You probably remember the favorite line of funny man Rodney Daingerfield: “I get no respect.” Sometimes, it seems to me, the church gets no respect.
As writer John Stott once observed, “The unchurched are hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.” Often we hear someone say, “I don’t like organized religion.” One wonders, does that mean he likes his church disorganized? As Will Rogers once quipped, “I am a member of no organized political party; I’m a democrat.” Continue reading “Why the church gets no respect”
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).
Three of us had left the car and started down the mountain-side (well, in Nepal it is “just” a hill) carrying four back-packs between us plus a heavy camera bag and a well-stuffed purse. Yes, one of us was my wife. Continue reading “Burdens and burden-bearers”
It seems that throughout the history of mankind, people have developed words to distinguish groups of people. The Greeks referred to all those who were not Greek as barbarians. In Rome you were either a citizen or a non-citizen. The Jews called all those who were not Jews by the term “Gentiles.” It would seem the purpose of creating such distinctions was to elevate your own group and put down those who you considered less than your group. Even today we can find this type of terminology in places. Continue reading “No more “us” and “them””
The names “Paul” and “Barnabas” seemed to go hand in hand during the early years of Christianity. It was Barnabas who took time to find out about Saul, the former persecutor of Christians, when he was trying to join the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-27). Later, when he saw such a great opportunity in Antioch, he went to Tarsus to find Saul.
For the next year they worked together and “taught a significant number of people” (Acts 11:26 NET). They became part of the group of “prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). The Holy Spirit told this group to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Barnabas and Saul sailed to Cyprus and later went into the Roman province of Asia proclaiming the good news of Jesus, before returning to Antioch. Continue reading “When Christians disagree”
“Every parting gives a foretaste of death; every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection” (Arthur Schopenhauer).
I was just four when I stood at an airport and said goodbye to my friend Chucky at the Salisbury airport in Rhodesia. I asked my parents if he would ever come back “from the sky.”
I was almost eighteen when I said goodbye to Paul. He was killed in an auto accident, just a year older than I.
I was forty-five years old when I stood at the grave of my mother and said goodbye.
A preacher once declared that he never made friends in the congregation he served because he knew he would have to say goodbye one day. I have made friends in every congregation I have served!
I have endured this “foretaste of death” too many times to take my brethren for granted. I will not tell them I appreciate them for the first time at a graveside, or a farewell potluck dinner. I will not abandon them at the drop of a hat for a trifle.
And I will appreciate the opportunities I have to be with them, to sing and pray, to listen reverently, attentively, to our Father speak. Because worship with these brethren is a “foretaste of the resurrection.”
Our songs tell us of this sweet fellowship. “We gather here, in Jesus name.” “We gather together, to ask the Lord’s blessing.” We meet each other “in sweet communion.” When we “asunder part,” it gives us “inward pain.”
And friends, time is precious.
I can’t understand a child of God who turns his brother into a “pillar of salt” in his haste to get out of the church building after services. I can’t understand a Christian who has to be bribed or browbeaten into returning Sunday night. What if you miss seeing a sister in Christ … and something happens where you belatedly realize the next time you see her will be in heaven?
Friends, our spiritual family is precious.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV).
Some friends I will only see again in heaven. But I hope to see you this Sunday!
Over on BrotherhoodNews.com, we noted some efforts by Oklahoma City area churches to help victims of today’s tornado. Many other efforts are being made right now, both by individuals and congregations. Many of us can pray and send help. Others will travel to the area to aid in the rescue efforts and clean-up. Much needs to be done already and many will lend a hand. What a blessing is the body of Christ!
That blessing is even greater when we consider that the greatest help the family of God provides is not physical, but spiritual. In both cases, God’s people must reserve this work for themselves, as the Almighty has determined, and not let anyone steal it from them.
• Our time last night and most of the day today was spent with Christian friends. The mother of a sister in Christ died yesterday morning and, according to the 24-hour rule, was buried this morning, about an hour away from us. This sister is one of the most faithful, dedicated, and hard-working saints we know. She will certainly have many a star in her crown. We work together with her and her husband in many efforts.
This sister was afflicted by the thought that her mother was not a Christian. Six years ago, she buried her father, whom we helped teach the gospel and who obeyed at 80 years of age. But her mother showed no interest. She heard the gospel but chose not to follow the Lord Jesus.
This sister, another sister of hers who is also in Christ, and a brother of theirs who is also a Christian had all hoped that there would be one more opportunity to urge their mother to obey the Lord, after she left the hospital. They had already done so much, but they looked for every opportunity to continue their attempts to save their mother. But it was not to be, for she passed away unexpectedly, at the age of 82.
