Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My practice of preaching a “theme” for the new year, and of late, incorporating this into our Conference theme, was never intended to be a gimmick or trafficking in mere sloganism.  No, it is based on the conviction that the Holy Spirit is truly saying something to the church, at strategic times and places.  I consider Conference to be one of those times in our lives and churches.  This theme in part, then, becomes a reference and rallying-point for our faith as we move forward in God’s will throughout the year.

The inspiration “At All Costs” predates my personal medical conditions last year, 2011.  That wouldn’t make it inspiration but it would be projection of my challenges on to everyone else.  That is certainly not my intention.  Where it originated was the testimony of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who was arrested and convicted in Iran, and is facing the death penalty. What is his crime?  They call it apostasy, but it is in fact believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and being a faithful pastor in an Islamic country.  Right then and there I was “quickened” with the thought, at all costs.  Whether you are a pastor persecuted for your faith and faithfulness to the Gospel, or a housewife raising a Christ-centered family, or a plumber or teacher working a job but your main calling in life is to glorify Christ, or a student, or a lay leader in your church: we can ALL be faithful to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The price tag is always the same: at all costs!  There are 3 potent truths that this is meant to present to our minds.  Think about them with me for just a bit.

Our Costly Salvation

This is the starting point for everything.  The foundation for our lives, our faith, our hope, our eternity, our service to God is based on the price paid by Jesus Christ for our salvation.  At the center of redemption is the love-motivated, obedient-to-His-Father self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John tells us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:9,10) This is why we never move beyond of the Cross of Jesus Christ, for it is our measure and model, because it reveals two awesome realities.  First, it reveals for us the character of God.  Everything originated in the heart of God, and I can only truly grasp His character when I look to the Cross.  The second thing is it reveals the way to live as the redeemed and loved children of God.  John again told us, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1John 5:2,3)

Our Costly Service

I was intrigued by a question that was posed to a pastor of a huge mega-church, that over all the years what was the hardest topic he’s had tried to get across?  The hardest truth and theme to convey to people?  Without hesitation, he replied, “Becoming totally devoted to Christ.” One of the facts that church history teaches is that a leader can do more through a handful of totally devoted believers than through a Church full of half-hearted ones.  What’s so powerful about this is that it presents us with a a clear purpose for life.  The sub-title, “Serving God’s Purpose in Your Generation” gives a life context for every believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  The text tells us that David chose to center his life on serving and doing the will of God in every season and phase of life.  This gave him and you and I a singular focus for our lives.  Success in the Bible is only measured in the context of God’s will, where we shift from being devoted from living for my will to living for God’s will.  Grace, though wonderfully free, is by no means cheap but, true grace inspires both committed and costly service.  We’re talking about the driving force in our lives.  What gets you up in the morning and powers you through each day?  What floats your boat?  For David, for Paul, and for a host of others, it was the cause of Christ.  Jim Collins who has written extensively on the subject of leadership coined this phrase, “Level 5 Leader.”  This refers to someone who “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”  They are very often strong leaders.  Collins went on, “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves...for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.
How should I look at my life?  The Lord’s call is certainly beyond just comfort, east, or worldly success.  Life is a sacrifice, so offer it! (2Tim.4:6,7) “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Life is also a currency, so spend it!  (2Cor.12:15) “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”


“Our Costly Sacrifice”

David grasped this in a powerful way!  When he chose to offer sacrifice to avert the plague that had descended on the land and was killing thousands of people, (2Sam.24:23-25) gives us the account, “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The Lord your God accept you."  But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”  He said he would not offer God that which did not cost him personally.  He knew that if he accepted Araunah’s gracious offer, there would be a missing element to his offering. 

