Rest in God

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-9, 11, NIV).

Few concepts are as difficult to get a handle on as the Sabbath. How does the Sabbath apply to Christians today? What biblical principles for living can the believer draw from the fourth commandment?

To understand the relevance and applicability of the Sabbath for believers we must first understand what the Sabbath meant to the Hebrews. The Old Testament concept of Sabbath meant the complete stoppage of all labors to worship the Lord and reflect upon his goodness (to literally rest in God). The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign that a person was in covenant with God—to keep the Sabbath was to demonstrate your faith.

Technically, Sabbath is the cessation of activity, intermission, or rest. It is to take a break for a specific purpose and agenda—to draw close to God. The Sabbath requirement was God’s way of corralling his covenant (but not born-again) people into fellowship with him. In this sense, the Sabbath represents “sacred time,” or set aside time for God.

For believers today, the Sabbath commandment (a type of spirituality) finds its total fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “So do not let anyone make rules for you about eating and drinking or about a religious feast, a New Moon Festival, or a Sabbath day. These things were like a shadow of what was to come. But what is true and real has come and is found in Christ”(Colossians 2:16-17, NCV). Paul also explained that any future keeping of this type or shadow of Jesus is now strictly a matter of personal conscience and conviction: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter” (Romans 14:5, NLT).

The Scriptures teach that the true Sabbath rest is a relationship and lifestyle rather than a certain day of the week. Jesus called out to the world to come find rest in him: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MES).The rest God promises is ultimately found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ: “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1, NIV).

Jesus repeatedly ran into opposition from the Pharisees over his ministry activities on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not something that people were ever to serve. It was an opportunity for God’s people to enjoy complete restoration. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28, NLT).Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would teach on the Sabbath, encourage on the Sabbath, make provision on the Sabbath, and heal on the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath rest found in our personal relationship with the Lord is for the total restoration of man, not for the codification of more religious activity.

The true, genuine rest of God on earth (only a glimpse of what waits for us in heaven) is not accessed through a certain day of the week, but through faith. We enter the rest of God by faith. The writer of Hebrews declared that the message of the gospel is of no value to those that hear but fail to combine what they hear with faith (Hebrews 4:2). Our rest on earth (and in heaven in the future) is compromised when we fail to develop and maintain the spirit of faith: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19, NIV).

 

It’s a Sin Issue

The Bible is filled with clear references to the viability of life in the womb and God’s value for it. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” John the Baptist literally jumped for joy inside his mother’s womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:41). The Lord declared to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Ronald Reagan argued, “Simple morality dictates that unless and until someone can prove the unborn human is not alive, we must give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is (alive). And, thus, it should be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (The Conscience of a Nation). Recent scientific evidence supports the viability of life in the womb by now documenting the perception of the human heartbeat at 16 days. The science, combined with the fact that the overwhelming majority of abortions have nothing to do with the health of the mother, rape, or incest, is cause for reflection, action, and certainly a rejection of late term abortion.

After 63 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973, it is time for the spiritual conscience of the nation and particularly the people of God to awaken. This loss of life is over 46 times greater than all the lives lost in all the wars ever fought as a nation (1,354,664). The lost earning power and subsequent buying power of the aborted work force is estimated to be 90 trillion dollars, and the lost tax revenue at 22.5 trillion dollars (enough to pay off the current national debt in its entirety). God only knows how many problem solvers, scientists, inventors, and spiritual leaders have been lost to the modern-day incarnation of the spirit of Pharaoh and Herod who ordered the death of the infants to destroy any threat to their power (Exodus 1:15-22; Matthew 2:16-18).

If we are to address this issue biblically and effectively, we have to be reminded that abortion is not a political issue or a social issue, but a sin issue. The Bible still commands, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Abortion is ageism at its worst denying a child even the basic right to life. The spirit of death that drove Herod has now shown up in places like New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia where legislators and governors pushed for (and some succeeded) in paving the way for abortion up to the point of birth (and beyond if the embattled governor of Virginia had his way). It’s baffling that people (and even believers) who decry child poverty, lack of clean water, limited education or healthcare, or even border detainment of children have nothing to say about the execution of the unborn.

