To Give or Not to Give- That is a Good Question

 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:35 (NASB)

Often times in bible studies and just casual conversation, I hear people bring up the topic of discerning when to give to those who ask. Usually this question refers to those who are seen on the street holding the cardboard sign which is intended to explain their situation. Other times, people will call or arrive at the church office wanting some assistance with something.

I personally believe that this “dilemma” is born out of a torn heart. Many Christians genuinely want to help those in need. I mean, if we are genuine Christians, then it would be in our hearts to show love and compassion for the needy. On the other hand, Christians are people and people don’t like to be taken advantage of. When it does happen, and it seems to happen often, it king of leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

Some respond by cutting off all benevolence to anyone, after all that would only be fair and safe, right? Others take the attitude that they will just give what they can always, leaving the receiver in God’s hands. Many leadership meetings at churches have been spent discussing this matter. Ultimately, churches and Christians alike really want to help those in need and minister to them, yet at the same time do not wish to be taken advantage of and allow some to steal from them.

As I address this issue, let me make it clear that I personally to not have a concrete, “this is what to do” answer. What follows is just my two cents. I pray that it is helpful.

First, we see in John 13:35, among many other places in Scripture that the Christian is one who loves others. In fact, that is how we are to be distinguished from the rest of the world. Jesus even taught that we are to love God and love others. I will submit that loving God and loving others is not something that the Christian strives to get better at and achieve, rather it is what is in us. It is who we are.

The Christian is one whom in the Holy Spirit has taken up residence. Even though the trinity cannot be explained completely, we can know that the three are one. Therefore, since God is love,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.     1 John 4:7-8  (NASB)

and the Spirit of God is God, then we can conclude that love is in the believer. This is why the Christian has this “dilemma” in our hearts when it comes to showing love and compassion to those who present themselves in need. I think that the first point of focus would be with self. We Christians would do good to ask ourselves, who is making the decision as to whether or not a person is genuinely in need or not?

The question that we usually ask ourselves almost immediately is, does this person really need help? Or, is this person being honest, or are they just making up a story to get the help they are asking about? My not so favorite one that some have asked is, how do I know they won’t go buy drugs or alcohol with what I give them?

To 99% of the people in the world, it seems that those questions are legitimate questions. However, for the Christian, we must remember that since the Spirit of God is living in us, our approach may be different. I am not saying that it is wrong to think about those questions, however, I am saying that they should not be out guide to reach the conclusion to the “dilemma”.

Second point. I do not think that the Christian is “obligated” to give to everyone who presents a need. The scripture is clear that we are to help others when we have opportunity and the means. Along with that, I will submit that the Christian has a responsibility to be good stewards of that which God has entrusted in their care.

I do not believe that God desires for the Christian to be taken advantage of. Nor do I believe that God desires the Christian to be taken for a fool. After all, we are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God to this world. We must look at benevolence of any kind as an investment. An investment in the work of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus taught a lesson using a parable about a wealthy man leaving his wealth in the care of three men. Each having the same responsibility. Two were successful, the other failed. The two that succeeded increased the wealth of the Kingdom because they feared their master and thought to do what he would want them to do. The third, on the other hand, was more afraid of failure than the master. He did what he thought was best and did not consider what the master would have him do.

The same is true here for the Christian. The Master, our Lord, has given us His valuables. We have the responsibility to be stewards of that wealth. That wealth, by the way, is His love, the gospel of Christ, Salvation. This should lead us to the question, why does the scripture teach us to give when we can give?

I often try to insert into those conversations about this matter the answer to that question. At least what I believe to be the answer. It is two-fold really. First, but not foremost, the scripture teaches us to give because that is what love is. If love resides in a person, then compassion will rise to the surface. Second, and foremost, the scripture tells us to give because of John 13:35. The world will know the Christian because of the way we love.

As far as knowing when not to give or be taken advantage of. I often think about Acts chapter 3.

“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”               Acts 3:6 (NASB)

Here Peter and John were presented with a man in need. It so happened that this man had a genuine need. However, they did not give the man what he asked for. Instead, they invested in the Kingdom of God by giving him what was most valuable. The result was that the crippled man encountered God and the world around them was impacted greatly by the witness! If you don’t believe me, go read it for yourself.

The point that I am getting at here is this. There are times to give and there are times not to give, that is when it comes to the things of this world. When it comes to giving the love of God, there is never a time not to give. For the Christian, the key is to seek guidance from the Master. “What would Jesus do?” even though that has become a cliché, it still rings true.

The letter to the Galatians instructs us to keep in step with the Spirit. That means that we are not making the decisions. I know, that is hard to accept, but it is the way the Master set in place. The Holy Spirit will guide us away from poor investments with the Master’s wealth, and make us aware of the good investment opportunities for the Kingdom of God.

I hope I have explained this well enough that you all can see that it is a matter of making disciples in everything we do. We help the needy in hopes that they will encounter God and His Kingdom, whether they are Christians or not. We help the Christians who are in need for the purpose of getting them back in the Kingdom work force, and we help those who are not Christians for the purpose of exposing them to the love of God! So, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it comes to helping the needy in this world.