This is why, beloved, to this day there is no such thing as “no cost” discipleship or Church planting.  I’m sorry, it does not exist.  Looking for bargains may be fine when shopping or doing business, but not the things of God.  There is a “cost factor” to all things.  We’re not talking here about the “fine print” but something that Jesus put right up front.  I think we’re all the same in many ways.  Most of us don’t look forward to reading the fine print in contracts and manuals like mobile phone contracts, or the licensing agreement in software purchase that ask you to click “Agree.”  Jesus spelled this out in discipleship, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?   Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33) The very essence of the Christian life is to give up our lives to Christ; to say “no” to yourself and give your life over totally to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, there is a cost to doing God’s will; but there’s also a cost to compromise and not doing God’s will...you decide!

As we begin our 2012 Bible Conference, I trust that the Holy Spirit will take God’s Word and this theme, and cause it to powerfully resonate in our lives and bring encouragement and fresh strength to our lives, our families, our ministries, and our careers.  I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude for the faithful saints of God in our church in particular, which have been faithful to “serve God’s purpose in our generation.” Not because of coercion, but motivated by the love of God, they continue to invest and seek to be fruitful in every season of life.  In investment, there is what’s called the “risk-to-reward” ratio that must be considered: how much risk are we willing to bear in order to see an abundant return.  Jesus has already made clear for each and everyone of us how that correlates to serving Him. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”  In other words, He said you can take this to the bank: YOU WILL NEVER BE A LOSER IF YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR GOD’S PURPOSE AND GOD’S GLORY!

Monday, May 21, 2012

One of the most famous speeches in recent times was delivered by President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, prior to the demolishing of the Berlin Wall that has had existed for many years, and symbolized the divide between freedom and communism that marked the Cold War.  One of the most memorable lines the President delivered was, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe...Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!  Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”  He firmly believed that freedom would pave the way to prosperity, and result in the burying of what he called “ancient hatreds”, as well as clearly marking the path forward.




Take A Visit With Me To The Wall

I want to take you to another wall, if that’s alright.  I’m not talking architectural such as the Great Wall of China; not geographic/political as the Berlin wall.  This is not historical or memorable such as the Vietnam War Memorial dubbed simply “The Wall.”  I don’t have in mind the religious or symbolic such as the Western or the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem that carries with it profound implications of identity and title deed to the Jewish people.  No, what I have in mind is much, much closer to home.  In fact, it resides in the human heart and is referred to as “the dividing wall of hostility.”  Please read and consider (Eph.2:11-18) ESV which so richly declares:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Recently, much of the nation was stunned and captured by the tragic events surrounding the slaying of a 17-year old teenager Trayvon Martin, by a local neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, FL, George Zimmerman.  There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions, but almost immediately this even was jumped on and politicized by numbers of people. There were very few sober, restrained voices warning of the dangers of any case being tried in the media without all the facts investigated and corroborated.  In the end, what we are left with is a sad, sad legacy that will forever scar this teenager’s parents, and all the others close to the case and individuals.  What it has served to accomplish is to bring the issue of “race” or racial divisions to the forefront of the cultural conversation.  I don’t have statistical evidence of this, but it seems that the “race card” is being played and exploited by a lot of people more & more frequently, and is not helping.  So, instead of people being brought together and old wounds being healed, the racial divide seems more pronounced than ever.  This was not supposed to happen!

It is right here that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ shines!  The Gospel paints the glorious picture of humanity reconciled to God, and thru Jesus Christ, to each other.  Ephesians 2/3 present us with the Biblical and theological foundation of this reality. According to God’s word the life lesson about the problem is two-fold.  First, the one word that sums up the human condition and so much of human history is the word...alienation.  As a very young Christian, the earliest explanation given to me about sin was the fact of separation: sin separates people first from God, and then from one another.  The second lesson that follows is that the roots and origins of racism are not political, social, or economic (although these certainly contribute to the problem); no, they are spiritual.  You don’t have to look any further than the human heart to what gives this its death-dealing power!

