“Where should we go?”

Now that we are officially creeping out of 2020, people are thinking about going back to church. 2020 was a blitzkrieg on the local church: decimating its ranks, demolishing its influence, demoralizing its leaders. (Yeah, it really was that bad.) But now we have more talk about (and actual participation in) vaccines and so there seems to be some “light” up ahead in that area. That’s got people thinking again about assembling with others on Sunday mornings. Or, at least it should. Let’s assume you or someone you know is starting to warm up to actually associating with others on Sunday, where should you go?

I suppose the first stop should be the place you’ve stayed away from: your own local church. It might be hard but try not to have a bad attitude about that place. Maybe the leaders decided not meeting was best or recorded sermons were best or some kind of hybrid meeting+non-meeting (i.e., ZOOM) was best. There was no script for how this was supposed to work out. Sure, the principles are clear: church should be our Sunday morning destination: period. “Trust the Lord.” “Do not forsake the assembly.” And so on. But, if it was really so clear, then why were churches and their decisions all over the map in 2020 and still? Give your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were right; maybe they weren’t.

So what if your place isn’t meeting and yet you are ready to get back to worship? Find another place. Look, you might think your soul is not in any real danger or that, all things considered, you weathered things in 2020 pretty well, “So, I don’t really need to meet; I can wait until my place opens.” Are you correct? Is it true that your soul escaped the Battle of Wuhan? That you really can make it: just you and Jesus?

Let me tell you a story. There was once a people whose named rhymes with “News.” They lived in a place given to them by God: a place flowing with milk and honey. God didn’t just give them the place, He gave them Himself as well. He made a covenant with them, to be God to them and to keep them as His people. He had already made that promise to Father Abraham and, in the nation of Israel, He was bringing fulfillment much closer. In Exodus 19-24, on three occasions the people said to the Lord, “All the LORD commands us, we will do; we will be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). God was faithful on His end: He drove out the nations, raised up godly leaders, installed Himself centrally in the Temple in Jerusalem and regularly made it rain.

Concerning Israel’s vows to obey? As it turns out, these were rash, childish commitments; they were the vows of a Bride unprepared for faithfulness (Jer. 31:32). Over the course of several hundred years, the people showed time and again they were more interested in chasing other gods than following the One true God. Eventually, they “destroyed” the covenant God made with them (Jer. 31:32). At that moment, with the bulk of the nation in exile, God pledged a “new” covenant. What is relevant for my point is this new covenant’s power isn’t in a person’s individual relationship with the Savior, but in the gathering of the whole community. At the beginning (Jer. 3:18), middle (Jer. 31:31) and end (Jer. 50:8), God promises to regather the people together as one as the context for this “new” covenant. The anchor point of the gift of God in the new covenant, its rebar, is the corporate church. A “oneness” the apostle Paul picks up on in Ephesians 4:

There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through and in all.

Here’s the terribly abbreviated point: God didn’t save you from your sins so you could make it a go on your own. Just “Me and Jesus” isn’t enough; it was never the design. In fact, a disdain for being one nation under God was part and parcel of Israel’s downfall. The refrain, “Every man was doing right in his own eyes” applied to Israel all the way to their exile. God didn’t give the children of Abraham’s faith a new covenant so we could be “OK” with so-called worship at home. That was the situation that led to the downfall of God’s people and it will lead to the downfall of the modern church.

So, do your part, get to church on Sunday. Hey, we’re open.

Who likes to be weird?

The answer is “no one.” It is certainly a coup for our enemy that the church has been historically afraid to be different than the culture around us. On one level it makes sense: we want to be liked. On the other, it’s a miserable capitulation to our fears: we are already “liked” by the Lord who purchased us. Is there more that’s really necessary?

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).  

The “charge” the apostle Paul speaks of is their instruction, their teaching.  Timothy was serving the church in Ephesus.  That town was full: idols, issues and interests.  It was probably true that you could seek and find just about whatever you wanted there.  Paul sends the young pastor into such a place with a teaching whose aim is love.

Love is acting for the good or the glory of another.  What determines what is good is God Himself.  Still, Paul spends more time in this verse on the motives that drove love: “pure heart” and a “good conscience” and a “sincere faith.”  It is difficult to parse these out as if they were different aspects of the human soul.  The Bible uses “heart” and “conscience” in ways that are often interchangeable.  There are differences to be sure, but perhaps the best we can do is say our love of others should be driven by motives at home in God’s throne room.  

