Crossways Concepts

Because it is all about the cross...

Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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It Is What We Do On Sundays

Week after week we go to church on Sunday mornings and we don't usually think too much about it.  Although there is a lot of diversity among churches, there are some common factors that have come to define church.  Most churches have some singing, take up an offering and listen to a sermon.  Beyond those basics, there may be a large degree of variation.

Our church experience is one that is built on long tradition.  Every now and then, somebody starts a church that goes off in a new direction, but for the most part, in church people do what has been done in the past.  The basic traditions of church change slowly, but they do change.

Evidence of the changes in church can be seen by looking at the descriptions of the early church found in the New Testament.  For example, Paul addressed a chaotic environment in the church at Corinth:

How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.  If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret.  But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate.  But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged.  And the prophets' spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)

This reprimand my Paul presents a picture of church services that is drastically different than any church service I ever attended!  The differences between Paul's suggested order of services and what our church 2000 years later, leads me to believe that we may have lost something valuable.  Paul lived in a time where he said, “For the kingdom of God is not in talk but in power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20).  Our churches have become the home of much talk and very little exercise of the power of God.

It is interesting that in China, where the church is growing rapidly, the focus is on God's power as opposed to our focus of talking about the Bible.

In any case, church takes many different forms.  Church doesn't need to be of some cookie-cutter design.  There is no “right” model.  Yet, the goal of church must be to please and glorify God.  If that is lost, then all you have is a social-club.

These are 3 basic guidelines of what it takes for a church, and our worship experience at church, to contain in order to please God:

This is a trap that many churches have fallen into over the years.  This is a trap that can manifest itself in two different directions, the church can fall into serving to play to the crowd or the church can come to be all about the church leader.

Satan has lead many a church leader down the road of believing that it is irrefutable evidence of the approval and blessing of God when more people show up for church.  This line of logic leads the leaders to make church more entertaining and more appealing so more people will show up.  While this sounds almost like a good idea, it must be remembered that Christ never did this.  

Jesus didn't deviate from the truth or even sugar-coat it.  Many people found the teachings of Jesus to be offensive, so offensive that they had him killed.  Even when He knew that His teachings were turning some people away, He stuck firmly to the gospel, without deviation.

Paul letter of advice to a young church leader contained:

I solemnly charge you: proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.  For a time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.  They will turn away from hearing the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1b-4)

In this day of 15-second sound bites, many people get bored with a long oration explaining the gospel.  Yet, God is compelling to those He calls.  The job of our churches is to provide a platform in which God can work, through His power.  The churches' job is not to find a better alternative to God.  The church should allow Him to work and never shut out the power found in His truth.  To reach people in today's world, the churches' methods may need to adjust, but the message must remain faithful to the truth, so God's power is not inhibited.

In some churches the focus has slipped from a focus on Him and what His power can accomplish to a focus on some human leader and what He can do.  This leader may have been given the gifts of being dynamic, charismatic and a wonderful public speaker, but the leader must keep focus.  A gifted leader is only gifted because God provided those gifts.  The only reason those gifts were provided was to share God's gospel.

It is no coincidence that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, that Satan tried to tempt Jesus with public acclaim.  As Jesus stood on the pinnacle of the temple, Satan said, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against stone.” (Matthew 4:6)  Consider how much of a crowd pleaser it would have been if Jesus had thrown Himself off of the top of the temple only to have angels catch Him.  Jesus would have been the super-star of His day.

Jesus knew, however, that this step wouldn't have been in submissive obedience to God.  This was always His focus, to keep the attention off of Himself and always serve as a signpost pointing toward God.  

Jesus was good at keeping the temptation of pride at bay.  Although He had plenty to be proud of, He maintained a humility that reflected His knowledge of who His Father is.  Jesus was truly aware the He was powerless without God (John 5:30).  It is funny that Jesus, as part of God Himself, knew He was powerless without God, while so many ministers today miss the fact that all their success is due to God.

There are many jobs that, in today's world, we leave to paid professionals.  The very oddest of these is worship.  Even though worship is supposed to be interactive and personal between the Christian and his or her God, we have millions of people spending time on Sunday mornings just watching worship.

God has called His people to worship Him.  Jesus said, “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.  Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)  God's commandment to worship the Father in spirit and truth is not satisfied by watching somebody else worship or just listening while somebody else prays.

The single most important key to church fruitfulness is found in prayer.  It is only through prayer that the path of an organization can be aligned with God's will and it is only by doing God's will, in God's way, that God's power will be at work.  The more prayer, the more power.  

Yet, for many church organizations, prayer is just an item on the “order of services”.  Somebody prays while everybody else listens.  Listening to a prayer with eyes closed and heads bowed is NOT the same as praying.  Prayer is a foundational activity that should involve every person, it should be taught, modeled and encouraged.  If a church doesn't have a lot of people spending a lot of time in prayer, then they are simply spinning their wheels – expending a lot of energy, but not going anywhere.

The simple actions of encouraging participation in prayer and worship can transform a church through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Without congregational participation in prayer and worship, then all they have is a show.

The most important action of Jesus' entire ministry was without fanfare or glory, it was when He humbly and obediently went to the cross and allowed Himself to be killed, taking the punishment that we deserved.  This action changed the world forever.  There weren't huge crowds of people watching the event, there wasn't hype and build-up, it was just the amazing power of God's plan at work.  It was totally without anything the world considers to be power; in fact, the world considered it to be defeat.  Though God's power, though, this action had implications even now, 2000 years later.

It is so easy for a church organization to get distracted by what the world considers important.  I see churches hosting events where they are so proud of the enormous crowds they bring in, but I look at them and wonder, “How was God glorified in that?”

We need to be sure that our churches stay true to who Jesus is.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage, instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross.  For this reason God also highly exalted Him... (Philippians 2:5-9)

Jesus sought to be 100% obedient and submissive to the will of God.  Even though the world could have come up with a lot of more palatable plans, He obediently followed God's plan.

For churches, it is also essential that they imitate Christ by seeking God's will and obediently following it.  Even when the world has a multitude of ideas on how to bring in more people, make more money and build more buildings, the church should obediently follow God's simple plans.  This isn't an easy thing to do, because listening to God's voice amid all the screams of “easy success” is a huge challenge.  Christ didn't take the easy path and the only success He sought was “God also highly exalted Him”.  How silly of us to measure our success in human terms.  How can we, as a church, tell people to be like Christ, then turn around and operate the church seeking earthly success!

Jesus had no use for wealth and spent a lot of time preaching on the subject of money.  Money was, and still is, a great distraction to Christians.  Church organizations are no exception.  Paul wrote about, “men whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.  But godliness with contentment is a great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with those.  But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:5-9)

Seeking money beyond our needs leads us right off of the path that God has set out for us.  When we are on God's path, then God's power is making things happen, when we wander off that path, then we are on our own and working in our own power.  While the world preaches that money is the ultimate power, we should know that the power bestowed by money is puny compared to the power of God when it comes to making a real difference.

The true church of Jesus Christ must be focused on God, involving her people and aligned with the biblical portrayal of Jesus.  It must be wholly about the Lord, seeking to exactly follow the path and purpose provided by God.  It it only through dedicated obedience to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, that God's power will be at work.  It is only through His power that anything significant can be accomplished for the kingdom.

Any attempt to work for the kingdom without God's power will be like trying to walk across the Red Sea.  When God's power and His will provided the dry land, then walking across was easy, but I wouldn't recommend trying that task without His power.  A church without God's power is just a useless entity.  A church must allow Him to lead, then recognize that they are just a band of slaves seeking to please the same master.

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