5 Reasons You Need to Go to Church

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Sporting events, recitals and performances, hunting seasons, sleepless nights, family problems, conflict with others in the church, bad hair days, too much rain, too much sunshine… If you’re looking for an excuse to not be regular in church attendance, you don’t have to look for long. The culture in which we live pulls each of us in a thousand different directions every weekend, vying for our time, resources, and energy. But let’s get to the point. If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you need to go to church. And here are 5 reasons why:

1) To be an active part of the mission of God.

In Mt. 16:18, Jesus tells the disciples that He will build His church for His mission. Later, in Mt. 28:18-20, He empowers His church for that mission. God is up to something in the world. He is advancing His kingdom through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel will reach the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14), whether you are part of that movement or not. God’s mission is that every person lost in sin and scarred by its ravaging effects would hear the good news of salvation, then be given the opportunity to receive that salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. “What is God’s plan for this global gospel initiative?” you ask. The answer: the local church. That’s right. God’s created and chosen vehicle for worldwide gospel propagation is the local church. And if you are a born again believer in Jesus, He has invited you to be a part of His gospel movement, pushing back the darkness and heralding the light of Christ all over the world through the work and witness of the local church. Through your faithful attendance, sacrificial financial giving, and active service within the Body of Christ (the local church), you are being an active part of the mission of God. You are joining the movement of gospel advance.

2)  To develop contextualized spiritual wisdom and understanding.

In the local church, you have the weekly opportunity to sit under the Spirit-filled preaching of God’s Word and to participate in the interactive teaching of God’s Word in small groups. Christ has chosen and set apart some to be teachers, preachers, and evangelists who are divinely charged and enabled to equip you for the mission of God (Eph. 4:11-12). If you are not regularly positioning yourself under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church body, you are depriving yourself of being equipped for the mission. In 1 Thess 3:10, Paul told the Thessalonian church that he was praying to see them “face to face” so that he could “complete what is lacking” in their faith. In order to grow up in their faith under the teaching of God’s Word, they didn’t need another internet sermon or social media quick-shot Bible verse. Paul was praying for the opportunity to see them “face to face.” He wanted to brush shoulders with the people he was leading. He wanted to do life with them. Sermons and teaching series within a local church body are timely and contextual. When you hear a sermon on the internet or television, keep in mind that sermon was developed and delivered to a certain group of people in a certain context at a certain time in their life together. If it was a biblical, Christ-centered sermon it still carries value as such, but it is deprived of the contextual elements of church life together. However, if you are regularly positioning yourself under the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church, the spiritual wisdom and understanding that you are gaining is being contextualized to your geographic area and to the timely issues of your own day. You need this.

3) To participate in corporate worship of King Jesus.

Yes, you can worship God on your own. But no, it’s just not the same. Scripture is replete with teaching on the value of corporate worship gatherings. When we lift up our voices together in song, prayer, and Scripture reading, it is a powerful thing. In Acts Chapter 4, the believers all “raised their voices together to God and said…” (v.24). The result of this corporate prayer was that “the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness” (v.31). Even in Heaven, there is and will be untold power in the joining of the saints’ voices: “they sang a new song…” and “they said with a loud voice…” (Rev. 5:9, 12). In Luke Chapter 19, The religious better-than-you’s instructed Jesus to stop His followers from worshipping Him. He responded that if they did not corporately do so, the stones would cry out! Psalm 19 teaches us that the heavens and the skies proclaim the glory of the King. When we gather together in corporate worship, we may be singing new songs but they are all part of an old song which has been sung since the foundation of the world. Through participation in corporate worship within the local church body, we have the great privilege of joining in with all of creation to declare the greatness, goodness, glory, and grace of King Jesus. But if you don’t go to church, well, you’ll miss out.

4) To live in biblical community.

Believe it or not, the word “fellowship” in the Bible is not a synonym for “potluck.” Fellowship happens as a group of people become more and more united in a common identity, with a common mission born from a common motivation.  It happens when God’s people begin to understand that we don’t attend Outskirts Baptist Church; we are Outskirts Baptist Church. Fellowship was something to which the early church “devoted themselves” (Acts 2:42). The believers were not in a constant consumer-driven, church-shopping state of mind, ready to move on to the next greatest thing. They were devoted. When things were good, they celebrated together. When things were difficult, they dug in and shared a common commitment to each other. This fellowship was unique in their cultural context. It was different – a good different. So much so that they were “enjoying favor with all the people”; as a result, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Listen, 21st Century American Christian… you don’t just need to go to a local church; you need to be the local church. Learn to live in biblical community. Learn to give up your preferences and desires so that the unity of the church body and advancement of the gospel will be gloriously peculiar in your day, as it was in the day of the early church. Serve and be served. Do life together with the believers in your local church body. Be committed. Be devoted. This is what it looks like to live in biblical community.

5)  To live in obedience to God. 