Oh, one last thing. God does not expect nor desire anyone to become needy for the sake of helping those in need. Give what you can, when you can. If you have not the means, seek the Lord for other ways to help. Peter and John told the crippled man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6. If we genuinely have the Spirit of God living in us, then we always have something to give.

We should offer that whether it is received or not.

 

The Spirit of Christmas- is it really in the air?

““The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:23‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Over the generations that Christmas has been celebrated, many times the “Spirit o Christmas” has been mentioned, talked about, or even taught about. There have been stories and books written, even movies made about the “Spirit of Christmas”.

The question might be, what is the “Spirit of Christmas”? Furthermore, is it the same for everyone or is it something that means something different for every individual? I think you will find that there are many answers offered and opinions given, whether called for or not.

Since I am a Christian, it should be obvious that my answer to the general question would be that the “Spirit of Christmas” has to do with the presence of Jesus. After all, Matthew’s gospel points out that they called Him Immanuel, which means “God with us”. The presence of God is what every Christian should be experiencing even when it is not Christmas. For those who are not Christians, well let me just point out that God’s presence is always there, one only need to surrender to Him.

““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We can see in the gospel of Luke as the Angels spoke to the Shepherds about the birth of Jesus. Notice that they are promised that on earth there will be peace to those on whom his favor rests. It is kind of an amazing thing to notice. The peace of Christ being given to those who will notice it. Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ and that His death and resurrection were sufficient for the sins of man!

If asked, there are not many people in this world who would say that they do not want peace. Since Christmas is about the birth of Jesus in the flesh, it makes sense that there would be a keen awareness of His peace or His Holy Spirit during the time of celebrating His birth. After all, it marked the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise in chapter 3 of Genesis.

It seems that during Christmas time, after Black Friday, and the hustle and bustle of what the season has become in our society, on Christmas Day, everything seems to slow down. Most everything is closed up, many people are in their homes with their families and nothing else is happening but Christmas fellowship and eating stuff.

It is no wonder that many people feel an extra strong sense of the “Spirit of Christmas”! That Spirit of Christmas is simply the peace of Christ and the comfort in knowing that indeed there is a Savior provided by God! Only if we all could be so attentive to that Spirit those other 364 days of the year!

Now, I realize that not everyone believes what I believe to be the truth about Jesus and Christmas. I realize that Christmas for those has some other meaning. I cannot possibly fathom what that could be or that it would have any real meaning for them. However, this is the case for many. I will say, the fact that there are people who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ and do not celebrate Christmas for what it truly is about, does not change the truth about God or Jesus born in the flesh. It certainly does not change the presence of God and His Kingdom in this world.

Maybe, the truth of the matter is that people all over the world are experiencing the presence of God , or the “Spirit of Christmas”, in a powerful way during the Christmas time, some realizing that it is God’s Holy Spirit and others completely oblivious or rejecting the truth. Either way, for the Christian, it is one of the best times to let the light of Christ shine brightly in our lives! After all, what a better time to be the witness than the time when many people are noticing what is referred to as the “Spirit of Christmas”!

Merry Christmas ya’ll!

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:14-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have an Offended Christmas or a Merry Christmas, Your Choice

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid,Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”                                                                                                                                                 Luke 1:26-38

Christmas season is upon us and the birth of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, is the reason for the celebration. Every year it seems like time just goes right on by during this time of the year. We all are so busy with work and vacation schedules, planning for guests or traveling, and then there is all the shopping and wrapping to do. Each family do their very best to make memories and have the “best Christmas ever”!

Lately I have heard, as I do every year, others in conversation over singing certain Christmas songs based on whether they are theologically correct or not. What with the whole debate about the reason for Christmas going on throughout society and all the old family traditions which are always necessary, most people do not even think to consider anything like theologically correct Christmas songs or decorations.

When it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus and the events that surround it, there is some importance to making sure that the truth is not watered down by fairy-tales and even family traditions. After all, it is the responsibility of the Christian to be the witness and continue to share the gospel throughout the world to anyone who will hear it. Therefore, it is imperative that the message be accurate.

Having said that, I will also say that legalism only leads to controversy and strife in any part of the Christian life. Obviously there is going to be some debate over just where that line is drawn between being theologically accurate and being free to worship and celebrate as one would desire. But what about that line?

Is there even a line that can be crossed? When it comes to the Christian faith, there is a line. I would suggest that when it comes to Christmas celebrations and family traditions, the line would be found at the point when God no longer is glorified in what is going on. Whether it is song, fellowship, meals, or even dress codes. What I mean is that if anything that is done during the celebration of Christmas actually takes away from what Christmas is about, then maybe it should not be done.

If any part of the Christmas celebration takes the mean of Christmas and makes it anything other than Jesus born in the flesh for the purpose of dying on the cross, well then maybe the Christian should re-think that part of their celebration. Many times the giving of gifts can become more important than what we are really celebrating and the purpose of the celebration is lost.

