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Contact me at Mom25dogs@gmail.com

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Church

Church - The derivation of the word is generally said to be from the Greek kuriakon, "belonging to the Lord" or "the Lord's house". The Greek word for church was cclesia, originally meant an assembly. The word is used to denote the assemblage of Christians together as in "We go to church on Sundays". It also refers to the whole body of believers who have been redeemed by the Lamb of God as in "Christ is the head of the church". Sometimes it was used to denote believers in a certain place such as "We need to pray for the church in Iraq." The church visible (called visible because the members are known and the meetings are public) consists of all true believers in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation.

Unfortunately, the visible church usually has a mix of unbelievers as well. They may have deluded themselves into believing they are believers or they may recognize they are unbelievers but for their own reasons, they still attend church. Maybe it gives them the community they need or validation that they are a good person. We can only hope that they will one day see the truth as it's presented in their church and their hearts will be turned to the Lord.

The church invisible “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof.” This is a pure society, the church in which Christ dwells. It is the body of Christ. it is called “invisible” because the greater part of those who constitute it are already in heaven or are yet unborn, and also because its members still on earth cannot certainly be distinguished. The qualifications of membership in it are internal and are hidden. It is unseen except by Him who “searches the heart.” “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). - Easton's Bible Dictionary

In the Gospel of Matthew, the church is spoken of as "the kingdom" thirty six times. It is also referred to as Christ's flock with Himself as the Shepherd; He is the vine and we are the branches; and the church is the salt and light of the world (i.e. we bring the light of salvation to a dark world and we bring the good flavor and preservative of salt to a rotten, dying world).

Today, there are many denominations within the Protestant Christian aegis - Baptist, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Anglicans, etc and that's not counting the Catholic and Orthodox religions who also preach Jesus Christ as Head and Savior. Each of these denominations may have started well but ended up, many times, becoming the very thing they repulsed when they started their denominations to begin with. Baptist churches have just as much rules and regulations as Catholic and Assembly of God and Church of Christ. It seems to be the natural progression to start with the excitement of being led by the Holy Spirit, a church with Christ in charge and as the Head. But then we, as human beings, begin to add to and subtract from so that soon we are becoming just as regulated and man-controlled as all the other denominations. We begin to insist that baptism is rightly done this way or that way. We have a written schedule or service that we pass out at the door called a bulletin. We follow that to the letter and to the minute so that we can let out on time. Heaven forbid that God should jump out of the box we put Him in and really surprise us one day with His Presence! We read the prayers and read the responsive readings, recite liturgy and sing approved hymns. We partake in the Lord's Supper (Communion) in certain ways and our's is the only right way. Even evangelical churches are now becoming set in their ways and legalistic in their way of doing things. We expect people to follow all the rules that we've developed in order to be considered a Christian and if you can't follow the rules, you are a backslider and you aren't want in this church.

Please don't misunderstand me. There is balance in all things and God is in the balance. Yes, if you are openly, brazenly, willfully, delightedly rebelling by living in sin, then you may need some church discipline. Loving discipline, caring discipline, sensitive confrontation. But the other end of the spectrum is that nobody is perfect and sinless except Jesus Christ which is why we are all in need of Him to start with. The church is made up of human beings who are sinners saved by the work Christ has done not on anything we have done. So, in a sense, we are all hypocrites in the eyes of the world. The Bible says we shouldn't curse and yet, if I hit my hand with a hammer and curse word flies out, I have sinned. The person next to me might hear and think, "Hmpf! And she thinks she's a Christian because she goes to church." That person doesn't know my heart. They don't know that I asked God's forgiveness for my outburst because it was a private moment between God and I. So yes, I sinned and I was a hypocrite because I sinned even though I'm a Christian and a church goer. But I still have a relationship with God because Jesus forgave me. As long as I repent, Jesus is always there to forgive. Only He knows the truth: whether I'm happy in my sin and rebellion or I hate my sin and desire forgiveness.

And there is balance in religious practices. It can be dry, dull, cold, devoid of meaning to some or warm, loving, worship to others. I can read a prayer and think, "How boring" or I can read a prayer as though it were coming from my heart direct to God's heart. So religious practices and ceremonies are bad or good depending on the person and their relationship with God.

