Three Churches

There are really only three churches that you should be paying attention to:

The Church – this is a really really big group of people – literally scattered all over the world, it includes people of all races, all nationalities, all denominations.    There are many differences but there is one common theme running through them all:

They all believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and that by believing in Him we will have eternal life.

A brief story to illustrate that.    A few years ago we were leading a mission team down to Haiti (my wife and I).    We took the team to a local Haitian church service on the Sunday morning we were there.   

It was a two hour service and I understood a few words since it wasn’t the first time I have heard Creole.     Most of our team had never heard Creole before that week.

After getting back to where we were staying, one of our team said something that really struck me,  “That was the most spiritually moving service I have ever been to – especially since the only word I understood was “Amen !””

The church is a force all over the world and there is not a language or a border that “holds it in.”Washington Cathedral

A Church – “Whereever two or three are gathered……”    Jesus makes it very clear that it doesn’t have to be a big building.   It doesn’t have to be a building.    A church can be under a tree in Uganda.    It can be under a highway Church Under the Bridge by the Examiner.combridge (there is one in Texas).   It can be at a coffee shop.    It can be at a brewery (See “Doubt on Tap” in Ann Arbor every Tuesday).    It can be in a traditional church building.Church - beliefnet.com

But it’s a gathering of people with a common bond.   They gather to worship Jesus.   They gather to care for each other.    They gather to gain the spiritual food they need to be able to be the salt and light of the world.   They support each other and they lean on each other when they need assistance.

I have a friend who, I believe, is a Christian (he says he is) but he doesn’t go to “a church.”    Why?   Because he feels like every church he has ever been involved with has not been supportive, has been hypocritical and has made it harder to be a Christian.

Church Under a TreeA church is supposed to make it easier to be a Christian.   If it makes it harder to be a Christian, then it’s not a church that is doing what God wants.

My Church: My church is very simple and yet very difficult to describe.    Very simply, it’s the group of Christians that I gather with to worship God on a regular basis.

But that’s not the whole story.    Because you can go to a church for  Sunday morning worship for years at the same building and it’s not truly what you can call, “My Church.”    Why not?

For a church to be “my church” it has to be a church that you have an emotional involvement with.   

  • Not only do you attend there, but you are known there, know people there and have  an emotional and intellectual attachment to the church that takes place in that particular location.   
  • That means that you weep with those who weep, you mourn with those who mourn, you rejoice with those who rejoice.   
  • That means that you care for each other and that you invest in the spiritual and physical lives of your fellow church members.  
  • It means that you feel like you are worshipping and living among family.

It is possible, then, to be a “member” of one church and actually have another church be “my church.”   

Oh, the other thing about my church – it’s the place where you go to refuel and recharge so that you can go out into the world and make it for another week.

Is the church you attend the one you would call “my church?”  If not, what do you need to do about it?

Tom

June 6, 1944

We’re living after June 6, 1944.

Yes, thank you for that Captain Obvious.

No, I don’t mean it the way you think.    While we’re chronologically after June 6, 1944, we are also spiritually in a time similar to the period between June 6, 1944 and the end of World War II.

There are a number of reasons why we are in that time……

Ultimate victor – it wasn’t too long after June 6, 1944, that it was obvious to most of the military people on both sides that the inevitable was that the Germans would be defeated.    The tide of the war had shifted and the Nazi regime was living in a time where their survival was very limited.

We know who is going to win the war.    We know that even though Satan is battling with every ounce of strength that he has, he will not defeat Jesus.   Jesus struck that blow when He went to hell and came back.   The war is over, even though the battle is not.

Much fighting remains – it was 11 months and 1 day from when the US and the Allies landed on D-Day until the Germans surrendered.    There were a lot of really brutal battles that took place during that time, but the end result was already decided.   However, during those battles, many people gave their lives, many people suffered much and many people were wounded during that time. Military Cemetery in France

There are many people who have devoted their lives to spiritual warfare and battling the effects of the devil.    Many have suffered much and continue to suffer.

The Rush to Rescue the Innocent – Auschwitz – a name that makes many people shudder just to hear it.   Just one of the places where the worst of Germany’s crimes took place.    Millions of Jews were slaughtered in places like that.

The soldiers knew there were people waiting in these concentration camps.    They were rushing to try to get to them.   They knew that every day that they didn’t get there, others would die.