So as far as people being offended about Christmas songs, or even some Christians criticizing some Christmas songs because they are not theologically correct, I would suggest two solutions. First, to those who are offended by some of the Christmas songs, usually they are not Christian believers, so I would suggest that they learn about Christ and His birth. If those who are offended by Christmas would take the time to open their minds and hearts to what is happening, I believe that things would change for them. If not, well I guess they will just have to have an offended Christmas as opposed to a Merry Christmas.

Second, I would say to the Christians who are overly meticulous about the critique of every detail of the Christmas songs, or the nativity scenes, please continue to be diligent about your understanding of Christ and His birth! However, not everything in the Christian life will be “theologically correct”, there are some great Christmas songs which celebrate the time of year and the atmosphere that is created by the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

I will say however, that when at church in the middle of worship time, we should remember that we are there to worship God and therefore should be mindful about the Christmas songs we use for worship. So, I would say to the Christian song critique, you can have a legalistic Christmas or a Merry Christmas. Your choice.

The fact is that we all have our different ways of celebrating Christmas. As long as we keep Christ as the center of it all, it should be the Merriest of times for all. So, I say this to everyone, Merry Christmas and God bless you all!

Life is Short- You Do Not Have to Die!

Life happens. Not only does it happen, but it happens really fast. One day we are making plans for the future for ourselves as well as our families. It seems that we are keeping up with the pace of life. That is, as long as everything goes according to plan.

We all have dreams, plans, and maybe aspirations. Some have extreme motivation to chase after them, others not so much. Either way, when we get momentum behind our life’s plan, we tend to believe that life is good and we are on our way to meet our goals and desires for our lives.

Who we are and who we become in life greatly depend on the things that happen to us and around us. Also, the consequences of decisions and choices along life’s path. Let’s not forget that the people we choose to be around also affect who we are and become. Finally, our beliefs and worldview impact the course of life.

Generally, we live our lives according to the plans that we make and sometimes make adjustments along the way. Some are better at this than others. When life is playing out as we have planned, we say “Life is good”, or even “God is good”. Yet when these plans derail or seem to change against our will, we struggle to adjust. We tend to panic, stress, or even give up on the plan.

The fact is, even though we all have free will to make choices in this life, there are some things to which we have no say. Many people like to say, “no one has to do anything but pay taxes and die.”. I would disagree with that, no one really has to pay taxes. We have the freedom to choose not to pay and suffer the consequences. However, being born and dying are in fact the two things that no one can choose.

Really, only being born is what we do not have choice in. Many have chosen to take their own life. In that regard, I guess that dying would be a choice, although not usually an option for people. The reality of it all is, people generally do not get to know how many days will be given them, only God knows some things.

“Now listen, you who say,  “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”                                 James 4:13-15

It is real easy to get caught up in living life and fail to recognize the value of it. People have been living in this world for thousands of years. Each of them living the life that was theirs. All of us have been given life by the creator. God is the one who created life and breathed breath into man. Living our lives without acknowledging Him as Lord is foolish!

People these days generally live no more than 100 years. Most live to be in their 70’s or 80’s. Even though that seems like a long time on the calendar, it is not much time at all in the grand scheme of things. The bigger point here is that on one is promised another day. Life happens.

It is important that we all look at what is the most important thing. That is, what goes on beyond this life. What the Christian believes is that there is eternal life. A choice is to be made. Will that time be spent in the presence of God? Or, will that time be spent separated from God forever? The time that goes on after life in this world is eternal and will not change.

For those who do not believe in life after death, well then it is important to make good use of the time you have in this life. It does not change the fact that life is short. It does not change the fact that death can come at any time. Either way, whatever the belief is, it seem foolish for a person to ignore the fact that death can come at any time.

I am not sharing this to scare anyone or to be a gloom and doom kind of person. I am sharing this because it is important that people acknowledge that life is short and that we are not promised tomorrow. Maybe it will help us to slow down and notice what we are missing.Maybe it will help us to get off our hind parts and start living life the way God intended it to be lived! Either way, the opportunity to have confidence in the eternity that happens after this life is over is there.

Yes, the gospel. It is the most important, most urgent piece of information in existence. The message that all people have fallen short of God’s glory and need a savior to pay the debt owed to this Holy God. That message that says that Jesus is that Savior and anyone who believes that it is true can be with God for eternity!

“”Therefore let all Israel be assured of this; God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.””

– Acts 2:36-39

The bottom line is this; Life is short! You or I, or even all of us may not be given another breath. Are you confident? Are you confident in what you believe about life after a person is dead? If you believe that there is not life after death, are you positive? And, if you believe like I do, the Christian belief, that there is life after we die and there is a choice to make. Then I would ask you, are you sure that if this be your last day to live in this world, would you spend the rest of eternity in the presence of God or will it be spent for ever separated from God?

Whatever pictures or movies can be displayed about what Hell will be like, I will say that I do not pretend to know any more than what scripture describes about it. However, I will say that the worst thing about Hell is that God is not there, and it is a permanent situation!

Life is short ya’ll!

Black Friday and Christianity- Can They Go Together?

Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, retail stores begin their Christmas sales. They are offering low prices for all of the things that most likely will be on everyone’s list. Resulting in mobs of people waiting hours outside the stores, sometimes in freezing cold or rainy weather.