So where does that leave us as far as the church? Which church do we attend? Which denomination do we associate with? When I was a child, my parents were Baptist to the core and whatever town we moved to (Dad was a TVA Engineer and we moved around a lot in my first 8 yrs of life) they joined the First Baptist Church of ______ .  This was in the early 1960's, during the Civil Rights Era. One time, my parents were new in a town and there were two First Baptists in the town's center. They got to church late that day. The services had already started and they pulled into one of the First Baptist Church's parking lots, got out and went in only to find that my lily white parents had chosen the black First Baptist Church. The good thing was that the ushers were very kind and offered to seat them. The bad thing was my parents were so mortified to be the only white people in the church that they left and crossed the street to the white First Baptist Church. If you think they were racists, you must understand the times and the fact that my parents taught me about black people being just as much God's children as white people DESPITE the times they grew up in. They were the least racist of their generation. And they always felt guilty that they left the service that morning but, during those times, in a small southern town in the mountains of Tennessee, I'm sure, for all involved, they did the right thing. At that time, in that place, it just wasn't the thing that was done without repercussions on both sides. Now, thank God, it's a different time and we can worship together without repercussions!

But back to our subject. Churches seem to be hemorrhaging congregants (members, active participators). Here in America, I believe a large part of the blame goes to society's hostility to Christianity. Our government has gone along with it by separating church and state (despite this is NOT in the U.S. Constitution, but rather the First Amendment is freedom for religion). Our schools no longer can include memorizing the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Golden Rule, and John 3:16 in the curriculum like we did when I was in grammar school. Schools can no longer have prayers read every morning, once a week or once a year, not even at sporting events. Schools can no longer offer courses in Bible or tell Bible stories to grammar school students. I remember when I was in the 1st ad 2nd grades, we had a lady who brought these beautiful felt boards to class and told us Bible stories using the felt boards and figures to illustrate. That was in my public school. We learned honesty, friendship, cooperation, being kind, faithfulness, etc from those Bible studies. But it's not allowed in our schools any more. We also have TV, movies, news and music pouring out filth all day long. Then, more and more, people mock, ridicule, and pick on people who are Christians and have beliefs in Jesus Christ. Our society has become more intolerant of Christianity and, yet, more tolerant of any other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Muslim, New Age, Wiccan, etc.

Although I believe this to be the biggest reason our church numbers are going down, I have other theories that contribute to it. Some churches are becoming too rigid. They are so legalistic, impersonal, inflexible. They will not accept any other Bible but the King James Version. They will not allow their ministers to preach anything but what's prescribed according to the church calendar. They will not let a pastor have a new revelation to share with his members.

On the other hand, some churches are too flexible, too culturally relevant, too willing to accept everything that comes down the pike. Suddenly churches are changing their names from First Baptist Church of _____ to The Praise Church or The Community Church. To deliberately confuse people about your denomination is a little deceptive to me. Then there are those who attend church leadership seminars that teach you how to increase your numbers. Or they hire church growth consultants. Let's do away with the church book store. That's so last century. Now it's coffee bars with friendly barristas. Let's put the pastor on a stool in a sweater and jeans instead of a 3 piece suit. Let's paint the church ceiling black, add colored lights and have a praise band. Let's conduct worship as though it were a rock concert. Let's keep the preaching to a "feel good story" so that we don't offend anyone, just in case there is a non-believer attending who might get thrown off and never come back. Let's quit having Sunday School, that's old fashioned. Now we are going to call it cell groups. Let's start encouraging our members to have interesting groups like a scrapbooking group, a motorcycle group, a fishing group, a group for single mom's, etc. This is suppose to promote friendships and community within the church.

Let me say that there is nothing wrong with any of that, especially the coffee bar! LOL! I love and need my coffee. But remember, God is in the balance. I think it goes back to the intention of the heart. These new fangled things can be just as fake and shallow as the old fangled ways. It can lead to entertainment rather than worship. It can become just as rigid in it's ways as the old ways were. Which is where people leave the church. When they realize it's just a fad, a trend, a way to get them in the door and take their money... they won't stay no matter how fancy or expensive your programs are.

