(PODCAST) DAVID’S STORY, ARRESTED FOR EVANGELIZING
SAYING YES WHEN WE SHOULD SAY NO
I guess you are a lot like me in at least one regard, and that is that you know of at least one person who has died within the past two or three years, not from disease, other natural causes, or even suicide, but from overdosing. Perhaps that person was in your immediate family context as it was in mine—hard stuff.
I have talked with various people throughout my workday who have told me their stories of addiction and how terrible it was, especially trying to get clean. The people I had talked with said how the journey down that dark road began with “prescribed” narcotics that were given to them for the pain they were dealing with due to surgery they just experienced.
They told me that the Vicodin or OxyContin worked great for a time, but then the prescription would have to be adjusted to a higher dose to achieve the same effect. Eventually, the doctors would want to stop the narcotic, but these people had now developed an addiction to it, and “quitting” wasn’t as easy a task as it sounded.
So bad became worse. Rather than saying no to what could eventually kill them, the pattern of saying yes had begun. Yes, to some other form of drug that would produce the same effect. Yes, to a behavior that would harm them.
But remember that using narcotics isn’t the only harmful activity or choice that can harm us, even kill us. Alcohol and pornography are up pretty high on the scale as well. Pornography may not kill us like a narcotic might, but it is “certainly lethal in its own way in that it kills relationships and deadens the soul.”
Hold on for a minute, just one minute, lest we begin to think this issue doesn’t relate to us. Sure it does. Our addictions may not be with a prescribed drug or an illegal one. It may not even be alcohol Or pornography, but ALL of us are dealing with some form of addiction: eating issues, social media, your particular brand of soda, coffee, etc. The list can quickly go on, but you get the gist. Like it or not-admit it or not, this problem of saying yes to what can kill you is more far-reaching than we’d like to admit.
“Saying yes to what can kill you” is the title of an article by Ed Welch. In it, he gives three aspects of our humanity that can help us with our addictive tendencies.
To be human is to say NO to temptation
“One of the first questions posed in Scripture is about temptation: When temptations come—and they will—will you trust in the words of the Lord and say no? The Wisdom Literature intends to help us with this question. The relentless message of the book of Proverbs is that our desires are not a reliable judge of which paths lead to life and which paths lead to death. In fact, our desires can suggest life is unexciting and that death can satisfy. Proverbs aims to sharpen our discernment. It helps us to consider the consequences of our decisions. We all need discernment and power to turn from temptations. We all need to see Christ as more beautiful than the beckoning trio of the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
- To be human is to turn to the Lord during suffering
“Temptations are more pronounced when we feel discomfort or pain. The pain is actual physical pain among those who fight against narcotics, yet this is joined by the pain of broken relationships, dashed expectations, and other miseries that create a jumbled mass of hopelessness.”
If you have been a Christian for any time, you have learned, perhaps the hard way, that being a Christian (in Christ) does not mean that you will have fewer struggles, trials, or hardships. We may have more of them because of our relationship with Christ and His kingdom. But, as Christians, we have something the world does not; we have Jesus and the certainty of all His promises for us!
Rather than turn away from Him amid our troubles, we need to be calling out to Him. He is the ONLY one that can manage all our struggles, fears, and despair in ways that will conform us more to His image! We don’t usually fare well when seeking to control them independently.
- To be human is to speak openly with each other about trouble and temptation
We struggle with this one, don’t we? I can write all I want to about it. Your pastor can preach many messages on the importance of it, but still, the thought of others knowing that we aren’t perfect, that we don’t have it all together, is just appalling to us, to our pride.
It’s hard to admit what we truly know about ourselves and everyone else-we are all broken! But God has instructed His people, His church, to be loving, compassionate, Christ-imitating people, which means that we need to open ourselves to God AND others. That truth is central to the scriptures (Romans 3:23, for example).
“We prefer to keep our struggles to ourselves, especially when they are shameful struggles. The kingdom of God, in contrast, invites us to be open before God and others. The challenge is that this is both alluring and impossible: to be known and accepted is peace, but who volunteers to talk about temptations and sins? And what if someone opens up to others and then is met with rebuke and unhelpful judgment?”
That is the challenge we face when being honest about ourselves with others. We need churches with pastoral leadership that understand these biblical teachings and work hard, with much prayer, to build an inviting and loving community of people who understand and care for the brokenhearted.
I hope this makes sense. I trust that if you are dealing with some form of addiction (saying yes to something that can kill you), you will follow God’s prescribed plan for overcoming it. Look to His Word. Call out to Him in prayer. Find a church where you can be open and honest with some mature Christians who understand brokenness and Christ’s compassion for the hurting.
THE NECESSITY OF WALKING BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT
Many of you are aware that at 7waysfromsunday.com, I not only write a blog post each week, but I host the 7waysfromsunday podcast as well. I always end each podcast by saying, “we walk by faith and NOT by sight.” Why do I do that? Because you and I need a reminder that our Father in Heaven is BIGGER than the problems we face! Because amid our despair, we need to hope in God.
Psalm 42 is a beautiful example of this. This Psalm helps us understand that what our minds dwell on affects us spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially. One scripture that clearly illustrates this truth is Proverbs 12:25: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.”
I want to take us through a brief walk through Psalm 42 because we witness the psalmist, who is in distress, wavering between faith and sight, between a focus on God and a focus on himself. He longs deeply for the living God but is struggling with choosing to trust Him through faith. I think we can relate to him as well as learn from him.