Once the doors open at midnight, it is on! The mad rush of the mob is unleashed and it is every man or woman for themselves. This is madness as its peak in some places. People acting in ways that they would never even think of acting any other time of the year.

Women staying up through the night, not even painting the barn (putting on makeup). From store to store, checking off items from their lists as they go. Filling one cart and tying it to a second in order to continue taking advantage of the great deals that are offered. All so that their families can have the best Christmas ever!

As I am typing out this blog, I myself am thinking about some things I want to buy. I myself prefer to do most of my shopping online. Especially on Black Friday. But that is just me. Others may see it as a time to share in an experience with a family member or maybe be able to afford some things that otherwise would not be able to.

As with everything, there are pros and cons. But the question I present here is, is Black Friday for the Christian? Can a Christian take advantage of the sales and at the same time, refrain from some of the aggressive, selfish, mean, and more than competitive activities that go on over some of the items in the stores?

As I stated before, Black Friday shopping is not my thing. However, that does not mean that that is my answer to the question at hand. The way I see it, if a Christian can stand in line in the cold, race around each store, stay up all throughout the night, max out credit cards or spend the entire Christmas budget, and still donate to Fill The Boot when the fire department is standing at the traffic light raising money for Muscular Dystrophy. Then by all means, knock yourself out! Not literally.

The Christian must keep in mind that at all times, the Spirit of God is to be our guide and we are to keep in step with the spirit. In all things we do, we must be led by the Spirit to present a proper witness for the Kingdom of God, even when there is only one ipad pro left on the shelf and 37 people are reaching for it at the same time.

How does the Christian maintain the proper witness in that situation? I don’t know, as I said before, I do not go to the stores on Black Friday. This is why we must be led by the Spirit. Some might ask themselves, “what would Jesus do?”. To answer that question, we would have to answer the  question as to whether or not Jesus would participate in Black Friday shopping.

I will say however, that the Christian cannot simply disconnect from living in this world. Part of Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 is that God will spare us from the evil in this world. Not that we would be removed from this world. Therefore we must keep in step with the Spirit!

I personally do not see scripture condemn shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving day. Nor do I see any scripture forbidding us from taking advantage of sales and being wise about spending the money provided by the Lord. Yet, I will leave you with this portion of scripture which I hope will be helpful as the season goes on;

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is  not in them. For everything in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 

1 John 2:15-17

 

Skipping Church for the Holidays

Here it is, once again. It is the time that people begin to travel and meet with family to celebrate Thanksgiving. Plenty of food, fun, and work! Most of us tend to eat way too much food and some even drink way too much drink. However, for many, together with Christmas, this time of year is special.

If you are like most, these times can also be very busy and cost way too much money. Family members arriving from wherever they live. The stress level many times goes sky-high. Everything must be just right, after all, family does not always get together.

And then there are some families that do not look forward to these times. Some families do not enjoy being around other family and sometimes life has caused things to be unpleasant. But each year they go through the motions.

Thanksgiving is a National Holiday here in the United States of America. It is not a Christian Holiday or any religious Holiday. Christmas on the other hand is very much a Christian Holiday! But, that is another blog post so stay tuned for that one.

Getting to the point. It seems that the preachers and Elders of the churches have some of the same conversations around this time of the year. This conversation is centered around how many people attend or do not attend church services on the Sundays before and after both of these holidays.

It is expected that people will be traveling. Because of this, the attendance numbers will either be larger than usual or lower than usual. It all depends on who does the travelling. The mystery lies in whether or not those who attend church regularly, will attend church while traveling or not. Within that question, another question needs to be answered.

It seems to be a two-sided coin when it comes to getting any conclusion to the question. The church leaders have come to expect that numbers will either be high or low on these holiday Sundays. But they do not have to be so drastic.

The first side of the coin. Previously, I mention the question of whether or not people who normally attend church, do so when they are travelling. Although I have no statistics, I would say that the majority, more than 50%, do not. Those that do attend while travelling, usually do so because the people they are visiting also attend church. Therefore, it would be easy for them to attend.

However, many of those people who are not visiting other people find it easy just to skip going to church for that Sunday. After all, they only have so many days of traveling and want to make the most of it. This is why I guess about 50% of regular church attended who travel will attend church while traveling.

The second side of the coin. This side of the coin deals with those who travel as well as those who do not travel during these holidays. First, there are those who travel and visit family, friends or others who are not church goers. Many of these people find it difficult to attend church when those that they are visiting do not. It can get a bit awkward. Although it really should not be, it is.

I will get back to them. The second point about this side of the coin is about those regular church attenders who do not travel for the holiday season but have visitor at their home. Again, there is an awkward situation which occurs when family, friends, or others have traveled to visit but are not church goers. So, they skip church for the sake of not having to have the conversation with their guests.

Both of these situations are the same situation. It comes down to having the conversation about who we are as Christians and either feeling like we are being rude or offensive by inviting our guests to church or leaving them for the hour that it takes to go to church, or actually being a witness to what it means to be a Christian and allowing the world, the guests, to see how important your faith is.

