In many cases the battles that wage inside of us are never seen by others. The Bible, however, gives us a few clues as to what might be going on inside our hearts.
A cheerful disposition can be the sign of a healthy heart according to Proverbs 15:13. Sometimes our appearance can show the darkness that has crept in.
Consider the following verses,
“And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Gen. 4.5-6).
God already knew what was in Cain’s heart, but notice how He tells Cain the outward signs of his inward struggles.
He’s angry and his countenance had fallen. In the following verses Cain ends up killing his own brother because that darkness had taken over.
God knows the heart. He knows every aspect of the heart.
In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam has just become king over the Northern tribe of Israel. In the Southern kingdom they had the capital of Jerusalem where all the Israelites in that region would gather to sacrifice to the Lord. The Bible indicates to us the very plans that Jeroboam said in the “privacy” of his heart. He built his own place of worship and foolishly stood those golden calves up for his new kingdom to worship.
Jesus proves once again that He’s the son of God by reading the hearts of many individuals in the New Testament (Luke 16:15).
May we never forget that we serve a God who can read our hearts. There are things we can hide from every human on earth, but certainly not God. Let’s also never forget that we don’t have the ability to read hearts and attempting to do so is to pretend to be something other than human.
Last weekend, we had an opportunity to see good friends of ours when Kathy did a Ladies Day in “L.A.” (Lower Alabama). We met Justin and Anna Maynard when they served as missionaries in Tanzania, and we have also been to Israel with them. They have two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies, a girl named Ruby and a boy named Colton. They are both smart, but Colton has to be a canine Einstein. Perhaps the best measure of his intelligence is his absolute love of going to the church building with Justin (see picture below). Some years ago, I wrote about a dog from my childhood that was faithful to be at the building when the church met (The Dog At Church). What I appreciate about Colton is how eager he is, every single time, to “go to church.” When Justin asks, “You wanna go to church?,” Colton goes ballistic! When he gets there, he sprints to the door and impatiently waits for his “dad” to open the door. Then, he runs around excitedly (I watched him do laps around the auditorium for several minutes before contentedly sprawling out on the floor to rest). He does a flying leap onto one of the other minister’s couch and thoroughly enjoys the whole experience at the church building.
His enthusiasm is so high, it made me think of what David once said: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psa. 122:1). The sons of Korah described being in the house of the Lord, “with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (Psa. 42:4). Maybe it was his memories of “sweet fellowship together” with others who “walked in the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:14). In those last two passages, the writers look back with longing to a time when they could do freely what now was impossible to do. They longed to be there. The psalms, as much as any book, describes zealous worshippers. Think about Psalm 95:6, which admonishes, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker!”
I watched Colton and I asked myself, “Do I have that attitude toward going to ‘church’?” Frankly, I can let a sour mood or personal problems or distractions dampen my joy and zeal for being there. Here’s a creature who will not live eternally, is not made in the image of God, and for whom Jesus did not die, but whose unbridled enthusiasm is overflowing! The next time I’m tempted to grumble or grimace as I approach the “next appointed time,” I hope I will remember Colton Maynard, who loves to go to church!
This is not a judgment against those of us who have stayed home, especially those vulnerable, for whatever period of time to protect ourselves from legitimate risk of contracting the Coronavirus. It is an attempt to exhort and encourage those of us who have concluded that participating virtually meets what God intends for the assemblies. While we may get to see the church worship and engage in Bible class and receive edification, we are missing quite a bit of what God designed for the church by assembling together.
What can’t we accomplish when we remain in the virtual setting?
We cannot stimulate one another to either love or good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
We cannot exhort one another (Heb. 10:25).
We cannot speak to, teach, or admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).
We cannot come together and edify (1 Cor. 14:26).
We cannot welcome visitors from the community who have come to the assemblies.
We cannot engage in the enriching, faith-building, and faith-preserving fellowship the early church found so essential (Acts 2:42ff).
We cannot congregate, as they did (Acts 4:32).
We cannot come together and eat the Lord’s Supper, as they did (1 Cor. 11:20,33).
