Am I “doing” church all wrong?

Are we doing church wrong in the United States?

Earlier this week, a woman who attends my church posted a comment on the church’s Facebook page about how many people in the church feel disconnected from other believers and lonely. Why is this? Is it the society we live in of busy schedules and social media, or is there a fundamental disconnect between how we “do” church in America and what Jesus intended the church to be?

I’m reading through The Pauline Epistles (the Letters of Paul), which are Paul’s letters to various early churches. When Paul talks to the early churches in Corinth and Rome, he is referring to the “church” as a group of believers who meet together, bringing hymns and prophesy to build each other up (1 Corinthians 14:12). The church wasn’t a mixed group of believers and unbelievers hanging out together on Sunday morning to sing a few songs, listen to a nice sermon, and do a few service projects. The early church wasn’t a gathering where people come to be introduced to Jesus and feel good about themselves. No, the church was a group of people who already believed in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). They each brought their gifts of the Spirit and held each other accountable (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Paul called them to love God and love each.

The early church didn’t open its door to everyone.

The early church was a group of people who had formerly been alcoholics, adulterers, homosexuals, idolaters, and thieves; but who had been washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus.

Paul said the church should judge those in the church and hold each other to a higher standard of godliness, but not to judge those outside of the church.

The early church removed from the church those who claimed to be Christians but were practicing sin and refused to stop.

Paul called on the church to be set aside. To love others and live godly moral lives. When the outside world looks at the church, it should see a group of people loving and living like no one else.

I don’t see any evidence that the early church went out and invited their neighbors to attend a church service to learn about Jesus. No, they went out into the world and shared the gospel, and once people were converted they were invited into the church.

The early church didn’t grow from slick marketing campaigns or having the most bells and whistles. It grew because its members made converts and brought the new believers into the church.

Speaking for myself, I know I am complacent. Do I share the gospel with anyone? No. Sure, I’ll tell people I’m a Christian and mention I go to church and might even invite people to church and hope the church service converts them. But sharing the gospel? Getting into the scary topics that might offend? Nope.

Do I feel confident that the others who attend my church will be bold enough to call me out on the sin they see in my life, as the Bible instructs? (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:14). No.

Was the early church perfect? No, there were problems. They were humans just like us.

Does today’s church in North America do lots of good? Yes. Christians give generously, serve others, hold Bible studies and more.

But do we really reflect the church that was described by Paul? Not that I’ve seen. And maybe that is just my personal experience. Maybe the church that was described in the New Testament is active and alive today, and I’m just missing it.

Or maybe we’ve gotten a little off track of what church should be.

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Jesus: I Am

After Jesus had finished praying for us, he went to a garden with his disciples. This was a garden Jesus frequented, and Judas knew he’d be there. Judas brought soldiers with torches, lanterns, and weapons to arrest Jesus. Jesus knew exactly why there were there and what they were going to do, but he asked: “Who is it you want?”

They answered: “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus replied: “I am he.”

When he said those words, the soldiers drew back and fell onto the ground. John 18.

Why did they draw back and fall?

We don’t know for sure. Maybe there was some powerful force that came from those words. Maybe the ground shook. Or maybe the reality of what Jesus was claiming was too much for the soldiers to handle.

“I AM.”

“Ego eimi”

Earlier in John, Jesus had said:

  • “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
  • “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10:9
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
  • “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Jesus had told people who he was, why he had come, and the benefit of following him. But there was even more to it.

When Jesus said “I am,” he also claimed his deity.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58

These words pointed back to when God spoke to Moses, telling Moses that He would be with him when he led the Israselites out of Egypt:

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “ I AM who I AM . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord , the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” Exodus 3:12-15

Jesus loves us.

Jesus came to save us.

Our substance and life are through him.

Jesus was. Jesus is. Then. Now. And Forever.

Jesus is I AM.

Jesus Loves Me

Sometime between the washing his disciples’s feet at the Passover meal, and his arrest later that evening, Jesus looked up to heaven and had a conversation with his Father. John recorded the loving prayer in John 17. If you ever doubt the enormity of Jesus’ love for you, read this prayer he prayed while knowing he soon be tortured and killed.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3

Jesus knew the was close to death, and he prayed for God to be glorified and that we might have eternal life.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus, John 17:11

Jesus prayed for the protection and unity of believers.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus, John 17:13

Jesus prayed for us to have joy.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus, John 17:15

Jesus prayed for our protection from Satan.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus, John 17:17-19

Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified, which means that we will become more like God.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Jesus wasn’t just praying for the disciples that were with him at that time. He was praying for the believers that would follow. He was praying for you. He was praying for me. And he wanted us to have unity with God, with him, and with each other.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus, John 17:24

Jesus wants us to be with him. Wow. The creator of the universe wants to be with me and show me his glory. What an immense love. I understand Jesus having compassion for his creation. I can even wrap my mind about Jesus being willing to die to save us. But here Jesus takes it even further: he wants me to be with him. Jesus wants to spend time with me. He doesn’t just love me in a paternal way; he likes me. He prays for me. He wants the best for me.

And as he prayed below, Jesus wants me me to know that I am loved:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

Jesus, John 17:25-26

Living as a Christian in a Hostile World

We live in a crazy, lost world. Political divides, war, genocide, infanticide, suicide. Mental illness, poverty, and violence, all amplified on social media as part of our daily feed. And while the screaming might seem louder and the voices amplified by the media, this discord is nothing new.

Two thousand years ago Jesus lived in a time when Rome was trying to take over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was conquering nations and seizing control. In Asia, dynasties battled for control of China. There were coups and assassinations. There was civil war, tyranny, and greed.