Let me just point out that it is not sinful to skip church on Sunday. Do not think that I am trying to make that statement. This blog post is simply an effort to bring out some truths that I think should at least be thought about, if not talked about within our homes and churches.

The reality is that if the Christian did a better job of prioritizing their relationships with God and taking every opportunity to worship God and be His witness, especially to those who are not believers or church goers, then the church attendance conversation between church leadership circles would not be such a big conversation.

Sure, because people will travel and others will not be able to attend even if they wanted to, there would still be an influx of attendance, high and low. The real dilemma is about the proper witness that the body of Christ is putting out into the world. Or is it really what it sometimes looks like. The Christians put God first always, unless it is uncomfortable or is inconvenient.

“…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 encourage one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”   Hebrews 10:24-25 (NASB)

This blog post is intended to be a reminder and an encouragement. That all of us who are believers, Christians, would do everything we can to be the best witness and bring honor and glory to God during this Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ultimately God knows our hearts.

I pray that God will bless you all and that this Thanksgiving will be memorable and sweet for each of us. Blessings to you all!

Small Churches Working in a Seemingly Mega Church World

Anyone who has been taken to church as a child, or who has been around any bible teaching even a little bit would at least know about David and Goliath. It is the story in 1 Samuel 17 that shows how young David showed up on the battle field and killed the Philistine warrior.

This story is a picture of a young boy saving the day when all of Saul’s army of fighting men were too afraid. Sometimes a smaller congregation might look at the ministry field in this way. Of course, the smaller church being young David in this scenario.

Most likely, many of the smaller churches, 60 people or less, actually end up portraying a picture similar to that of Gideon found in chapter 6 of Judges. Many small churches today are found hiding in their proverbial wine presses trying to evangelize the community but never leaving the church.

All the while, the larger churches seemingly continue to grow and seem to be making disciples daily. Much like that which we see in Acts, these churches are out in the public squares and attracting attention. Many are doing so for the sake of the gospel and making disciples and doing well at it.

Some of these larger churches or mega churches even have unknowingly lost track of the mission and become something that they did not set out to be. But that is another blog. I digress. Not all churches, large, small, or somewhere between are actually making disciples. There is a big difference between making disciples and filling up a building and calling it church.

Most anyone could fill up a building full of people. That is the easy part. The difficulty is to get people to come to hear the gospel and be a part of the Kingdom of God. I once was dropping my son off at college and overheard two college girls talking. “I have tried a few churches since we started school. I think it is good to see what a church has to offer me.” One said to the other.

At first, I thought to myself “how selfish can people be, all they are looking for is how the church can serve them.” As time went on and I look back, I realize that is what most people are thinking when they come into a church.

When we try to look at things from that perspective, it is important to notice that many churches, small or large are doing everything they can to love God and love others. Many are affective and being used by God greatly. Small and Large churches. Both are bring glory to the Kingdom of God and both are being used in powerful ways by God!

So, why then do some smaller churches seem to be failing or are indeed, and most of the larger churches or “mega” churches never seem to fail? Once again, it is a matter of perspective. Just as for David and Gideon, their perspectives caused their actions to be what they were.

There are many small congregations throughout the world who are standing firm in the truth of God’s word and standing in the face of a giant in the form of government hostility, social hostility, Spiritual hostility, and even ecumenical hostility! Yet because, like the church seen in the book of Acts, they too are filled with the Holy Spirit of all might God and are staying faithful to that work.

At the same time, there are way too many smaller congregations who have hidden themselves inside their church walls and refuse to do any ministry because they are trapped by fear that they will lose their church. They fear that may lose their church if they spend any money on ministry efforts, “what if they can’t pay the bills? They fear that they may lose their church if they make decisions that upset those still there who then will leave.

Also, they fear they may lose their church if they actually do ministry and it works. If that happens, a lot of people will start coming and “take over their church”. All the while they fool themselves into believing that they are “threading wheat”/doing ministry when no one in the community really knows that they exist. Meanwhile, God is trying to say to them, “The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.” Judges 6:12 (CSB)

Just down the street or in the next town, there are churches who have hundreds if not thousands of people attending each Sunday. These larger church have many ministries active in their communities and many people are coming into closer relationships with God and each other. These churches provide various types of ministry from children to adult spiritual edification. Not to mention outreach opportunities. God is using these churches very powerfully and people are know Him and He is being glorified!

On the other hand, there also are many churches who are filling up large buildings with people and there is music, ministries, and seemingly everything that was described in the last paragraph except, the teaching is not there. Something is wrong in the doctrine or the motives behind the leadership, or even something else behind the scenes. In these cases, many people are being misled and actually getting further and further away from the truth of Gods word. This also is another blog post for later.

The point is that there are people who are looking for what is true. There are many churches out there, all claiming that we have the “true” truth. So, what then? What happens to the college girls who are looking for a church that will meet their needs? And why do many smaller churches fail while other seem to be healthy. Why do these college girls, and people like them, decide not to attend the smaller congregations?