Motives are tricky things.  No one is able to act with the purity, goodness or sincerity of the Lord fully: there will always be a little of me in my love for you.  That is to say we always have a little bit of an angle in our service for each other.  There is always some “how can I benefit from this….” driving what we do. That might explain Paul’s emphasis.

Paul’s charge to Timothy was to penetrate a culture wildly committed to the glory of the self with a message of selflessness.  There really is nothing more odd in our culture than to exemplify its opposite, right? In our culture, the institutions that have bound us are crumbling or our commitment to what they represent has waned.  Now, too many of us are too easily driven by what “I think is right,” what “I want to see happen,” what “will benefit me”…all no matter the cost.

Beloved, if we revive the motives of God to pursue God’s ends, that will be very weird to our culture.  So, weird, in fact, that, by God’s grace and power, we will be able to build a kingdom that will bring down all the rest.  Our culture has no shortage of sycophants. It needs critics but not just critics, examples of what human flourishing really looks like: those striving to be conformed to Christ, courageous in their lives and compelled to serve.

That’s the kind of weird that gets noticed.

Now What?

Beloved, last week was a wrecking ball of a week in our culture.  I want to be honest with you: let’s not pretend that this is just another transition of power for I believe it is not.  I have been a student of politics and this is unlike any of the transitions in the modern era. Something has happened to us as a nation, in part, I believe, because something has happened to us as a church.

Now, established in many levels of government are elected officials who have expressed or demonstrated antagonism towards: the Church and its worship, the unborn and their protection, the gospel and its promotion.

In many of these elected officials, there is evidence of criminal conduct, unethical practices and inclinations towards personal gain.  That isn’t new, but now, through many of these elected officials, the philosophies of man that are directly and openly antagonistic towards the gospel have open doors for influence.  Philosophies such as “critical race theory” and “intersectionality” that promote a victimization mindset and open rebellion against all established norms as a policy including, e.g., tearing down statues, riots, “defund the police” and shutting down worship in churches.  

However, lest we believe our troubles are only found there, we have to recognize that we as a church have for too long given up our prophetic voice in our culture, buying into pragmatic ends that aren’t truly consistent with God’s word and His kingdom.  For example, whereas at one time we judged men unfit to serve by their immorality, many have revised their views and now baptize anything that can bring benefit to our flesh: our retirement, our comfort and our health.

It strikes me that at almost every level, the nation is divided.  How have we become this way?  Beloved, the church is not innocent.  We have not always served the disadvantaged, advocated for the downtrodden, acted for the good of a person’s soul rather than his psychological well-being.  It is complicated to live as salt and light in our culture and we have not been too terribly successful.

In short, now we are reaping in our culture what has been sown since the American Revolution, the Enlightenment, the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, the Moral Majority of the 1980’s and the ubiquity of the Internet.  Additionally, the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, the opportunism of many in politics as a result, the fear and panic it has engendered in our population, all point to the same thing: as a culture we are no longer anchored to the transcendent.  Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes and not the Lord’s.  And, beloved, we are too often guilty.

So, now more than ever, the church of Christ must be a praying church.  Our prayers, however, must be proper before the Lord.  All along, He has been building His kingdom, a kingdom that stands apart from the kingdoms of men.  Must we pray that our government, academia and entertainment reform and return to promoting what is good?  Absolutely. Every day.

But, the trajectory revealed to us in the book of Revelation indicates our culture will descend away more and more from seeking the Lord and promoting the good.  If we are going to penetrate the culture effectively with the gospel, we must not be ignorant but we must be prayerful.  That:

  1. All faithful citizens, Christians whose allegiance is to the Lord come hell or high water, would be men and women of godliness, compassion, service and courage.
  2. All believers would not be fearful or silent but winsome and joyful witnesses in all our spheres of influence. 
  3. God would strengthen His church to be a place of refuge, wholeness and “home” to our culture as it decays into violence.
  4. The church would be truly discerning promoting what is good and praiseworthy, turning away from idols and temporal promises.

Beloved, this is no time for fear.  But it is also no time for pining after a time in our country when (we think) things were better.  Our cultural rot has deepened and it needs the church to be free from it, finding our home and hope instead in Jesus Christ.  The culture needs to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:12) but so does the church!  It needs us now more than it ever has. And the gifts of God in the Word, the Church and the Spirit are more than adequate to meet this cultural challenge.  Let us ask the Lord to fill us with His Spirit that we might be the church our generation needs.

Heaven soon,
Pastor Gabe