It’s also true that you don’t have to go very far or look very hard to find examples and illustrations of this alienation, this “dividing wall of hostility.”  You have the tribalism in Africa that often carries genocidal tendencies like what happened in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis, which much of the world turned a blind eye to.  In the Asian community, the Koreans don’t like the Japanese, and vice versa; plus they both dislike the Chinese.  I live in Arizona where the label ‘racist’ is attached to any attempt to address the problem of illegal immigration.  Among some Latino people they get very offended and say, “Don’t call me Mexican; I’m Spanish.”  Amongst the Native Americans you find the neighbor on neighbor conflict between the Navajos and Hopis that has been going on for generations; also including their neighbors to the north, the Utes.  Then there’s the Islanders.  In the Micronesia, the Chamorros hate the Chuukese.  Not to be outdone, in the Polynesians, the Samoans and the Tongans are not wild about each other.  My chaplain friend, Bob Mecado, confirmed that the prison system is one of the most segregated places on earth where you’re forced to make a choice about “what car you’re going to ride in.” Will it be white, or Mexican, or Black?  It’s hard to fight a war and bring stability in Afghanistan to a people where tribes or clans have been fighting one another for generations.  Dear ones, this is just a small sampling of the world we live in, with all its walls.  I haven’t even got into the travesty of apartheid in South Africa, and the wall between whites, blacks, and colored.  Or Sierra Leone, where you have the Mende and the Temne, with the Creole feeling superior to all the indigenous people.  We can look around and find the ancient political tactic of DIVIDE & RULE is being propagated, and originated with and learned from the “father” of it all, which is the devil!

Where I get some hope is from our Scripture.  As real as these and all the other social distinctions are: they can’t hold a candle to, and are not nearly as intense or unrelenting as the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile in Bible times.  The Jews believed that Gentiles were only good for and were created to fuel the fires of Hell.  It was not lawful for a Jew to give aid to a Gentile woman giving birth, since you’d be helping to bring another heathen into the world.  The collision of Jewish/Gentile exclusiveness was monumental.  The Gentiles were dogs in Jewish parlance; and the Jews were homicidal enemies of the human race in Gentile terms.  Among the Gentiles as well it was written, “The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races (whom they consider to be barbarians).  My reason for wanting to visit this wall with you is that if we’re going to experience revival and kingdom fruitfulness then...this “spirit” must be broken.

The Miracle Of The Church

Oh yes, God has something in mind!  Something much bigger, much deeper, much broader than any human solution!  God’s answer to all this was to create a whole new race!  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility....that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  Only God could think of something so radical!  He’s going to take from the mess around that wall and “create” something brand new: a whole new humanity; not Jews, not Gentiles, but the church of God.  Clement of Alexandria commented on this, “We who worship God in a new way, as the 3rd race, are Christians.”  Paul goes on to spell out the Church’s charter in vs.18, 19, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”  The death of Jesus Christ has created a new humanity (a 3rd race) reconciled first to God, then through Christ to each other.

Never mind the propaganda.  The Cross of Christ is the greatest unifying force in the world, “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  The meaning here is not that we feel a little bit closer to “our kind” but those who were formerly hostile, divided and hating each other, now experience a profound bond of love and unity.  It also helps to define our task, where Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations.”  The word “ethnos” refers to various ethnic groups. This means in the church there are no 2nd class citizens, but dignity or full acceptance for all, and expression, enabling people to fulfill the destiny of God, is open to all.  It reminded me of the “snapshot” we’re given of the church at Antioch. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3) This church on fire for Christ had an amazingly diverse or heterogeneous staff.  Barnabas, a native of Cyprus; Simeon or Niger (Latin for “black”); Lucius of Cyrene (region of North Africa); Manaen who was raised in Herod’s household with privilege; and a young Rabbi named Saul or the Apostle Paul.  This is a kind of microcosm of what the church would and should become in the world, a racially integrated group of Christ-followers and missions-minded people.

