptures are full of examples of godly mothers who molded their offspring for God’s use.  From Jochebed, the mother of Moses, to Hannah, the mother of Samuel, to Eunice, the mother of Timothy, we see the positive influence of the hand that rocks the cradle.  We see this influence even in those cases in which the father was not as involved in the process as he should have been.

There are many in the family of God who are there in large measure because of the influence of their mothers.  I am one of them.  My mother made certain that I learned to love the Lord.  She did so even though my father was not a Christian until I was in my teens.  She taught me the importance of being in the assembly on the Lord’s Day.  She taught me that obedience to the Lord was the most important choice I would ever make.  She formed in me the basis attitudes toward God and His word that have led me to this point in my life.  She did this despite her own struggles as a Christian.  She was not perfect, but she was a child of God, and is now gone to her reward.

It is not enough to give life to a child.  Society is overrun with children who have been abandoned by their birth mothers.  It is not enough to physically nurture a child.  All around us are well-fed children who are morally bankrupt, or well on the way to becoming so.  We need mothers who will do whatever it takes to nurture the soul as well as the body.  We need mothers who have more concern for their children’s souls than for material things.  Those who act on this concern in accordance with God’s word will receive a great reward in eternity.

It is a challenge to be a godly mother.  No one denies this fact.  Therefore, to all those mothers who are meeting this challenge, we honor you today, and say, “Thanks Mom!”

A Few Good Men

 

For many years the U.S. Marine Corps used the recruiting slogan, “We’re looking for a few good men.”  Part of the reasoning behind this slogan was that the Marine Corps is the smallest of the four primary military services, and has always been so.  Another reason for this slogan is that not every man is cut out to be a Marine.  Therefore, they are looking for quality instead of quantity.  The idea of a few good men has biblical precedent, although the U.S. Marine Corps is likely unaware of it.

Early in the reign of King Saul Israel was a war with the Philistines.  Saul was camped at Gibeah with his pitifully small army of about 600 men.  The Philistines were encamped at Michmash with three companies of men who raided Israel with impunity.  In 1 Sam. 14:1 Saul’s son Jonathan called his armor-bearer to accompany him to the garrison of the Philistines which stood across a pass from them.  Jonathan had great faith in God and in v. 6 said to his armor-bearer, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”  Jonathan’s faith in God was rewarded with a great victory over the Philistines that day.  This victory was precipitated by a few good men who trusted in God.

During the reign of King David Israel was again at war with the Philistines.  David and his army were in the cave of Adullam, while the Philistines were encamped in Bethlehem, David’s home town.  In 2 Sam. 23:15 David idly expressed his wish that he could drink from the well that was by the gate in Bethlehem.  V. 16 tells us that three mighty men fought their way into the city, drew water from the well, fought their way out again, and brought the water to David.  These men, Adino the Eznite, Eleazar the son of Dodo, and Shammah the son of Agee, were the greatest of David’s mighty men (cf. 2 Sam. 23:8-12).  David was so moved by their feat that he poured out the water as a drink offering to God.

The principle of God bringing about victory with a few good men is well attested in the Old Testament.  It is also evident in the New Testament.  Early in His ministry the Lord chose twelve ordinary men to be His apostles.  Except for Judas, these few good men became the vehicle by which the gospel was carried throughout the known world in the first century.  Compared to the masses of people at that time, these men were far too few to accomplish so great a mission, yet they were able to do so because they gave themselves in obedience to the Lord and served Him faithfully until death.

Today, the Lord is still not restrained to save by many or by few.  In most places around the world, His church survives and carries on His mission through the work of a few good men.  These men show the trust and confidence in God that Jonathan possessed.  They also show the resolve to do whatever their master requires, no matter the cost, like the three mighty men of David.  They also know their limitations, like the twelve apostles, but they do not allow these to deter their service.  They know that the victory belongs to the Lord.

The search for a few good men never ends, because as one generation of good men passes, another generation must arise to take their place.  Those who stand up for the Lord will always be few, but this fact must not discourage us.  Our Father in heaven has proven that He can save by a few.  Therefore, let us trust Him and choose to be one of the few good men whom He can use to accomplish His purposes.

When All Else Fails

 

One of the common stereotypes of men is that they refuse to read the directions.  More of us than are willing to admit it will immediately begin to assemble some item without giving a second thought to the assembly instructions that accompany it.  Often, after spending much more time than it should have taken, we finally surrender and turn to the directions to see where we went wrong.  Then, having read the instructions, we begin again.

