Reverencing Christ

awe-of-god

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:9-10

We must understand the importance of our reverence to Christ. We come before a holy God.

Jesus is not just a pal or friend or guide, He is our Savior and our Lord (2 Cor. 5:16; Rev. 2-3). A healthy church is all about who Christ is and what He has done. He is not just a Savior and/or best Friend; He gives us life, holds our lives, and will judge our lives. He is the One who overcame life and death for our benefit, and when we seek to run His church our way, we embarrass and dishonor Him and His Way. He has the keys in His hand, as the door to knowing Him and making Him known is only locked from our side. We have no need to fear our future when He is our Light, Guide, and Lord!

This understanding of Who Christ is will help us truly worship Him, and be people who are humble and be a church that, lives a life worthy, that He can use. 

One of the central themes of humbleness is if we do not do it, God will. God asks us to “humble yourselves” for the essential reason that if we do not, He will, and when that happens, it may just be too late. If we do not start to reform our churches to be as they were designed and destined to be, then it will be too late. The doors will close just as has already happened in most parts of Europe. The church once flourished there, but apathy and disease took over and now her pews sit empty in the midst of a confused and decadent culture. We cannot just visualize what a healthy church can and should look like; we must act on it to make it happen.

A healthy church is not just a question of believing in Christ, but being filled with the knowledge, of doing what He has called us to do with trust and obedience.

A healthy church is not about our comfort or what we can experience, but about being people of faith and maturity, bearing fruit, and being what we can be for His glory.

If you have spent any time at all observing churches, then you have seen what takes place. And, if you have spent any time in the Scriptures, then you know what Christ has called us to do. Many times, these two are in conflict. I have personally seen the results of what happens when we do, and when we do not follow our Lord, when we do not humble ourselves. So, the choice is up to us; we are given choices in life, options to follow. We can see for ourselves in the church that is worshipping the Lord, caring and loving one another, steeping itself in prayer, and reaching its neighborhood and world for Christ. Conversely, we can see the church that is full of strife and conflict.

The church that has given up its call to be in Christ and substituted it with their own inclinations and agenda results in people leaving the church, bitter and disillusioned. Too many Christians have traded their election of grace for advertisements of hostility, thus they have forgotten the main thing. As a result, the disillusioned world has confused the strife of Christians for the care of the Lord, thus seeing an uncaring God by seeing His uncaring people and leaders.

 

Church, come near to God!

come near

 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:7-9

A healthy church is one that is filled with His presence, is motivated to serve Him, and has a love for “one another.”

It is about the Lordship and supremacy of Christ. A healthy church is not about gaining numbers, or even great programs, services, location, facilities, amenities, conveniences or even theology (as long as it is biblical). A healthy church is purposely directed to glorify Christ and Him alone. It is a place where people are growing in Him and allowing His impact to invade their will and desires so the Fruit of the Spirit flows into His Church and His people.

We are called to come near to God as a church. So why do we forget and not hear this vital call?

It has been my observation that the causes of marriage failure are the same as with church failure. The two relationships have the same parameters for what works and what destroys. The church is a community of relationships, with one another, with the world, and most importantly, with our Lord. That sometimes forget what it is all about.

The process begins with love and excitement for the ministry, the new birth to the new Christian, or the new church start for the seasoned Christian. It can happen being in a healthy church, or being in a non-healthy church, never having experienced anything else. But, at some point, the committed Christian who has received the faith of our Lord, trades in that first love for a “lemon” of sin. Somehow, the love and passion slowly dwindle away as other things creep their way into the place of that excitement. And these “things” are the diseases of apathy, gossip, pride, legalism, slander, the list can go on and on. These form the relationship killers of bitterness, criticism, condescending attitudes, defensiveness, and withdrawal.

These are the sins that take the joy away from others; it is, in fact, stealing from God Himself.

These were not the precepts that the church was founded upon; these diseases were not in the vision of her planters, just as the divorce court was not on the wedding planner of the couple getting married. Yet, it happened, and it keeps happening.

We may have started to come near to God, and we received the promise that He will come near to you, but we decided to engage in a process that caused us to let go of what we had. We have let the double-minded mindset take over the plan and purpose that God gave us. We must recapture the call of that first love, with all of the excitement and vigor, for our Lord.

We must humble our pride before it is too late. God is not the One who always holds us back; it is usually our refusal to reach out for the faith He has given us and build it up so we can seize the opportunities He gives. It is we who refuse to exercise our faith and grow.