I guess the question that begs to be asked here is what about single-ethnic churches?  I understand there are some exceptions due to various circumstances factors, historical, linguistic, and geographical.  The idea is that people come to faith easier when there are people of the same ethnic and socio-economic background.  That might have some truth to it, but how does it differ from a religious-flavored being comfortable with our kind?  The real model should be local churches that reflect the ethnic diversity of heaven and God’s glory. The song of redemption that says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev.5:9, 10)  A church where Jesus Christ reigns will be a “pocket of reconciliation and shalom in an alienated world.”  Dr. Martin Luther King is noted for saying that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11:00am which is when whites go to their church, and Blacks go to theirs.  I’m not denying that this happens; I’m saying that this is not manifesting the life of Jesus Christ or His Kingdom.  A people whose prayer and heart desire is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The building of God’s kingdom necessitates the ministry of racial reconciliation (“tear down this wall!”), which results in a multitude of diverse people worshiping, serving together, loving, and seeking first the Kingdom of God.  The witness that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom.14:17)

Ministering The Mystery

The word “mystery” in the Bible is not talking about a crime thriller or an Agatha Christie novel.  The word indicates something beyond natural knowledge; something that has been previously hidden, but is now manifest.  It refers to an open secret!  Paul is over-the-top thrilled that he would have an opportunity to preach among the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to bring to light this mystery. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  (Eph.3:6) The mystery involves a “miraculous togetherness” that is the fruit of Christ’s reconciling work on the Cross.

Our calling as Christians and as a church is to manifest this mystery: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”  We are called to give truth and validity to the “many-colored wisdom of God” in the fellowship of the Church!  This will come at a cost since the flesh (fallen human nature), the world (with its many power-centered agendas), and the devil is constantly trying to re-erect what Christ came to tear down.  A Church that is “manifesting the mystery” is a work of God, not something we can concoct on our own.  It happens when the central impetus of ministry is preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  It also is the fruit of the pastor’s heart.  He must be seized by the Biblical conviction and cast the vision that God wants the local church to reflect the “manifold wisdom of God,” or a multi-ethnic ethos.  It is also the fruit of a spiritual principle found in (1Jn.1:1-3) that the closer we are to God, the closer we become to each other.

I must point out that there is a cosmic drama to all this since not only is there a witness to our broken world, but there is a heavenly audience to all of this. The text says that this “might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” I’m not sure if I fully grasp the entire meaning of this, but there’s something about a local church that is first, committed to the process of tearing down the wall, and second, committed to manifesting God’s “many colored wisdom and plan” that draw the attention of the angels!  They long and love to peer into the nature and purpose of God being played out.  Not only is the world watching, but angels are watching as well!  Wow!  That’s why the place where you’ll find a demonstration of this is not the U.N. but the C.I.C. (Church In Christ)!

I was talking to Pastor Artie Aragon in Chinle, AZ about some of this.  He had conducted a funeral service for one of the original Navajo Code Talkers. What an amazing story and confirmation and conclusion to what we’re looking at.  During the war in the South Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, the Navajo Code Talkers became one of the Marine Corps most valuable secret weapons. The pilot project began with 29 Navajo volunteers in April of 1942, and grew to a force of more than 400 by the end of the war.  They were an integral part of the South Pacific strategy, and only God knows how many 1000's of American lives were saved because of the unique contribution of these “code talkers.”  The Navajo people were used for victory and freedom for the whole of the United States.  To me, one of the amazing features is what they had to overcome.  They fought for a country that had caused them great pain and struggle.  How easy it would’ve been for them to be trapped in the past, and become prisoners of bitterness.  They fought for a country that had broken 197 treaties.  They were willing to submit to the training of a different culture and race, some of them under General George Patton.  They chose to be United States Marines first, embracing a new culture of character, discipline and excellence.  Because they “manifested the mystery” they have been memorialized forever, and rightly so, in a way that brought them great dignity, and a cause much greater than themselves. 