As much as we enjoy making fun of men in this regard, the fact is that we all tend toward this attitude in many areas of life.  This is especially the case in spiritual matters.  Social media is full of memes that declare the wish that life came with an instruction book.  The sad truth is that it does, but most people have tried to live their lives without consulting it.

Our Father in heaven knew before He created mankind that we would be this way.  Therefore, He put many warnings and exhortations in His word calling on us to read His instructions for life.  When Moses reminded Israel of the Law God had given them, he solemnly warned them to diligently adhere to it, so they could live and prosper in the promised land.  In Deut. 6:1-3 Moses said, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.  O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.”

This theme is a constant throughout the Old Testament, and it remains so under the covenant of Christ.  The Lord Himself declared this fundamental principle at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.  In Mt. 7:21 He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”  The simple truth of this statement is that God has provided us the instructions for life in His revealed word, and only those who follow His instructions will enter heaven at the end of time.

Many through the centuries have contended that these instructions are incomplete, or unknowable, from the scriptures.  However, these contentions are patently false.  In Eph. 5:17 Paul called on us to not be foolish but to understand what the will of the Lord is.  If the Lord’s will is unknowable, we cannot obey this command.  The very fact that Paul commanded it proves that we can understand God’s will.

In 2 Tim. 3:16-17 Paul said that all scripture is inspired by God and equips us for every good work.  In 2 Pet. 1:3 Peter said that God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of the one who called us.  These statements assure us that the scriptures are everything we need in order to live life the way God intended us to.

The grace of God and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ offer us redemption for the sins we commit by ignoring or violating God’s instructions for life.  This redemption saves our souls, but does not undo the physical consequences of our sins.  How much better our lives would be if we chose to follow God’s instructions from the beginning, instead of only turning to them when all else fails!

While The Earth Remains

 

Since 1970 April 22nd has been officially recognized as “Earth Day”.  The impetus for this ongoing event was a catastrophic oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA in 1969.  Each year on this date environmentalists gather in nearly 200 nations around the world to draw attention to their concerns.  Two factors tend to characterize these events.  The first is the implication that the world would be a better place without humans on it.  The second is the notable absence of any reference to God.  Instead, proponents refer to “Mother Earth” in terms that deify the planet.  The stated goal of these events is to save the earth.  While no honest person would argue against being responsible in the use of the resources on our planet, the greater danger is in removing the God who created this planet from any consideration in this matter.

The scriptures are explicit in their discussion of the purpose of the earth.  The origin and purpose of the earth are described in Gen. 1.  God systematically created the earth and filled it with everything necessary for mankind to live upon it.  In Gen. 1:26-30 the scriptures tell us that God created mankind and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  He also told them to subdue the earth and to rule over the animals.  At that time God gave both man and animals every green plant for food (vs. 29-30).  Later, after the flood, He again told mankind to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 8:15-17), and then He gave all the animals to man for food (Gen. 9:1-4).

Before He did so, however, God said something about the earth.  In Gen. 8:22 He said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”  The covenant of the rainbow (Gen. 9:8-17) reassured Noah that God would never again destroy the earth with water, as He had just done.  This statement reassured him, and us, that the earth will continue to provide for all mankind’s needs so long as God allows it to remain.  In other words, mankind cannot exhaust the resources that God has placed on the earth.  There will always be enough resources to sustain life until God decides to destroy the earth.

Environmentalists are trying to save the earth, as though it will last forever and there is nothing beyond life on this planet.  The scriptures, however, are clear that the earth is not intended to last forever.  In 2 Pet. 3:10-13 Peter said that the elements will be destroyed with intense heat when the day of the Lord arrives.  This will not be the result of a man-made nuclear holocaust or some environmental doomsday.  Instead, it will be the result of the word of God (2 Pet. 3:7).  The destruction of the earth and universe will be the prelude to the final judgment of all mankind.

While we should all be responsible in our care of the environment in which we live, our greater concern should be to prepare ourselves for eternal life.  When the day of the Lord comes, and with it the destruction of the physical realm, the Son of God will come with His mighty angels in flaming fire to deal out retribution to all who do not know God and who have not obeyed the gospel (2 Th. 1:7-8).  At that time the saved will be ushered into the new heavens and new earth to which Peter referred in 2 Pet. 3:13.  This is the place to which our Lord has gone, and in which He is preparing dwelling places for the redeemed (Jn. 14:1-3).