How we personally deal with abortion as believers is a great indicator of the condition of our own conscience. Advocating for or justifying the slaughter of the unborn indicates the hardened or seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). Brushing off abortion as a political or social issue demonstrates an insensitive, darkened, or damaged conscience (Ephesians 4:19). Being disgusted by this culture of death and attack on the most defenseless among us to the point of raising one’s voice and intercession indicates a healthy, working, and good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Let us take our functioning conscience and pray for our court system, lift up our voices in opposition to this wickedness, rebuke the demonic spirits behind this slaughter, support our foster and adoption systems, get behind legislation that seeks to limit abortion such as heartbeat laws, and provide biblical counseling and healing for those who have experienced the trauma of having an abortion.

When Believers Hurt

Live long enough in community with other believers and you will experience some type of hurt, and you will no doubt be the source of hurt at some point.  We have all received the Judas kiss from someone, and we have all at one time or another been the one doing the kissing. Throughout Scripture we also see individuals like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter who at times were on the receiving end of the hurt, and at times were the ones dishing it out. We as the people of God and particularly the body of Christ, are not dysfunctional because we experience hurt or inflict it, we are dysfunctional because of how we too often handle it.

This is why it’s vital that we understand and apply the grace-filled and mercy-filled Scriptural pathway when believers hurt. When the commands and principles of Jesus are followed, the result is healing, restoration, unity, anointing, and fruitfulness (Psalm 133). When the principles are not honored the result is strife, confusion, and every evil work (James 3:16). When the teaching of Jesus is dismissed it opens the door for believers to be defeated and to damage their witness among unbelievers (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). Paul warned it would be better to be wronged than to be compromised in this fashion. When the instruction of Jesus is not known or ignored it puts the believer in a position to be taken captive by the enemy to do his will – to become his tool rather than an instrument of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24-26). When we exempt ourselves from Jesus’ teaching on this matter we set ourselves up for the repeated destruction of relationships when we are called to model his love (John 13:35; 1 Peter 4:8). Finally, when we choose not to apply his directives we neutralize the power of the keys to the kingdom, including the prayer of agreement, and binding and loosing power and authority (Matthew 18).

The pathway is described by Jesus plainly in Matthew 5 and 18 and involves a series of spiritual steps that are outlined for the sole purpose and reason of restoration and the preservation of relationships among the brethren. The pathway prescribed by Jesus and its honest and deliberate application by believers does not invalidate the one who is hurt or trash the one who did the hurting, but provides wisdom, counsel, and supernatural power to bring people back together.

The first step, if practiced, has the power to quickly defuse and protect relationships. It simply calls for the offending party to go to a brother that has an issue with him or her and seek forgiveness and restoration (Matthew 5:21-24). The Scripture teaches that we are to leave our gift at the altar until restoration is pursued. This more than implies that we deceive ourselves when we think we can be in strife with others and pretend that everything is fine with our walk with the Lord. In reality, our horizontal relationships impact our vertical relationship with God. How many issues would be resolved and resolved quickly if we followed this teaching with conviction.

Second, if this does not happen, the offended brother is to go to the individual and share the grievance just between the two of them (Matthew 18:15). In this day of instant communication through social media and the blogosphere, this simple principle is too often ignored or rejected. When we violate this mandate we make it hard, if not impossible, to achieve restoration.

Third, if the individual does not respond, then we are told to bring along one or two other witnesses or people who have first-hand knowledge of the incident involving us (Matthew 18:16), rather than people we have told about the situation (and certainly not people we have sent an email, tweet, text, or Facebook post or instant message about the matter). Again, the goal is to bring healing and restore the relationship rather than putting together our own posse of sympathizers who may agree with us.

Finally, if we fail to achieve reconciliation through the taking of responsibility by the offending person seeking restoration, or by going to the offending party personally, or by bringing one or two personal witnesses to the situation, then the matter should be brought to an individual or individuals that both parties would agree constitute spiritual authority or government in their lives (Matthew 18:17). This is made plainer and simpler when both individuals are in the same body, but still possible when there is agreement as to the right of an individual or individuals to speak from a position of spiritual authority into the situation to navigate and work towards restoration and healing. If reconciliation fails at this point, Jesus instructed such a person to be treated as a pagan or tax collector (Matthew 18:17). We need, however, to be honest at this point and reflect on just how Jesus treated the pagan and tax collector. The story of Zacchaeus makes plain Jesus’ behavior and his intent that we should continue to love and reach out with the hope of life transformation and restoration (Luke 19:1-10).