Many say it is because of the music, or the age of the congregation. I really cannot make much argument about that. However, I will say that God is bigger than that. It is true, the larger churches seem to be offering the worship experience that many young people are responding to and many older folks are rejecting.

I will also offer this element of blame, most people are like sheep and they follow the crowd. It is easy to follow the crowd. If there is a larger church where people can just show up and be served or hide out, they most likely will not have to get involved. I believe that if a church could serve whatever they offer out a drive through window, people would use it. Not all people, but some would.

The bottom line here is that there really is no answer to the “what’s wrong with this picture” question that gets painted here. I would say to the small church congregation, take courage, God is the same for you as He is for all. I would say to the larger church congregation,

Let your eyes look forward; if your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all our ways will be established. Don’t turn to the right or the left; keep you feet away rom evil.”      Proverbs 4:25-27

I would also encourage the small churches to press on and work hard trusting God while I would encourage the larger churches to consider the smaller churches as valuable as well as partners in ministry!

Each of us, large, medium or small congregations would do good to consider the words of Jesus spoken to Peter as he asked Jesus; “Lord, what about him?” John 21:21 (CSB). Referring to John possibly living forever. To which Jesus answered; “If I want him to remain until I come, ….. what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” John 21:22

Help your church glorify God in all that it does. As far as what God is doing with the other congregations in the world, “what is that to you?”. Jesus has a way of telling us to mind our own business.

“Me and God have church by ourselves”- Do Christians Have to Go to Church?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 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.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:23-25‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Over my time in full-time ministry, I have had many conversations with a number of people about going to church. These conversations centered around many aspects, ranging from availability due to work schedules, physical ability or lack there of, and my favorite being “Me and God do our own thing on Sundays”.

Now, I know that there are many other ways that this conversation goes between the Preacher/Christian and others. The one I am focusing on here is the idea presented about whether person must go to church to be a Christian.

First, let me make it clear that it is a fact that there are people who work on Sunday mornings. It is a fact that there are plenty who cannot physically get out or come to church. It is also a fact that there are countless individuals who would love to be at church on Sunday as well as be involved with what a congregation is doing as a whole!

Let’s put all of those aside for the moment. What I am dealing with here is the idea that a person who would say that they are a Christian and also stands in the position that he or she does not “need” to attend church. That they and God do their own thing and that is good enough.

It would seem that the question at hand then would be, “does a person have to go to church to be a Christian?” To that question, I would say that going to church does not make you a Christian. But that is not the question really, is it?

When a person presents the idea, “me and God do our own thing”, the real issue is being presented in a subtle manner. What this person is really doing is challenging or daring the Preacher or whoever else, to question their salvation based on the fact that they do not go to church. It really is a defense tactic because usually the person is asked if they would like to attend church or the Preacher mentions church.

The core of the problem is that people, church goers as well as non-church goers have a misunderstanding of the purpose of attending church or being a part of the ministry of the church. The church goer sees it as evidence that a person is saved, where the non-church goer sees it as a test of their salvation or belief. This is why this conversation is such a problem in the Kingdom of God today.

The real question that church goers should be asking themselves and others is, “do I/you know Jesus?”. At the same time the real question that non-church goers should be asking themselves is “do I really know Jesus?”. If everyone would focus more on this question, the church attendance conversation would be non-existent.

As was presented at the beginning of this blog post, Hebrews chapter 10 gives us some insight into what this Christian life is to be about. In verses 23-25 we can see that words like “hold fast”, “stimulate one another to love and good deeds”, and “not forsaking our own assembling together”, which draw a picture for the believer and the “Church”.

The picture that is drawn for the believer here is that of community. A picture of people who although are different in many ways, share life together. Just as we can see all throughout the book of Acts, every time the believers shared life together in work, prayer or fellowship, God blessed them and their numbers grew!

God, the creator, does not make mistakes. He has created human beings to need fellowship. He created a mate for Adam because He knew that is is not good for man to be alone. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all about restoring fellowship and unity! I know, many thought is was about God letting people go to heaven as apposed to going to hell. Yes, that is true, but it is a very surface level understanding of the work of the cross. Not to mention a little bit selfish.

The truth is, you and I are offered grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation by the blood of Christ not primarily because we need a Savior. NO! All of that happened so that God would be glorified! Only God could take what is broken and make it whole again! Only God can take the rebellious soul and administer consequences and yet spare the law-breaker!

No, Jesus was born in the flesh, gave His life brutally on a cross, and then God the Father raised Him from death so that all of creation and all the universe would know that He indeed is Lord of it all! Oh, and by the way, because He loves His creation, that’s you and I, we get to experience the blessings that come with His glory and Lordship!

So, maybe it really is a question of salvation. Scripture tells us that those who believe would “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38-39. This goes together with chapter 17 of the gospel of John. We can read there that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father that the believers would be one with Him as He is with the Father. He prayed for unity in the body of Christ.

All who are genuinely saved are a part of the body of Christ. It is the same Holy Spirit living within each of them. So, when James teaches that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful, I cannot believe that here is a more powerful prayer than that of Jesus our Lord!