Most pastors, leaders, churches will say they are trying to win the lost and integrate new believers into the church. I pray that it's true, but I believe it's less true than even they think it is. I believe in many cases it's pride, ego, greed, ambition. Let's face it, the pressure from church leadership, congregations, the world, is to have a mega-church. A mega-church means you have money to spend, and especially to spend on pastor's salaries. You have money to spend on perks and benefits. You have money to spend on traveling and housing allowances. Some of these ministry leaders have their own jets, multiple mansions, expensive clothes, jewelry, etc. They are the "rock stars" of the religious community. Some even have people who are so devoted to them they are almost literally body slaves. They will be running to take their coat, bring them water, move their chair for them, run their errands, etc. It's like they are groupies. These churches will have the biggest buildings and programs so that the whole world knows they are superstars! Money flooding in to keep those huge buildings maintained and comfy. They have the best of everything. And they begin tightening control to keep it under them. I mean, if I could choose a career, what better career to have than to be a pastor at a mega church! I wouldn't lack for money, fame, comfort and it would all be under my control! Wouldn't that tempt you? Well, it tempts any man or woman! They may start off with a right heart but it doesn't take long for these things to turn their heads. It's why so many end up in scandals too. It takes an extraordinary person to be able to withstand these temptations. Any man/woman would be blinded by ambition, would become greedy for more, would begin making decisions based on how it would affect the numbers and dollars instead of the hearts. And, sadly, it's not just the pastors but the church leadership, staff and upper church laity that pressures pastors to put on a dog and pony show to get in more numbers and dollars. A perfectly good pastor who is not bringing more people in, may soon be shown the door. If he isn't charismatic enough, not entertaining enough to draw the crowds, then he's considered a failure.

So what do you look for in a pastor? Someone who is educated. But then there are many educated fools too. Someone who is good with people. But then many shysters are charming just read Elmer Gantry. Someone who is organized and has good administrative and managerial abilities. But it's not a corporation they are organizing with profit as the sole motive (or is it?). Someone who has good counseling skills and a background in counseling. But how many counselors have given bad advice or gotten tangled up in scandal? It's very difficult to decide what to look for in a pastor and a church. I cannot know the heart of a man I've just met so how do I vote for him or accept him as my pastor by joining the church?

So what is church? How do I recognize the real church, the invisible church? We are but humans with a limited scope. We can't read minds, we can't know hearts. All we can go by is what we see and hear. Fortunately, we have a secret weapon. Every true believer has the Holy Spirit within them. In fact, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation. Much like a King would wear a seal ring that he used by pressing it into wax. It was to let anyone know that the communique was from the real King. Well, the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of every believer and let's anyone know that we are true believers, members of the real catholic ("catholic" meaning the universal church NOT as in denomination) church.

With the Holy Spirit in me, I have the Father's direction if I will but listen to it. I'm not going church shopping and look for the church that meets everything on my list. I'm going to church and look to see if I see God there and if God prompts me. How do I know an apple tree is an apple tree? Because I see the apples on it! If I see the fruit of God in the church, then it's worth a good look. My human-ness can only look at results or the fruit to determine if it's godly or not. But I don't stop there because my human-ness can be wrong. I can misinterpret what I see or hear if I'm not careful. So I must take it to God in prayer and ask His guidance. I once read something that changed my life. God wants us to do His Will, to follow Him, to obey Him. If I want that too, then it's going to happen! I place my will in submission to His Will that's the key. If I want what He wants, it will happen! It's not a tight rope. If I'm truly submissive to His direction it becomes a path that broadens as we go not a tight rope that get's smaller until we fall off. Now if I want MY way against God's way, we got a problem. We have to be sure that we truly want God's way; that there are no hidden agendas in our heart. In this case, God wants me to attend church and I want to attend church. So I can pray that God will lead me to the right church, the place where I'm suppose to be. Then trust that He will.

And don't select a church based on your human List of Wants. For instance, let's say a family with 3 children are looking for a church. Here is what their List of Wants might look like:

* A good children's program with lot's of money. A church that has a children's wing, with a painted street scene, with a playground that has rubber matts, A church that has a dedicated children's ministry pastor with a long degree list and all the whiz bangs that go with it.

* A youth group that has all the bells and whistles - jumbo trons, their own service, church apps for their smart phones, a youth group Facebook page and/or website, multiple youth events and activities to keep them busy in a safe environment. A dedicated youth group minister and youth praise band. Their own sanctuary painted black with colored strobe lights.

* A coffee bar in the lobby and Wednesday night suppers.

* Lots of "outreach" programs to keep us all busy in healthy, safe ways

* Easy parking, comfy pews, perfect heat/ac and jumbo trons with professional videos developed to bring the church news (instead of relying on the old church bulletins) or play christian videos on.