The question many believers would have is what they should do if the individual in question is either not available or no longer living. The question is also what they should do if there are no true witnesses to the situation or there is no clear spiritual leadership able to steer the process. We always have the Lord to entrust the matter to expecting him to bring healing and to work in and through the situation. We also have people with integrity and honor who can help guide us through the process without enabling us in our strife, excusing the hurt, or vilifying the offender.  We must make certain, nonetheless, that we do not embrace and employ current social norms and modern means of communication that violate the teachings of Jesus, that facilitate the transmission of feelings and opinions without the benefit of context, tone, or nonverbals, and that engender strife rather than promote healing and restoration.

We are the end-time Church with amazing opportunities, tremendous responsibility, and unprecedented warfare and persecution. In the process of fulfilling our Father’s will we will be hurt, and we will be the hurter. At those times, let us value the principles of the Word of God, relationships among the people of God, and the benefits of handling hurt properly so that our witness is intact, our influence is sizable, and our power discernable. During those times you are the hurt or hurter, the kissed or the kisser, do not exempt yourself from the prescription of Jesus and you will see the miracle of restored relationships.

Supernatural Forgetfulness

Matthew 5 shows us that the real key to murder is not the violence itself, but the underlying reason for the violence—unresolved anger and unforgiveness. The fact is no one will kill if he or she is in the habit of genuinely forgiving the offender.

Because man is a multidimensional being consisting of spirit, soul, and body, it is possible to “murder” an individual without killing the body. For example, we can murder someone’s reputation, character, influence, self-esteem, courage, hopes, and dreams. A person can be emotionally dead and live on for decades in his or her body. It is important to realize that we can commit murder without ever taking someone’s life physically.

Jesus taught that we must actively forgive those that sin against us. Our sin debt remains if we embrace God’s grace and forgiveness but refuse to extend that same grace and forgiveness to others. Consider the story of the unjust servant. He owed his master millions of dollars. Facing imprisonment and the enslavement of his family, the man begged for mercy and the debt was forgiven. This same man went out and found a man who owed him a few dollars and began to demand immediate payment showing him no mercy. Word of his duplicity came to the master and the unjust servant’s debt was reactivated and the man was thrown in jail to be tortured until he repaid the debt.

You might be saying, “Well, I’ve forgiven them, but I can’t forget.” The biblical truth is that if you intentionally remember, you really haven’t forgiven. This practice of remembering and meditating on the offense is proof that we have never really released the person from the offense. God forgives us and his forgiveness includes the forgetting of our sins. Micah 7:19 (NIV) declares, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” The writer of Hebrews quoting Jeremiah 31:34 wrote, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12, NIV).

The normal reaction here would be to say, “but that’s God.” We can’t be expected to forgive like God does and actually, consciously forget the sin committed against us—or can we? We are called to be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1). If God with is omniscience can voluntarily choose not to remember our sins, then we can also choose not to remember what has been done to us (given our lack of omniscience). Like forgiveness and redemption in general, the supernatural power and grace of God through the blood of Jesus is needed to empower us to walk in true forgiveness and forgetfulness with others. In the natural you can’t be forgiven—so how could you possibly forgive and forget in the natural?

Climb Little Bear

I saw a video on Facebook recently where a mama bear and bear cub were trying to scale a steep snow-covered mountain slope.  The mama bear with her big claws seemed to reach the summit just fine, but the baby bear struggled.  Time and time again he would make progress only to slide right back down the mountain and once nearly off the slope face. Amazingly, the little bear became more resolute and energized instead of defeated with each attempt until he reached the top to join his mother. Like the little bear, the ultimate key to success in every area of life is developing guts and grit in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The video reminded me of the story in the Bible where a man came to his friend in the middle of the night seeking provision for a friend who stopped by on a journey. The man refused saying his children were already in bed and the door was locked.  The Scripture indicates that the man would eventually rise and help, not because of friendship, but because of the man’s “importunity” (Luke 11:5-8, KJV). This word, rarely used in today’s world, actually combines three concepts, including boldness (confidence to do and say what is right), shamelessness (not ashamed to ask and keep asking no matter how it looks to others), and persistence (steadfastness despite difficulty or delay) to show believers how to approach God in prayer.