 

Place this Stethoscope from Scripture to Your Church’s Heart


Stethoscope

Place this Stethoscope from Scripture to Your Church’s Heart

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

The first church was, “devoted to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer; and everyone was filled with awe.”

This stethoscope is used to hear heartbeats from your church devotion, teaching, fellowship, and breaking of bread, which means community and doing it all in love.

What does the stethoscope “hear” from your church?

What is your church devoted to?

What and where is your awe and wonderment?

These will be the questions, and if answered honestly, will be the measuring rod to the health of your church. This passage in Acts gives us the purpose, vision, and call of the Church, both as a whole and individually. Not just a certain church down the street, but your church, and all churches together as one body. The healthy church looks like Acts 2!

This means we look like we are devoted to Christ and His callwe are teaching effectively, we are in fellowship and community with one another, we are forgiving and honoring of one another, and doing all we do in love. We also look like people who are focused on prayer and our growth in Him. It is not just what we look like, it is because we are. And we do this, with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. The healthy church can be your church; perhaps it already is, or maybe it needs to be reformed. So, strive to catch that AWE, that passion and devotion to our Lord and the reason for our being!

            Most churches that are failing did not wake up one day and just decide, “Hey, let’s fail.” They did not start off with “me first” intentions, ignoring our Lord’s call.

They probably did not choose a purposeful direction of being critical and condescending to one another, and especially not with non-Christians. They did not write their mission statements with a “how to do a disdainful disposition,” or hold seminars on modeling attitudes of puffed-up pride! Or let’s chase a meaningless trend and forget about God’s Word. There was a process that led up to the point of decline and apathy from a starting point of new birth and excitement. There was a point where the first love became clouded, and other dispositions took over the role of the church. Just as the divorcing couple did not go into their wedding with the vision and plan for the divorce, or say in their vows, “say, in five years, let’s become so miserable that we will divorce and live frustrated and disillusioned lives.”

Here, too, was a process that went from the love and excitement of newlywed bliss to bitterness, criticism, patronizing, defensiveness, and withdrawal, and finally, the decision to end the relationship.

How? By losing focus on Christ. By not being in the Word. By weak and irrelevant teaching with no Bible or application. By leaders who are not growing in the Lord. By tracing trends and not Christ as Lord. By accepting the ways of the world and not His Way?

Are we His sheep? Do we hear His Voice?

masters voice

“…to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:10

If so, do we respond and follow? God calls us to Himself and to love Him and one another with the love of God. God calls us out of our self-love pride that mutes our effectiveness and purpose and changes us so we are effective and purposeful for Him. So, we need to ask ourselves how is my love life? How is our love for our Lord and the response of love we are to have for one another? We are the sheep of the Lord, and He has given us endless love and care. He gives His sheep endless life and abounding fellowship with Him. He gives us His perfection and His protection, gathering us in to the fold of His wings, as a hen calls her chicks. Giving us the confidence and support for us to stay away from the dangers of the world, protecting us from Satan’s grasp while we engage the world for Christ. Christ perseveres in us, modeling to us how to persevere in our walk with Him and our call to one another.

Our shepherd desires for us to be true and faithful because He is that way with us. This is our call to be true and faithful in our love, in our care, in our walk, and in our talk.

So, are we hearing the voice of God?

Are we practicing the centrality and supremacy of Christ? Are we? If not, where is the call? What do we need to do to build His kingdom church? As Christ bore witness to the Father, so we are called to bear the care for one another and bring it back to Him. We cannot be as the so-called “expert of the law” and debate whom our neighbor is, thus excusing us from our responsibility. Nor, can we ignore the sheep in our care, ignoring our Lord’s call. Yet, so many churches do.

Consider this: how we see others, whether it is a spouse, child, friend, boss, or stranger, will be the measure of how we see our Lord and how seriously we take our faith. What if we were measured by how we see others? What if this is how Christ sees us? Not a very pleasant prospect, is it? Fortunately, grace covers us¾His amazing and loving grace for which we could not venture to do anything to earn it, be acceptable, or receive anything eternal except damnation.

We are to forsake our pride, arrogance, and selfish nature and receive our Lord with joy and eagerness so we can help build His church as He has called us to do!

Remember, the doctrine of Scripture and the call of our Lord will cut “against the grain” of our pride and will. We are fallen, but He will lift us up, as our Lord is our shepherd, guiding us His way and showing us the way of the shepherd, the way of love and care.