As the Psalm begins, the writer expresses his deep longing (he pants) for God. “My soul pants,” “my soul thirsts for the living God.” He expresses this need while his enemies are taunting him “all day long” (v. 10). He compares this yearning for God to a deer panting for water. “*The animals need for water to sustain its life forms a fitting simile for a souls need of the living God the source of spiritual life.” In his longing, we are reminded of the truth that his soul expresses: Faith says hope!
Such faith and hope are not always easy to hold on to in times of affliction. In verses three and four, he shares how he cries all day long, longing for God’s presence and power to be revealed to his enemies. Constantly, they taunt him, “Where is your God” (v. 3). It appears that at this time, the writer was unable to be at OR worship in the “House of God” (v.4). He laments missing out on the joy and thanksgiving that always accompanied being in the house of God.
We notice that in verses three and four, his sight says despair. This is the first time we witness him wavering from faith to sight. We can relate to his suffering. Which of us has not walked through dark, uncertain, and lonely times without experiencing this tension? How did you handle that pull toward despair?
Thankfully we observe the psalmist returning to faith in verse five! He questions himself, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” And then, he encourages himself to continue to hope in God. Even though he is troubled, he expresses confidence that he would still be able to trust and hope in God. In verse five, we see again that faith says hope! This example is so essential for us to understand. We, generally, don’t like to examine ourselves. We don’t feel comfortable looking in the mirror because we fear the reflection. But I believe that realizing who we are and where we are spiritually is vital to a consistent walk of faith regardless of what is going on in our lives.
But still, that battle rages on. The pull away from faith to sight. This is what we read in verses six and seven. “O my God, my soul is in despair within me.” The writer is in deep depression. During that “dark night of the soul,” he prayed to God. He portrays his distress figuratively as “breakers and waves” because he feels this trouble has rolled over him like one wave after another. He is expressing how overwhelmed he is. This always happens to us when we take our eyes off our God; our sight says despair.
Yet again, kind of like a teeter-totter, he rises back to faith in verse eight. Notice how confident he sounds, “The Lord will command His loving kindness. . .” He is again optimistic in His love and song that they would comfort and protect him each day and night. We see faith rising to the top again in this verse! Over and over again, two facts stand out in this Psalm: Faith says hope, and sight expresses despair.
But once again, that teeter-totter dips down, and his mind focuses on the things going on around him and the emotions they excite inside him. In verses nine and ten, he expresses his sense of abandonment amid the “oppression “of his enemy. This persecution is very painful to him, “as a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me.” Perhaps the most painful to him is how his enemies constantly taunt him concerning the seemingly absent God this man worships.
This time sight not only says despair, but it also manifests doubt. Doubt in God’s promises. Doubt in His goodness, His power, and His compassion. This is such a dark, fearful, and lonely state of the soul. Is there any way out of this dark pit of despair?
I am so thankful that this Psalm did not end at verse ten. We are blessed to have this Psalm in our Bibles because we need hope to persevere. God, in His wisdom and compassion, included such writings for us because He knows us intimately. He knows we will struggle to hold on to faith and to be steadfast in hope when everything around us argues against it.
This Psalm ends on a powerful note of encouragement! Again we read of the writer’s challenge to his soul. “Why are you in despair, o my soul?” For a second time (v.5), he grabs hold of hope. He resolves to praise God, hopes in God, and have faith in God, no matter the struggle, because he knows that his only hope and help can be found in The living God. Once again, faith says hope! “The help of my countenance.”
Below I have added some scriptures to encourage us to walk by faith and NOT by sight.
Even though we may feel it’s so, He will never leave or forsake you (Hebrews. 13:5; Joshua. 1:5).
His love is an everlasting love (Psalm. 103:17).
He is our strength when we feel exhausted (Psalm . 28:7).
He knows what we are experiencing- “He knows your rising up and sitting down” (Psalm . 139:1–18).
“1As we meditate on the Scriptures, we will discover that hope is built on Jesus Christ and His righteousness alone (Romans. 5:1–5). Psalm 27:13–14 warns that we will despair unless we look for God’s goodness in our life circumstances. While we dwell on God’s goodness, attributes, and promises, He will strengthen, build, and mature us in our faith in Him.
Nothing is permitted in our life without purpose. Therefore, we can trust God’s goodness in all things, even death, because Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection shows us that He is the victory!
Ask God to help you walk by faith, not sight, today.”
For we walk by faith, NOT by sight.
*The Bible Knowledge Community, pg. 825
UNBIBLICAL AND UNHEALTHY COMPARISONS
I was listening to the news this past week, and something caught my attention, not in a good way! When I saw this headline below, my jaw dropped, and my eyes bulged slightly; not a pretty picture.
Trump arrest prompts Jesus comparisons:
Jesus Comparisons, how so? After all, they are nothing alike, so how will they play this out? That was my first question. The second question to enter my brain was, “Why does it matter?” I will seek to answer that question a bit later. I posted some of the articles below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the most devoted Trump conspiracy theorists, there are no coincidences, and timing is everything.
So when ex-President Donald Trump was arraigned Tuesday on charges that he falsified business records to obscure hush money payments in an effort to influence the 2016 election, some of his most ardent followers quickly noted the court appearance came during Christianity’s most sacred week, Holy Week, when many Christians commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.”
“Seems there was someone else who was tortured and crucified this week,” read one post on Gab, a platform popular with Trump supporters. A similar post on Telegram put Trump’s case in apocalyptic terms: “Good vs Evil. Biblical times. Divine timing.”