In the meantime, let us make the most of the abundant resources of our earthly home without being wasteful or irresponsible.  Let us also be grateful to God for this beautiful place in which we live, knowing that while it remains the earth will sustain all who live here, just as God planned from before the beginning of time.

All, Some, or None?

 

There is a song that at one time was frequently sung in our worship assemblies, but has recently fallen into disuse.  The song is entitled, “None of Self and All of Thee”.  This song is one in which all stanzas should be sung because of the story it tells.  It is the story of one who stands defiantly before the Lord, seeking his own way.  He proudly proclaims, “All of self and none of Thee”.  As the song progresses, however, his demeanor softens to “Some of self and some of Thee” and, “Less of self and more of Thee”.  In the final stanza the change is completed, and he humbly says, “None of self and all of Thee”.

One can only speculate why this song is no longer popular.  It could be that many modern worshipers prefer the catchy tunes, made up of simple, repetitive phrases, that are so common today.  However, it could also be that this song rings too true to real life for comfort.  It is easier, after all, to sing upbeat praises about the love and grace of God than to admonish ourselves about the struggle to be faithful disciples.  It is more pleasant to sing “happy” songs than to sing songs that remind us of the practicalities of putting God first in our lives.

There is a place in our worship for songs that convey every facet of our relationship to God, but we must not neglect those that call us to diligent service.  When the Lord was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).  This was not one of the Ten Commandments, but is a foundational principle that Moses taught the people of Israel as he led them toward the promised land (Deut. 6:5).

Nearly everyone will profess that they love God, but too often this profession means little more than an affection for Him.  When Moses commanded Israel to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, he defined it with a series of commands regarding their personal and daily devotion to Him (Deut. 6:6-9).  They were to make God’s word the central feature of everything they did each day.  Although the Lord did not go into the kind of detail that Moses did, He had the same principle in mind.  Loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind means putting Him first in everything we do.

In practical terms, this is about how we use our time each day.  As we allocate our time, do we fill it with God’s things, or do we fill it with our things?  Personal Bible study and meditation on God’s word, prayer, worship, fellowship with other Christians, and sharing the good news are all things that demonstrate that we are putting God first in our lives.  Doing these things does not detract from our physical responsibilities, but enhances our performance of these things.  When we commit to a “none of self and all of thee” perspective, the Lord will bless our efforts in ways that the less committed will never enjoy.

Our Lord said that loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind is the greatest commandment.  For this reason, we must make this our primary goal in life.  To do so we must commit to the “none of self and all of thee” principle.  Doing so requires the faith to trust in the Lord’s promise that He will take care of those who seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33).  How blessed our lives would be, and how much better the world would be, if each of us made this commitment!  Then our lives, as well as our lips, would truthfully and joyously declare, “Higher than the highest heavens, deeper than the deepest sea, Lord, Thy love at last has conquered, None of self and all of Thee”.

He Has Done All Things Well

 

When I was a boy my mother would sometimes take me to visit an elderly lady for whom she had worked many years before.  This lady was very religious and had a favorite statement about the Lord that she often inserted into her conversations.  She would say, “Always trust in the Lord, who doeth all things well.”  As a young boy I lacked sufficient knowledge of the scriptures to know the source of this statement.  Only many years later did I discover that the heart of her statement was completely biblical.

In Mk. 7:31-37 Mark records an incident in which the people in the region of Decapolis brought to the Lord a man who was deaf and spoke with difficulty.  The Lord put His fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue.  He then commanded his ears to be opened.  The man’s hearing and ability to speak were immediately restored and the crowd reacted in amazement.  In v. 37 the scripture says, “They were utterly astonished, saying, ‘He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'”

We should not be amazed that the Lord did all things well.  In fact, we should be grateful that He did, and still does, all things well, because we depend upon Him to do so.  In Lk. 19:10 the Lord said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  In 1 Tim. 2:5-6 Paul said, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”  In Heb. 7:25 the scripture says, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”  Where would we be if the Lord did not do these things well?  We thank God that He does indeed do all things well.

