It was a hard day at church Sunday. Perhaps the hardest I have ever experienced. Definitely the hardest I ever want to experience.
We hoped and prayed that last Sunday would never come. But Sunday, our church family at Bethel Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas voted to begin the process of transferring the property deed to the Parker Baptist Association. John Thielepape, the Association’s Director of Missions and the Association’s Executive Board will administer the transfer of our deed. We look forward to seeing how God will use the facilities for His glory to reach people that we might never have been able to.
For several years, Bethel has been on life support. We saw the demise coming several years ago and sold our parsonage. We had a flood a few years later and due to the insurance settlement, we were able to do some much-needed updates of the vintage 1970s-era carpet and paneling. All of this helped keep us afloat. For a while.
Last November, as we considered the 2013 budget, our treasurer informed us that with our current average expenses and income, we had about 4-6 months left of savings. I challenged our people to fast and pray through December and be ready to discuss at our quarterly business meeting what we felt God was telling us. At the January meeting we said that we felt that God still had work for us to do at our location. Perhaps we were in denial. God continued to provide for our finances through October — eleven months into our “4-6 months”. He’s still providing. He always does. He always will, but not necessarily the way that we pray for – or expect.
If our church has been on life support, then last Sunday was the time to “call in the family”. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the realities I presented, though not all of us were ready to “pull the plug”. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any one of us wants to pull the plug. But there comes a time that you have done all that you can do to extend life and that the life support no longer extends life; it actually extends death. And we have passed that point.
It is only a matter of time before we close the doors of the church as a fellowship. We will soon turn the page and close the book on Bethel Baptist Church. As we seek God’s plans for us as individuals, we look forward to seeing how He will use what we have learned and the experiences He has blessed us with. And we look forward to seeing how He will use our facilities in the future.
Only He knows. But as I have told our people for over six years, it’s not about us; it’s about Him and His Kingdom. We get to show up and participate.
But Sunday wasn’t just a hard day. It was also a great day to spend time together with our church family. Most importantly, we praised and worshiped the God Who called us together to begin with. Our task at this point is to continue to seek His lead as we move forward.
A couple of weeks ago, I was blessed to serve on the ministry team on one of Fellowship of the Sword‘s Quest. One morning, I gave a quick overview of the postures of worship from the Old Testament. Even though it’s a Christian event, we don’t talk about where we go to church — it helps to keep out debates about our differences, in order to capitalize on our similarities. Too often, we are know by our denomination (i.e., a math term for “division”) rather than our love (John 13:35). But I digress.
As I later reflected on this brief teaching, I was struck by an arresting thought … which I’ll get to in a moment.
Think about the last time you went to a concert or sporting event (or watched one on TV). What did you see?
I saw people reaching out to the performer as he walked across the stage. I heard lots of shouting and singing while the band played musical instruments. Backup singers swayed to the music. Dancers danced. Fans threw their hands up in the air when their team scored the winning touchdown. Lots of smiling. Lots of laughing. Lots of fun!
Regardless of their favorite sport or type of music — regardless of their favorite team, band, or artist — everyone at the event responds with spontaneous outward expressions of excitement.
The only times people don’t show their excitement at these events are:
1.When there’s nothing to get excited about. I remember when I wasn’t a Tarheels fan and they went into a “Four Corners” stall (in the days before the shot clock). Who wants to see five guys toss the ball to each other, with no intention of taking a shot? There’s nothing exciting about that!
2. When people don’t have “skin in the game”. For instance, I find it difficult to get excited about hockey. The same for baseball. I might go if someone I cared about was taking me. But I wouldn’t be there for the event. However, put me in an arena watching the ‘Heels play basketball… well, that’s another story!
Now think about the last time you were in church. What did you see? For some of us, it’s been a long time. But again, I digress.
I saw people sitting when they were supposed to, standing when they were supposed to, and singing when they were supposed to. No spontaneous outward expressions of excitement.
I get the fact that each of our divisions, er… denominations have different customs. Some sit. Some stand. Some kneel. But how often are there spontaneous outward expressions of excitement in our churches?
Perhaps the reason why there are no spontaneous outward expressions of excitement in church is that there is nothing to get excited about. Predictable order of things. Predictable music. Predictable preaching. In a word, it’s predictable.
Or, perhaps there is something to get excited about, but we don’t experience spontaneous outward expressions because we don’t have “skin in the game”.
The bottom line is this: our spontaneous outward expressions of excitement reveal the value we place on what we are doing. They reveal the state of its worth. “Worth-ship” is the basis of the word, “worship”.
Now to my arresting thought:
How dare we give less to an Almighty, All-Sufficient, All-Sovereign, All-Satisfying God?
So how do you worship?
As I was preparing tomorrow’s sermon, a random thought came to my mind about Easter. It had nothing to do with tomorrow’s message.
Sacrifices, though bloody, were relatively clean and simple: plunge a sharp object into the heart or slit the throat with a sharp instrument…. death was very quick, lasting only a few seconds, if that long. If you’ve ever witnessed the slaughter of a goat, chicken, or some other animal, you know that there’s no suffering.
The ultimate sacrifice: Jesus Christ, however was very different.