SOMEONE ELSE? Is Donald Trump being “tortured and crucified” like Jesus? I don’t see the comparison. But these kinds of stretches and unfounded parallels are more and more common in our day, aren’t they? The article went on:
Comparisons likening Trump to Christ were among the top online narratives about the Republican former president and his criminal charges circulating in the last several days, according to an analysis of online and social media content conducted by Zignal Labs, a media intelligence firm, on behalf of The Associated Press.
But it didn’t stop there, not by a long shot.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, who traveled to New York City to protest Trump’s arraignment, noted the timing of the arraignment during a broadcast interview before bringing up the Christ comparison.
“Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government,” she said. “There have been many people throughout history that have been arrested and persecuted by radical corrupt governments, and it’s beginning today in New York City.”
As troubling as these statements are, it is even more disturbing that so few pastoral voices speak out against them. Ironically, one dissenting voice mentioned in the article was from an Episcopal Bishop.
“The comparison was denounced by Episcopal Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees more than 500 churches in Greene’s home state and called her comments blasphemous and disgusting.
“While Marjorie Taylor Greene may put her political loyalty ahead of God, Christians do not,” Jackson said. ‘Those of faith believe Christ always has, and always will, stand alone!'”
Another article takes the unnerving comparison to a more troubling place.
The Blasphemy of Comparing Trump to Jesus Christ
“Two millennia later, a nearly identical bond has been forged between conservative American Christians and MAGA Republican politicians like Trump, Greene, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Under the blessing of conspiracy-theory preachers like Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Paula White-Cain, these politicians use and abuse religious imagery to create a culture where disagreeing with them is no longer seen as civic discourse, but as an act of blasphemy. To them, indicting a corrupt Republican politician like Trump isn’t an example of a healthy democracy, but a demonic attack on a holy figure anointed by God.”
It shouldn’t take a lot of reading to realize that this writer is coming from a slightly different perspective, which should greatly concern those of us who are bible believing Christians. He goes on:
“This is part of what academic scholars and Christian activists alike mean by the term “Christian nationalism:” The heretical merging of American and far-right Christian identities to proclaim that only conservative Christians count as “true Americans” and that only right-wing Republicans can be considered true Christians. This authoritarian political ideology seeks to rewrite colonial history, erase the separation of church and state, and declare America a theocratic “Christian nation” where only conservative Christians hold power and other communities lose their legal rights.”
That label, “Christian Nationalism,” is an intense and broad label that is getting attached to Christians who don’t hold such a view or have even heard of it.
I want to dissect this in two ways:
- 1. Is such “typology” of Donald Trump acceptable? After all, we see various people throughout the Old Testament called “types of Christ?”
- 2. Why should biblically based Christians be concerned with being labeled as a “Christian nationalist?
To understand what typology is from a biblical perspective, we must define it.
“The idea of typology has to do with New Testament indications of patterns and people in the Old Testament who were, in a sense, created to serve as pre-figured shapes of what Christ would do” (Ligonier.org).
“Not only does the Old Testament reveal the coming messiah through prophecy, it also reveals Him through typology. Typology refers to historical people, places, objects, or events which foreshadow Christ and His work in the Old Testament.”
So, typology, as understood from a “biblical” frame of mind, has everything to do with a foreshadowing of patterns and people from the Old Testament that PRE (before) figured Jesus Christ, not future events or people that appear to be similar to Jesus Christ and what He went through.
Some examples of this would be:
Adam is a type of Christ. He is the head of the human race, our representative head before God. Adam fell into sin, and we all fell through him. But how is he connected to Christ? Jesus is the “head” of the new creation at salvation. He is our representative, and we are raised and redeemed through Him.
So also, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:45
Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. Just as in Adam, all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
Abel is a type of Christ. Adam had two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel, the younger, was murdered by his older brother for being more righteous than him (Genesis 4:1-24). Likewise, Jesus was killed by his brethren (the Jews) for being righteous.
Here is some helpful advice for us to consider as we read or listen to pundits today seeking to apply typology to some political figure or if we are studying our Bibles. “My advice is to have good controls on the way you do typology. The best way is to begin with the clear teaching of the New Testament rather than to start making up types from the Old Testament.” I would add to that counsel not to fall into the error of implying that anyone in our day or days to come a type of Christ “Ex post facto,” making up Old Testament type such “types” throughout the Old Testament.
Now to my second point, Christian Nationalism
Why do we need to be aware of this?
Because this label is broadly defined from the KKK to a Christian that enjoyed saying the pledge of allegiance in school, you are now fitting into that label if you are somewhere within that spectrum. That means you are dangerous, out of your mind, and an enemy of the state and its ideologies and philosophies.
This “moniker” Christian nationalist has been automatically deemed a bad thing. The definition has changed often and will continue to change depending on the day of the week or month. The point is that we need to be aware of the danger of such a view and its moniker and the possibility of it being attached to us, personally, in the future.
The danger of such a moniker is that one group of people, political or otherwise, can paint with a broad brush and label large groups of people, from a broad spectrum, under that category, thereby making them all evil or enemies. This is what liberalism and Marxism always seek to do. Marginalize and then demoralize dissenting beliefs. And then brand them as “dangerous.”
I have included a linkhttps://youtu.be/C8SvP_O1fY8 to a YouTube video by Todd Friel on this topic. It’s only eleven minutes long but a good primer on this topic.
Wretched on YouTube (Todd Friel), What is a Christian Nationalist, and why you better know about it.
WHERE IS MY CHURCH FAMILY?
Feeling like you don’t belong.
“*I was just there to be with my friend.
As we grew older, we decided to move on to the youth service. It was during a youth camp that I had a personal encounter with God. A lady came up to me on the last night of camp and prayed for me. As she prayed, I felt God’s presence for the first time. At that moment, I decided to accept Christ. Since then, I have become more involved in serving at church.