The same goes today – there are literally millions of people all over the world who are living life without hearing the good news of Christ.    They haven’t had the opportunity to accept the pardon of their sins and the eternal life because they haven’t been told.

We’re the soldiers who are trying to bring them the spiritual life they need to survive and thrive – just like the WWII soldiers did with the POW camp survivors.    Not all of them made it but saving all of them was the goal.

So, why is there evil in the world?   There’s evil in the world because the final destruction of Satan hasn’t yet been accomplished.    The mortal blow has been struck – it was struck on Calvary – but the fighting and the struggles continue.    They will continue until the final victory.

When Jesus comes again, the evil will be banished and the devil will be “locked” in hell.    That’s when the Church can really get the party started and can give thanks for the mercy and grace of our Saviour.

We knew the end result.   We just have a lot of fighting and pain to get there.

And all God’s people said,   “Amen!”

Tom

Church–Believe the Bible? Really?

I’ve had a couple of people comment about the post I wrote yesterday about how the church needs to be Bible based.    Their comments provided me with the topic for this morning’s post.

So what did they say?    Well, let me sum it up in one sentence (and I know generalities are dangerous……)

“There are so many things in the Bible that are open to interpretation that it’s easy to pick and choose what you want to believe and make the Bible say what you want it to. “

Unfortunately it is true that many times, preachers and churches do exactly that.    They use  the Bible to justify their beliefs instead of matching their beliefs up to the Bible.Courtesy of Todd Waller - www.toddwaller.com

Let me say it straight out – not everything in the Bible needs to be followed absolutely literally in today’s time.    We don’t need to do animal sacrifices any more,  for instance.

We don’t need to adhere to some of the laws of ancient Israel that dealt with how to live a life of love and respect for God, who He is and what He means.   

Do we still need to live a life of love and respect?    Absolutely.    We need to follow the principles of what the Bible teaches, even if we don’t have to sacrifice an unblemished goat.  

What happens if your church believes that living the life that God commands means something different than what my church does?

What happens if your church believes that “Keep the Sabbath Day holy” means that you don’t watch TV, you don’t play with the neighbors and you certainly don’t mow the lawn and my church believes that:

  • It’s okay to go out to a restaurant on Sunday.
  • It’s okay to go to the beach on Sunday.
  • It’s okay to go golfing on Sunday.

What do you do then?

Let me tell you a story from back in the early 1980s.    I had the privilege of working for four weeks with a church just outside of Washington DC.   There were four of us who went there to help for four weeks.

The first Sunday we were there, everyone went to church, went home, changed clothes, went out to eat and then went to the beach!

We were appalled.    In West Michigan in the early 1980s, no one who was Christian went to the beach on Sunday.   I mean, seriously, we believed that it was wrong to do that.

So how did we balance what we were taught with what they did?

Were they all a bunch of heathens in Washington DC?  

Until the family that we were staying with explained it to us.    The majority (upwards of 80%) of the families in their church were military or government families.     They all had  at least one parent who worked 12 + hours every day of every week – including Saturdays.    For them, Sunday was a day that was set apart from the rest of the week and part of how they made Sunday holy was by doing things as a family – things they wouldn’t get the chance to do otherwise.

Did we both observe the “Keep the Sabbath day holy” requirement?   I believe we did.     I believe that for them, compared to our middle class area in Michigan, keeping the Sabbath day holy” is different because of the different dynamics of their world.

So, back to the church and being Bible based.    A couple of principles that I believe every church should have and keep in mind:

  • There are certain truths that are truly non-negotiable.    If you claim that Jesus is just a “good man” and not the Saviour of this world, you are not believing something that is Bible based.    The Bible clearly says different.
  • There are certain truths in the Bible that are open to interpretation:  “Christian schools vs. public schools”   “Sunday observance”  “Child baptism vs. adult baptism” and many more.    Those are the interpretations that make for the differences between the Methodist and the Baptist and the Christian Reformed denominations.
  • A church needs to have a governing body (Elders) who are willing and actively holding their pastor accountable to make sure that he is not violating the non-negotiable ones and that the ideas and thoughts that he expresses from the pulpit and elsewhere fall in line with what their denomination says are the “open to interpretation” ones.    They need to have the guts to stand up and say,   “Dear ________, on Sunday, I heard you say, ____________________, and I don’t believe that is in line with what we believe.    Please explain how you think it is.”
  • Ordination of pastors – I know that this is by no means a guarantee that a pastor will be a good preacher.  However, I do believe that there are many situations where people are “preaching” and haven’t had the education that they should to make sure they are explaining and preaching God’s Word in a way that aligns with what God intends.   

