Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Preacher's Unfavorite Sermons

Sometimes preachers have to preach on topics that they don't want to talk about. For me, personally, the topics that I least like to discuss are these: 1. Church Contribution. 2. Smoking, Alcohol, Gambling, et cet. 3. Modesty. 4. Attendance. You may ask why I am not excited when I am called to talk about these issues? Two reasons: 1. Most of the time people view this type of preaching as negative. 2. Christian people (those who have obeyed the gospel and who call Jesus "Lord" and who follow the Bible) should not need a great deal of help on these issues.

This coming Sunday, the elders have asked me to speak on modest apparel. This is a timely topic, as some people have the tendency to take off way too many clothes when the weather is warm. It is apparent to me that people need to be reminded about modesty. Just look at social media. This week alone I have seen posted pictures on web pages of a number of our folks displaying way too much of their bodies for everyone to see. Whether it is a trip to the lake or guys with shirts off at football games, it seems as if nobody has a problem with being immodest and inappropriate in public.

Recently this simple observation was made by a preacher while I was up in Michigan - "The parts that clothes cover are supposed to be covered." Correct. While certain outdoor activities in the heat allow us to wear less clothing for comfort (I run and when I do I wear cooler clothing), we need to be mindful of the reality that God saw the need to clothe His children in the garden once sin entered the world. If we do not use common sense coupled with Biblical teaching on this or any other issue, we are going to put a stumbling block in the path of other people and become a distraction to their spiritual walk.

When it comes to what we might call "topics of behavior" - the reason why the preacher thinks long and hard about these sermons is because so many people have learned to accept different standards. Church attendance - some people really think once a week is fine, and will go to the grave thinking that way. Modesty - strapless dresses and short skirts and bikinis and guys going shirtless or shorts with underwear showing for some are "no big deal" (and their parents don't care). Alcohol, cigarettes - there are people who will drink socially and smoke their whole lives because there is not a verse that says verbatim "thou shalt not smoke tobacco" or "thou shalt not drink an alcoholic beverage." Giving to the Lord - our churches typically give 3-4% of our gross income - which is gross indeed - and the bottom line is that some people have never fully committed themselves to Christ. The preacher knows that his only plea is to call people to holiness and to make the appeal that Christians think spiritually rather than carnally.

I am so thankful that preaching is aimed at pleasing God. There are times when you get up in the pulpit and you realize that a lot of people are not going to like what you have to say. It is then that you realize that you love them more than they could ever know. Because you are doing what has to be done, even though it is not what you would like to talk about if you had the choice.

Jonah was told to go to Nineveh. He did not want to go. But the people needed him to go. God said when he got there, "...preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee" (Jon. 3:2). Amen to that.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18

Monday, August 19, 2013

10 Ways to Save the Lord's Church

After doing some research I have found that several sources on church statistics agree that about 4,000 congregations close their doors in America every year - never to reopen. Keep in mind that these statistics are regarding all the churches that exist in the world's definition of "Christendom." Also remember that with the rise of community churches, house churches, and other new non-traditional influences, it is true that many churches are being planted every year.

As a side note, those who love the Lord and His word are not going to be interested in saving, forming, or supporting those bodies which do not conform to God's Biblical pattern for the church. Jesus said, "Every plant which my Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13). I am sure that the Lord looks down from heaven upon some religious institutions who claim to be His and would rather they not exist at all (this is food for thought for us isn't it?). This article has no intention of helping anyone who is not honoring God in their religious endeavor to save something that is already dead.

At the same time, if we are a part of a local body that has formed Biblically, is worshiping Biblically, and is teaching and practicing that which is in keeping with God's will for His church - not only do we need to continue to move forward, but we need to guard against the possibility that at some point we may cease to exist as a local congregation of the Lord's church. With this in mind, consider the following ways to save your local congregation if you are beginning to see signs of weakness and even death.

1. Attend every service. When an eldership decides that the church should come together, make sure that your life revolves around the times the church meets. We need to be built up spiritually and we need to exhort each other. We cannot worship too much. We cannot have too much prayer and Bible study.

2. Be on time. Let's be serious about our relationship with God. Being habitually late to worship is a choice. There will be circumstances that will force you at times to be late - in those cases, better late than never. But to be constantly late is really unacceptable. If you did that for work or school you would get fired or serve detention.

3. Be dedicated. Some only participate when it is convenient. Some check the weather forecast. Some shy away from any work or challenge. The only growth we experience spiritually will be outside of our comfort zone. Make the decision that nothing will deter you from your spiritual walk.

4. Encourage. Give people the benefit of the doubt. As sure as gossip will harm and kill a local congregation faster than anything, exhortation and praise between Christians will quickly provide an atmosphere where love and fellowship abound.

5. Take a leading role. Sign up for something that will cause you to be responsible for the growth of others. It pains me to see so many Christians so active in their communities, who will never take on such a role in the greatest institution on the planet. If you are going to make a difference, do so in the only kingdom that will not be shaken.

6. Humbly serve with no recognition. (This is in the middle on purpose. People who do this are the true heart of God's church).

7. Communicate. All relationships demand time spent together and fruitful communication. Most church problems arise from people not understanding each other. When we open up and extend our true feelings and kindly receive the thoughts and ideas of others we can live harmoniously and do great things together for God.

