God's Gift – The Church

Statistics say (and we know statistics can be manipulated) the average church attendance in America is just less than two times per month. Now I don’t know how you could attend 1.7 times but I understand it is an average of the behavior of millions. Keeping in mind that many attend church almost every weekend and many others attend mid-week services and special events every month, the number is shocking. Statistics also indicate many only attend when convenient, or at Christmas and Easter, or a friend is being baptized or receiving some recognition; they are among those who attend church less than ten times a year.  

So the question really is, “Does someone who claims to be a Christian have to attend church at all?” The biblical answer is, “Why would they NOT want to?” Some claim they don’t trust institutions or they’re not “joiners”! So I want to do some defining. Is a church an institution? The biblical answer is no and yes. The early church gathered in homes and other places every day. In the Bible the phrase “body of Christ” is really the name for the church. The church is a gathering of people who believe in Jesus Christ by faith for their eternal salvation. The Bible teaches that the Spirit of God gives gifts to those who confess Jesus as their Savior and Lord and other Christians become brothers and sisters. We receive gifts so we can serve one another, love one another, and bear one another’s burdens as we continue to live for Jesus until our lives end here and we arrive home where Jesus has prepared a place for us. God made humans to need each other. Part of the consequences of sin is that we live self-centered lives and want to be left alone to do what we want. When someone becomes a follower of Jesus their personality is impacted by the Holy Spirit, who changes their life to get rid of selfishness, teaching us to love and encourage one another. We each have different gifts so we can blend together and be a stronger, greater witness to the world for the salvation Jesus offers everyone through us.

The idea that we don’t make church attendance a top priority makes no sense if we understand our purpose as  members of the family of God. Staying away from church  gatherings is like being married and having children but living in separate houses so you are never inconvenienced, only getting together if you are going to benefit. Obviously that is ridiculous and no one really lives like that, except for millions of people who no longer attend church except when it’s convenient.

I read an article that suggested wandering from the church leads to wandering from faith. Through many decades of experience I can attest that is true. It is close to impossible to stop attending church gatherings and still maintain an authentic and attractive witness for Jesus. The article made three points that I will happily plagiarize.

Point 1: When we leave the church, we stop being reminded. C. S. Lewis said, “people need to be reminded more than instructed.” I am sure Lewis would agree that instruction is also necessary. I had lunch with some fellow believers who remarked how helpful my teaching on Romans was even though they heard me teach through Romans before. In other words, the reminders they were hearing were encouraging their faith. We all need reminding.

Point 2: When we leave the church we embrace self-reliance. I have often said that one of the big problems in the church today is individualism. We have forgotten how much we need each other. A quote from the article, “When we stop going to church, we are saying, ‘I don’t need this. I don’t need you.  I only need me.’ And there we find ourselves on the slippery slope of pride, which inevitably leads us not only to neglect the church but to neglect the authority of God. When there is only me then I’m the only one I have to obey.”

Point 3: When we leave the church, we create a gap. For me this is a very important point. I often say we are all needed and important to the church, no one is unnecessary. To not participate in a local expression of the universal church is to make a hole. Paul used the analogy of the human body. Thinking about that analogy, what if your leg decided it didn’t want to support you anymore? Now that would be difficult but you could still hop along on a crutch. The reality is we are all crutches for each other and others are crutches for us. God has made us to need one another.

The Book of Hebrews has as a theme of the exhortation of perseverance. We need help to persevere and not give up when hard times hit or when we are so comfortable that selfishness goes sepsis in our lives. Sepsis in the human body can kill you, sepsis in the church can cripple and eventually derail a church. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT) 

Now my motive is not to make anyone feel guilty. My motive is to cause us to think of the local church as a great gift to us from God. The church helps us to persevere, and encourages us and holds us up when we are down. Alone, we are weak spiritually but together we can overcome any of the schemes of the devil.

                        ~ Pastor Carl  1947-20??

Cheryl Powrie
The Undeserved Kindness of God

I recently read a newsletter from Key Life Ministries about what it means to be free in Christ; a subject, I pray, God will give me more insight into. This is so important; because of Jesus we have nothing to prove and even better, we have nothing to worry about. It is my desire to be better at living this out. There are many Christians who are still trying to be accepted by God. We are all accepted by God if we have received Jesus as our Savior by believing He is God, that He died for our sins, and rose from the dead. Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father praying for us. This means that regardless of how we feel God is not mad at us, He loves us.

I had a young man come to see me years ago who was plagued with guilt and could not get past the terrible thoughts he was having. He told me that he thought he must not really be a Christian. He had a Bible with him; I told him to turn to Romans chapter seven and asked him to read the chapter to me. When he read Romans 7:18b-19, 18b“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” he looked up at me and said, “That is exactly how I feel!” Then he questioned, “The Apostle Paul said this about himself?” I assured him it was Paul who said this. Then we looked at verses 24-25a, 24“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Next we read Romans 8:1-4, 1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. … We spent some time going over these wonderful verses and he has never had a reason to come back to see me about this again. He came in bound up by guilt and left guilt-free. Over the months that followed, one could see this Christian’s life had been transformed! He had fallen into the false belief that true Christians never have doubts.

Let’s explore this further. John the Baptist doubted when he was in prison and sent friends to ask Jesus if He was truly the Messiah or should he be looking for someone else. Jesus pointed John to the miracles He was doing and the appropriate Scripture about Himself in the Old Testament. Thomas doubted that Jesus rose from the dead and said he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his fingers in Jesus’ wounds. Jesus appeared to Thomas to confirm his faith. But even more spectacular is the result of believing faith in making us righteous before God when we are still wicked! In Romans chapter one Paul writes in verses 16-17, 16“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because … 17in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written [Habakkuk 2:4] ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” In Genesis 15:6 we are told that the father of our faith, Abraham, believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. If anything should cause us to rejoice in our faith, the fact that we are still sinners who deserve hell yet are heavenly bound because of God’s righteousness placed on us, has to be the best of all good news. We are not to despair, God is no longer mad at us, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The most dramatic picture of forgiveness according to Paul’s writings in Romans is that God accepted David’s faith and placed righteousness on him regardless of the terrible sins he committed. David (Israel’s greatest king) committed adultery. He next attempted to cover up the resulting pregnancy by arranging for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle. Then David took the woman (Bathsheba) as his wife so everyone would think either the child to be born was his, or he was noble to marry a pregnant woman who had been widowed because of the death of her warrior husband. When righteous David repented after being exposed, God forgave his sins and cleansed him of the guilt of his terrible sins. That is the power of salvation. That is possible for anyone who repents of their sins and believes Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Later David wrote these amazing words recorded in Psalm 32:1-2,5 1Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And You forgive the guilt of my sin. That’s amazing grace! Do you believe it? Then stop trying to measure up to God’s standards and instead submit yourself to Him without reservation and with great expectation. God will arrange your life for your maximum benefit and His greatest glory. You are no longer guilty in God’s sight. God is not mad at you. You are free to live your life for His glory, regardless of those who try to lay burdens on you. Yes, we are to obey God’s commands, but the Bible tells us His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3-4).

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and
learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

~ Pastor Carl  1947-20??

Cheryl Powrie