This being true, it places a level of responsibility on those who are the beneficiaries of His well-done work that we may sometimes overlook.  In the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30), the master gave each slave responsibility equal to that slave’s ability.  Two of them did their work well.  One turned five talents into ten, and the other turned two talents into four.  They were praised by their master and rewarded by being welcomed into the joy of their master.

The one-talent slave, however, did not even try to do his job, much less to do it well.  When he returned his master’s money he was condemned for being a wicked, lazy slave.  Too late he discovered that even a small amount of effort on his part would have satisfied his master.  Because he did not do his job well, he was cast into the outer darkness.

We who are Christians are slaves, like the men in the parable.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our master.  He has given us responsibilities to fulfill in His service based upon our abilities.  Like the master in the parable, He expects us to do all things well.  He expects this of us, because He was also a slave to His Father’s will.  He humbled Himself to do the Father’s will, and He did all things well.  Therefore, we must do the same.

However, doing all things well has nothing to do with human standards of success or failure.  In the Lord’s service, as in the parable of the talents, doing well simply means to expend the energy necessary to demonstrate respect for what our master has entrusted to us.  When we make our master’s will the primary concern in our lives, we are doing well.  When we devote ourselves to serve in His kingdom, we are doing well.  We will not all have the same results, but if we each do our best, we will have done well, and we will be welcomed into the joy of our master at the end of time.

An Empty Tomb

 

The reality of death is inescapable.  From the moment we are born we begin to die, and death comes all too quickly no matter how long one lives.  Every one of us has lost, or will lose, someone dear to us, and every one of us will one day suffer death.  In cemeteries all over the world the living pay tribute to and remember those who have passed on.  Death is the great equalizer because the rich and famous, the powerful and prominent, lie alongside the poor and unknown, the weak and insignificant.

On the outside graves can be very different.  Some are very simple, others are ornate and ostentatious.  Some lie in poorly maintained grounds that seem as forgotten as the dead interred there.  Others lie in carefully tended, garden-like surroundings.  Yet, from one end of the spectrum to the other, all graves are the same on the inside.  They all contain the mortal remains of someone who once lived on the earth.  All except one, that is.

That grave is the one we read about in the gospels.  It is the tomb into which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed the body of Jesus after He died on the cross.  In Jn. 19:38-42 the scripture says they wrapped the Lord’s body in strips of cloth according to the burial custom of the Jews.  They then placed the body in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  These were the same actions that would have been done for anyone who died in this era.

Mt. 27:62-66 tells us that the leaders of the Jews persuaded the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to place a guard at the tomb, and to seal it with his seal.  This was to ensure that no one could steal the body and claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  On the first day of the week, however, Jesus came forth from the tomb, just as He had promised He would.  In Mt. 28:1-7 the scripture says an earthquake occurred, an angel of God rolled away the stone covering the tomb entrance, and the Roman guards became like dead men.  Jesus left the tomb, and when Peter and John looked inside a little while later, they saw the grave cloths lying where the body had been (Jn. 20:1-10).

Jesus was alive, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and this was the message the apostles proclaimed on the first Pentecost after His resurrection.  As they apostles preached that day they declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead and asserted that they were all eyewitnesses of this truth (Acts 2:32).  This proclamation could have been thwarted that very day by producing the dead body of Jesus.  Yet, the leaders of the Jews did not do so, because they knew the truth.  His body was not in the tomb!

Someone once said that the Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection.  As Paul told the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  He then said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).  Our faith in the Lord stands because Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again.  Because He lives, we believe that we, too, will live again after death.

We have hope for eternal life in the place being prepared in the Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3).  We have this hope because of the greatest event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have hope to live for Him in preparation for eternity because He rose the third day after His crucifixion.  We commemorate His death, but we do not mourn Him.  Instead, we rejoice, because we have an empty tomb!

Shoulders or Sink Holes?

 

A common desire among most parents is for their children to have a better life than they did.  This is especially true of those who grew up in poor or modest circumstances but is not limited to them.  Part of the strength of western civilization is the expectation of progress.  We believe that through hard work and diligence society will be elevated from one generation to the next.  The imagery of this upward climb is often characterized as standing on the shoulders of those who went before us.

However, not everyone works hard or diligently.  Some drift through life with little ambition and with little or no success for the next generation to build upon.  This attitude provides nothing for the next generation to stand upon, and worse yet, may undermine their efforts.  The imagery that comes to mind in such a case is a sinkhole.  With no foundation to build upon, the likelihood of progress or success is diminished.

