Thursday, July 31, 2014

Driving Down the Stake

Today marks an anniversary for me, one that many would argue is the most significant of my life.  And I would not disagree.

Although I can never remember not going to church as a boy, it wasn't until I was ten that the purpose for Christ coming to be a man, live a perfect life, die an unjust death by crucifixion and then rise from the dead "clicked" within me.  I could tell you many Bible stories, and sing you many songs about the love of God.  And I was a pretty good kid.  But not until I was ten did it impact me personally.

I don't remember everything the pastor of the little Baptist church preached.  But I do remember his sermons about the return of Christ, especially Jesus' comparison of that event to the ark and Noah.  One day, Pastor Kirk told us, God would close the door and it would be too late to get in.

I didn't want to be left out.  And while I knew as much about the Bible as a young boy could know, I had never by faith put my eternity in Christ's hands.  When the preacher asked us to raise our hands if we knew we were ready to meet the Lord should He come, I knew I could not and was not.  And that bothered me enough that sometime that week, as best I knew how I believed in Jesus.

At our church the way you drove the stake of a decision like that into the ground was to "come forward" during the final song of the service, take the pastor's hand and tell him why you were brave enough to slip from your seat and in front of everyone "walk the aisle".  So, during the week I worked up the courage - even told my mom what I was going to do - and as soon as the first stanza of whatever song it was began, I responded to the "invitation". 

After spending a few minutes with a kind gentleman in the church back in the choir room, who made sure I understood my need for the Savior, I was brought back into the service and standing beside the pastor, introduced as a new believer in Christ.  That day was July 31, 1966.  Although I am sure it was earlier in the previous week when I believed, that's the day I look back to as when the stake was driven and my eternal destiny confirmed in my heart.

Three weeks later, in a mud-bottomed pond in a cemetery (I think the perfect setting for a death, burial and resurrection) I began the life of a disciple of Christ by obeying His command to be baptized. 

Life for me began anew that summer.  I didn't understand it all then, and certainly don't understand it all now.  But I'm forever grateful that God opened my heart to grasp the Good News that God wanted me in His family, and that it was an easy decision to make. 

If you haven't driven that stake yet, the Bible says that "today" is a great day to do so. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fellowship with my church. Important or impotent?

On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread.  Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. - Acts 20:7
This is the clearest verse in the New Testament that indicates Sunday was the normal meeting day of the apostolic church.  Although it’s not commanded, it is their example, and one that the church has followed for over 2,000 years.  Because it is not commanded (and Sunday is not the "Sabbath" of the Big Ten), we have liberty today to worship corporately whenever.  

(I'm excited to hear of churches that have multiple worship gatherings on Sundays and because of growth need to find other days as well.)

Because our country was founded by Christians (read their documents), Sunday was go-to-church day for them and our culture originally viewed it as “The Lord’s Day”.  So, it was a standard day off for most everyone.  My generation can remember back not too long ago when most stores were closed on Sundays?  Why was that?  It goes back to our Christian roots as a nation.  At one time virtually everybody went to church in America.  

But going to church for tradition or because it's expected can ring very shallow.  There ought to be more, don't you think?  Something changes in my life when I want to do something and am passionate about it, opposed to having to do something that I just don't see as important.

How important was fellowship to these first century Christians?  Apparently they put everything else aside to eat and fellowship and be taught through the night on Sunday.  And consider that in their pagan culture Sundays were no different from any other days.  So it likely wasn’t a day off, unless they took it off, or were self-employed and set their own schedules.  Many of them were probably slaves and had no choice when they worked.   

So, on the Lord's Day, after a full day of labor, they went home, whipped up something for the pot luck dinner and headed to the place of fellowship and worship.   That made for a long day.  And in this occasion they didn’t just have a normal (whatever that meant to them) Sunday evening service.  The Apostle Paul was in town and would be speaking at their church that night.  Everybody would want to be there!  

Luke graciously let's us know that Paul was long-winded!  He "extended his message until midnight"!  So passionate about gathering together were these believers that even sleep was less important to them than being together as a church. 

I have pastor friends who tell me how upset people in their churches get if the service goes past noon.  They will tap on their watches, or set their alarms for 12:00 to let the preacher know that "his" time is up.  Some, they tell me,  will get up and leave.  For them beating the Methodists to the lunch buffet or Cracker Barrel is priority #1.   

And without exception, those kinds of churches, filled with believers who have more important things to do on the Lord’s Day than worship and fellowship, are weak, sick and powerless. Perhaps if we had more of this passion for the church and fellowship and teaching we might see God revive the churches in America.

Perhaps one day they'll wake up to the fact that without the church we who are Christians are left to deal with a world out to destroy our faith and our families.  That’s why the Bible assumes every Christ-follower will partner with a local church.  That's why apart from the protective umbrella of the church we’re like sheep outside the fold and easy prey for the wolves.  Hanging with the church is a powerful detriment to wandering, starving and disappearing back into a world from which we were salvaged.

Jesus didn't create the church out of boredom.  The church is so important to Him that we're told in Ephesians 5 that He died for "her".  She's His bride.  When we who profess Him as our Lord lose our passion for being with this amazing family there should be warning lights flashing that our hearts are in danger of finding other loves.