Too many Christians only see the church as a consumer entity, which becomes “what I can get out of it.”  But, are we reciprocating that care or are we just catering to our clique and ourselves? We cannot expect others do be the “doers” while we sit comfortably in a pew. We cannot even expect a return on our investment (money given to the church) for personal gain of some sort. The consumer church will become the demise of the church before Satan even has a chance at it. We can utterly eliminate ourselves and achieve total annihilation without any external help from below. God calls us out of the “consumer” mentality and into His reality. Ask yourself if you only see the church as what it can do for you or what you can get out of it.

We do need to be in a church that will take care of us. It is our attitude and determination that will set us apart to either be fully used by Christ, or sit in a pew for our selfish gain and receive our judgment later. I know I do not want that to be me; do you?

Is Your Church Healthy?

health church

Luke 10:25-29; John 4:24; 10:25-30; 17:21-23; Acts, chapters 2 and 4; Romans 1:16-17; 12:1-3; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1; James 4:8-11

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:8-10

A healthy church is one that is poured out to our Lord. It practices the love of our Lord through worship, teaching, learning, loving, caring, praying, and outreach. It is a church that chooses to be a bag of marbles with different colors and sizes and all working together, each marble seizing its call and exercising its gift for the game. But, in our case, it is not a game. Rather, it is a very serious matter that is joyful. Have you ever tried to play marbles with just one? Not much fun, is it? To play your best, you need more than one, each with a purpose and direction. In spite of that, a lot of churches choose to be the lone marble. Such a church really cannot be used to play any marble games, not because there are too few, but because the marbles just do not get along.

Yet, the more marbles you have working together, the better you can play. And the “more” is two or more gathered in His name, people working together for a common purpose with vision and strength, all striving to give God the glory.

A Healthy Church Looks Like This in Practice 

  • A healthy church will worship Christ first and foremost.
  • A healthy church will enable its people to connect with God and then connect with each other and then connect to their community with the cause and the power of Christ.

To accomplish this, a healthy church will equip and encourage its people to grow deeper in their faith and walk with Christ and further help them facilitate their godly impact onto others. In so doing, expand God’s Kingdom by becoming and developing wholeheartedly, fully-engaged followers of Jesus Christ! For this to come about, a healthy church will be biblically oriented, active, and focused on Jesus Christ.

  • A healthy church will know and practice the supremacy and centrality of Christ, so it glorifies, trusts, and worships God wholeheartedly.
  • A healthy church will be passionate for Christ and then for one another.
  • A healthy church will be genuinely learning and growing in Him.
  • A healthy church will encourage one another’s spiritual formation and be able to bring into being and equip disciples with a teachable spirit who know Him and desire to make Him known.
  • A healthy church will connect with others and in so doing develop vital relationships, working and growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. When a healthy church is functioning, it will be better at mobilizing its people by their spiritual gifts.

Our healthy church will be an effective, generous steward of all He gives us individually and collectively.  Then, our healthy church will have a mission and purpose and be engaged in intentional evangelism, missions, outreach, and meeting key community needs, all led and envisioned by called out, effective, empowered servant leaders who are Kingdom oriented. Sounds like a mouthful, but this can be you in your church, leading others!

We have a responsibility to be obedient to His Word and carry out His call. When we do not carry out our call and duty to be in Him and act within His character, it will be costly.

We must ask ourselves what our inactivity will cost us, and to those around us. When we do not accept our responsibility, the cost will build up and may even overwhelm us. Not because God is without compassion and love, but because we refuse His compassion and love, or we refuse to share His compassion and love. The cost we may accrue is the cost of lost opportunities, “what ifs,” and what could have been. The comparison is of a church that is flourishing and being used by God versus the church that is closing its doors after decades of being there (in a physical building form) but not really being there (for the community and use by our God.)

A church can “be there” with facilities, but “not be there” with heartfelt worship and poured out teaching. Or, it can “be there” as a club, but “not be there” as a church. What are you costing God? Is your church a haven of lost opportunities, or a haven of rest? Is your church surrendered to His will and holiness, or to self-seeking motives and desires?

Healthy Church verses Unhealthy Church p2

• Churches that are healthy are in line with and in touch with Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD. The leaders and the people have an effectual sense of God’s presence and seek Him out of gratitude for who he is and what He has done. Their growing faith and their joyful attitude in life evidences this.

• Unhealthy churches tend not to be interested or centered upon the Lordship and centrality of Christ. They are places of personality, leadership in control for personal agendas, and/or seeking trends contrary to the agenda or call of God’s Word.