This is where God plays the “because I said so” card. Even if you don’t completely understand why being actively devoted to your local church body is valuable, if you are going to live in obedience to God’s Word you must regularly attend a Bible-beleiving, Christ-centered local church. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us watch out for one another to provide love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Not attending church regularly can become a habit very quickly. The culture in which you live pulls you in a thousand different directions every weekend. Your options are endless. But God’s Word is clear that Christians are to make regular church attendance a priority. Even if you don’t understand why, the biblical instruction is to trust God’s will and live in obedience. Christian, if you are in the habit of not attending church, it’s time for a new normal.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

I Believe in Christian Teens

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I believe that from within the church God is raising up an army of counter-cultural warriors for the faith. I believe that this generation of born again believers will be sold-out for Christ, not bending their intellect to the whims of cultural godlessness, but unreservedly living out a faith that is firmly grounded in biblical Christianity.

I believe that this coming generation of Christ followers will speak boldly where we have kept silent. I believe that their speech will be seasoned with salt, but unabashedly truthful in witness to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of God’s Word. Their mouths will not only sing praises to God, but will actively tell future generations of the Gospel-grace of God that is found through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe their conduct will bear living testimony to the joy of doing life God’s way. They will walk worthy of their calling in Christ. They will put to death the cravings of the flesh, and bring to life those actions that are congruous with the holiness of God to which they have been redeemed. Their lifestyles will model the message of Christ that their lips proclaim.

I believe they will love people – all people – like we have failed to love them. Their self-sacrificing, Christlike love will not be bound either by old stereotypes or by current events. This love of theirs, fresh and deep, will be living proof of their loving God.

I believe this new generation of Christians will return to biblical purity – sexually, mentally, and relationally. I believe the curse of sinful sexual temptation, having spiraled out of control in recent generations, will be obliterated as they crawl out of the salacious cultural bed we have made for them, preferring instead to honor the marriage bed as holy unto God.

I believe in Christian Teens.

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony

The End of God’s Blessings

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Why would God bless us? Why would He show us favor? Scripture reminds us often that apart from the salvific work of Jesus Christ, humanity is altogether vile, ungodly, self-centered, and short-lived. Why would the infinite, holy God of the universe see fit to pour out His blessings and His favor on us? Certainly we do not deserve it.

We pray for God’s blessings. We pray for healing. We pray for financial freedom. For effectiveness in our various endeavors. For grace toward our children and grandchildren. For God to show up in our circumstances as only He can do… And He does… He answers our prayers. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the prayer of the righteous effectively moves the heart of God.

But why? Why would God bless us and show us favor? Surely there is an end… a purpose… a goal. There’s a word used often in the Greek New Testament to describe the end or the ultimate purpose of something. The word is τέλειος. It describes the state of something when it has grown to its fullest potential – the end goal of something. James used the word in the context of Christian endurance (Ja. 1:4). John used it in the context of Christian love (1 Jn. 4:18). The writer of Hebrews, in the context of the Christian’s personal spiritual growth (Hb. 4:14). The Apostle Paul, in the context of the Christian church’s corporate growth in spiritual unity (Eph. 4:13).

But what is the end – the τέλειος – of the Christian’s blessings from God?

Vanessa and I read Scripture and pray together in the mornings. This morning, as she read Psalm 67 out loud I was reminded of why, ultimately, God chooses to bless those who love Him. And this reminder carries with it a bit of a wake-up call for the redeemed:

“May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor so that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” Psalm 67:1-2.

Apparently, God chooses to bless us and show us favor not for our benefit, but for the benefit of “the nations.” God’s blessings poured out on us have for their end the spreading of the Gospel across the corner and around the globe. This seems to be an increasingly foreign concept in our Western Culture… we tend to understand God’s blessings and God’s favor as rewards for our faithfulness, or as His stamp of approval on our lives. But biblically speaking, the end of our blessings is not our satisfaction or our comfort. The end of God’s blessing and favor toward us is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth.

How has God blessed you? How has He shown you favor? And how are you allowing Him to channel His blessings and favor through you, to the ends of the earth? Are your blessings growing to their fullest potential – to their τέλειος?

Christian, God has not blessed you so that you can sit and soak in your blessings. He has blessed you so that His love and His truth will overflow from you – financially, verbally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally – into the lives of others He has put around you… all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you are hoarding your blessings to yourself, Christian, you’re doing it wrong. But if the blessings of God are flowing through you regularly, faithfully, generously… then perhaps verse 7 will become true in/through your life: “God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

Grace and Peace, Tony

Church, POTUS, & Allegiance

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Photo Credit: http://www.nytimes.com

“I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. He demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens—far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to comeAnd He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.” Ephesians 1:18-23 (HCSB, emphasis added)

It burdens me to see so many Christians (pastors, even) inciting and facilitating division among brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s get this straight. There is only One Name above every other name. There is only One Ruler who deserves our unquestioned allegiance. There is only One Lord over all, who rules and reigns at the right hand of God the Father. Every other name is only named for a fleeting moment. Every other title given is subject to the ultimate authority of the God of the Ages. Every other figure, no matter how iconic or powerful, still rules under the feet of the appointed One–Jesus Christ.