Over time, I have experienced much spiritual growth, but there is something I continue to struggle with—feeling like a stranger in a place that was meant to provide a sense of belonging. For years, the feeling of loneliness never went away despite being surrounded by people. Often, I found myself thinking:
“Everyone seems to have a church family. Where is mine?”
Might this scenario describe how you are feeling today? Perhaps you have been attending a local church for a few months or have been a “member” for some time, and every Lord’s day is becoming harder and harder to justify even going through the effort to attend church. After all, “know one would even miss me.”
Most likely the sermons are very good and have played a role in your spiritual growth. The praise songs always seem to lift your heart in praise to God, but outside of those things, you constantly feel like you don’t belong; no one bothers, and no one cares whether you are sitting in your usual pew or not.
Oddly enough, it is the same feeling you experienced when you walked into that church for the first time. A new church, new surroundings, new order of worship, new people. Very intimidating.
In your discouragement, I want to encourage you and lay out some food for thought, if you will, along with some practical counsel to help you as you move forward. Sadly, you are not alone. Sometimes, I don’t feel “connected” at church either. Throughout the broad spectrum that we call the “church,” untold people are going through the same struggle as you are, so no, what you are experiencing is not abnormal, and neither are you!
That said, we need to recognize both sides of the coin, so to speak, and then be honest with ourselves regarding which side of that coin our situation fits into. So, let’s begin by focusing on why people don’t feel a sense of belonging in their local churches.
1. An unfriendly church
2. An unfriendly church attender
I know, it seems too simple, doesn’t it? But as we move forward you will quickly learn that there are many subgroups under each heading. Let s focus on the unfriendly church for now.
Some churches are just not friendly. Let’s be honest about that fact. I experienced some myself when looking for a new church home. I have been pulpit supply for one or two unfriendly churches over the years of my ministry. The church where no one engages you unless seemingly pressed to do so. When you finally work through the awkwardness of finding a place to sit, someone from the church tells you that you are in “their” seat. Even so, you put on a smile each Sunday and try to engage some people there. Time passes, perhaps a year, and not one friendship has been developed! A place where the overall environment is just not very welcoming to new people.
That’s one scenario, and the issues within that church body and leadership need to be acknowledged and dealt with prayerfully. But what about the type of church that is welcoming to you on your first weeks there? Greeters greet you at the door, and you are often engaged in superficial conversations as you enter and leave church each week. The environment seems friendly enough. The worship time is edifying, and the preaching is convicting and equipping. Yet, you do not “feel” a connection like you think you should. Relationships never seem to move beyond the superficial type, and the church “doesn’t even call or send me a ‘miss you’ note when I’m not there.” Could the problem possibly be with US more so than the church sometimes?
That leads us to the other side of the proverbial coin. What if our attitude is the problem? What if our “preconceived notions” about how the church ought to feel to us are getting in the way of actually experiencing the koinonia (the fellowship) we so desire?
The first simple fact we must consider is, what if the disconnect we feel, the problem we face, isn’t the church ministry or the people? What if it is the consequence of our selfishness and a persona of “isolation” that we exude from ourselves each Sunday? We must be honest with ourselves if we hope to continue experiencing the joy and fellowship we desire within our local churches.
I have known many “church people” like that. They would come in a bit late each Sunday and, therefore, not have any communication with others. They would sit down and go through the service but then get up and leave early (during the last hymn) before anyone could speak with them.
The Lord created us for community. The opportunity was there for them, but willingly or not, they seemed to isolate themselves from others. Yet, these same people would eventually leave the church without talking with the pastor or elders and tell others how unwelcoming or unloving that church was.
So, what are my words of counsel to anyone struggling with this issue? Below is some biblical guidance that I believe may be helpful:
- 1. Seriously consider why you feel like an outsider.
Honestly, there are many reasons that any one of us could feel this way. There could be one or two bad church experiences in your past that have gone unaddressed, and possibly the offenses you experienced have created a pessimistic or bitter spirit within your heart. Maybe you are experiencing some complicated and challenging life experience, and just getting by daily is trying enough, and that might make it even harder for you to feel like you’re a part of anything.
So, first, Make an intentional effort to recognize if a work of grace needs to be accomplished in your heart that will enable you to move forward with joy. Prayerfully lay out your plea to the Lord. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
2. Associate (be present)
Make every effort to be at church each Sunday. Regular attendance helps us feel more comfortable around people and them with us, opening doors for communication to happen! Just like anything else, the constant repetition of something makes it easier and more comfortable for us.
“Healthy and growing churches pay close attention to the people they count as members, as well as those who are not yet a part of the flock. These churches do not want to impair or cut off the flow of new people to the church.” New people are the “lifeblood” of a church and ensure its existence in the future.
But ironically, even though churches claim to be “friendly” on their signs or radio spots, many prove otherwise. The truth is that many church members are friendly to the people they already know but not to guests, so be prepared to make a conscious effort at consistent communication with others; eventually, the awkwardness fades, the walls come down, and friendships are established (Hebrews 10:24-25; Philippians 2:1-11).
- 3. Participate (be involved)
This point is vitally important for anyone wanting the sense of community the church should foster. Serve the church body! Ask the church deacons or elders what you can do to serve in the church, even while contemplating whether you will make this place your church home. The quickest way to “break the ice” and establish new and long-lasting relationships within the local church context is to serve alongside others.
