A Word About Church Services

A faithful churchgoer who also happened to love fishing was asked by his fisherman friend, “How can you go to the same church every service, week after week, month after month, year after year? It’s the same place, the same people, the same hymns. You’ve even had the same preacher for several years. Hasn’t it all gotten boring to you?”

The churchgoer answered the question with a question. He asked his friend, “You fish at the same hole a lot, don’t you?” “Yes,” answered the friend. “But the hole is never exactly the same,” said the churchgoer. “The water is constantly flowing and changing. Old water moves down the stream and new water replaces it. Church is like that. The hole is never exactly the same from one service to the next. Every time I go the Lord has something fresh for me.”

Like a fingerprint, each church service is unique. It’s a one-off collection of the specific attendees, the specific conversations, the specific fellowship, the specific songs, the specific prayer requests, the specific prayers, the specific scripture, and the specific sermon. The local news might factor into it. The national news might have some bearing upon it. What’s happening within the church itself will definitely play a role in it. The time of year will make a difference. The weather might even come into play somehow.

But one thing is constant in church services: unending diversity. No matter if the church is big or small, city or rural, contemporary or traditional, each service will always be different than any service that has ever been held there. There’s just no getting around that fact.

Actually, even if everything about one service is an exact replica of a previous service, something will still be different: how God is dealing with you at that moment in your life. If you don’t believe me, listen to a copy of a sermon that you like. Then wait two weeks and listen to it again. What you’ll find is that God uses the sermon to speak to you in different ways from one listen to the next. But it’s not the sermon that changes. It’s you! Like the waters in a stream, your life is constantly flowing as old water moves down the line and is replaced by new water.

God is always up to something new not only in your outward circumstances but also in your inner spiritual life. This is why Jesus said that if you want to follow Him, you must pick up your cross each day (Luke 9:23). Whatever else we might say about God, He refuses to be predictable. If you think that God is boring, that’s a tell-tale indicator that you aren’t walking with Him very closely. The apostles walked with Jesus every day, but I’ll guarantee you they would never have classified Him as predictable or boring.

And even though non-churchgoers might be loathe to agree, God does have something fresh and new for each attendee at each church service. He’s faithful in that way. The question is: Will we keep ourselves spiritually in tune enough with Him to catch what He is tossing us during each service? Ah, there’s the deciding factor.

So the next time you attend church, be sure to ask God to make it crystal clear to you what He wants you to get out of the service. That’s a prayer request He’ll surely be glad to answer. And if you will put His answer into action, it will make a marked difference in your life. For that matter, it will also make a marked difference in your church as God molds and shapes you into a servant who doesn’t just take  from church but also contributes to it. That, you see, is the highest ideal in regards to church services, and it’s where God ultimately wants to get you.

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Fear in the Life of the Christian

The August 14, 1989, edition of Time magazine reported the bizarre story of a man from East Detroit who, for all intents and purposes, had died of fear. This man had gone on a number of fur-trapping expeditions over the course of his life and had consequently been bitten by ticks many times. He’d never thought much about the bites until the day he’d first heard about Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks. That news had sent him into an obsessive panic.

The man had become convinced that not only had he become infected with the disease but that he’d passed it along to his wife. He’d gone to multiple doctors and been tested, but each test had come back negative. Even more than that, each doctor had explained to him that it was virtually impossible for one person to transmit the disease to another person.

But the doctors hadn’t been able to calm the man’s fear, and in the end he’d gone completely insane and had killed both his wife and himself. When the police had arrived at the home, they’d found the man’s mailbox stuffed with all kinds of material describing Lyme’s disease. They’d also found a doctor’s slip confirming that he had recently scheduled yet another appointment to be tested again for the disease.

Fear. It can ruin your life if you let it. Do you have something right now that is creating a ton of fear in your life? If you do, have you talked to God about it? More importantly, have you rolled your fear over onto Him and trusted Him with the problem? Needless to say, you haven’t if the fear is still with you. You should heed the counsel of that wise person who said, “Don’t be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Matthew 6:25-34 is the Bible’s great passage on fear and the worry fear produces. There Jesus explains that God taking care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field proves that He’ll also take care of His people, who are of far more value to Him than the birds and the lilies. It should be understood, though, that the passage is addressed specifically to Christ’s followers. In other words, if a person doesn’t know Jesus as Savior, reading that passage is about like reading someone else’s mail. For the Christian, though, Christ’s promise stands true. So, Christian, claim the promise as your own, activate it in your life, and walk peacefully in the knowledge that the God of all creation is your heavenly Father, is on the case for you, and has infinite resources at His disposal.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Courage, Depression, Doubt, Faith, Fear, God's Love, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, Needs, Peace, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Colossians 3:23