Let’s not forget the responsibility God puts upon each Christian to all others who assemble. Worship is not just personal and vertical, it is also horizontal.
On at least two different occasions, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9.13; Matthew 12.7). It’s quoted from Hosea 6.6, but in multiple other passages God tells us that He prefers obedience over going through the motions of worship (Isaiah 1.11ff; Amos 5.21; Micah 6; Mark 7).
This is NOT saying that worship is less important than obedience, since obedience causes us to worship. It does show God’s attitude toward those who claim to follow Him, but whose actions say otherwise. Listen to the force behind His words in Amos 5.21, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel had adopted some religious and social misconduct.
Do our actions cause God to wince at our worship? Israel was God’s chosen nation, but when they neglected to show mercy, justice, compassion, or faithfulness, God rejected their worship and sent them into captivity. So what kind of worship does God love? Obedience, mercy, pursuing good, showing compassion to those less powerful, integrity, justice, and being morally pure (Amos 5.11ff).
I counted 96 people present for the singing at the Waddells’ home Friday night, sitting in our camping chairs in their beautiful backyard. Beyond the hospitality and tasty desserts, this was such a wonderful, needed time of fellowship and singing. There were babies up through senior saints, with a whole lot in between. It was exciting to see visitors, several who have been attending but have not yet placed membership, elders, deacons, and so many others. Though the air was surprisingly chilly, you could not help but feel the warmth and glow of brothers and sisters enjoying life together. It felt so first-century!
While it is extremely valuable for us to make as a goal improving our singing, from training our song leaders to becoming better, more attentive followers, it is even more important to understand what God is trying to do for us and through us in our singing. Notice just a few of the objectives God achieves through those who follow His will by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
We communicate to one another in a special, spiritual way (Eph. 5:19).
We teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (Col. 3:16).
We express gratitude in our hearts to God (Col. 3:16; cf. Psa. 28:7).
We proclaim God’s name to our brethren (Heb. 2:12).
We praise God’s works and nature in a unique way (Rev. 15:3; cf. Exo. 15:1,21; Psa. 68:4).
We offer up a sacrifice of praise by the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15).
We help others see and fear and trust in the Lord (Psa. 40:3).
Certainly, much more is implied concerning the power, effect, and blessings of saints singing together. But, it is helpful for us to consider the value of singing on its own. As a sacrifice of praise, singing is, of itself, worship. Worship is ” to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure” (BDAG 882). From “I Need Thee Every Hour” to “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “You Are My All In All” (and literally hundreds more), we prostrate ourselves before God as an act of reverence, fear, and supplication (Louw-Nida 217).Our Creator designed us to connect to words and their meanings in a unique way through singing. We memorize better when we set something to music. We connect music to events and people, forming deeply touching memories and recollections. We touch our own hearts and those of others in a crucial way through melody. It is not just “filler” between prayers and the Lord’s Supper. It is a profoundly meaningful act God purposed for us to help us grow and be strong. By doing it together, we are connecting our hearts and encouraging one another’s spiritual lives.
So, think about what you can do to make this act of worship so much more effective.
Clear your mind and focus intently on the message of each word of each song.
Focus on the people around you, deliberately trying to teach and admonish them.
Sing out so that your teaching and admonishing can be heard (forgetting yourself and how you think you “sound” to others).
Put forth effort, not just with your vocal cords but with your heart and mind.
Do not be afraid to connect your singing with your feelings.
Consciously work to communicate to God your praise and adoration each and every time you sing.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly by your singing.
Do you remember when government mandates suggested that church goers not sing for fear that virus germs might be spread? Will you consider that God intends for something vital to be spread through our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? His Word! It should spread to our own hearts and to others. It should even reach the throne of God in heaven! Whether you are worshipping Him alone or with your physical family in song, assembled on the Lord’s Day, or gathered with saints in other places, let us sing!
We’ve all had opinions and reactions in public that never made it from our brains to our mouths. Not all of these were positive, and perhaps that’s why they were never spoken.