* Some married fellowship groups so you can make friends: a young married supper club; a group that takes trips together; a men's bicycle club; a women's craft circle, etc

Are any of these "wants" wrong? Not necessarily. But they are if that's why you are going to church. Remember, church is the assembling of true believers with GOD as the focus, the head. It's not about us. It's about HIM! Back in the old days, people endured hardship to get to church. Then they sat on hard log pews without heat/ac, without a sound system or electronic and digital aids, without an educated preacher, without orchestras or even a piano. Why? Because they wanted to learn about God, worship God and encourage each other in their faith. We must get our priorities straight. There is no problem with fellowship with other believers and having friends and a good time together. There is no problems with newer music or having a cup of coffee in the sanctuary. The problem is when this becomes our center of attention and God is no longer the center of attention.

The pastor may be a wonderful pastor, but if the people don't have their hearts in line with a desire to meet God when they go to church, it's not going to work. And vice versa. There may be many in the church who are longing to meet with God when they go on Sunday mornings, but the pastor is working on his own agenda. It is up to each of us to have our hearts right, to have our relationship with God current, to have a spirit that is open to His leading, to have our desires second to His. We must find a church that nurtures that in us. Where we look forward to going to church NOT because we can get coffee or hear some good music or meet our friends but because we want to meet with God, learn about God, worship God, sing to God! We have a love relationship with Him and church is a place where we should be able to go and look forward to meeting God.

The birth of the church happened on the Day of Pentecost. There had been individual believers before then like the 12 disciples (most of who became the 12 Apostles after Christ's death and resurrection). But on that day, the Holy Spirit was released to dwell in believers.

Easy To Read Version (ERV) - Acts 2:1-8 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. (2) Suddenly a noise came from heaven. It sounded like a strong wind blowing. This noise filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) They saw something that looked like flames of fire. The flames were separated and stood over each person there. (4) They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak different languages. The Holy Spirit was giving them the power to do this. (5) There were some godly Jews in Jerusalem at this time. They were from every country in the world. (6) A large crowd came together because they heard the noise. They were surprised because, as the apostles were speaking, everyone heard in their own language. (7) They were all amazed at this. They did not understand how the apostles could do this. They said, "Look! These men we hear speaking are all from Galilee. (8) But we hear them in our own languages. How is this possible? We are from all these different places...(Acts 2:11b-21)  Some of us were born Jews, and others have changed their religion to worship God like Jews. We are from these different countries, but we can hear these men in our own languages! We can all understand the great things they are saying about God." (12) The people were all amazed and confused. They asked each other, "What is happening?" (13) But others were laughing at the apostles, saying they were drunk from too much wine. (14) Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles. He spoke loudly so that all the people could hear. He said, "My Jewish brothers and all of you who live in Jerusalem, listen to me. I will tell you something you need to know. Listen carefully. (15) These men are not drunk as you think; it's only nine o'clock in the morning. (16) But Joel the prophet wrote about what you see happening here today. This is what he wrote: (17) 'God says: In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will have special dreams. (18) In those days I will pour out my Spirit on my servants, men and women, and they will prophesy. (19) I will work wonders in the sky above. I will cause miraculous signs on the earth below. There will be blood, fire, and thick smoke. (20) The sun will be changed into darkness, and the moon will be as red as blood. Then the great and glorious day of the Lord will come. (21) And everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved.'Acts 2:41-47 Then those who accepted what Peter said were baptized. On that day about 3000 people were added to the group of believers. (42) The believers spent their time listening to the teaching of the apostles. They shared everything with each other. They ate together and prayed together. (43) Many wonders and miraculous signs were happening through the apostles, and everyone felt great respect for God. (44) All the believers stayed together and shared everything. (45) They sold their land and the things they owned. Then they divided the money and gave it to those who needed it. (46) The believers shared a common purpose, and every day they spent much of their time together in the Temple area. They also ate together in their homes. They were happy to share their food and ate with joyful hearts. (47) The believers praised God and were respected by all the people. More and more people were being saved every day, and the Lord was adding them to their group.


Here is a snapshot picture of the first church 2,000 years ago. The centrality of the message was salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, in John 12:32-33 (Modern King James Version - MKJV), "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself." But He said this, signifying what kind of death He was about to die."

If Jesus is the center of our church, the center of our hearts, the center of our family, then we are on the right track. But if we've tried to control Him and keep Him in a box, where we let Him out or stuff Him back in according to our whims, then we've gotten off track. You notice that Jesus didn't say, "If you will have a big comfortable, beautiful church with lots of money and programs, then all men will be drawn to the church." He said, "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto Me."