The Christian should be the best worker in the place. And the primary motivation shouldn’t be to get a promotion, win awards, or score points with the boss. Instead, it should be because the Christian understands that he or she is, in actuality, working for the Lord. In other words, Jesus wants every corner of our lives, and that includes the corner we call “work.” Similarly, we should give full effort in everything we do, whatever it happens to be (washing the car, doing the dishes, mowing the yard, teaching Sunday School, singing in the church choir, etc., etc., etc.). In this week’s podcast, Malcolm and I start with Colossians 3:23 and explore this concept of Christians always doing their best and giving full effort in whatever we do.

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The Trouble With Convenient Ships

But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshsish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3, N.K.J.V.)

Jonah really didn’t want to go to Nineveh and preach, as God had plainly told him to do (Jonah 1:1-2). His reason for not wanting to go there wasn’t noble, either. Nineveh was the capital city of the notoriously wicked Assyrian empire, and even as Jonah heard God’s command to go there and preach, he had a feeling deep down that God wasn’t actually going to lower the boom on those people (as Jonah felt they deserved). He even told God, “If I go there and preach, you won’t condemn those people; you’ll convert them” (Jonah 3:10; 4:1-2). And that’s exactly what happened in the end.

But I don’t want to focus upon Jonah’s vengeful attitude toward those citizens of Nineveh. I want to focus instead upon that ship that he boarded in Joppa, the one bound for Tarshsish. Tarshsish, in case you don’t know, was in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. Have you ever noticed how there always seems to be a ship that will take you in the opposite direction of God’s will?

On this subject, H.G. Bosch wrote:

How prone we are to seize upon that which is convenient as being that which is correct! When we get out of the will of God, it is surprising how many excuses we can find for going our own way. Deeply impressed with our carnal desires, we quickly interpret that which may be only coincidental as a significant indication of God’s will for us…Beware of misinterpreting convenient ships! Remember that the so-called “opportunity” may actually be the Devil’s snare, the world’s allurement, or the path of self-will that will result in God’s chastening.

If Jonah operated like a lot of today’s Christians, he arrived in Joppa, found that ship bound for Tarshsish, and thought to himself, “If God didn’t want me to go to Tarshsish this ship wouldn’t be here for me to board.” Have you ever used that kind of logic? Isn’t it amazing how much God gets blamed for! If Jonah did think that, I’m sure God was sitting up in heaven thinking, “No, I told you to go to Nineveh, not  Joppa. If you had minded Me, you’d never have even laid eyes on that ship.”

Jonah knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t go to Joppa on a whim or end up there by chance. He went there purposely because he knew it was a port city that had a harbor that lead out into the Mediterranean Sea toward Tarshsish. In other words, he knew he would find a ship there bound for Tarshsish because such ships were commonplace there. You see, when we are running from what God wants us to do, we become diabolical geniuses.

Perhaps you are struggling right now with a decision, and perhaps you are “going Jonah” with it. You know what God wants you to do but you don’t want to do it, and so you have created a scenario whereby you can do what you want to do, and you are calling that scenario God’s open door. Well, all I can say about that is what H.G. Bosch said about it: Beware of misinterpreting convenient ships! 

Don’t think that just because God hasn’t personally stepped down from heaven and brought your little operation to nothing that He is approving it. He might even let you keep doing what you are doing for an extended period. At some point, though, He’ll start turning the operation sour, and when that happens you can start looking for the “great fish” backlash that is headed your way. This, you see, is the ultimate destination of every “convenient ship” and it’s one you’d be well advised to avoid.

 

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Holiness, Mercy, Grace, & Wrath

God is a God of perfect holiness. Each human being is a sinner. Herein lies the problem.

Fortunately for us, God is also a God of love. And it is out of this love that He extends mercy to each human being. This mercy takes the form of Him not immediately passing the sentence of physical death and eternal damnation that each human’s sins warrant by violating His holiness.

But God doesn’t stop at being merciful. No, He takes things one step further by offering grace to each sinner (Titus 2:11). Grace is nothing less than undeserved favor. So now we’ve gone from God’s holiness, to His love, to His mercy, to (potentially) His undeserved favor.

You’ll note that I worked in the word “potentially” there. Why did I do that? It’s because the grace that God offers doesn’t just magically wash over us as we sleep. Instead, it must be purposefully accepted.