• Urgency is a quality of faith. “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” (Acts 8.36 NLT). Urgency says do it now, because Christ might return at any moment, or we might leave this life at any moment, and all choices will be sealed for eternity. There is also the destiny of our loved ones to think about. The longer we put off obedience to God, the greater the chance that they will enter eternity in a lost state.
Remember that first gospel sermon? Even after the listeners asked what they ought to do to be saved, Peter still encouraged them at length. “With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation!'” (Acts 2:40). That very day three thousand were baptized.
When someone is trapped in a building, rescuers make every effort to dig them out. The response to the tornado in Oklahoma is typical. Help is needed immediately. First responders are quick to act, tireless in their efforts to save lives. In the same way, God’s people move quickly, speak incessantly, urge constantly, so that people will feel the urgency of their need and repent of their sins.
There is nothing more important, more urgent, more blessed than saving souls and going to heaven together as God’s family.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone…” (Matthew 18:15).
Pay special attention to Matthew 18:15 again, “…Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Alone.
The NIV renders it, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you…”
“Just between the two of you…” Note that Jesus did not say, “Go and tell everybody in the congregation except the brother who has sinned against you…”
That is also sinful. If you have been sinned against, but you go to your peers and not to the one who sinned against you, you are actually guilty in the sight of heaven.
Jesus did not say, “Go tell your spouse, your adult children, your fellow deacons, the nice member sitting in the pew next to you, the church secretary, the Bible class teacher, and certainly not unbelieving Harry who lives next door.”
He said a) go b) to the offending brother c) alone. By yourself. In private. “Just between the two of you.”
Beloved, it is essential that you understand, appreciate, and practice this fundamental truth. If it is wrong for a brother to sin against you, and it is, that does not license you, in any way, to in turn sin against him by failing or refusing to go to him one-on-one.
At the very least that is cowardice; at the very worst that is rebellion towards Jesus Christ.
It is inconsistent to demand as per “thus saith the Lord” (cf. Colossians 3:17) that a person be baptized, that singing be the sole means of music in worship, and that we consume the Lord’s Supper only on Sunday, but then turn around and engage in undercover slander against someone who has injured you.
Human communications and relationships are complicated enough between brethren. Covertly telling third, fourth, and fifth parties about your brother’s sin against you only adds fuel to an already existing fire.
In fact, it says your brother may have sinned against you, but you have certainly sinned against him. And when the offending brother eventually learns that you’ve been talking about him in a derogatory fashion behind his back, it will be much, much more difficult for you to “gain your brother” (Matthew 18:15b) and be reconciled.
“Why must I go alone?” you ask. Actually, there are several Biblical reasons:
Because going alone is the most effective means of cleansing out the emotional wounds we receive (Matthew 15:18).
Because going alone shows that you want to protect (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:6-7) your brother and that you sincerely desire to preserve the relationship (cf. Genesis 13:8).
Because going alone says that you seek that special peace which uniquely exists between those of like precious faith (James 3:13-18).
Because going alone opens you and the offending brother to the life-changing experience of giving and receiving forgiveness (Colossians 3:13).
Because going alone says to Jesus that your faith is not just about knowing doctrinal truth; it is about faithfully living doctrinal truth (James 1:21-23).
Obedience requires that you get doctrine right–stuff like baptism, singing, and the precise day for breaking bread. But obedience also requires that you get other doctrines right–including going to an offending brother.
“After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla . . . and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked” (Acts 18:1-3 NKJV).
Soon after our arrival in Bangladesh my wife and I were shopping in a local store. Suddenly, an American woman came to us and said, “I hear a familiar accent.” We talked, exchanged names and contact information, and went on our separate ways.
Later we made arrangements for visits and have since shared meals together and formed a casual friendship. Our homes in America are far apart, and we have few common interests, but on the other side of the world, just being English-speaking Americans is enough to draw us together.
Paul was in Corinth (in Greece) on his second major missionary journey. He had sent his traveling companions (Timothy and Silas) back to a previously visited city and was by himself.
Imagine his pleasure at discovering Aquila and Priscilla who were not only fellow Jews, but even shared the same occupation. Even more importantly it seems they may already have obeyed the Gospel and therefore were Christians, sharing Paul’s faith. If not, Paul soon converted them (Compare Acts 18:24-26).
Most nations provide “clubs” for ex-patriots. The American club in Dhaka is a place where U.S. citizens who are residents in Bangladesh (not just tourists) may come, enjoy one another’s company, eat, and find recreational facilities. Such clubs are popular and provide needed familiarity in what is otherwise a strange environment.