Healthy Church verses Unhealthy Church p1

• Churches that are healthy have leadership that surrenders to the Lordship of Christ and builds their church on His foundation.

• Unhealthy churches tend to have leadership that are prideful and build their church on the foundation of their legacy or personality.

What makes a Church Healthy or Unhealthy?

This comes from a big problem we have in most churches today, that is the tendency of leaders not effectually growing in the Lord and thus do not practice their faith and this dispenses down to the congregation.

And the outcome is a church that has missed its point and reason for being; as its people, who Christ has brought in, go without being taught or discipled because the pastors and leaders are not being taught or discipled.

Being mature means you know not just Who Christ is, but His impact has gone deep and has occupied all aspects of our life and faith. Life is all about Him and not about selfish ideas or perceptions. We have gone to His throne and His priestly duty has been received, our Milk, and then the meat is feasted upon, His wondrous precepts and Truth. So our faith is real, personal, fully transformed and becoming fully engaged followers of Christ seen by a life well lived.

If we want to be an impacting Christian pastor or lay leader in a church that impacts its community and world, we have to be eating the meat of God’s precepts with passion and conviction, in love and in truth and then sharing it with others.

for more, see the research here: http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=44960&columnid=4545

Handling Traditions in the Church P 8

Dealing with Bad Traditions 

Jesus does not attack a tradition as being intrinsically bad within itself; He attacks the religious leaders’ inconsistency, insincerity, and their practice of hypocritical legalism. For the most part, I like traditions in the church. I look forward to them and if they work, I try to do them again, even better. Evangelism campaigns, Easter celebrations, and such are sometimes sacred cows in our churches, and, more often than not, for good reason. However, when the traditions become the focus, such as when the Easter service becomes more important than Whom and what the service is about, or the evangelism campaign becomes more about the mobilizing and rallying than the focus of reaching our neighbor, we have missed the point, and have become “Pharisees.” I have been a “Pharisee (they are not fair you see)” with traditions in the past. I had to learn not to be a Sadducee (they are sad you see), but to wake up and see His glory rather than what I wanted to do or redo. If you still are not sure you have a good or bad tradition, look at it this way: a good tradition glorifies our Lord; a bad tradition glorifies its founders, leaders, and/or participants. These are replete with power struggles, gossip, bickering, and the point is often missed in the chaos of dissention. 

What can your church do to prevent, or at least inhibit, hypocrisy?  Why can external rituals not replace the inward condition of the heart? 

As far as the “sacred cows” go (programs that people cling to so much they are unwilling to review or improve them), remember that we are to honor the past and embrace the future! “Sacred cows” are best tipped by encouraging their founders and leaders that their time and energies can be better spent in a more useful direction, one they may not have considered. Allow them to brainstorm and help you do the “tipping.” Share the vision; let them visit other programs. Never follow a suggestion or do anything without their input, for “cows” may come at and crush you!   

Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the Pharisee’s power. How can this truth maintain our focus so we do not worry? 

If you are struggling with this, sit down with the leaders and powerbrokers, be in prayer, be encouraging, and restate with love the purpose of your church. (This is another reason why a good, God-honoring purpose and vision is so important—what we are about and what we are doing about it, affects everything that is done in a church.) It gets people on the same page and should be all to God’s glory!  

Look over the tradition or program and evaluate it. Meet with the parties involved, and with encouragement, start and end with prayer. (for more help, see How to Start, Develop, and Evaluate Programs)                                                                                                                                                                        

1.     Ask how can you/we get this lined up better so it glorifies Christ and not just please personalities? Pick their brains for ideas.

2.     What has currently been working well? What has not? (Get them to see the big picture; What do you all need to do?)

 3.     What should you have avoided?

 4.     What were the past successes and failures? How can things be made better?

 5.     Now, map out the successes and failures during the past year. If no evaluation has been done before, go back five years, regardless of leadership changes.

 6.     Do not put people down; rather, use this time to lift up and encourage! Make it a comfortable time. Be open, listen, support the idea or premise of the program, and encourage the people being evaluated to do the same. Condescending attitudes of the leadership will cause more destruction that not having a program at all!

 7.     Now, brainstorm ideas for changes. Be honest and do not feel you have to make changes if nothing is wrong. If it works, don’t fix it! Investigate small things that can be done to make improvements. If it is in shambles, at worst, you may have to start over or even “can” it. At best, it might just need some tinkering and encouragement or new leadership! If so, have a banquet or do something to honor the ones who have served, and make sure they are not out of the loop. (Keep it open for their return when they are ready.) It is easier to sew on a patch than to buy a new coat!