Hours were involved from his arrest until he breathed his last breath on the cross.
beard plucked out
scourging with innumerable lashes
carrying the cross
stumbling under its weight
perhaps breaking his nose as he fell on the hard ground
nails driven into His hands
nail driven into His feet
cross dropped into the hole with a sudden stop at the bottom
hanging on the cross for hours in the hot sun
disgustingly nasty sponge with vinegar touching His lips
all the while, bleeding
struggling for breath
To ultimately atone for sin required the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than a simple slash of a knife in a ceremonial fashion, His death was carried out brutally by the forces of hell itself through perfected means, designed to inflict the most pain over the longest period of time. Sadism at its worst — on display.
I confess that I rarely consider the immensity of that sacrifice. And for that sin, His death also atones.
Thank God for Easter: an annual opportunity to remember.
A few days ago, I sent out a Tweet and updated my Facebook Status, with a quote from Sam Storms at the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference:
“People are in bondage to sin because they’re bored stiff with God.”
From my iPhone I saw that I had several responses, including one or two from a friend from seminary. I went on Facebook this morning to respond to his comments, but he had removed them while I was “unplugged” yesterday. I’m not sure why he did it, but it seemed a bit cowardly to remove them. I don’t know if he will check back on this, but I feel that I must respond. If he chooses to respond, I will publish his response(s).
If I remember correctly, he said that he didn’t think that a “true Christian” could live in bondage, that someone came to a saving knowledge couldn’t live in bondage.
Well since our authority is God’s Word, let’s see what God has to say about it…
Look at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-35. A problem had arisen because some Jewish believers felt that in order to be saved, you had to become a Jew, that only faithful Jews could be Christians. If it were not possible for believers to be in bondage to the Law, then why did the Council even consider the issue?
Look at Paul’s rebuke to the Galatians in Galatians 3:1, followed by his admonition in Galatians 5:1. If it were not possible to live in bondage as a believer, why would Paul have urged them to not be enslaved? For that matter, the entire book of Galatians is a rebuke for those who would choose to live in bondage.
Look at Paul, a “spiritual heavyweight” in my estimation, who expressed frustration in not being completely free (Romans 7.14-25). He states in so many words in Romans 7:25 that the “flesh” is enslaved to the law of sin. As long as we live in a “dirt suit”, we will continue to struggle with the question of, “Whom will we serve?”
Again, without his comments to refer to, I don’t remember his specific words, but I do remember seeing the word knowledge in his post. I think his comments were based in Galatians 4:8. However, if you use that verse, you must also look at Galatians 4:9, which is actually the same sentence in Greek.
I think it’s emblematic of many believers who think that all they have to do is read another book, attend another seminar or go on another retreat to get to that “next level”. In other words, if we just learn a little more, we will be able to behave better and walk closer to Christ. And this may be driven by the plethora of sermons on “Seven Steps to …”, “How to…”, etc.
Whether or not we admit it, it’s a modern-day form of gnosticism and deism. However, we are not to live as gnostics and deists. Instead, we are to live as a “grace-aholic” (to quote the late Dave Busby), relying on God’s grace to not only save us, but to enable to live the holy life that God intends for us to live in freedom (Galatians 2:21).
So much of the preaching that’s celebrated in our churches can be boiled down to, “Now that you’re saved, it’s up to you to clean up. Here are the steps to do it.” I even heard a pastor refer to (in so many words) “God the Father, God the Son and God the Word”. He was greeted with a roaring affirming response from the audience.
WHAT???? It appears that the Holy Spirit has been replaced by the Bible! The empowering Holy Spirit of God has been replaced by the written Word of God. And if you look around at “conservative”, “Bible believing” and “Bible teaching” churches, it’s no wonder. Statistics tell us that our church people aren’t that much better than unchurched people when it comes to the ethical choices we make.
Dr. Storms was spot-on in another quote that I added as a comment to my Facebook status,
“You persuade a person away from rancid beef not by a lecture about freshness but by offering delectable fillet mignon.”
I once heard of a young seminary grad whose parents heard his first sermon. He proudly asked them what they thought of his fine exposition. His mother responded, “I came expecting a banquet, but instead, you gave us an autopsy.”
Our problem isn’t a lack of knowledge. Our problem is that we’re bored with God (or at least our experience and estimation of God). And nobody, including many of our preachers, are telling us that there’s more to experience and empower us to live the Christian life.
The solution is to offer up a very big, magnificent, all-satisfying, personal, LIVING God .
We don’t need medical examiners. We need gourmet chefs!
A friend posted this blog. He makes a great point about worship.
Unfortunately, many (most?) in the church miss the point that worship is the key. It’s isn’t just something that you do at the start of a church service to prepare you to hear a sermon.
Worship is the starting and ending point.
It IS the church service.
Our vision is far too limited. All too often, we think that our purpose is to evangelize … or to grow our church larger … or to defend the Bible … or to fight a moral issue … or to ___ (fill in the blank).
Worship is Key.
Worship is key to building the Kingdom. And it’s all about building the Kingdom. Yes, evangelism, church growth, defending doctrines, and fighting moral issues can be parts of building the Kingdom. But evangelism, church growth defending doctrines, and fighting moral issues are not, in and of themselves, building the Kingdom of God.
It’s all about building the Kingdom. And worship is key. Building the Kingdom of God flows out of worship.
Worship isn’t part of building the Kingdom of God. Worship is key to building the Kingdom of God.