The Church Jesus Loves

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“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22

Yesterday I wrote about the influence of the world on the church and how the church today has drifted away from God. That is on every member and every leader because we do not go to church, we are the church, and as the people go, so goes the church. But there is hope.  Jesus didn’t establish this band of believers and walk away. He is intimately connected with His church.  

Scripture says that the church is the living, breathing Body of Christ in the world.  And because He is holy, His Body is holy. Look around you today when you gather for worship.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

The church is also the Bride of Christ.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) 

Jesus loves the church and will never give up on her – on us. Together with all the saints past, present, and future, we are His holy Body and His beloved Bride.  Let’s get ready for our glorious wedding day.

Turning the Church Back to God

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Psalm 74 was written during a hard time for Israel. Once they were God’s holy and righteous nation, but slowly, in seemingly insignificant ways, a drift away from God had been taking place.  A small compromise here, a little concession there and they drifted right into captivity. In verse 4 the psalmist said, “[The enemy] has set up their standards for signs. And in verse 9 he lamented, “We do not see our signs.”  Israel could no longer see the signs – that is “the line of measure” – of the Lord. They were lost and confused, and easily drawn into captivity without them.

The Christian Church today – particularly in the West – has drifted dangerously away from the signs of truth.  We have slowly and imperceptibly allowed the world to influence the church’s beliefs and standards. We have allowed the heart of the church to become cold to God, His Word, and His ways. We are repeating Israel’s folly and being taken captive by the world – and we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Lest we forget, the church is you and me.  And if the church has been taken captive, it is because you and I have been taken captive. And if the church is to turn back to God, it will only happen when you and I turn away in repentance from worldly influences, deny ourselves the pleasures of sin, and seek God’s face in whole-hearted devotion. 

Remember the lament of Asaph?  Though the enemy had set up their wicked standards in the Temple, he knew where his salvation and his loyalty lay.  In verse 12 he said, “But you, O God, are my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance.” Asaph knew that only by keeping his heart devoted to God and to His ways and words, would he be delivered from the hands of the enemy.  His deliverance is our deliverance too.  Only through faith in and wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ, who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever,” will His church, His people – you and I – be delivered.

I was reminded today of the power of encouragement – that is urging – even begging and pleading – believers to faithfulness. Beloved, with all my heart, I encourage you – return to the Lord, renew your faith, and fall in love with His Word. Walk in His holy ways. Be the one who turns the heart of the church back to God.,

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.

Hebrews: Judgement’s Coming

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Its earliest origins were in the 1720s in a small Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey, but the First Great Awakening caught fire in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards’ message revisited the biblical truth of God’s wrath on unbelievers. He reminded his listeners that all men are sinful creatures and under the condemnation of God. ButGod is withholding His righteous wrath so that all may have an opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Faced with the fearsome wrath of God, people fell trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” I wonder why people are not asking that question anymore.

The final subject in Hebrew’s “elementary teachings” is “eternal judgment” and I daresay that is even rarer today than it was in Edward’s day. We talked about God’s wrath when we dug into Hebrews 2:2-3 so I won’t belabor the point (I will post a link to that devotional in the comments) because there’s something else I want you to see. 

The writer had previously listed “the resurrection of the dead” as another foundational truth of the faith. The two are intrinsically linked. The church has claimed “resurrection from the dead” as something saved people have to look forward to, and rightly so. But Jesus didn’t teach resurrection as a “saved-only” deal. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). The wicked will be raised also, but for the purpose of judgment and eternal punishment. Paul said, Those who do not know God (through Jesus) “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . . on the day He comes to be glorified” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). Yes, God is infinite love, grace, and mercy, but He is also infinite holiness that cannot tolerate wickedness. The world needs to hear the whole gospel.

I ask the same question I’ve asked again and again throughout this section. What does the church know of this today? Very little. I say that because if we did every lost person in the church (yes, there are many) would be trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” And every saved person would be begging sinners to come to Christ. No one will be left in the grave – everyone has an eternal destiny. Beloved, your family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to know.  Will you tell them?

Hebrews: Church Leaders

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“So you want to do something in the church,” the Pastor said.

“Yes, sir!” the man answered.

“What do you think you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“We could use some help in the youth department.”

“Hmm. Teenagers are not really my thing.”

“Okay, we need people to help with cleanup after Wednesday night suppers.”

“Oh. Well, I was thinking of something . . . more . . . I guess, more important.”

“Well, tell me what you have in mind then.”

“I want to be a deacon – you know, hand out the bulletins and take up the offering.”