 8.     List the steps toward achieving the goals you came up with. 

 9.     Make sure you honor the people who have worked hard, and encourage them to seek to be better by mutual faith and cooperation. If they refuse, then you have a fight on your hands. (At that point, handle it in prayer and as conflict, and follow our steps on our conflict channel.)

 10.  Write this all down so you have a record to go back to, and keep in mind any good program or tradition must have benefits for the church and community and must glorify our Lord!

  

Handling Traditions in the Church P 7

How do we go before God?

Jesus asks, hear and understand; so do we? Jesus is not talking about the biochemistry of bacteria and disease with this hand washing custom or any specifics or whys of a tradition. Rather, He is indicating the spiritual. How do we go before God? How is He honored? How does this benefit the faith of the people in the church or show Christ outside of it? Do we use repetitive, meaningless traditions that have no foundation? Or, do we seek Him in truth, worship, and devotion for His glory, and not ours? The key question to ask about any program, outreach, ritual, or tradition that your church does or may do is this: How is Christ honored and displayed?

How can traditions be a good way to honor our Lord? Is this possible?

When Jesus tells them, the Pharisees were offended—oh really? Perhaps it was as many of us are when we are challenged with truth or better ideas. We might say, “oh well, too bad,” but consider that it would be like offending your top denominational leaders and your top government leaders all at once today! The Pharisees had no real political power under Roman occupation, but they had considerable influence amongst the people, so the Romans used the Pharisees to keep the people under control. Just as many of the power brokers and workers—good and bad—in a church may not be in official leadership, but they wield influence. When we challenge the bad sacred cow, they may take their ball (money) and go home. We must allow them to do so, as honoring God is more important than pleasing petty people and the risk of losing capital. You have to know this and respect the people, but at the same time be “peace makers” and keep the Truth as truth.

You have to care enough to confront, to model the Christ to whom we lead others. Jesus was not afraid of confrontation because His focus was God’s Truth. Because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, He frees us from the bondage of legalism and false doctrines into the freedom of hope and rest (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus also frees us from the bondage that misguided, evil people place on others for personal gain. But, we must remove our attention and Will from such wrong paths, and place our focus upon Him. We must not see our traditions as a yoke to keep our eyes off His wonders and call.

What would happen to you if you offended your top church elders, denominational leaders, and your top city and state government leaders all at once? What kind of boldness and confidence would this take? How do we get such confidence? Remember, there is a line between boldness and recklessness!

In a healthy church, we are to honor the past, but we are not to live in the past. We are to live in the present and embrace the future with our call and gifts, and take hold of His opportunities, serving and trusting in our Lord. We are to be in His freedom and rest, as He is the God of love and delight, not the God who burdens needlessly. And, we are to embrace the future and the wonders still to come (Heb. 4:9). Bad traditions and bad personalities are forms of legalism, and this is a yoke that will distract us from His wonders and call. We will not see Christ; we will only see the yoke and its stranglehold upon us. Lest we put it on others to distract them, we must take it off and embrace our real Lord. As the last passage in Matthew 11:29 tells us, we need to take off our old, heavy burden, and place ourselves in His strength. Allow Christ to be your strength—not your thoughts, ideas, aspirations, or Will—as they will lead you astray. He will lead you to rest (Psalm. 55:22; Neh. 8:10; Isa. 40:29)!

What can you do to prevent robbing yourself of the opportunities God gives you?

Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the Pharisee’s power; He placed the focus on Truth and away from falsehoods (Matt. 3:10). External rituals cannot replace the inward condition of the heart because what we are to do is all about aligning oneself either with Him or with self and other false belief systems and sin. This includes bad programming and bad traditions, as they represent bad stewardship of His precepts and call. Even be a good program, or social gathering can be bad if it takes the place of and draws our attention, especially away from our worship and devotion to Christ. The heart is purified by our faith and obedience, not by our service; our service is a Fruit of our love and obedience to God (Isa. 1: 10-20; 29:13; 59:13; John 10:34; Acts 15:9; Rom. 8:14; 1 Cor. 10:33; 2 Thess. 3:6).

How do we come before God? Is it with repetitive, meaningless traditions that have no foundation, or do we seek Him in truth, worship, and devotion for His glory and not ours? Why is this so hard for some?