The highest form of faith is to keep believing when everything tells you it will never happen. This type of perseverance qualifies us for the eventual breakthrough and victory. The Scripture clearly shows a connection between persistence and obtaining what is promised (Hebrews 10:35-36). Those who sow will also reap if they faint not (Galatians 6:7-9). It’s hard to miss the lessons of people like Job and Joseph who simply refused to quit and refused to turn on the Lord. Job received the double for his trouble and Joseph went from the pit via persecution and prison to the palace. There’s no telling where you can go if you will just choose to hang in there. All the really great triumphs in life are going to come through this type of endurance.

So how do you develop importunity or that bold and shameless persistence? First, Keep your eyes on the promise instead of the circumstance, the date on a calendar, the time on the clock, or the amount in your checking account. Second, keep your emotions under control because they will try to control the situation and you. Always remember that your emotions are given by God to experience life, not to run your life. Third, Keep your righteousness mentality remembering that he gave you the gift of righteousness and that consciousness of right standing with God will always make you bold and courageous. Finally, keep plugging away. Keep doing what you are doing. Be faithful, diligent, and consistent, and like the baby bear, you will find yourself standing on top of the summit.  Keep climbing little bear! Keep climbing!

Excuses, Excuses

Jesus told the story of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The invited were told to come, for everything was now ready.  Instead of discerning the importance of the opportunity and showing gratitude for the invitation, one by one the invited guests began to make excuses.

The first one excused himself saying he had just purchased a field. The second said that he had just purchased five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out. The third declined to attend saying that he had just got married. The master of the feast then replaced them with the poor, crippled, blind, lame, and those outside the city.

The story reflects the current spiritual climate of the Western Church.  When we ought to be discerning the times and seasons and preparing ourselves for the momentous end time events like the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), so many believers are completely caught up in this natural life having lost spiritual sensitivity and an appetite for spiritual things.

Just like the person who purchased a field, believers today, after believing God for them, have no problem putting their houses, lands, vehicles, toys, and possessions before the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:17 tells us to remember the Lord for he is the one who gives us power to get wealth.  Instead of remembering him when we prosper and things go well, we tend to withdraw from him, a pattern the people of God have followed for thousands of years.

Just like the person who bought the oxen, believers have no problem today putting their money, jobs, and personal economy before the Lord.  Amazingly, the job we so desperately asked God for becomes the basis for blowing off the things of God like personal devotion, public worship, and Christian service. Having been blessed by him, we should honor his involvement in our financial lives by staying faithful to him, his house, and his priorities, including honoring him with the first thin dime of every dollar from the job we say he gave to us.

Just like the person who just got married, believers have developed the erroneous theology and idol of family first before everything, including God.  The truth is Jesus said if we were to be his disciples, we could not put any human relationship before him (Luke 14:26). It’s not uncommon for a man or woman to pray for a spouse and then after that prayer is answered to withdraw from God’s presence and people. Today we let children tell us if they want to go to church (but we make them go to school), involve them in activities that keep them out of church, and teach them by parental example that spiritual things are not the priority.

If you don’t want to lose your reservation and seat at the table get rid of the excuses. Get ready by preparing your heart and life for this great day. Get excited about spiritual things and especially things to come. Get active in inviting others into the Kingdom.

What Is Faith?

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things of unseen” (KJV). The NIV renders this verse, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is not nothing. It is the invisible substance or heavenly matter from which everything in the universe, seen and unseen is derived. Faith is critical because without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Four times in Scripture we are told that the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38) which means that faith is the prescribed way for every believer to live.  It is the law of the kingdom of God (Romans 3:27) and the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5).

What passes for faith these days, however, is too often presumption or wishful thinking.  God honors Bible faith, not presumption, so it is critical to understand the difference between presumption and faith, and how faith is developed and used.  F. F. Bosworth famously said, “Faith begins where the will of God is known.” To know the will of God we must know his Word.  Unless our believing God is based on the promises of his word, we will most likely be in presumption, and God is not obligated to honor our presumption because we are only authorized to believe what God has said.

To understand the difference between faith and presumption, suppose someone tells a friend you are going to take their family to Disney World.  What would mark this as faith and separate it from presumption is if you actually told that person you were going to take them to Disney World. They have no right to believe that if you never said that.  It’s the same way with the Word of God.  We can’t believe God for things he didn’t say. We just can make something up he didn’t say and declare we are believing God for that because real Bible faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 1:17).