Being a Bible based church is a lot more difficult and confusing than it sounds.    There are a lot of gray areas.   It requires a lot of thought, a lot of prayer and a lot of communication.

But it can be done.    And The Church needs to do more of it.

Tom

Church Is Biblical

Yes, thank you Captain Obvious.

But let’s get real here.    We don’t always do that.    Ministers sometimes turn into story tellers.    Bible study groups turn into social get togethers.

And the Bible takes second place.

Or even third place or fourth place.

Have you read the Bible?    All of it?  

I have – once.   I should more often.   

A couple of things that I learned from reading the entire Bible:

  • There is a lot of “stuff” in there.    Thousands of people, many generations, lots of things that happen.
  • There is a lot of violence in there.   God gave His people  the ability to win amazing battles but He also allowed them to be punished when they screwed up.
  • There are some things that make you feel really good.
  • There are some really uncomfortable stories.     Stories that make us squirm.   Stories that should make us squirm.
  • It is not all pleasant reading.    Actually a lot of it is very hard reading.
  • But it’s God’s story of taking pain and sorrow and wickedness and evil and turning them into a tale of redemption and release.

Not everything in the Bible will make you feel good.   A lot of it won’t make you feel good.

But for a church to be healthy, it needs to be Bible based.

Everything it does needs to be run through the “filter” of the Bible.   What does God say about this?   What’s the Bible’s stand on that?

Sermons need to be not just the preacher’s opinions on something, they need to be teaching from God’s Word.    That means:

  • Preparing for preaching needs to require spending a lot of time searching and seeking God’s will and what He is saying there.  And a church and their pastor need to allow and plan for that.
  • Sermons need to be more than an explanation of what happened in a certain passage.    An explanation of what King David did when the Ark of the Covenant came back to Israel is not a sermon – that’s a Sunday school lesson at most.
  • Sermons need to be the tool that helps church members spiritually make it through another week.   A week of spiritual warfare, a week of weakness, a week of struggles.

The church needs to be Biblical.    The church needs to be the hands and feet of God and needs to do everything in light of His Word.

Otherwise we’re just a social club – and it’s a club that is going to alienate those who are searching for something more.

TJV

Church Should be “Mixed Nuts”

I had some blog post ideas set to finish up the 31 day challenge, but I’ve decided to scrap them and go with a few other things that are weighing on my heart……

The minister who I was talking about in http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/10/church-is-whoa/ also said something else that struck me yesterday.

We’re a “mixed nut” church.

Now I believe that in many ways he was referring to his particular church because they are very culturally, chronologically and economically diverse.     But I believe that applies to, or should apply to all churches.

Let’s look at what mixed nuts are.    Basically a can of mixed nuts is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, some of the other thing and a bit more of that type.    Truly a mixed variety of things all pulled together and put in a can.

Now they are all of the same basic type – they are all of the same family (the nuts) but they are all different.    The peanut is not like the cashew which is not like the……… (you get the picture)

And together, the end product is good.    It accomplishes what the label says and it has the ability to provide what people who look to it need – nuts.     Would I eat cashews if they were just in a can of cashews?   No, I wouldn’t.    But when they are mixed with other nuts, it all works well and I end up partaking of a variety of the ingredients. 

Church should be the same.    It should consist of people who are all different.    Short ones, tall ones, married ones, single ones, old ones, school age ones, employed ones, employer ones, unemployed ones, stay at home mom ones, sick ones, emotionally challenged ones, struggling ones, happy ones, worried ones, angry ones.    All should be welcomed and celebrated for what they bring to the church.

But  that’s where the church falls short of being mixed nuts.    Too often, we want to be a can of salted peanuts.    We’re most comfortable when we’re all the same.    We’re most comfortable when we don’t have to ask,  “What’s that?”   We’re most comfortable when we don’t have to deal with the nuts that don’t quite meet our taste requirements. 

That’s not the way that Jesus wants His church to be.  

Jesus wants us to embrace all of the mixed nuts in the group.    Celebrate the differences.   Care for the least.   Struggle with those who face struggles.  

And don’t leave anyone alone at the bottom of the can.    Because we are all part of the same family.

Join the mixed nut party.   It’s God’s plan and it should be ours too.

TJV