These alternatives are significant in our physical existence, but are even more important in our spiritual pursuits.  God’s plan from the beginning has been that each generation be a stepping stone for the next.  His plan is succinctly stated in Deut. 6:4-9.  Here Moses said, “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is One!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

This is shoulder building/shoulder standing in God’s matchless wisdom.  Each generation must love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and might.  Loving God in this manner means learning His will and obeying all His commands.  When one generation does this, it builds the foundation upon which the next generation can stand and build.  This is the first part of the plan.

The second part of the plan is to diligently teach God’s will to the next generation.  Doing this instills the proper respect for Almighty God in that generation and equips them to build upon what their ancestors have accomplished.  When done as God intends, each generation moves closer and closer to God and farther away from anything that would deter this progress.

Each of us must choose to obey these commands or to ignore them.  However, the consequences of our choices are not just personal.  The consequences can stretch far into the future and affect descendants yet unborn.  One who forsakes faith in the Lord puts his soul in jeopardy, but in so doing robs his children and grandchildren of the opportunity to build their own faith.  Instead of giving them shoulders to stand upon so they can grow closer to God, he leaves them in a sinkhole that could lead them to the abyss at judgment.

Therefore, we must seriously consider God’s plan as we go about our lives.  Paul exhorts us to not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap (Gal. 6:9).  He also exhorts us to fight the good fight, finish the course, and to keep the faith so we will receive the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8).  We must do so for our own spiritual good, but we must do so, also, for the good of the generations that follow us.  If we truly love our offspring, we must build shoulders they can stand on, so they will have the best opportunity for eternal life.

Being Church or Doing Church?

 

According to the scriptures, the church came into existence on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:1-41).  The church grew and spread across the globe as first the apostles and then ordinary Christians proclaimed the good news wherever they went.  Over the course of several centuries the church began to change as more and more human ideas took root within it.  In time it was so far removed from its first century antecedent that sincere men sought to reform it.  Their efforts, though noble and well-intended, did not result in a return to the first century model.

The protestant denominations which arose from these efforts, while closer to the first century model, were still marked by more human ideas than the original church.  In the early 1800s in America a renewed effort began whose stated goal was to restore first century Christianity.  The focus was on doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names.  Their motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”  This mantra sought to complete the work the reformers of the 1500s had begun by going back to the biblical model alone as a guide for what the church should believe and practice.

Now in the second decade of the new millennium, it appears that this noble effort, like the reformation before it, has begun to drift on the tide of human opinion and desires.  There are perhaps many manifestations of this drift, but a significant element in it is the way we “do” church.  A drive through any major city reveals countless multi-million-dollar church facilities.  Large, beautiful buildings replete with every creature comfort are the norm.  Amenities, including family-life centers, day-care facilities, and K-12 schools are commonplace.  Recovery programs and other social services, conducted by credentialed or licensed staff, are more and more frequently offered.  Worship assemblies are multi-media events, even if not accompanied by a worship band or praise team.  In short, many churches are doing everything they can to appeal to every conceivable human interest.  The question, however, is if this is what the Lord meant the church to be.

When we examine the New Testament, we find none of the things that seem so necessary today.  First century churches did not own property or buildings.  They met in rented rooms or in homes.  Their worship was simple and focused on commemorating the Lord’s death each Lord’s day by the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The sang, prayed, read scripture, and exhorted each other to walk in the light.  Each Christian understood that he or she bore responsibility for the overall welfare of the church, as passages such as Eph. 4:11-16 instruct.  They saw their primary task as proclaiming the gospel to the lost, and encouraging each other to remain faithful.  They often did this daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47).

Too many churches today are consumed with keeping up with the amenities offered by their religious neighbors.  They fret over the money needed to equip themselves to do church like everyone around them, and consequently run the risk of not being the church the Lord meant them to be.  Members and leaders alike fall into a check-list mentality that seems to equate facilities, amenities, and programs with being the Lord’s church.

Is it wrong to have a comfortable building in which to meet, or to show concern for the issues so many face today?  No, but when so much of our attention is focused on these things, and the money it takes to maintain them, we have lost sight of our true mission.  We have become so busy doing church that we have ceased being the church.  Perhaps it is time, once again, for a call to restore simple New Testament Christianity.