Have you ever wondered what visitors who come into our home congregation are thinking? What do they make of the worship service? How do they see the people who fill the building?
I’d like to dedicate this post to the young people I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and who have privately expressed their first impressions of the Lord’s church. These honest thoughts did not come from people who were trying to be disrespectful.
Here’s a list of TEN thoughts (some rephrased) that most visitors won’t openly say.
“I guess I came underdressed for this church.”
“Why do you stand for some songs and not the others?”
“Why are the communion plates gold?”
“I didn’t understand the purpose of the invitation.”
“Nobody smiled much until after the service.”
“I’ve got too much baggage for you guys.”
“I didn’t even know this church was here.”
“How much money was I supposed to put inside the plate?”
“It’s a nice congregation, but there’s not a lot of people my age.”
“Sorry for bringing my drink into the sanctuary.”
While these comments and questions may seem negative, I’m thankful that they’ve given us their perspective. As His church, we should be thoughtful about who we are, and what we’re engaged in when we come together.
We’re either involved in offering our Father praise and worship, or we’re enjoying the sweet fellowship that we have in Christ. God is our life, God is the One who gives every blessing, and God is the one who saved us from ourselves. With this in mind—
Here’s a list of FIVE things we can do to let visitors know what we’re all about.
We should carry ourselves with an attitude that expresses our joy and thankfulness. They may not understand everything about the service or the practical aspects of our traditions, but they see a group of people who have been given the greatest gift ever given.
Let’s not place too much emphasis on the location of worship, but the worship itself. There’s nothing holy about the “sanctuary” but there should be something holy about the acts being done and the people in the pews.
Even though we may have been to worship countless times, we shouldn’t assume that everyone completely understands what’s going on. There should be an effort put into briefly explaining why we’re participating in each act of worship, as well as who it applies to. For example, visitors are not required to give. We shouldn’t assume they already know this.
We’re all in need of Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. God is the God of second chances…and beyond! Do the visitors know this? We’ve all got varying amounts of baggage, but even a small pocketbook full of sin is enough to eternally condemn us.
No matter how odd things may appear to a first time visitor, if we can show them the love of Christ, what was once strange to them— just might become beautifully familiar.
Recently, in discussing some extremes on matters like the Holy Spirit, grace, and emotion in our worship services, a brother said that a friend of his referred to churches of Christ as “the frozen chosen.” The man was part of a religious group we’d call “charismatic,” and he had attended the worship of one of our congregations which he apparently found stoic and lifeless. We chuckled at the nickname, but it stuck with me.
It is likely that this man found it strange and lacking to have singing without a band, preaching and worshipping without ecstatic utterances and tongue-speaking, and even members seated and without raised hands. We’d rightly point out that the New Testament specifies singing and that adding mechanical instruments is unauthorized (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), that tongue-speaking belonged to the infancy of the Lord’s church as a means of communicating the gospel to other languages (Acts 2:6-11) and, though a means of proving apostolic truth at that time, was regulated and said to be inferior to other spiritual gifts even in the first-century (1 Cor. 14:1ff). We’d show that it was done away (1 Cor. 13:8-12). We’d talk about the need for decency and orderliness (1 Cor. 14:40). Our comedic observer could be charged with holding to some extreme views.
I don’t know about you, though, but I don’t want to be characterized as being at the other extreme. It hurts to think that I convey a “frozen chosen” persona in worship or in the exercise of my Christian life. Worship that is lifeless, rote and repetitive, that’s so predictable that you can engage in it on auto-pilot, that evidences no emotion–joy, intensity of feeling, enthusiasm, etc.–is not the antidote to our religious friend’s brand of religion. While none of us can read each other’s mind to gauge depth of feeling (or lack thereof), cues like body language, facial expressions, hearty engagement, and the like are noticeable by their absence as much as their presence. Ask song leaders what they see on the faces of those seated before them. Ask preachers the same. Ask members what kind of intensity and interest they perceive in the preacher and song leader.