According to the Holy Spirit’s word through the Apostle Paul, if we forget this–if we fail to stake our allegiance in Christ alone–we have dulled our minds to the “hope of His calling,” the “glorious riches of His inheritance,” and “the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe” (vs.18-19 above). So I pray with Paul, that the “perception of our minds would be enlightened.”

Is Christ divided? Then why do we intentionally and rigidly divide His Body? Is such rigid allegiance really worth undermining the advancement of the gospel? “For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and living like unbelievers? . . . are you not unspiritual people?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4, HCSB). Understand this, Christian: every word spoken, every idea thought, every action taken… it all teaches the watching world something about the Christ we proclaim. How embarrassing it must be to our Lord when our open divisions and dissensions portray a divided Christ to the world He came to save.

So not in the spirit of unity for unity’s sake, but in the spirit of unity for Christ’s sake, I appeal to you, my brother or sister in Jesus. Be careful unilaterally staking your allegiance to anyone or anything other than Christ Himself. Before you type that post, make that phone call, compose that tweet, or speak your mind, be sure that every action and every word is submitted in humble allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus Christ alone. And for the love of Jesus (literally), spend your energy, time, voice, and resources making much of Jesus instead of making much of some temporary name named.

Grace and Peace, Tony

Living in Babylon

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Some mornings I wake up and silently ask myself, “Where am I?” The country I knew in my childhood is, in many ways, only a shadow of a memory. Racial bigotry, moral demise, political unrest, economic upheaval, and religious syncretism have become standard. Normal. Some of this change can be attributed to a widening perspective that comes with age, I admit. But there is no doubt that the world in which I live today is much different from the world I remember of my yesterdays. What is the follower of Jesus to do, when he finds himself thrust into a culture that is so far from God–a stranger in his own land?

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s instructions to Jewish exiles deported from their homes and thrust into the godless Babylonian culture at the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar in the early 6th Century B.C. While this Word is uniquely directed to a specific group of people in a specific time period, it teaches us something about the heart of God and about His expectations toward His children who find themselves living in a godless culture.

“This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.’ For this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘Don’t let your prophets who are among you and your diviners deceive you, and don’t listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in My name. I have not sent them.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (Jeremiah 29:4-9, HCSB)

How are we, God’s children, to live in Babylon?

  1. Live life among the people (vs.4-6). Don’t freak out. Don’t hunker down. Don’t isolate yourself from reality. Go about normal daily activities and trust the Lord’s design through it all. God’s people are not to be isolated from the culture in which they live; but they are to be different from the culture in which they live. When godly people reproduce godly people (evangelism & discipleship) in a godless culture, they are being light in darkness, salt in tastelessness. Do life with the people of the culture in which God has placed you. Influence them with God’s truth, for God’s glory, because this always works out for their good.
  2. Seek the welfare of your city (v.7). Pray. Work. Influence for righteousness. The presence of God’s people should influence a city for God’s glory. God holds the monopoly on justice, righteousness, economic abundance, and social welfare. When godly Christian principles and practices take root in the workplace, at the school, in the booster club meetings, and in the sports organizations of your city, the people will come to know the supremacy of life God’s way over life their own way. And as the city prospers under the blessings of God, so will you. How is your Christian presence affecting the social, spiritual, economic, and moral climate of your city?
  3. Be discerning about – and committed to – God’s revealed Word (vs.8-9). Amos prophesied that during the exile (the Intertestamental Period) there would be a “famine… [from] hearing the words of the Lord… People… will seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it,” (Amos 8:11-12, HCSB). The question would then come to those in exile, “Are the Words of God that I have enough?” Often in a wandering (or wilderness/exile) period of our lives, we ask the same question. Is God’s revealed Word trustworthy? Is it enough to get me through this? Or should I search for something more? God’s children who find themselves stranded in godless contexts should always hold fast to God’s revealed Word. No other word from God is needed. What you have is enough. When we start selling our itching ears to pseudo-spiritual gypsies, we become deceived dreamers, questioning God’s infinite goodness in light of our present wanderings. So, Christian in Babylon, know God’s revealed Word and be committed to it.

Godly people do not long to buy a condo in Babylon. But despite their best efforts, they often find themselves thrust into a Babylonian culture where conditions are not necessarily favorable for godly living. But take heart, Christian:

  • In Babylon, Hananiah’s, Mishael’s, and Azariah’s display to kings and peasants the benefits of living God’s way over man’s way.
  • In Babylon, Daniel’s prove that daily, personal intimacy with God shuts the mouths of lions and opens doors for godly influence.
  • In Babylon, Mordecai’s challenge Esthers to live with selfless abandonment to God’s plan.
  • In Babylon, Nehemiah’s, stirred with passion for God’s glory, lead the way in unprecedented spiritual awakening.
  • In Babylon, God stirs the ground in preparation for the deliverance of His people.
  • In Babylon, God’s children come to know His faithfulness and His vast strength in desperate ways.

Living in Babylon? Fear not, Christian. No matter who sits on the throne, “Your God reigns,” (Isaiah 52:7).

Grace and Peace, Tony.