I have worked in a number of communities in the U.S. Some of these have been in the same region of the country where I was born and grew up. Yet even there I have often found myself to be an outsider, not fully accepted, at least at first. Though I shared many things in common with the locals, I was not from there, and therefore did not belong.
The further people are from home, the less common ground is needed to draw them together. Simply speaking the same language may be enough. On the contrary, when we have most things in common, more is required. Even small differences frequently keep us from relating closely.
Far too often we let the wrong factors determine our relationships. Some physical characteristics, a common sports interest, or perhaps just regional bias determines who our friends and close companions are. We exclude people with whom we have more important ties (relatives, fellow Christians) in favor of those who satisfy superficial whims.
Christian fellowship is a vital key to our eternal salvation. Without encouragement from other believers no one is able to resist sin. For this reason, association with other believers is encouraged and commanded in Scripture.
“Be kindly affectionate to one another, with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Whatever else we have in common with our closest companions, we should share faith in Christ. Who can be of more help to us than another sincere Christian? Who can be more desirable as a companion? We need each other. Thanks to God for providing Christian fellowship.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men. … I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:1, 8 NKJV).
I have often thought that if I were given the spiritual gift of interpretation for only part of a Bangla or Nepali worship assembly, I would like for it to come during prayer. Some in the New Testament era had the ability to hear and understand foreign tongues, without benefit of study. When one with the gift of speaking in tongues delivered a message, an interpreter (one with that gift) would translate for him. I am afraid I am greedy – I would love to possess both gifts. Continue reading “First of all, pray”
To a small group last Saturday, before afternoon tea, with several visitors who had never heard the true gospel nor encountered the kingdom of God, I had the privilege of sharing, by request of the organizers, some Bible teaching about the church.
I spoke of five things, just five, among so many blessings and treasures, that the church of Christ possesses, according to God’s original project.
Here they are for your appreciation and peals of gratitude to the Lord:
#1. The church has an owner, Jesus Christ.
Christ is king, sovereign, and Lord. He said he would build the church that belonged to him: “my church” (Matthew 16:18). He gave his life for it, cleaned it up with his blood, invested it with his presence. No afterthought this church, but the culmination of centuries of guiding world history to fulfill an eternal plan. This owner retains all authority (Matthew 28.18), brooks no rivals, deposes usurpers, removes the unfaithful (Revelation 2:5).
#2. The church has a life of fellowship as family.
Nobody gets special billing or pedestal position, because “all of you are equal as brothers and sisters” (Matthew 23:8 CEB). God is father, who alone deserves the title (v. 9). The church lives for “one another.” Its main identifying mark is mutual love: “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples — if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
#3. The church has rules of conduct.
Not the Old Testament, but the New now guides the church in its faith and practice, because it teaches and insists upon every commandment of Christ, just as he ordered: “teach them to obey every command which I have given you” (Matthew 28:20 NET). His commands come in the New, through the apostles’ writings, “to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15). From the Old Testament we learn much, but what applies today is what Christ says: “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, … But I say to you” (see Matthew 5). And who dares update, add to, or remove from what the Lord Jesus Christ orders?
#4. The church has truths for which it stands and proclaims.
It is “the backbone and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 CEB). It knows that God’s truth frees once it is known — and it can be known! (John 8:32). To a world of relativity, it holds forth absolutes. To the lost in the midst of gusty winds and tossing waves, the church casts anchors of heaven that hold fast in the fiercest storms. Its truths are sweet, nourishing the soul and steeling the resolve to remain faithful to the end.
#5. The church has a single mission, to save people for God eternally.
Mission means sending, and the sending implies going. The mission is wrapped up in a message, simple but powerful: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16 NET). The church doesn’t let the world define good works, refuses to fall for glib promises of prosperity, manipulative offers of health, or the deathly draw of politics. The church’s great work from God is the rescue of souls.
There is one thing the church doesn’t have. A name. Like the moon, which has no name because there is only one moon, the church needs no official name because, in God’s plan, there is only one church. Descriptions abound: church of God, churches of Christ, church of the firstborn. Figures to describe it surface constantly: flock, vineyard, kingdom, house (temple), pearl. In sales a no-name means cheap: in the spiritual realm, no-name means unique!
The church has been blessed with all this and more. Many are giving away to the devil its most precious and prized possessions. But we will hold these close to our hearts, for as the church of Christ is today the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth, on the last day it will morph into the eternal kingdom for whom heaven now awaits.