Faith does begin where the will of God is known, but it does not end there. Faith begins where the will of God is known, but it is established in grace, energized by love, developed on a blueprint of hope, undergirded by patience, released by confession, made alive by action, activated by praise, and identified by joy. The process begins when the Holy Spirit creates a vivid picture on your heart of what can be based on the Word. As Jerry Savelle said, “The heart is the canvas, the Word is the paint, and the Holy Spirit is the artist.” The inner image of your heart affects your decisions, direction, and ultimately your destiny. Change that image and you change your future.  You can be assured that any picture painted on your heart by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God is always faith and never presumption. That’s something you should believe every time.

The Conclusion

Celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s posthumous release of his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, expressed his conclusion that there is no God, there is no one controlling the universe, and there most certainly is no heaven or afterlife.  In the same text he affirms his belief in alien life forms and cautions attempts to contact or respond to these more evolved and sophisticated species of life before we are more developed technologically ourselves as a species. This declaration is proof that despite his brilliance, Mr. Hawking, lacking spiritual intelligence and education, chose to worship the creation without acknowledging the creator (Romans 1:25).

The contradiction could not be more conspicuous.  He does not believe in a God he cannot see despite the preponderance of physical evidence of His existence scattered throughout the universe and specifically on our planet.  He does not believe in God even though it is illogical to conclude that exquisite order and complexity can come from complete chaos and randomness. He does not believe in God even though the renowned physicist’s belief in the origin of the universe requires such intense heat that no building block protein could possibly survive without instantly denaturing at the onset of its formation. According to the latest theory of Hawking and Thomas Hertog on the origin of the universe, the universe expanded rapidly like bread in an oven a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. That oven cooks at a much higher temperature than the 105.8 degrees needed to destroy any protein. And yet, Mr. Hawking believes with absolutely no empirical evidence, no direct evidence, no indirect evidence, no interaction, no communication, and no creative footprint left behind that alien life exists in the universe.

Mr. Hawking’s  conclusion that there is no God is a classic case of a man’s worldview informing his science rather than science informing his worldview.  It’s a paradox forged in secular man’s drive to resist any notion that there is a higher order being to whom we must be accountable.  So intense is this drive that men are willing to be perceived as fools as they ignore the obvious in the adoption of self-serving attitudes and conclusions.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  The conclusion of such an irreplaceable mind as Hawking’s should have been similar to the conclusion of Solomon:  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NIV, 1984).

Mini Maos

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) to centralize his power and influence, and purge capitalist, traditionalist, and nationalist elements from Chinese society. His campaign led to abuse where millions of people were stripped of profession, livelihood, possessions, liberty, and even life, all without due process on the basis of a simple accusation by a member of the Red Guard or other complicit political group. Physicians were forced to clean toilets, builders and engineers were made to harvest crops by hand, business leaders were stripped of the businesses they built and forced into labor camps, university professors were required to attend reeducation sessions (indoctrination), and all of this based on unsubstantiated accusations. Contrary to Mao’s intentions, these actions paralyzed China politically and severely damaged its economy and society. His actions did, however, utterly destroy countless innocent lives in the process.

It’s striking to me to watch an American version of this develop in our freedom-loving nation where our citizens are now guilty until proven innocent and due process is just a dusty and irrelevant concept of a bygone jurisprudence.  What’s more striking is that the source of so much of this incitement is a growing list of politicians who inspire mob rule, encourage violence against colleagues they disagree with, promote harassment in public places including restaurants and retail centers, and slander with the cynical partnership of a media that can’t discern the truth if it bit them on the behind. Eclipsing all of this is the complete destruction of a public servant’s reputation and family with a methodology and fervor that would make Mao proud.  These politicians, most of them lawyers by trade, were taught early in law school about due process, the presumption of innocence, and the meaning of corroborating evidence, but choose to set aside these sacred elements of the American legal system for political reasons (the same motivation as Mao). Flipping our legal system upside down may seem like a good idea when it potentially benefits a person or group, but what happens when that system is then flipped on them?

To say our nation faces a political identity crisis is an understatement. Many Republicans have become Democrats and many Democrats have become Socialists.  One thing we don’t have to be confused about is our foundational and shared values as Americans. It is obvious, and sad, that some of our leaders have slipped into a political abyss by adopting Maoist tactics to advance their standing and power. My hope is that Americans of all political persuasions who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, who honor our constitution and institutions, who respect the rule and process of law, and who put our country above their own self-interests would rise up, reject, and resist such practices and return to a spirit of civility. Those who are perfectly willing to trade principles for power by employing these tactics must be held accountable.  The best way to do that is during this election cycle. Vote for those who share our American values and not for the mini Maos.