Therefore, it would be logical and actually expected that those who are believers, those saved by the blood of Christ, would be united! As we grow spiritually along the way, our desires fade away and the desires of the Holy Spirit begin to be dominant in our hearts. All of this should take us back to our original question. Must a person go to church to be saved?

I will conclude with this answer. A person does not get saved by attending church. That would be a work and we are not saved by works. However, if a person is genuinely “saved” by faith in the blood of Christ through repentance and baptism, and the Spirit of God is living within them, then would we not desire the fellowship of the body of Christ? After all, that was our Lord’s Prayer in chapter 17 of John.

No it is not a sin to work on Sunday. No it is not a sin to miss church service. However, if a person is a true believer, there would be a desire to be a part of the body of Christ. Notice, I still have not said that there should be a desire to go to church on Sunday. That is because there is more to being a part of the church than going to church on Sunday morning.

If a person works on Sunday morning or is unable to physically attend worship service and there is that desire to be a part of the body of Christ, they will find a way. People generally do what they want to do.

Most church congregations hold worship services on Sunday morning. Many have other times of worship such as Sunday evening, Saturday evening, and even on Wednesday evening. So there really is no excuse. After all, that really is all that it is, an excuse. Aside from worship services, there are bible studies, outreach programs, evangelism, and much more that the body of Christ is doing.

So, it really is not about going to church on Sunday morning. It is more about knowing God in such a way that not only allows a person to be reconciled to Him in spite of that person’s rebelliousness against Him, but also to know Him in a way that the person’s desire is to be a part of the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God.

Ultimately, a Christian will have an overwhelming desire to surrender to a life of participation in the body of Christ and glorifying a Holy God!

I pray that we all have the desire to be a part of the body of Christ! Oh, the answer that you might be looking for from me is, NO! No, you cannot be a Christian and not be a part of the body of Christ.

“Know that the Lord is God”- Be contagious this Thanksgiving

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭100:1-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Here we are just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving 2018. If you are like me and my family, it seemed kind of fast and filled with lots of change along the way. It is inevitable you know? Change. Whether we like it, invite it, or even see it coming, change will happen. I mean for example, just the other day I was talking with a young teenager and referred to him as “sonny” and no one looked at me funny!

As you may already know, I am currently preaching a series of sermons on being thankful and living a life of gratitude. While preparing those messages, I often think about the various gospel songs and hymns which sing about being thankful and how much there is to be thankful for.

Often times, the preacher gets to a point where he and maybe even his family just need to sit back and go to church. I mean, it is nice once in a while for the preacher just to hear the sermon with the rest of the church.  As much as I love to preach, this past October I was blessed to sit back and listen for a few days.

Our church held revival for two nights and a Sunday morning in the middle of October 2018. Mr. Aaron Davis of Eastern Pines Church of Christ in Pikeville,Ky delivered the preaching. We also had some great worship with great prayer and music each service time!

I have always been one who believes and peach that God will give me what I need when I need it. Brother Aaron brought powerful preaching with excitement and challenges! As he preached, he continuously referred to Psalm 100:1. “Shout for Joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Each time he referred to that part of scripture, he would let out a loud “WOOOOO!” Eventually, others would catch on.

Yes, that is correct. This preacher had our Conservative Independent Christian Church congregation getting loud during church! Even though the messages stayed close to the basics of the gospel message, they were powerful and exciting. Just what our congregation needed.

Also, just what this preacher needed! Sometimes we all can get to the point where we are living life and working so hard for the Lord that we can forget that there are some absolutes that are never going to change. That is not to say that people generally forget about Christ on the cross or His power and grace, but that we can get distracted from it.

I personally believe that emotions and attitudes are contagious. All it takes is one or two excited people, genuinely excited, to enter a room full of people and energize the room. Anyone who has been with other people who simply cannot stop laughing will understand what I mean.

There are two people especially that I know that come to mind when it comes to contageous joy and laughter.  One being a super awesome and Godly Lady who worked as the secretary of a church which I was part of years ago.

All it took was to get her tickled and laughing and before you know it, everyone around also began to laugh. Another is a great man with a strong and joyful spirit who I admire greatly.

Each time I see him, no matter what is going on in my world, it is not long before I am feeling joy and laughter. He is one who is not afraid to laugh hard and loud! I would say that he is not ashamed of his joy, so much so that it fills whatever room that he occupies!

The point is this. It is easier to get up every day and look around and find everything which is wrong and hurtful. It seems a bit more difficult to start each day with gratitude and joy in our hearts and minds. For the Christian, it should be that we are the most thankful, joyful, pleasant people in the world! Easier said than done right!

Right! Unless, we are surrendered to the Spirit of God which we should have already submitted to when we confessed Christ and repented! Let me point out that I am the chief sinner when it comes to this struggle. Every day is a day of choices!

You and I, we all get to choose what kind of day we are gong to have. We all get to choose how we react to the world and what happens each day. Yes, even those who struggle with depression and similar struggles.

No one ever said that life would be easy. But we all have the choice to press on toward the goal or quit. Some days less joyful than others but there is always something to find to be thankful about, if we really want to see it!

