It seems to me that many times the favorite pastime of "the church" family seems to be bashing one another.
We often jump at the chance to hear a "prayer request" that's nothing more than gossip about a brother or sister in Christ.
I find it far too common to hear words of condemnation, ridicule, and even contempt among those who name the name of Christ as Lord. Hurtful words are common in local congregations, amid fellow pastors and sister congregations.
How can we move away from the common, human response of gossip and dissension to the Biblical call for love, comfort, and support? The call to unity among the fellowship of the church is a landmark teaching in the Word of God, but do we find unity an easier truth to preach rather than to live?
Someone preached, "the Church must change and make the move from independence to interdependence." He said we must learn anew that we really do need each other. I heartily agree!
I need my brothers and sisters in Christ who make up the local fellowship where I worship God on a regular basis. I hear afresh the call of the Hebrews writer "don't forsake the assembling" together in the fellowship of the church. I can ill-afford to alienate those with whom I worship by being less than gracious.
We need the camaraderie of fellow pastors and sister congregations with whom we share common situations, issues, burdens, and blessings. We can't be a "lone ranger" thinking our local setting is all that matters.
I'm part of one of the greatest missionary and holiness movements the modern world has ever known. I'm one little part of the whole and I dare not "cut off my nose to spite my face." While there are times when I find disagreement in the local church, among my colleges in ministry, or with the decisions that are made, I'm not willing to break unity for the sake of my personal agenda.
Please hear me carefully. If any of the cited situations break with Biblical truth, then we must take a stand and live by the Word of God. However, when methods, cultural differences, or other human changes come in to play, we must stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I heard recently of a minister that attended an ecclesiastical meeting where a friend talked about the need for people being introduced to the Savior so they could be saved. But in this particular meeting, salvation was not thought to be a proper topic for discussion. In fact, people laughed at the brother.
"I didnít laugh," he said, "but I didnít stand with my friend either. That night, in my shame, I prayed, ĎFather, from now on when people laugh at one of Your servants, they will laugh at two of us because Iíll stand with my brother.í"
When I heard those comments, my heart sank. I thought of the times when my silence allowed others to speak hurtful things about my brothers and sisters in Christ. I thought about the times when I joined the crowd and even spoke some hurtful words myself. I repent.
For the sake of the unity we preach; for the sake of the fellowship of the congregation of God; for the sake of the commandment of Christ to love one another,
"canít we stop hurting each other."
Our Friend Jesus
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
Real loyal friends are few---while keeping friends is difficult. How truly blessed is the one who has true friends! We should value God's gift of "good friends." Good friends reduce our sorrows and multiply the joy we share.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle." (Exodus 33:11)
God Himself was the best friend Moses ever had. God spake with him "face to face." He chose Moses to represent Him before Israel; He supplied him with courage to work a monumental task! Above all, God loved and forgave Moses' sins! --- Joshua must have been a great comfort to Moses too. He was a kindred soul with whom Moses could share the privileged moments of communion with God.
Everyone ready now? I'm going to let YOU do a little Bible Search ~ (please note, I'm not slacking off here, it's just toooo much to type)! Turn in your Bible to 1 Samuel. Read chapters 18 through 23 (this can be your scripture reading for today!).
Now, consider Jonathan and David: The world celebrates theirs as the ultimate friendship. They show that a friend is committed in words and actions (18:4). A best friend is loyal, putting everything on the line to speak on his friend's behalf (19:1-5). Jonathan was a faithful friend (23:17), and he loved David as himself (18:3). Touching, don't you agree?
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
Now, this is the most loving passage in the Bible! What greater love for friends could possibly top this? God revealed His GREAT love to us in giving HIS SON, JESUS, who in love for us, endured utter friendlessness on the cross at Calvary, so that we might enjoy God's peace and friendship ETERNALLY!
Now, let's look at the type of friendship the Lord wants us to avoid:
"Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go." Proverbs 22:24; "An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man abundeth in transgression." Proverbs 29:22; "As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife." Proverbs 26:21; "A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife." Proverbs 15:18; "Ye adulterers andadulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." James 4:4
Faithful, loyal, committed, loving --- this is the kind of friend Jesus desires and deserves: Friends who are faithful and true; He delights in friends who are loyal to Him and speak up for Him; He wants friends who are committed in more than words; He wants friends who love Him even as they love themselves. What kind of friend are you to Jesus?
"WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS!"
Living in the Now
*Got a "last minute" notice that I needed to leave town for the weekend... y'all have a blessed weekend, too!
Most of us have a difficult time forecasting the future... No one can precisely see what'll happen in the years ahead. Where the body of Christ, the family of God, the Church is concerned, however, I believe that what we do today, under God's guidance, will help determine the shape of tomorrow. So, in a very real sense, the future's now.
As I've reflected on the future of the Church, and where I should focus my energies, I've been led to think about four R's: revival, reconciliation, recruitment, and recognition. Though these words are familiar to all of us, allow me to define what I mean by these terms and why I think focusing on them now is crucial to future progress.
Revival speaks to renewing the church and drawing others in that they might know Christ. For too long the world has set the agenda for society and for the church. This can't continue; God must set the agenda. If we're to fully participate in God's plan, we must demonstrate our commitment to being led and renewed by the Holy Spirit.
The church must operate on the cutting edge. The saints must never become static, self-satisfied, or stagnant. True spiritual, monumental growth will only come as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew and lead each one of us. "Business as usual" is unacceptable; we need open, obedient hearts that hear and faithfully act in response to God's call. Where the need for revival is concerned, the future is now.
Reconciliation is the second step in being the church. First we're called and revived; then we're called to be reconciled to one another.
Although it's received focused attention in recent years, the work of reconciliation is far from being completed. Carnal, worldly attitudes continue to permeate churches and relationships across America. The integrity of believers will be questioned whenever and wherever we ignore reconciliation or diminish its importance.
Reconciliation doesn't mean that we must become identical. God made us all different---but we're members of one body. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be guided by the Bible; gender, ethnic, and theological differences must not separate us. Where the work of reconciliation is concerned, the future is now.
Recruitment speaks to the need for the people of God to encourage and support those being called into ministry. It's troubling to review the statistics concerning the number of pastors, who will reach retirement age in the next decade or so. How will we replace key leaders as they retire? How will we replenish this vital, but dwindling, resource in the life of the church? We must begin to reverse this trend immediately if we hope to have called, qualified men and women who can provide the kind of capable spiritual leadership that's essential to shepherding God's people in the twenty-first century. Recruiting, educating, mentoring, and providing service opportunities for potential pastors and lay leaders must be a high priority if we hope to meet the leadership needs of our churches. Where the focus on recruitment is concerned, the future is now.
Recognition is necessary for a healthy, growing church family. It's also a subject we sometimes can feel a bit hesitant and self-conscious about. In aspiring to be a godly people, how do we strike the proper balance between humility and giving individuals and groups within the church the affirming, community-building credit they deserve?
Please understand that I'm not suggesting that we applaud one another as a way of puffing up egos and encouraging the sin of pride. What I am talking about is the Christian ministry of appropriate appreciation and encouragement.
We need to recognize and appreciate the hard work, the successes, and even the noble near misses of those who are demonstrating their faithfulness to God. As the connected, mutually committed body of Christ, we must find ways to consistently, sincerely encourage one another. Where recognition is concerned, the future is now.
The four R's are the beginning point. Moving forward will require patience, wisdom, and the leading of the Lord. It'll also require the prayerful, supportive participation of all who claim membership in God's family.
We've some major issues that must be addressed in an honest, positive, creative, and frank atmosphere in the days ahead. We must talk about how we determine priorities. We must work together to develop common goals. We must explore how we best budget and share finances for God's kingdom. We must learn to use what we have for the greatest good of all. We need the participation of each as God calls and directs us. I'm committed to providing as best I can opportunity within God's family...to be actively involved in the exciting future that I believe the Lord has in mind for His kingdom and church.
Let's pledge to do our very best as we face the future, now. With our partnership and God's guidance, I'm confident that we can address the thorniest issues that confront us and successfully face the toughest challenges that lie ahead.