“Being a deacon is much more than that, it’s a calling from God. Deacons are spiritual leaders in the church.”

“Yes! I can do that – I can be a leader.  Go call the rest of the guys to come lay hands on me!”

I may have embellished this conversation just a bit, but the truth is, a lot of people want to be leaders in the church. But leadership is not something to be taken on a whim; it is a holy responsibility and should be approached with reverence – and a calling. The author of Hebrews addressed “the laying on of hands,” as part of the ”elementary teachings” of the faith (6:2). This is a practice within the church of conferring a spiritual office on someone who has proven their call to leadership, usually as a pastor, elder, deacon, or other position of ministry.  It expresses the gravity of the role they are assuming in the church.

Paul warned Timothy to be careful in selecting leaders for the church in Ephesus. He counseled him not to appoint out of partiality or favoritism then added, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Timothy 5:21-22). Church leadership should never be handed out as favors and candidates for church leadership must prove their calling and fitness for service. You’ve probably seen the damage that can result from ungodly leaders – they can destroy a church and people’s lives.

What should we look for in a leader? The Bible gives us a great example in Acts 6 through Stephen who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), “full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8), and spiritual wisdom (v. 10). He knew the Scriptures well (I once had a deacon ask me where in the Bible is the story of the Little Drummer Boy). Stephen died defending the name of Christ. That’s a man who is called to serve the church. Beloved, we must be wise in choosing leaders and wise in whom we follow, lest they lead us right to the gates of hell.

Hebrews – Back to Elementary School

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I hate math. I always have and I always will. I know it’s important to a functional society, but it has always been a huge struggle for me. I have a word-brain, not a numbers-brain – and whose bright idea was it to put letters in numerical equations?  I cried my way through math homework, from first grade through college. My math pre-test was so poor I had to take two “remedial” math courses before I got to the one that actually counted toward my grade. I had to go back to the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – before I could move on to College Algebra.

When the author of Hebrews wrote about the lack of spiritual development among his readers, he said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). Just as I had to relearn elementary math, they had to relearn some basic stuff about the Christian faith. So what were these elementary, foundational teachings? “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:1-2). I dare say that believers in the modern era don’t even grasp these “elementary” concepts of the faith. For contemporary Western Christians, the basics are things like, “Jesus loves me,” having devotional time a few days a week, learning about disconnected Bible stories, and showing up at church at least two Sundays of the month (at least we’re not Chreasters, right?). We only want to know about how God desires to bless us and how just much we can flirt with sin and still take the Lord’s Supper. If verses 1-2 are describing “elementary truths,” then our churches are filled with toddlers today.  If those subjects are spiritual “milk” then it’s no wonder the 21st Century church is dangerously malnourished.

The writer has said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings . . . and go on to maturity. And God permitting, we will do so.” (v. 1,3). Oh, Beloved, God permits. It is His desire for us to be mature and complete – which the Greek renders as “perfect” – in our faith. But before we can get there, we have to start here, in elementary school. Over the next few devotionals, we will fill our cups with milk and try to grow up in Christ.

Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Not a Christian Nation Anymore

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Like many of you, I have watched with sadness the declining influence of the church on the nation. I have also grieved the decline of the church itself. While it is by no means dead, it is quite ill. It has replaced the true gospel with the junk food of social justice, pop-psychology, and “God wants everyone to be happy” theology. It has drunk the wine of complacency, apathy, and laziness. It has become addicted to the drug of the culture, “tolerance.” It is nothing like the church of my youth.  

I grew up in the 60’s. It was much easier to be a “Christian” in those days. It was what was expected. If you went to church, the culture smiled on you. Even those who didn’t go to church had a sense of respect for those that did. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. I miss the time when right was right and wrong was wrong and everyone knew the first three verses of Amazing Grace. But while the Christianization of America looked good on the outside, it was not all good. It was akin to the reign of Constantine in the 2nd century A.D. when, because of the Emperor’s Christian zeal, every citizen born in the Roman Empire was deemed a “Christian.” The true heart of a Christ-follower was long forgotten as the populous did what was expected.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the will of the Father? “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). The will of the Father, the mark of a true Christ-follower was not to sit in a church pew, but to believe in Christ.

The de-Christianization of America may be the best thing that ever happened to God’s people. As the culture takes a deeper hold on the church the faithful will be pushed out and ostracized. Only pure-hearted Christ-loving believers will stand firm. And just as happened throughout the history of the church, God will use the world’s hatred as a purifying fire to burn away the dross and bring out the gold. Those who kneel before Christ today will stand firm in the face of persecution tomorrow. What will it be for you, Beloved?