I would encourage everyone this Thanksgiving to be that person who brings joy and laughter into the room, wherever you are. You never know who else in the room may need a boost from your joy!

Change is Not Always Better

Today being Tuesday Nov. 06, 2018, it was yesterday that I spent with my wife riding through the dirt roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains in our Jeep. We have two Jeeps at this time. One is fairly newer, 2014 Wrangler, and the other is a bit older, 25 years old to be exact. It is a 1993 model Wrangler. My wife and I both had always dreamed of owning a Jeep wrangle since we both could remember. Now here we are in our mid- 40’s and we have not one but two!

5CA445A4-0112-4069-B980-9544B691868CWhy do any of you care about what my wife and I drive? You probably could not care less. I bring it up because as my wife and I spent the day riding around in our 25-year-old Jeep, we talked about how great it was to ride in the old Jeep. You know, keeping it simple. We love driving around in that Jeep because it is basic, no computers, no special engineering or parts that we could not fix ourselves if needed. Just a Jeep.

I think we like it because it takes us back to a simpler time. When we were growing up, there were no cell phones and computers only existed in the schools and then only in certain class rooms or the library. Cars were bigger and made of metal. Bicycles and big wheels were the big thing. And people actually paid money for the NewsPaper and read it every day. Thank God for that because my Dad being a news paper man, that is how we had food on the table and bills paid.

2F7048CF-32CE-46A1-B4B0-AF45761F413FMake no mistake! My wife and I love our newer Jeep just as much as the older one. I mean, it has air-conditioning, cruise control, cloth seats with carpeted floors. It has a computerized radio system which is Bluetooth capable along with hands fee cell connectivity! Oh yes, it is nice! We sometimes refer to it as our “Sunday go to meetin” Jeep!

What I am getting at is this. Even though they are both Jeeps, they are apples and oranges. The differences between the two after 21 years makes them two different vehicles. One is not better than the other. They are simply different. Both very useful and reliable.

I believe that society has a way of being very innovative over the years. What a blessing that is for everyone. People have been able to live better, work smarter and faster, and not to mention the ability to fight sickness and disease. Each generation has been able to take what the previous generation has done and continue to build on it. I think that is proper and should be expected.

I am not sure if it is my generation, the generation before, or the generation after mine, but it seems that society has been moving past building on what our fathers and grandfathers spent their lives building, to having the mindset that everything needs to be torn down and everything needs to be new.

Please do not miss-understand, I do not mean that I am against new ideas. I am simply saying that there seems to be a growing mindset that “older” folks messed everything up and the “younger” crowd now has this burden to knock it all down and fix it, because they know better or are more right.

I can remember back when I was in my late teens and most of my twenties, how I thought that most of the adults in my life did not understand and that their ways and advise just would not work or apply anymore.

And then one day I turned around and noticed that there was a young man in his teens who looked and acted a lot like me and living in my house. He looked at me and talking to me as if my ways and advise just would not work and that I could not possibly understand the problems of the world.

I suspect that it is nothing new. It is probably a blessing and a curse that follows each generation throughout time. I do get a bit frustrated at the younger generation and how they, not all but some, seem to think that all the old people are fools and have screwed everything up. It seems to me a very arrogant and disrespectful attitude. The problem is that each generation is a product of the generation before it.

As usual, the Christian cannot and should not expect a person who is not a Christian to act a certain way just because the Bible says something about it. However, it is proper to expect the believer to live lives in agreement with the truth in God’s word. Having that said, I want to share a couple of scriptures with you:

“…you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
‭‭1Peter‬ ‭
5:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
‭‭1Timothy‬ ‭5:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The bottom line for me is that I am part of society. I too am guilty along with the younger crowd as well as being guilty along with the older crowd. This is why we all need Jesus! The real issue for the church is to find ways to love everyone! Older people loving younger people, and younger people loving older people.

If we cannot get this figured out within the church, then we will never be able to go into the world and make disciples. We will simply be participating in and maybe even contribute to the generational division that sometimes seems to stand in the way of being united as people, a nation, families, co-workers, and even the church!

Not too many days ago, I met with some of the people in our church. During that meeting a point was made that when people are looking for a church, most times their decision to stay with a church comes down to children, and music. I suspect that the two are most likely woven together many times. I cannot disagree with that assessment. People do look for churches that have something for children and also look at what kind of music is presented.

Since that meeting, I have pondered that fact. Since then, and while driving my 25-year-old Jeep through the mountains, I have been reminded that every person has a use in the church. It is not something that I had forgotten, I think that I am only making sure that I do not allow myself or others to get so caught up in the “changes” that we may make in the church, that we forsake the elders.

After all, if it were not for the generations of faithful believers that served before me, I would never have heard the gospel and would never have been able to make the decision to submit myself to my Savior! I believe those thoughts are what is important as each church seeks the Lord in making “changes” for the sake of making disciples.

Yes, my wife and I have two Jeeps. Each has it’s own purpose and usefulness in our family dynamics. Both are just as valuable as the other and we would not “change” a thing.

Two pieces of advice that stand out from the “older” generations; first, “do not try to re-invent the wheel”, and second, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”