It’s easy to take the posture or attitude of “being more comfortable with people like us...people of our kind.”  But, if we are going to think and live Biblically, then we are Christian’s first, and then whatever else: white, black, Mexican, Asian, native-American, rich or poor, educated or uneducated etc.  Why? Because WE ALL HAVE THE SAME FATHER, THE SAME CITIZENSHIP, THE SAME FAMILY, THE SAME GRACE AND SALVATION, THE SAME PROMISES, AND THE SAME HEAVENLY HOME by aligning ourselves with God and His truth and His people, we too, become part of something much greater than ourselves in a world hopelessly alienated.  That, my friend, is worth contending for; don’t you agree?! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

Note: Pastor Warner is a white guy from New England, married to a Mexican girl from the barrio, going on 40 years.  He is also glad and privileged to serve in the same church made up of numerous ethnicities, with a burning desire to “manifest this mystery” as a living illustration.  They seek to do this in the context of a passion to reach the world with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which at this time includes people from 5 different continents, and 26 different countries.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Sports fans around the world can usually rely on one fact: the home team wins more often than the visiting team, hence, we talk about having a “home field advantage.”  Sports Illustrated stated, “Home field advantage is no myth.  Indisputably, it exists...across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting the game wins more often than not.”  Well, I have a suggestion: for the Christian, our “home field” refers to the particular local church where God has called and placed us.  Yes, I understand fully the theology that we don’t just go to church, but we are the church.  But, after nearly 40 years of pastoring what I’ve observed over and over is that IF WE DON’T GO TO CHURCH, THEN WE CAN’T BE THE CHURCH.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Heb.10:24,25)

Jesus’s Mission Statement

In a pivotal encounter in the Gospel, Jesus said to Peter (Mt.16:18) “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  What more do you need? Jesus is telling every generation what his building project is!  It seems to me that the church has been battered a lot lately.  Andrew Sullivan wrote an article recently in Newsweek magazine, “Christianity In Crisis.”  It was your typical Holy Week “hit piece” by a supposed Christian author and political commentator.  In the article he makes the case, “Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists” and that Christians should walk away from the church altogether and follow the teachings of Jesus individually.  Oh, boy, another person who has a better idea than Jesus!  Sure, it’s easy to chronicle all the problems around us, but what are you doing personally to make things better?  I’d suggest that we walk away from Mr. Sullivan, since his diagnosis betrays an abysmal lack of understanding of New Testament truth and ecclesiologyChurches are flawed, just like people, but it is God’s will that you and I be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ.  Phillip Jensen said, “The distinctively Christian gathering or assembly, that historically has come to be called ‘church’, is made up of those whom God has saved and redeemed in Christ, and who now in repentance and trust gather around him to listen to his word, so that they may persevere and grow in holiness and righteousness.”

Watch Your Manners!

Paul warned “not forsaking (neglecting) the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.”  We’re not dealing with anything new, but it is definitely a spiritual issue.  One author recently stated that there is an epidemic of American Christians of floating, leaving, or switching churches, that carries with it the mindset of a consumer, or at least an independent spirit.  The simple truth that Paul emphasizes here is that faith in Jesus Christ will ultimately lead to functioning in a local church.  Hence, he writes, “let us draw near”...“let us hold fast”...“let us consider how to stir up one another.”   One of our pastors told me about two women in his church, both in their mid-30's.  They recently went to work at a Christian bookstore in town, exposing them to a large swatch of the religious community in their city.  One pastor was talking to them, and asking them where they went to church.  They told him that they had been going to The Door for the last 18 years.  He was very surprised to see people committed to the same church for that long period of time, especially coming from that age demographic. 

Necessary Steadfastness

I love the testimony of the Colossian church in (Col.2:5) where Paul told them, “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” They displayed the discipline of staying put in God’s place for your life.  It is very doubtful that without steadfastness to God, our spouse, our church, our work, our vision, that we can enjoy the fullness of human life and God’s blessing.  There are those who would argue, “I don’t have to go to church to be saved.”  Exactly....just like you don’t need to bathe to keep on living, but, trust me, it will affect you and others!  There was a brochure entitled “Why I Never Take A Bath” where someone had listed reasons for avoiding bathtubs and showers.  It included things like:

