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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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

Lessons learned from Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary had been waiting 30 years. Thirty years earlier, an angel had come to her and told her that as a virgin, she would miraculously conceive God’s son. She was to name him Jesus and he would be given the throne of King David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word be fulfilled.”

Mary most likely experienced ridicule as an unwed, pregnant teen. Her fiance almost left her. She gave birth in a barn and then had to move multiple times to escape a king who wanted to kill her baby. She had experiences that she knew pointed to Jesus’ destiny, and she stored those things up in her heart.

I wonder what Mary experienced spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I wonder what she thought when Jesus followed Joseph’s footsteps in becoming a carpenter. Did she worry she had misunderstood something the angel had told her? Did she doubt? Was she relieved that his ministry hadn’t started, thinking about Simeon’s prophesy that a “sword would pierce her soul” or was she anxious for Jesus to show the world who he was?

After 30 years of waiting, things were starting to happen. First, Jesus was baptized by the son of one of Mary’s relatives, John, and God spoke from heaven during the baptism. Then, a few of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus, and Jesus recruited a few more followers. The wheels were starting in motion.

Then there was a wedding. Mary and Jesus and his disciples attended. Mary noticed that they had run out of wine, and she saw the chance for Jesus to shine.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:3-5

Even though it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time, he obeyed his mother and turned the water into wine, performing his first miracle.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:6-11

What lessons can I learn from this story?

  1. God is in Control: God had a plan for Jesus that had been in the works since the beginning of time. God had a plan for Mary. Jesus knew when his ministry should start and how. He knew the time and place. God also has a plan for my children, and He sees the bigger picture. One of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend and it is eating me up, but God sees the bigger picture. Maybe there is something my daughter should be learning from this tough situation she is going through. Maybe there is something I should be learning. Maybe this is an opportunity and a blessing, rather than a curse. He loves my kids even more than I love them. So much he sent His son to come to earth, to be born to a virgin, and die for me and my kids. God has it under control. My job is to trust Him.
  2. It isn’t my job to try to “fix” everything for my children: I’m really struggling with this one right now. As I’m mentioned, one of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend, and I want to jump in and fix everything. I hate seeing her hurting. But in reality, I can’t. I can’t control her friends. I can’t control her friends’ parents. And God never calls me to smooth the road for my kids or open doors for them or fix things for them. God commands me to train them up in the way they should go, to discipline them, and to teach them about Him. God’s commands should be my first concerns when it comes to parenting.
  3. Be Patient: God isn’t finished with me or my kids yet. Mary waited 30 years for her son’s ministry to begin. I imagine these were 30 years of praying and pondering, but being human, probably also doubting and wrestling with all the emotions that mothers feel. God knows the perfect timing. My job is to keep loving, keep praying, keep obeying. And to wait on Him.
  4. God is bigger than my mistakes as a mom: Jesus clearly stated that it wasn’t yet his time to begin his ministry, but in obedience to Mary, he started his ministry. No, it wasn’t the right time. Maybe there was another “start” that would have better, but God worked it out. Mary’s mistake as a mom didn’t derail Jesus’ ministry. It didn’t make God abandon His plan. God is bigger than my mess ups as a mom. He’s bigger than my sins, and temper tantrums, and poor timing and poor parenting. Regardless of what Mary did or didn’t do, Jesus still fulfilled his mission and died to save us.

Word made Flesh

This morning’s Bible reading was John 1, which gives a beautiful description of the Word made flesh. In case you are curious, the Bible Reading Plan I’m using right now is “The Bible Project: Gospels” on YouVersion, found here. But instead of just reading it on the app, I’m reading it in my physical Bible. My sweet mom got me this Journal the Word Bible for Christmas and I’m using it to write my observations, study, and application in the margins.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John, John 1:1-5

I’ve always loved this visual and it helps me to get my mind around the concept of the Trinity. God’s word is part of Him. It has the power to create. I imagine God speaking and these words coming out of Him and swirling around a dark abyss – full of power – creating animals, stars, and oceans. God spoke, and His “Word” created heaven and earth.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

God spoke and created humans.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

Then He watched the self-destruction of His human creation. He decided to do something radical. He had His Word take on flesh and come to earth in human form. Still as powerful as the when the Word created all humanity; this Word now had a name: Jesus.

God’s “Word made Flesh” came to save humanity from our destruction and bring light into a dark world.