And how do you accept it? You do so by accepting (placing your belief/faith in) Jesus Christ — God in the flesh who died as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the human race and then arose from the dead — as your personal Savior. John 1:18 says that grace came through Jesus. Romans 1:5 says that we receive grace through Jesus. Acts 15:11 says that salvation comes through Jesus’ grace.

Once you have accepted God’s grace by accepting Jesus, the channel of that grace, you are afforded all kinds of spiritual privileges by that grace. These privileges are referred to as “the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). For example:

  • you are saved — saved from the eternal punishment your sins deserve — by grace (Ephesians 2:5,8)
  • you are justified — declared righteous — by grace (Romans 3:24)
  • you are given everlasting consolation and good hope by grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
  • you are guaranteed to spend eternity with Jesus by grace (1 Peter 1:13)
  • God’s holy throne becomes a throne of grace to you (Hebrews 4:16)
  • you stand in grace (Romans 5:2)

With such spiritual privileges granted to the person who has placed belief/faith in Jesus as Savior, you would think that everyone would take God up on the offer. Tragically, though, this is far from the case. And if an individual will not accept God’s grace by accepting Jesus, then all that is left for that individual is God’s eternal wrath, which stems from His holiness. And so now we are back to the original problem: God is a God of perfect holiness, and each human being is a born sinner. God has done His part to remedy that problem. Have you?

Posted in Belief, Christ's Death, Christ's Resurrection, Eternity, Faith, God's Wrath, God's Love, God's mercy, Grace, Mercy, Salvation, The Gospel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Step By Step

Summertime is vacation time, and many of us have either already taken one this summer or will be taking one in the coming weeks. Vacations, of course, usually have to be planned. We plan our destination. We plan our route. We plan our departure time. We plan our arrival time. We plan our second departure time. We even loosely plan our itinerary.

But imagine taking a trip in which God says: “I want you to get in your car and start driving and I’ll let you know where you’re going sometime along the way. Until I let you know, you just keep listening for My voice at every turn, stop sign, intersection, crossroad, and exit ramp. If I say, ‘Turn here,’ you make the turn. If I say, ‘Get on this road,’ you get on the road. If I say, ‘Take this exit,” you take the exit. If I say, ‘Stop here at this place,’ you stop.” Could you travel like that? Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three Bible stories in which God instructed people to take such trips.

#1: God told Abram (Abraham), “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Hebrews 11:8 says that Abraham “…went out, not knowing where he was going.” Would you be obedient enough to uproot from the only life and home you had ever known and head out into the great unknown with God?

#2: Following the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, their only daytime g.p.s was a pillar of cloud, and their only nighttime g.p.s. was a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-22). There were probably over two million people in that group, and God expected that massive horde to do their traveling by following the appropriate pillar. Wherever it went, they followed. Whenever it stopped, they stopped.

#3: As part of Saul of Tarsus’ encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, Jesus told him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Saul, who had been struck blind by the encounter, was led into Damascus by some helpful men. Once there, he waited, blind, for the next three days, eating nothing and drinking nothing. Only then did God send Ananias, a Damascus Christian, to lay hands on him, after which he immediately regained his sight.

What each of these stories shows us is that God’s will is oftentimes revealed in street signs rather than road maps. But we don’t like walking on a moment-by-moment basis with God, do we? We don’t like asking Him for day-by-day bread (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). We don’t like having to get up each morning and look to him for the next allotment of manna (Exodus 16:1-36). We want Him to give us the whole bakery at once and trust us to do a good job of managing it.

But God knows that the regiment that best allows us to build our trust in Him and our obedience to Him is the moment-by-moment, day-by-day grind. That’s why He gives us meal-sized portions rather than the whole pantry at once. It’s also why He doesn’t let us know the end from the beginning as we travel down life’s road.

So, if you are genuinely confused about what your next move should be, let me advise you to do two things. First, sincerely ask God for His guidance, having the faith that He’ll answer that request (James 1:5-8) by way of: a Bible passage, an open door, a closed door, a word of counsel, an undeniable burden, a specific word from His Spirit, or a circumstance. Second, as you await that guidance, just do the next thing that is right in front of you. Sometimes you don’t get the guidance for the second step until you’ve taken the first one.

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“Christian Verses” Podcast: 1 Corinthians 10:13

Temptation. We all face it. Even Jesus faced it. If I asked you, “What specific temptation are you dealing with these days?” the chances are high that you could name one. But the good news is that God has made a standing promise concerning temptation. That promise is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is the focal verse for this week’s podcast. So join Malcolm and I as we discuss this verse and this topic. We’ll talk about God’s part in helping us resist temptation and we’ll talk about our part. To listen to the podcast just click on the link below:

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