  1. I was forced to bathe as a child.
  2. People who bathe are hypocrites; they think they’re cleaner than others.
  3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which is best.
  4. It’s boring.
  5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. The soap makers are only after your money.
  7. The last time I bathed, someone was rude to me.
  8. I’m too dirty to get clean; I’d clog up the drain.
  9. I can watch other people bathing on television.
  10. I’ll bathe only when I find a bathroom exactly right for me.
  11. I can bathe at the golf course.
  12. The bathroom is never the right temperature, and I don’t like the sound of the plumbing.
I think you can see my point.  The Lord Jesus established His church to carry on His work until He comes again.  It’s not perfect, but it has changed the world!  This is the lost blessing of constancy.  It is what David promised when he said, Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Ps.92:13,14)

Enduring Satisfaction

OK, I’ll admit it that it touched a nerve in me!  Church leaders in England were discussing how they could stop the steady decline in their churches, and the best they could come up with was shorter services.  After all they said, church services already have to compete with shopping, lying in bed, or taking the day off.  So, the idea of giving God any meaningful time is not very appealing in today’s society.  They were Anglicans, and their conclusion to reach people was shorter services, no longer than 50 minutes in their entirety.  The Vatican took it even a step further.  They told their priests to keep their sermons under 8 minutes, because, on top of everything else, people’s attention spans are not what they used to be. 

My advice, for what it’s worth, is not for shorter services (or longer), but...better services! More Jesus-centered, more faith-filled, more Word-saturated, more praise-uplifting services!  We need to echo David’s sentiments about the house of God. (Ps.26:8) “I love your sanctuary, Lord, the place where your glorious presence dwells.” (Ps.36:8) “They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.” Then there’s (Ps.65:4) “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

Ministry Motivation & Methods

Here’s the exciting challenge before us, vs.24, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” (NLT) Let’s give some thought and consider how we can spur one another to grow in love and good works.  This makes plenty of room for creativity, but there are two simple ways here for every Christian to be involved in meaningful ministry.  First, is the ministry of showing up!  Yes, as simple as that, if you make assembling together a priority, it becomes a real blessing to others.  Over the years I’ve learned that for people just to make it to church sometimes is a huge accomplishment.  The second opportunity is the ministry of encouragement, vs.25b, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  This introduces the edification factor to our coming together.  (1Cor.14:26) “How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together...let all things be done for edification.”  The word means “to build up” but we can simplify that we’re talking about friendliness.  I was reading an interesting study from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs (I’m sure you all have a subscription).  It found that 96% of unhappy customers never complain about rude or unfriendly treatment, but 90% of those unhappy persons will not return to that place.  Furthermore, each one of those unhappy persons will tell 9 other people about the lack of friendliness and courteousness, and 13% will tell more than 20 other people!  A later study discovered that the number one reason why individuals do not return to a particular establishment is an indifferent, unfriendly employee attitude.  Work on your attitude and the church will be blessed; because one unfriendly saint can do a whole lot of damage. 

A Churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday.  “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them.  So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”  This started a controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, which went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

“I’ve been married for 30 years now.  In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals.  But for the life of    men, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals.  But I do know this: they all nourished me    and gave me the strength I needed to do my work.  If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be    physically dead today.  Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead    today!”

Where’s Waldo?

Our webmaster forwarded me an email from a young man who attended our church in the 1970's.  Listen to what he said: “Pastor, you may not remember me.  My name is Walter Nichols.  It used to be Whitehead, and you always called me Waldo.  I remember the church doing outdoor concerts in the park.  Just to let you know, I am married to a wonderful woman, and have four wonderful boys.....There is not a day that goes by that I have not thought about you or the church that I used to go to.  Just thought I would say hello, and may God richly bless you. Walter (Waldo).”  That really floored me.  The grace of God through the ministry of the Gospel and the Church had made a divine deposit in his life.  It also convicted me to think back 30+ years and wonder, “Lord, I hope I was a good testimony and friendly towards Waldo!”  I think we should realize that there are a lot of “Waldos” in every city and place, and the Church is God’s vehicle to touching their lives.

When we honor God and one another by coming together faithfully on our home court, it aligns the internal gyroscopes of our soul with God.  One of the brethren who heard this message put it the best, when he told me that our “home field advantage” means that the church is home for all of us! I couldn’t say it any better!

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