Stirring Up to Love and Good Works

Stirring up to Love and Good Works

And let us consider how to stir one up another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the church building about 40 minutes before Bible class started.  There was a message on the answering machine from a dear sister in Christ who had called at 3 a.m. after going to the emergency room.  She had called simply to inform me that she wouldn’t be at church that morning.  Something she said at the end of the message stuck with me:  “Wish I could be there.  I’ll miss you guys.”

Stir up those you love and whose desire is to serve God!

Stir up those you love and whose desire is to serve God!

Here’s something for us in the church of Christ to think about.  Lost amidst all the study and debate about whether it’s truly forsaking the assembly if you purposefully miss Sunday morning Bible classes, Wednesday night Bible classes, Sunday evening worship services, and gospel meeting assemblies, or if you have to work during an assembly time, or if you go on vacation, etc., is our focus on the biblical purpose of our meeting together in the first place as shown in today’s scripture.  And on what should our focus be?  Encouraging each other and edifying each other.  Stirring up each other to love and good works.

I see a sharp contrast between the brother or sister in Christ who either reaches for any and every excuse to not come to church or who will critique the faithfulness of those who do not come as often as them…and this sister in Christ who had to miss one Sunday’s worth of assemblies because she was sick and yet while in her pain felt the need to call in the middle of the night not to ask for our prayers but simply to tell us that she was sorry she couldn’t come and would miss seeing all of us.

We “go to church” not only to worship God, but also to get our spiritual batteries recharged.  Our batteries are re-charged not only by our praise in song, the prayers we give to our Redeemer, the memorial Supper we eat as we remember Christ’s sacrifice, the cheerful giving of our means to further the work of the church, and the biblical message we hear.  Our batteries are also re-charged by the smiles we give to each other, the cheerful pats on the back, the right hand of fellowship given in a friendly handshake, the “holy kisses” on the cheek given in love and friendship, the laughter and smiles shared by God’s family as they briefly leave the sin-filled darkness of the world in which they struggle and toil throughout the week and bask in the light of fellow believers who are trying to serve God just like them.

Not only do we need the strength that comes from worship and praise, not only do we need the strength that comes from Bible study and prayer, but we also need the strength that comes from each other.  So let’s ask ourselves some questions as the next Sunday/Wednesday/gospel meeting night/special assembly time approaches:

  1. When I walk through those auditorium doors, do I expect to be encouraged above all else…or am I looking for someone else to encourage first and foremost?
  2. When I walk through those auditorium doors, is building up every person I see my top priority…or is having my own wants and idiosyncrasies met by those around me what I care about the most?
  3. As the next assembly time approaches, am I selfishly looking for excuses to stay at home…or am I excited about yet another opportunity to not only worship God with brethren but also to see my brethren and build them up?
  4. Whatever our answers to the above questions may be, let’s ask ourselves why.
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Are you a child of Hell?

Are you a child of Hell?

One would hope not, but it’s a serious question worth asking.

Our Lord Jesus, in preaching to the Jews condemned the Jewish scribes and Pharisees, saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13, 15; ESV)

Are your behaviors in line with that of God's desires.

Are your behaviors in line with that of God’s desires or are you a child of hell?

As Jesus surveyed the Pharisees he recognized that they were religious, and that they were zealous for that religion. They went to great lengths to promulgate their religion, but in the end, it would not matter. The religion they were teaching was only going to send them to hell.

This should make us take note. Religion, Jesus was saying, does not,in and of itself, guarantee a place in heaven. Jesus would never have agreed with the doctrine, taught by some, that all religions are getting us to the same place, just by different paths. Too many believe that it does not matter what you believe; to them, all faiths are equal in their effectiveness.

Jesus taught the road to heaven was more exclusionary than that. (cf. Matthew 7:13-14) “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” said Jesus, “No man comes to the Father apart from me.” (John 14:6)

When Jesus looked at the very religious Pharisees, He did not see people on their way to heaven. What they were doing was not sufficient for salvation. Much earlier in His earthly ministry, Jesus had warned His followers, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

The Pharisees had several problems identified by Jesus, not the least of which was their rejection of Him as the anointed of God. They refused to believe that Jesus was the messiahand in that rejection, they shut themselves away from God’s grace.

A religion that points men away from Jesus is pointing men away from their only hope of salvation. (cf. Acts 4:12) If you reject Jesus, you are in effect, embracing hell.

This was not the only problem the Pharisees had. Jesus also habitually condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Though much of what they taught came from God’s word, the Pharisees refused to apply it personally to themselves. Thus, Jesus said of them, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2-3; ESV)

A religion that does not actually affect one’s behavior is a worthless religion. Jesus did not want his followers to be hearers of the word without also being doers of the same. (cf. James 1:22-25) If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that believe needs to actually touch your behavior. If you know the truth, and can teach people the truth, but you yourself never obey the truth, you are not a child of heaven.