8. Go the extra mile. Jesus taught this. Your willingness to go beyond what is expected will cause others to do the same. Many times while running with a friend I have been ready to quit - but they wanted to go farther. I don't know exactly how, but every time I have found a way to join them for the extra mile.

9. Give sacrificially. If the only time or money you have given to your local church is what you have leftover, I feel sorry for you. Because this means you have never experienced the blessings that come from giving like Christ.

10. Be evangelistic. Evangelism is not a one-time door-knocking campaign. It is not the yearly "Bring-a-Friend Day." Evangelism is a way of life. We are here because we are standing on the shoulders of true evangelists. God help us to renew our plea to save the lost.

I love God. I love His church. I love you. We can do this together.

"For Christ, our dear redeemer, for Christ, who died to save, for the church his blood has purchased, Lord, make us pure and brave." ~ Eliza Hewitt (1890)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Youngest Christian there was Ninety-three

This past week when I was in Michigan an announcement was made about a ninety-three year-old lady who was attending the lectureship who was recently baptized into Christ. The speaker went on to say that she was "our youngest Christian in attendance." That thought led me to some other ideas that I think may be important for us to remember.

1. When a person obeys the gospel, they are truly starting over. (2 Cor. 5:17) - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." The Bible tells us that baptism allows us to put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). Once we have made that decision, what a joy it is to begin our lives over in fellowship with God and with the blessings of continual forgiveness through the blood of Christ!

2. When a person obeys the gospel, they are still spiritually immature. While we all may have a different amount of experience and knowledge depending on our age, when we first come into Christ we still have much to learn. If we have just gained enough information to properly answer the call to salvation, chances are we still have need of a good and steady supply of the Christian doctrine. New Christians desperately need to keep studying. (1 Pet. 2:2) - "as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."

3. When a person obeys the gospel, they need encouragement. New Christians especially need help from other Christians to avoid the possibility of falling back into the world. Young people need older people to mentor them in Christ. Those in their middle years need responsibilities in kingdom work and plenty of people to praise them while they are sacrificing their time and energy. Elderly Christians need to be remembered and visited when they become feeble and cannot always attend as they would like. I recently visited a lady who is almost ninety who told me she had never had a preacher come to her home before! People need to know that they are not alone as they walk this life in Christ. We are told, concerning Satan, "Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Pet. 5:9).

4. Don't ever give up on anyone who has never obeyed. I have been privileged to baptize people in their 80's on several occasions. Sometimes, days before their death. Sometimes, we had to pick them up out of a bed or wheel chair in order to help them to get in and out of the water. Many of these people had refused the Lord's invitation literally thousands of times. When an elderly person obeys the gospel, we are reminded of the power of the Word to break even the hardest of hearts. There is a point at which the love of Christ constrains us (2 Cor. 5:14) to submit to the only perfect love that men will ever know, displayed in the cross of our Savior.

She may have been the oldest person in attendance, but she was the youngest Christian. What a blessing to be a child of God! At any age, it is the greatest honor any of us will ever know!

"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!" ~ 1 John 3:1

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Powerball Jackpot

As I was pumping gas this morning I was subjected to an advertisement encouraging me to play the lottery. After all, the Powerball jackpot as of today is at 400 million! That is a good deal of money even after taxes. But I have never been tempted to play the lottery. I have never spent even one dollar on a lottery ticket. Here are several reasons why:

1. It is statistically the poorest decision you could make with your money. Experts have analyzed the true probability of you winning. The results? If you spend over $100 a week on Powerball tickets you will eventually win the lottery - once every 30,000 years!

2. My reputation is important. As a soldier in the army of God I need to live a life that is above reproach. I could make a good case for why it is not wrong to spend a few dollars here and there on the lottery. The bottom line is that some people would not respect me if I did. I can certainly abstain from something as trivial as a lottery ticket if it hurts my influence.

3. I need to be careful about having the attitude that I want something for nothing, especially something so BIG for literally no work or investment at all. "But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load" (Gal. 6:4-5). Also, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thes. 3:10). It is morally good to work and provide. It is morally evil to feel entitled. Constantly looking into getting something for nothing is a selfish way to live and it sets us up for more immoral choices and unbalanced priorities.

4. It is addictive. Let's be honest. It doesn't matter how good you think you are, or what a wonderful Christian you may be - you are also human. Human beings are weak and sinful. Solomon wrote about the lustful woman in Proverbs 7:26 - "For she has cast down many wounded,  and all who were slain by her were strong men." You may have never had an addiction. But gambling is one of the worst kinds of addictions and it can ruin your life and the lives of everyone else around you. You are not untouchable. So don't play with fire.

5. The feeling of winning is not genuine. One of the main thrusts of lottery advertising is the accentuation of the feeling that comes with victory. But face it. You didn't work for it. You didn't earn it. And if you had any kind of moral obligation to the needy how could you feel good about having so much when millions around the world starve to death everyday? On the other hand, there is nothing that compares with the feeling of providing for the ones you love by hard and honest work that has been well-earned through sweat, sacrifice, and dedication. To work so as to give will bring true rejoicing (Acts 20:35). This fulfills our purpose and makes all of the things we struggle through worth while.

These principles apply to more than just a senseless and temporal activity like the lottery. They translate to our entire Christian walk. I guess I will have to live with the fact that I will never have 400 million dollars. You know what? I think I am good with that.

"If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" ~ Luke 16:11