The Church Drop Outs

There’s a lie and heresy that has infiltrated the Church in the United States. It says that commitment to Christ is all that matters. It asserts that we can have a relationship with Jesus without a relationship with his Church.  Current church related statistics in the U.S. reflect this flawed and man-made theology. Although 40% of Christians in America claim to attend church weekly, research shows the actual percentage to be between 14 and 18%.  Each Sunday, the average church is missing 33-40% of its church attenders, a mere 15-20% serve in some volunteer capacity, and giving as a percentage of income is lower than during the depression.

Contrast this, however, with the plain teachings of Scripture and the example of the one we say we are following, Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews noted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25).  The implication is that some who were previously faithful have become unfaithful. Luke observed of Jesus, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). It’s important to notice that there is no asterisk in the text excluding us from the command and example based on how we feel, what we want to do, or how put out we are with the Church.

Unlike the command of Hebrews and the example of Jesus, American Christians are dropping out when they should be digging in. They are disappearing for a variety of reasons. Some have gotten hurt or offended forgetting it’s hypocrisy to expect the Church to accept their imperfections while demanding perfection from the Church. Others became distracted by the cares of the world and pursuits of the flesh. Some have simply become lazy, apathetic, and without passion losing their priority for the things of God. Others have been deceived and isolated having missed a signal from the Head of the Church. Many, unfortunately, have simply grown stingy and selfish disappearing from the Church because they just don’t want to attend, serve, or give. We may or may not feel we have a valid reason for withdrawing from a church, but we are never right to completely drop out of the Church.

Commitment to the Church without commitment to Christ is religion, but commitment to Christ without commitment to the Church is rebellion. If we really loved him, we would keep his commandments. People in the Church who would never board and demand to take the controls of the plane or attempt to perform surgery on themselves in the hospital or interrupt their college professor and take over the class, have decided, without call or anointing, to isolate from the Church and pastor themselves. They have the mindset that they do not need anyone but Jesus to teach, guide, or lead them. But consider that the simple action of tapping one’s toe requires that a message come from the head, down the neck, through the torso, down the spine, past the thigh, knee, calve, ankle, and foot to get to the toe.  Sever the signal at any level and the message does not get through. Just like the natural body, believers need Jesus and one another to function.

Perhaps as a culture we are forgetting just how important the Church is in this world. It is the body of Christ of which he is the head, the expression of his nature, will, and power in the earth, the seat and locus of his authority in the earth (Matthew 18), the source of revealed wisdom, mysteries, and manifestations (Ephesians 3:9-10), the benchmark of his standards and expectations, and the moral conscience for society. We must remember that there will be no transformation in isolation because life transformation takes place in community.  There will be no restoration in isolation because even Lazarus needed the Church to take off his grave clothes following his resurrection. There will be no revelation in isolation because even Peter’s great revelation from God that Jesus was the Christ came in fellowship. There will be no impartation in isolation because only those who showed up to the upper room in Acts 2 experienced the outpouring of God’s Spirit. There will be no direction in isolation because God has ordained leaders who are anointed to guide us and seasoned believers who provide the wisdom that can only come from a multitude of counselors. This is why misdirection so often accompanies isolation from the Church and why deception is so prevalent in the body of Christ today.

The confusion caused by the drop outs has many sincere believers wondering what they should do with the Church. Instead of isolating from the Church and dropping out in these days, we need to plug in like never before.  First, we need to love the church, appreciate it, and be positive about it by focusing on the virtues rather than the weaknesses. Warts and all, the Church is still the best thing going in the world. Second, we need to commit to the Church. We need to rededicate our lives to Christ, but we also need to rededicate our lives to the Church. Third, we need to support the Church by faithfully attending, serving, and giving.  After all He has done to purchase our redemption, the least we can do is reciprocate with our time, talent, and treasure. Fourth we should honor the Church by living right and modeling the message of redemption. Fifth, we should grow the church because church growth is every believer’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the pastoral staff and leadership.  Sixth, we need to defend the Church from those that would attack and malign it internally, externally, culturally, or globally. Finally, we need to be the Church by expressing God’s love, power, and goodness in our community and throughout the world.