We’re not the worship critics or the audience of worship. God is. But as we engage in worship that is according to truth, we need to examine the spirit of it (John 4:24). We do not have to be “Holy Rollers” to avoid the other extreme. As those redeemed from sins which would eternally condemn us, shouldn’t we have melted hearts which overflow with gratitude, praise, and passion? Shouldn’t such be obvious to those who visit our assemblies? Be present, with mind and body. Be involved, from beginning to end. Be engaged, inside and out. I want anyone who is watching my worship (and Christian life away from worship) to at least think of me as the “thawed awed” or, hopefully, the “fervent servant.” I do not want to be part of the “frozen chosen.”
There are just too many voices in the world today muddying the waters when it comes to 21st Century Christianity. In fact, the term “Christianity” doesn’t mean much to the average person. In fact, the average person will most likely have several friends who carry this title and they know based on their morals— they’re not really different. Sadly it’s a description that doesn’t describe much, other than an individual that believes in God. This word has been tragically stripped of what is the most rewarding life you could possibly live. There’s simply no higher calling, there is no greater purpose in life, and you just can’t beat the retirement plan.
Now let’s do something to help the seeking world out.
Let’s make it our priority to understand the church in such a way that we can simplify her mission and her origin.
Here are two terms that will help
The term “restoration” may sound similar to “reformation”, but the two terms could not be more contrary to each other. Restoration is an attempt to restore the church to the pattern we find in the New Testament, while reformation is a reforming of what currently exists. It’s a modification or addition which creates something new entirely. The Old Testament is filled with the pleas of the prophets for the people to restore their relationships with God.
2. The definition of the word “denomination” is evidence that restoration is not only possible, but needed. Denomination, in the religious world, describes a branch off of an original. Any branch coming off of the New Testament church, is simply not it.
Five Facts About The Lord’s Church
The NT church was established by Jesus, not Luther, Henry the 8th, Calvin, Smith, or Wesley
The NT church was established in Jerusalem, not Oxford, London, or Amsterdam
In NT times people were told to believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, be baptized by a total immersion of water, and to live faithfully (Acts 2:38, 16:30-31, 2:16, Mark 16:15-16)
Christians in the NT met on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper, Acts 20:7
The NT church was a united church, while denominationalism is, by it’s very nature, divided.
If the church you are a part of can say the same, you can be confident that it is the church that Jesus established. If this is not what the church you are a part of teaches and practices, then perhaps this will be some information that will help you begin a life changing search to find God’s will for your life.
I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”
We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”
How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.
When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.
Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!
Here’s a quick recap of the bizarre events that unfold in Acts 20:
Paul preaches past midnight.
A young man named Eutychus falls asleep.
As a result, he plummets to his death.
He is then miraculously brought back to life.
Each word that was written in Scripture was penned under God’s guidance— for our guidance. This means that even those accounts that might initially strike us as pointless are, in truth, spiritually-pointed.
With this is in mind, let’s briefly examine three life lessons from Eutychus that deliver relevant reminders for the 21st-century Christian.
A lesson on Commonsense: God is with His people. God protects His people, but we still read of a young man who sits where he shouldn’t have. As a result, he tumbles to his death. Unfortunate things can happen to godly people, especially in the absence of commonsense.
A Lesson On Commitment: This account is not a call for preachers to shorten their sermons, or even a warning for members who might be tempted to take a nap in worship. While Eutychus may not be the first guy that comes to mind when we think of a Bible character who demonstrated commitment— he still made it a priority to be with his Christian family. He held on, even though it was clearly past his bedtime. How many of us have stayed away from services simply because we don’t feel like it? How many Christians find themselves struggling to remain focused in a one hour period of worship? There is something to be said for this man’s commitment to Christ— even as the hours ticked by and exhaustion began to take its toll on him.
A Lesson On Correction: Though I would not want to be immortalized in history as the guy who fell out of a window in church, this potential tragedy became a powerful testimony of God’s grace. God does not expect total perfection, but rather our constant correction. When we take a tumble spiritually, what corrections can we implement to avoid the same mistake in the future?