Become a greeter, help serve meals to widows, help set up for VBS, and participate in VBS. Actively seek ways to serve Christ by serving your church, and you will find that the sense of isolation you are experiencing will fade away and be replaced with sweet fellowship (1 Peter 4:10-11; Mark 10:45).
- 4. Communicate (be vocal)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). I mentioned earlier in this post about the sad reality of some people who don’t engage people at church and yet judge others for not engaging them. I remember the adage: “if you want to have friends, be friendly.”
If some people do not engage you, engage them. Be kind and gracious to others, and you might find out that they will be the same towards you (Proverbs 16:24). But remember that the church is a hospital for the broken and wounded, for sinners like you and me. Some people may not respond positively to you. First, that’s ok; that’s where grace comes in! “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
5. One more possibility needs to be contemplated: Does God want to place you somewhere else? This may be the hardest of all those mentioned to determine. This church may not feel right to you because God doesn’t want it to. Be honest with yourself and God, and double-check your motives for wanting to leave so you do not deceive yourself into thinking that you are doing the right thing when you aren’t.
Talk to the pastor; with other spiritually mature believers about what’s happening. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. And if they prayerfully come to the same conclusion, leave with Grace and don’t burn any bridges.
“If you are struggling to belong in your church, the fact is, you already belong because of your identity in Christ. Being in church is not about being in your comfort zone, and sometimes disappointments with one another is inevitable. But it is also through these processes that we learn to love, forgive and build up each other, just as Christ did for us.”
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, IS IT MORE THAN A FORMALITY?
I have been a member of various churches over the years and am currently one now! Sadly, most of the churches I was a part of over the years didn’t do very well at teaching the members of those churches how important being a “good” church member was.
Sure, they occasionally taught about the value of church membership, i.e., community, accountability, sacraments, and voting rights, but not so much how to be a faithful, engaged church member.
I feel cheated. Cheated out of so many years in which I could have prospered in my walk of faith personally as a member, I also feel a sense of loss for the opportunities I might have had to bless other members in fulfilling my proper role as a member.
I am not sure what your experience may have been like. Perhaps you are on the other side of the spectrum and have benefited from sound teaching on church membership. Maybe you have had good and faithful role models in your church that were outstanding examples of effective church membership. I hope so.
That is my motivation for this post. I want to discuss with you, the reader, what good and healthy church membership looks like in the life of a believer.
I will not be exhaustive on the topic; you’re welcome. But I hope what I share with you will be instructive and encouraging. I pray that we will take these truths to heart and prayer so that we will grow in this area of our Christian walk.
The first and most important aspect of being a good and flourishing church member is SALVATION!
Redemption creates a distinction between God’s people and not God’s people. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am NOT saying the church, any church, can save you. Only repentant faith alone in Christ alone can redeem a person from the depth of their iniquity.
What I am saying, however, is that the church was instituted for God’s people, redeemed people who have been justified by the blood of their Savior Jesus Christ.
It is not the gathering of the unredeemed but THE redeemed! The local church is the place where other redeemed sinners gather to worship, pray, participate in its sacraments (baptism and communion), and serve one another. It is where they are edified and equipped for their work of service to the Lord throughout the week.
So, for a Christian to become a member of a local church body, it should be observed is not a decision that he/she should take lightly.
“Church membership is about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church. It’s about “putting on,” “embodying,” “living out,” and “making concrete” our membership in Christ’s universal body. In some ways, the union which constitutes a local church and its members is like the “I do” of a marriage ceremony, which is why some refer to church membership as a “covenant” (9 marks).
So before we say “I do,” we must ensure we have the gospel right.
You and I live in a world God created (Genesis1-2). As such, He deserves and is worthy of glory and honor (Revelation 4:11). He made human beings in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27, 21-25) and put them in charge to be fruitful and multiply the earth and subdue it, they were created to live and rule the creators’ world under His loving authority. As the creator of mankind and all that mankind enjoys, He is the supreme authority over all His creation.
But sadly, Adam and Eve fell into sin. Eve bought into the lie of Satan and ate of the tree in the garden and then gave it to her husband, who did the same (Genesis 3:1-7). Now the sad testimony, ever since, is the fact that through our first parent’s sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12). In rejecting God, Adam, and Eve made a mess of their lives (Genesis 3-4), and the lives of all those who follow after them. They rejected the loving creators’ authority and instituted one of their own. Sadly, we are all like this too. We all rebel against our loving creator and seek to do what we desire, not what He desires. And as a result, we make a terrible mess of our lives.
Even though we rebelled against Him and have sought our own way, not His, He is gracious towards us in that He will not let us rebel forever. God, our creator, will give us all justice, what each of us deserves. God takes our rebellion against Him seriously. He is not indifferent to the way we treat Him. It would be horrifying to fall under the sentence of God’s judgment. This reality all of us as sinners will face (Hebrews 9:27).
Because God so loved us and was not willing that any should perish (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:8-10), He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to pay the debt we owe; the righteous for the unrighteousness, the innocent for the guilty (1 Peter 3:18). He became our substitute, died in our place thereby taking on our punishment and purchasing our forgiveness with the Father, our creator (Philippians 1:5-11).
But the story does not end there. Jesus rose to life again, conquering death, and because He lives, we too will live, with Him, forever, our Savior (John 20-21; 1 Peter 1:3)! God accepted Jesus’ death as the total payment for our sins, and He is now seated by His right hand in power (Hebrews 12:2; Romans 8:34). So, now because of Jesus, we can have peace with God (Romans 5:1)!
Take Him at His word, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, will be saved (Romans 10:13)!” Talk with Him. Acknowledge your guilt and ask for forgiveness.