He was lifted on the cross to die for our sins, then He was resurrected to give us eternal life. In our churches, we must lift Him up and show Him to all who come in the doors. We must witness and testify of salvation through His death on the cross and forgiveness and eternal life through His resurrection. We must worship Him because of this. We must listen to His Words because He is the love of our life. We must hang on every Word He speaks. We must sing of His goodness. We must pray for others to know Him. We must love in His Name. We must encourage and edify each other to keep the faith. This is church! And I believe it's the only true way to draw people to Christ.

One day, God showed me the reason why the New Jerusalem, the true City of God, that will be established upon Jesus' Second Coming, has streets of gold, gates of huge pearls, foundations of precious gemstones and mansions for every believer.... it's because we could care less about gold, silver, gemstones and mansions! We will thirst and hunger only for the true treasure of Jesus Christ! We will finally be beyond the temptations of worldly things. Our only desire will be for Him and Him only. Therefore He can safely give us all things. There will no longer be a temptation to make them into idols. On this earth, in our human nature, we let greed and pride drive us into making idols of money, fame, power, control. But, we will no longer be tempted by these things. He will willingly and delightedly give us anything we want because our true desire is Him first and always.

I believe it is much the same with church. When we finally get our priorities straight and we put Him first, all things will follow in the right order. He must be lifted up! He must be the center of our church! He must be the one in control, not us! When we seek Him first, then all other things will come together in the way it's suppose to.

Matthew 6:33-34 (Contemporary English Version - CEV)  But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. (34)  Don't worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.

How dare we tell God how the order of the service should go? How dare we tell God, "Don't show up on Sunday mornings because we are afraid You will scare away newcomers"! How dare we tell members of the church not to lift their hands in praise or kneel on their knees in reverence! How dare we snub anyone because their prayers were too loud! How dare we put a stop to the worship of God because time is getting away from us and the attendees of the 2nd service will get nettled! Why can't they come on in and join in the worship? How dare we try to box God in and give Him a list of our instructions telling Him what He can and cannot do!

So, pray to God first and ask Him to lead you to a church. Make sure your desire is His desire. Next, look for a church that puts God first and foremost in the services. Not a man, not a singing group, not a famous evangelical but Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised again. Then look at the fruits of the church. Are people being truly saved (versus excited and pumped up instead of really saved)? Are people learning from the Word of God? Are people exhibiting love for others? Are those struggling with sin finding a home or are they virtually tossed out? Are they learning that they have a friend in Jesus, one who forgives them when they fail, one who lives inside them to help them so they don't fail so much? Are people having needs ministered to and are the lost approached with a helping hand? Such as a homeless ministry, a food kitchen, help for poverty stricken families, etc. Many churches have these "programs" which are wonderful as long as Jesus is the reason!!! Are people loving God in heart and action?

So I'm not telling you to attend a certain denomination. I'm not telling you to follow a certain preacher. I'm not telling you to go to the church with the biggest steeple. You will not find a perfect church. Churches don't do it all right. Pastors aren't 100% every day. That is an unrealistic expectation. But look for the church where God is the leader, the head, the center of attention, the only wise King. I had a wonderful church for many years but the last few there were a disaster with some things that I could not go along with. Things that went against my understanding of God, my beliefs. They were not so childish as not liking the color of the new carpet or having a disagreement with one person. I felt they were more serious and deserved some careful prayer and change in direction from the leadership (not just the pastor). I was not only snubbed by those in leadership but attacked. In the 25 yrs we had attended that church, we were never troublemakers. This was not a pattern in us. Why they thought we suddenly were making trouble, I don't understand. So we left our church and are still looking for a church several years later. I want to find another church and I've prayed to find one. I have attended many in my town and just haven't found the right fit for us. But God won't let us down. Meanwhile I've joined a wonderful women's Bible study which has acted as a gathering of believers for me. I want to find a church, God wants me to find a church, it will happen. I have to believe that, as of this time, there is a season and a reason why we haven't found one yet. Meanwhile, I'm not looking for big show, entertainment value, lots of programs to keep me busy, fashionable trends, being culturally relevant. Or course, some churches are good churches but they aren't my style. I'm not a country music lover so those who lean heavily towards bluegrass gospel are not really my style. I don't look down on them, I think they have just as much to offer as any other church. Some people are classical music lovers so a contemporary service would be hard for them. That's OK. We are all different. The main thing is that we look for a church where Jesus is the reason for it's existence. Whether it's a fancy church or a small chapel, whether they sing new praise songs or old hymns, it's the hearts that matter. It's not suppose to be about us, but about HIM!

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