Finally, Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for adding their own opinion to the word of God. He cited Isaiah and applied it to the religious leaders of the day, stating that their worship of God was vain, because they were adding to God’s word. (cf. Matthew 15:9) God warned His people not to do this. (cf. Proverbs 30:5-6) But the Pharisees did it anyway, creating customs and titles and dogmas, and adding it all to the Law, making their teachings equal to God’s teachings.

Even so today, believers in Christ are warned not to change the Gospel. If a man does not abide in the doctrine Christ gave, but runs ahead of that doctrine, adding to it, that man has lost his relationship with God. (cf. 2 John 9) Likewise, we are told that if anyone starts changing the Gospel being preached, then what they are preaching is no longer the Gospel, and that person is accursed, or, in other words, a child of hell. (cf. Galatians 1:6-9)

Far too many feel comfortable moving beyond what God has proscribed, assuming that their own additions, adjustments and ideas will still be pleasing to God. But if our worship, our faith and our behaviors are in accordance with our own desires, rather than the desires of God, we are not on the path to the Father, but are instead following in the footsteps of the devil. And when we convert people to such a path, we are not making them children of God, we are making them children of hell.

All of this should give each of us pause, and motivate us to serious self reflection. There are many denominations, and many contradictory things being taught as doctrine in this world. But not all religion is good. Any religion which points away from Christ is naturally problematic and evil. But even if a religion claims Christ and the Bible, if it is a form religion that is willing to change God’s word, it is not a saving religion. A religion that adds to what God has taught men, inserting human wisdom into the divine text, is one that is following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, and Jesus warned us where their path was taking them.It’s a path we don’t want to be on.

 

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Unity, Homes, and Houses

The Church’s Secret Weapon for Greater Unity

Homes today are 1,000 square feet larger than the average home in 1973. Many houses today are not “homes,” but more like showplaces, as people strive to get that perfect “Magnolia” look or have just the right beach or mountain decorations. And yet, fewer and fewer people are inviting others into their homes. Think about that–we have bigger houses with more “stuff” and yet we have fewer guests over. We don’t eat with one another in our homes–but rather we name a restaurant to meet at.

It may be a super star sized house, but is it a home?

It may be a super star sized house, but is it a home?

I don’t know if it is because we have become so worldly that we are ashamed of those nicks and scratches on our interior paint, or maybe we don’t feel comfortable with people seeing how we really live. But the result is still the same: many Christians go weeks (or more realistically, months) without having anyone in their home. As a result, we don’t really know most of our church family very well.

How can you REALLY get to know someone in a loud and busy restaurant? How can you truly open up to people if you don’t know them?

Rare is the week we don’t have people–often LOTS of people–in our home. Melinda and I gave up worrying about having a spotless home, shiny floors, and a well manicured lawn years ago (we have 4 children and a dog). That’s not to say we don’t try to keep a clean house and nice yard. We do. But the reality is we live in our home, and life happens. We actually cook in our kitchen. We have a crazy travel schedule with my job. We often drop what we are doing to assist someone who may need a meal, visit, or helping hand. And so when friends and family come over they know they are not going to get a Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines showplace.

So why would we have people over if our life is already crazy? Maybe it is to laugh together. Or to empathize and sympathize with one another. Or to have serious talks about spiritual matters. Or to play cards and sing. Or maybe it is to just sit around a cup of coffee and just love each other.

Acts 2:46 says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” I love this verse because it paints a beautiful picture. These people had something in common and they wanted to be together.

This week (like many weeks) we have had two opportunities to have late night talks with two special groups of people. In one we were exploring life, discipling, talking about the future, and discussing God’s role in what we do. The other was talking about death and the struggles one faces when a family member passes away. It’s during talks like these that our relationships truly grow and deepen. It’s during late night discussions like these or sitting around a table that our children grow and see what real Christianity looks like. It’s during those conversations that you get just a little sample of what heaven will be like when you are surrounded by your Christian family.

So why don’t we do it more often? Why aren’t we in each others homes weekly? Why aren’t we eating with one another more often? If you are currently thinking you are too busy, then Satan has lied to you and told you worldly activities are more important than Christian relationships. If you think you don’t have the energy then please take a minute and evaluate what things are taking all of your energy. Or is it that you are afraid of letting your guard down and letting people see the real you with all your warts and scars? Friends, it’s during those times gathered around your table or sprawled out on the couch that you discover other people have warts and scars too, and you come to realize they love you anyway. It’s during those times that you realize there are people on this planet who are not perfect, but they love you and honestly want to help you get to heaven–and will be there for you in the good times and bad. Stop thinking about having someone over and just do it. You’ll be glad you did!

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