This is the essential aspect of being a healthy church member. With this as our foundation, what should we consider next?
The second aspect of being a flourishing church member is YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH.
Really? Why does it matter whether or not I’m growing spiritually? It matters a lot. You are not the lone ranger church; you are involved with a group of people that make up your local church.
As the wedding analogy mentioned earlier, you have become one within your church body. The well-being of the church begins with each member.
Guard your heart against pride – this sinful pleasure will lead a person away from humility before the Lord and others. Pride stifles our ability to truly comprehend greater biblical truth while hindering us in our service to the church body. It gives us a false assurance that we “know” what we need to know while falsely judging others around us.
Apathy- “Spiritual apathy, coldness, or indifference can affect even the most sincere Christian at one time or another. Human emotions being as fickle as they are, feelings of apathy or disinterest can sometimes replace the fervor we once felt for the things of God.”
Guarding against apathy is vitally important. Such indifference will draw us away from faithful attendance. It will pull us away from acts of service to others within the church. But if we find such a coldness within our hearts, overcoming apathy is necessary for continuing our walk with God.
Unconfessed sin- Proverbs 28:13
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
“We are called to live by the standard of Scriptures, walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). With the presence of the Spirit, we experience conviction when we sin overtly and neglect our duty. Often we are convicted for our attitudes and thoughts.
Sin always leads to pollution, disintegration, and perversion; worse, it hinders our fellowship with God. While we are disappointed and hurt when believers sin, we should not be surprised that it occurs. The Christian life is a struggle against the temptations of the flesh, the world, and the forces of Satan. We are all familiar with the internal war we feel as we seek to live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:13-21).
In short, the remedy is confession (1 John 1:9- Erwin Lutzer)
We may be tempted to hide our sins. Sometimes, we secretly hold onto a particular form of sin that we enjoy. “If we choose to remain in our sin, then we choose the consequences that go with that choice. Broken fellowship and lack of growth result. However, those who persist in sin need to reexamine their true relationship with God (2 Corinthiansofpture is clear that those who know God do not continue a lifestyle of unrepentant sin (1 John 2:3–6; 3:7–10). A desire for holiness is a hallmark of those who know God. To know God is to love Him (Matthew 22:37–38). To love Him is to desire to please Him (John 14:15). Unconfessed sin gets in the way of pleasing Him, so a true child of God wants to confess it, change it, and restore fellowship with God” (got questions.com).
Short, honest accounting with our Lord regarding our sins will be a blessing for us personally in our relationship with Him and our relationships with others!
A third aspect of being a flourishing church member is YOUR PRAYER LIFE
Our prayers shouldn’t be an afterthought, a last resort when nothing else has worked. Prayer should be our default mode, our day’s most crucial and sought-after conversations.
Prayer is how we converse with God and how our relationship with Him blossoms. Through prayer, our heavenly Father works in our hearts and lives, aligning them with His will.
Prayer strengthens us against temptation. Matthew 26:41
41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Our praying is being obedient to God.
18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Praying is the pathway to godly wisdom
“James 1:5 tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. Through prayer, we access God’s wisdom, which is unlike that of the world. It comes to us through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13).” Internet
In the local church, we are allowed to be obedient to the Lord in this way corporately! Praying together encourages other believers, comforts them, and plays a part in strengthening them thru their struggles.
For you and I to have a steady walk with the Lord; for the local church that you are a member of to flourish and be helpful in gospel ministry, it has to be a praying church. Prayer not only changes things, it is the main thing!
I hope these words will be found to be beneficial in your Christian life, especially regarding your life in the local church in which you are a member.
Much more could be added, but I leave that precious time to study for you. What may be some things that you have found necessary for a Christian’s life regarding their flourishing in the local church?
FEARING WORKPLACE EVANGELISM
We are all familiar with the scripture from Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent (blameless) as doves.” Luke expresses that same sentiment differently (Luke 10:3). Yet, that’s the beauty and power of the Word of God. The same counsel given to the disciples when Jesus sent them out to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” applies to us today as we go into our places of work as Christians. We need wisdom and innocence as we traverse the muddied terrain of workplace protocol!
We want to be faithful witnesses for our King, King Jesus, but it appears to be more complicated these days, right? After all, Human Resources (HR) seems to be systematically changing the rules we must follow regarding our interactions with customers, management, and other employees. Many laws are changing and becoming more “inclusive.” The woke culture has erupted onto the scene infiltrating every aspect of our society; its tentacles are far-reaching and relentless.
Scary stuff, right? Has our current climate hindered or perhaps even stifled your witness for Christ in the workplace? Your workplace? Are you confused about how to effectively evangelize your co-workers without being fired or, worse, thrown in prison?
“*The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) requires believers to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the Earth. We spend 8-10 hours a day at work, potentially eight hours or so sleeping, with the remaining eight hours divided between family, church, and other responsibilities. We are at our jobs 40-50 hours a week, that makes it our biggest ministry field for evangelism! Increasingly, people are realizing that this means that we are to be witnesses in our places of work.”
Even so, many Christians fear speaking about their faith at work. The fear of being ridiculed, scoffed at, ignored, or even disciplined or fired are powerful harbingers that tend to keep them silent among their peers.
The inescapable reality, however, is that “there will always be opposition to the spreading of the Gospel. Some in our society want religious people to keep their convictions to themselves and leave their religion at home. The law, however, does not require that religious employees and employers check their religion at the office door or the factory gate when they come to work.”