Jesus was born at a time when Judea had been conquered by Rome and was ruled by the emperor Augustus, adopted son and great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Tiberius ruled when Jesus was crucified and the early Church blossomed during the rule of some of the worst Roman Emperors: Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Life under these rulers included torture and death.

Knowing he was soon to face death, and that his followers would also face persecution and possibly death, Jesus said:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Around the world, Christians are facing persecution. In America, we don’t face physical persecution, but a growing sentiment that Christians are bigots, hateful, and stupid. Some of this sentiment in the U.S. is deserved because of some Christians disobeying Jesus’ command to love. But some of this prejudice toward Christians is Satan at work, to turn the world from the truth of the gospel.

How are Christians to live in a world of darkness and hostility?

Am I Loving Jesus?

In John 14, Jesus repeatedly tells us that obeying him equates to loving him. If I claim to love Jesus but don’t obey him, I need to question my claim of loving him.

If you love me, keep my commands.

Jesus, John 14:15

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Jesus, John 14:21

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Jesus, John 14:23-24

Taking a personal inventory of my behavior helps me see if my love for Jesus is genuine or just lip-service.

Am I obeying Jesus’ Commands?

  • How do I handle insults and rejections because of Jesus? (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • Am I letting my light shine so people may see my good deeds and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)
  • Am I lashing out in anger, or making sure my words are kind and loving, even when I am upset? (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • How I deal with someone who is upset with me? Do I reconcile with them and settle matters quickly? Do I forgive others? (Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Am I lusting? (Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Do I condone divorce? (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • How do I treat people who hurt me? (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • Am I praying for my enemies and showing them love? (Matthew 5:43-47)

These are just the start of the commands. Matthew 5-7 has many more, in addition to Jesus’ other commands in the Gospels. I need to know what Jesus commands by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and memorizing it. And then I need to put my love for him into practice by obeying, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Light Shining through Darkness

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While reading through the Bible, I haven’t found one specific answer to this question of why bad things happen to good people. The Bible gives examples pointing to various reasons for different people and different situations. And sometimes what we think is a “bad thing” isn’t actually bad if viewed through the lens of eternity.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

This man was born blind. I am sure for his parents thought this was a bad thing. People thought the parents’ sin caused their son’s blindness. They probably carried guilt, shame, sadness, and maybe anger.

For the man, a life of blindness probably equated to life as a beggar. People might have also blamed him for his blindness. He may have felt sorry for himself, blamed his parents, and been angry at God.

But for this man, in this situation, the reason for the “bad thing” in his life was to bring glory to God. Jesus mixed saliva with mud, put it on the man’s eyes, had the man wash it off, and the blindness was gone. Jesus showed God’s power by healing the man.

And not only did Jesus heal the man’s physical eyes, but Jesus gave the man the opportunity to see the light of eternity. His physical blindness allowed him to see Jesus, physically and spiritually.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

John 9:35-38

Sometimes, what we see is a curse, is a blessing in disguise. What we see as a bad thing, may actually be something good. God sees the bigger picture and sometimes uses the darkness in life to lead us to eternity.

Feeding My Soul

I am not a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body.

Unknown, random quote, most likely on a beach gif

I saw this quote recently while scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. I don’t remember who posted it. I think it was a fashion or travel blogger. Someone whose blog isn’t focused on faith and for all I know they were talking about yoga rather than God . . . but still, it stuck with me.

Today I read John 4, which has a theme of nourishment and physical and spiritual sustenance, which took me back to this quote and made me question the effort I put into making sure my soul is fed versus my physical body.

I am not a “foodie.” Theoretically, I’d like to be, but realistically I don’t like to cook or bake. I don’t like grocery shopping. I am a picky eater. If I go to a great restaurant, I usually get the most conservative, bland item on the menu. Eating grilled chicken is out of my comfort zone. But I try not to eat too much processed food. I try to drink enough water. I’m trying to eat more greens. I know that eating good, healthy, clean foods is better for me. I know there is a correlation between the health of my cells and the food I ingest. I am conscious of this correlation, and I know that if I am disciplined and selective about what I eat, I will have better physical health.

In John 4, Jesus talked about physical and spiritual nourishment:

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

John 4:7-15

Our souls need nourishment just as much as our physical bodies. The “living water” that Jesus offers is salvation. By believing in him, our soul is quenched (see: John 7:37-38). A relationship with God is the only “drink” that offers life to our souls. Without Jesus, our souls will always be thirsty, seeking something to sooth it.

Jesus also talked about nourishment that comes from obedience to God:

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

John 4:31-34

Throughout John 4 there are also several references to Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, which foreshadows the last supper when instead of turning water into wine, Jesus had the disciples drink wine that represented his blood, which he would shed for our sins.

From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed, my body sends my brain messages about what it needs. My stomach reminds me it is time to eat. My caffeine addiction tells me to make coffee. Sometimes I get a headache from too much of a substance or not enough of another. Sometimes I get shaky or have trouble consecrating. I hear these messages, and I usually know what they mean. If not, a quick visit to WebMD will give me a clue.

I am not just a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body. I need to tune into what my soul is telling me and make sure it is being fed.

  • Am I losing my temper? I need more time reading the Bible.
  • Am I anxious? I need more time in prayer.
  • Am I lusting? I need to practice obedience.
  • Am I coveting? I need to serve others.
  • Is my soul tired? I need to rest in Jesus.

Making sure my soul is fed with the Bible, prayer, and spiritual disciplines is just as important as making sure my stomach is fed.

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus, John 6:26-27,32-33,35