“Federal and State laws protect the religious freedoms of employees and employers. Employers can run their business in conformance with godly principles and employees cannot be forced to act in a manner that conflicts with their religious beliefs. For instance, Christian employers may hold and participate in voluntary chapel services and prayer meetings for employees, and employees can share their faith with co-workers during breaks or free time so long as it is not disruptive. In short, there is no law requiring the workplace to be a religion-free zone.”
That’s a breath of fresh air! You and I are not breaking any laws when we live out and share our faith in Jesus Christ while working. We are in full-time Christian ministry, no matter where we are or what our occupation is. As ambassadors for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we must be faithful messengers representing the King of heaven with the Gospel.
With all that being said, that nowhere implies that it will always be easy or without consequences. So, what principles can we apply here that will help us act with wisdom as we not only live out our faith but vocalize as well in the workplace?
As with building any solid, long-lasting structure, I guess you always begin with the foundation. The foundation holds everything that comes after it. Our foundation for workplace evangelism starts with our integrity as redeemed children of God.
“1 When you live out your faith, your life becomes convicting to those around you. Your words and actions can cause a non-Christian to ask, “I wonder what makes him behave the way he does. I’m impressed.”
Your witness at work includes anything, and everything people may observe about you — the integrity you exhibit by the promises you make and keep, the way you treat people you dislike or dislike you, and even the patience you show at meetings or during times of stress.
You don’t come to work at 8:15 if you’re supposed to be there at 8. You work just as hard five minutes before it is time to leave as you did in the middle of the morning. Your performance is the same when your employer’s back is turned as when he or she is facing you.
Here are some questions for reflection about your witness at work:
Are you a good worker? Your employer is God above, not a boss below. You should live and work each day with the knowledge that you are accountable to Him. This includes how you spend your time at work, even in evangelism. You are paid by your employer to work, not to witness. After-hours or break times can be great opportunities, but you need to be careful not to steal time from your employer.
Do you act and react with self-control? You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. The way you react to countless stresses and conflicts in the workplace is evident every day — in conferences, lunchroom conversations, client negotiations, budget planning, service calls and sales meetings and on the factory line. Your reactions catch people’s attention.
Do you tell the truth? Truth needs to be seen in sales reports, endorsements, expense reports, budget analyses, client negotiations and the way you repeat what others say. And not only do you need to speak the truth, your motives should be sincere.”
Without this solid foundation godly integrity, most, if not any co-workers will listen to you sincerely when you talk to them about the difference Christ makes in peoples lives!
Another principle to consider is what I underlined above: You are paid by your employer to work, not to witness. After-hours or break times can be great opportunities, but you need to be careful not to steal time from your employer. Please take all the opportunities you have during break or lunch, but recognize they will always be short-lived. Ten-minute breaks and thirty-minute lunches do not allow us much time to converse seriously with our co-workers.
Recognize that while your workplace produces some opportunities to share your faith, it comes with many limitations. My suggestion, although not original with myself, would be to consider fostering relationships with your peers outside the work environment. Invite them over for dinner. Go out for coffee or breakfast together, etc. In these venues, you will have more time to talk. During these times, you are outside the workplace environment and not under those rules of engagement; you are on your own personal time!
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Romans 10:15). This is not about our feet, dear Christian, but the message those feet deliver!
*ACLJ website, Christian Rights In The Workplace
1 Beliefnet, Witness in the Workplace
THE RELENTLESS PLIGHT OF THE SMALL CHURCH
As I sit here writing this post, I have a great sense of sadness within my heart for those small churches that have been “surviving” for years. Not growing; very little if any outreach into the community, and often faced with a minimal budget. You know the type of church I am referring to if you live in a small-town community. The kind of church you walk into that has 25 or fewer people attending, predominantly grayed-haired and generally physically limited. Usually, only one or two children are present, and often not even that!
I have been privileged to serve in churches with 150, 75, 50, and even 3 people attending. Conversations with these people often become memories of “how it used to be.” They reminisce about the congregation’s size in the past, how uplifting the worship once was, the ministry that proceeded from their church, and all the children that used to be there. And the greatest common denominator I have found between churches of 25 or fewer people is the desire to grow and be active again.
Over the years, I have talked with several leaders within those churches. I have had dialogue with various members within those churches as well, and what I have found is that while their current state of affairs profoundly saddens them, and while they acknowledge their despair at things not getting any better, they will not consider closing the doors and blessing another likeminded ministry or attending another local church! What I mean by “leaders” is the one or two in the congregation that have taken on the vast majority of responsibilities to hold it all together.
I have invested so much of my ministry in churches like these, and it has always grieved me to watch a young couple with children enter the church and, to their dismay, find out there are only several much older people here, and there is no children’s program to offer them. They don’t come back.
At this stage of the game, you can only feel sadness for them. They love the Lord and want to serve Him and help the church grow, but physically and, sadly, often mentally, they can’t invest themselves as they would like anymore. They don’t want to start over somewhere else, “to old for that,” they’ll say, so this church is their only option. Plan A, no other plans on the table.
So, there are several possible reasons why these churches find themselves in their current situations. First, it could simply be that as the future unfolded, wars came and went, and those young people did not return to their communities. In Pennsylvania, where I lived in a coal town full of life back in the day due to anthracite coal mining, a church I served in as an interim pastor had a congregation of over 125 people if I remember correctly. But ww2 and the over-regulation of the coal industry began to bring sweeping changes to these communities. Changes that they have not been able to recover from.
Sometimes a church has a bad history. Something in that church fostered a split, and the church has not recovered. Many reasons exist for possible explanations as to how some churches find themselves in their current state of affairs.
But other factors seem to keep these struggling churches in a rut, with seemingly less hope of ever recovering. Still, placing hope against hope, they persist in moving ahead. What are some of the issues they face now as they try to move forward, hoping to see their small church grow and be vibrant again?
Fewer pastors are willing to serve in these churches.
Seminary-trained pastors often carry a lot of student debt and realize that debt will not quickly be paid back from the salaries smaller churches often offer. Sadly, one of the biggest reasons for staying “stuck in the rut” is that these churches, even though they cannot afford a highly educated pastor, want one!
Regardless of the specific reasons, studies have found that many pastors will not serve smaller churches. So now, what do they attempt to do?
2. More and more smaller churches are seeking bi-vocational leadership.
As good an idea as it sounds, fewer bi-vocational ministers can easily relocate due to their other employment, which limits pastoral searches to a smaller geographic area.
Few full-time ministers are willing to move to a new location and search for other employment to supplement their church income as bi-vocational ministers. It’s not a viable option for many otherwise available qualified men.
3. One of the essentials for a healthy, growing church is strong pastoral leadership, and many pastors are unable to provide such leadership.
Many small-church pastors with leadership skills are not permitted to do so. Any effort to provide leadership is quickly halted by immature controllers allowed by the congregation to exercise their dysfunction on the entire church body.
Sadly, I experienced this scenario at one church when I agreed to be an interim pastor. Long story short- stewardship became ownership, leading to unwise and unbiblical decision-making.
4. In many smaller churches, you will likely see a lot of gray hair.
I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. These churches are often aging, and as members become unable to attend church due to death or illness, younger persons do not replace them. One reason is that much of what the church does is geared toward its older members, with little effort focused on attracting younger persons to become involved in the church’s life.
These folks have grown accustomed to making it through the main service, and nothing else was pushed aside. They lack the energy level necessary to focus on the younger generation.
5. Finances are often a problem.
It is well established that younger generations do not tithe or give to the church as the “builder” and “boomer” generations do. Many smaller churches also do not make it easy to contribute. I read an article recently that showed that check-writing among young people is almost a thing of the past; Everything is done with a debit card or by direct withdrawal.
How many smaller churches offer the opportunity for people to give through either of those means?
That is not the only reason, however, that finances may be a problem. Many of these aged saints now live on a fixed budget. They depend on whatever they receive from a work pension if they have one, and Medicare! It is tough to give generously under such economic circumstances.
6. Many smaller churches have forgotten why they exist. Some are so focused on survival they have forgotten they exist for mission.
Because of a sole focus on survival, many of these congregations have not seen anyone brought to Christ in years (decades?). Not that the gospel isn’t preached; it’s just that it is being preached to the choir every Sunday.
Unless a church understands its God-given purpose and attempts to live it out, one must question whether it is good stewardship for that church to continue.
7. Even more churches have no vision for ministry; they merely drift along weekly, hoping that something good will happen someday.
God has a unique vision for each church, and it is the responsibility of the church and its leadership to discern that vision and begin to live in it. Scripture is correct that without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18), and so do churches.
Those churches that address these problems and begin to correct them can enjoy a productive ministry. It may simply be that their focus has to change with the changing backdrop of their particular church and its ability to reach out.
I do not believe any small church has to close, but if they are unwilling to confront why they are moving in that direction, it is unlikely they will survive.
So what counsel is there for the small church member or leader in this predicament?
First, be honest with yourself, the other members, and especially The Lord Jesus Christ, who created this thing called the church and is its supreme authority (Ephesians 2:11-3:6; 1:22; Colossians 1:18). Perhaps it is time to close the doors and bless another likeminded church with your resources as the church body prayerfully seeks another church to be apart of.
Second, reconsider the new program you may want to start. There is no new program that is going to bring the crowds flocking toward your church. You will never be able to compete with the bigger church down the road that has the people and resources to run any particular program they like. That includes programs for the youth. You can offer a church family built around loving the parents and children who attend. Your focus would be better suited toward relationships.
Third, consider that you need to change some things. I want to share this quote with you because it’s helpful.
“I know that change is a dirty word for some of you. You are all about tradition and keeping things as they have been for the past fifty years. Let’s think about this for a few minutes, though. You have a church that consists mainly of seniors, which is not an uncommon state of affairs. You want to attract young families with children because you think your church will die without a new generation of young people.
The fact that attracting young families is a problem strongly indicates that what you have been doing has not been working. Someone has defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Too many churches are practicing a type of spiritual insanity in their response to this issue.
We have a shortage of young families.
What we are currently doing is not attracting young families. We will continue doing Everything precisely as we have done in the past, hoping that young families will attend. It isn’t going to happen. Any church with a preponderance of seniors will have to change something to attract young families.
For too many churches attracting young families isn’t the priority that determines what they do. They want to attract young families without changing anything to attract them. Attracting young families that will fit into their way of the church is the priority.
I am not calling for immediate wholesale changes in your church. I am suggesting that if what you are doing hasn’t worked in the past, you will probably have to change your approach if you expect any results in the future.”
Lastly, be fervent in prayer and generous in praise. We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to ask in prayer, believing that He will hear and answer our prayers (Matthew 21:22). Everything that has breath should praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6); our lips should praise Him for all His wonderful kindnesses towards us (Psalm 63:3). Despite our current circumstances and the uncertainty of the future, we are called to praise our Father in heaven because He is good, trustworthy, and omnipotent! This is not a moot point; it is the main focal point!
- 1. Smallchurchconnections.com
2. Seven reasons were adapted from an article by this man below.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bi-vocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years.