Limited meetings, unlimited Life
"We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him? [1 John 3:16, 17]
After a relatively cold restless sleep last night, I decided to arise and meet with some brothers at a restaurant in town this morning. It's a casual time of fellowship where one of the elder brothers offers to buy breakfast for everyone who shows. This same individual ususally has a question or two we discuss over breakfast. Simple, although not unprofitable by any means.
So you know, these brothers are people I used to formerly attend fellowship with. They are sincere brothers although I chose to stop supporting meeting with them regularly at "church" because I reject what so obviously never originated with God in the first place. This of course does not allow me the freedom to fail to love or serve these men or any other Christian in need as the verse above makes clear.
One of the questions raised went something like this: "Notwithstanding our regular weekly religious commitments, what are we doing to serve others the rest of the week?" Needless to say my mind went racing all over and although I could have spoken a two hour sermon myself right then and there, I knew I needed to listen before I spoke. What followed was intersting, first silence and then the usual answers such as loving or serving people more. Yes this is necessary, but I'm afraid the knowledge of that won't help us much. Most of us know what we need to do, we simply either fail to do it, and that either due to neglect, rebellion or an ignorance of how to go about bringing what God speaks to us to fruition. I'd like to share a little about each of these so we might discover where we are in relation to our current responsibilities with the other local saints.
I don't know anyone who wouldn't confess to being neglectful with their responsibilities as a believer. Sometimes this stems from our shallow "devotional times" or our refusing to meet the needs of others when given those opportunities. One of these would be a willingness to listen to a brother or sister in need without them having to compete with a phone or a computer for our attention. This isn't just rude but extremely selfish as well. It also could have been the opportunity I just had to share what I was writing with a lady exiting the restaurant I'm writing this in. As it turns out, I've seen her many times although this was the first time we ever talked one with another- and she's aware that believers used to meet in homes! She brought it up I didn't. Little does she know, but Judy just became part of this little study as well as your life and mine. God is awesome, and the sooner we anticipate that moment by moment the more often these little blessings will result.
Most of us are likely a little fuzzy about the nature of rebellion. Some would equate this word with a refusal to obey, and it can be used that way although there's more. Rebellion is basically opposition to the authorities God Himself has established, Himself included. For now I want to limit this section to rebellion against God Himself and how this can and does occur.
In 1 Samuel we find King Saul attempting to justify his disobedience in relation to what God told him through Samuel:
Then Saul said to Samuel, "I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal."
Notice Samuel's immediate response to this in the next few verses:
"Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey in better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king."
Looking at the verses above, what can we surmise about Sauls rebellion?
1) He rebelled because he refused to obey God's plain instructions. Even though these instructions came through Samuel, he himself understood and knew they were from God. (verse 20) The key words are he knew, better.
2) He justified his wrongdoing, even retaining an attitude of "self righteousness" as he still claimed that he had "obeyed the Lord" despite Samuel just telling him he had not. (verse 19).
3) He blamed the people, despite their merely following his own example of disobedience.(verse 21)
4) God took this very seriously and equated his actions with divination, iniquity and idolatry. "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin" [James 4:17]
It is important to recognize several things just here. God had appointed Saul to be King as a direct result of what the people requested. As King it was Saul's responsibility to set a proper example for the people. Instead, he not only took advantage of them but led them into sin. Such is the result of men "ruling over" other men. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as God's delegated authority in the Body of Christ, nor is disagreeing with religious leaders considered rebellion by God. Rebellion is both an attitude of refusing to submit, coupled with actions that undermine proper and Spirit led authority. A religious position or a spiritual title in an institution no more grants a person God's authority any more than your paycheck makes you a millionaire. We can want all kinds of things, convince others of them and even play make-believe if we so desire. That still doesn't change the facts or turn God into a dispenser of gifts separate from Himself. What we are, what we do and what we'll become is all in and through Him. Separate yourself from Christ and you separate everything that is found in Him from yourself to include His righteousness. Would God just give sinful men His authority and that over others unchecked and without qualification? Silly you. .
Christians rebel when they know God is speaking to them and act contrary to His desires. Here is an example.
God makes plain that friendship with this world is equated to hostility with Him. [James 4:4, 5] If one is inclined to reject this word from God and continue in one's worldly ways despite what God says, that is rebellion. Another instance would be when an individual rejects the counsel and/or admonition given toward a local believer in sin. The consequences are, and must be severe.
I only bring this subject matter to light due to the many in institutions who regularly rebel against the truth and are almost never called to account. Rarely is a true believer rebellious and hostile toward what God has commanded toward Him. Their inclination, although thwarted by their old nature is to obey Him.
Returning to our initial subject again, "Notwithstanding our regular religious commitments, what are we doing to serve others the rest of the week?"
The sad reality these days is most Christians have little idea why they believe what they say they believe. We talked about this in a recent article called The Right and Wrong Questions. I pointed out how necessary it is to ask ourselves WHY we make the choices that we make as those choices relate to the practice of our beliefs. In some ways we're continuing that theme here in this study.
For some reason those of us who call upon the name of Christ always have answers, though rarely do those answers work in real life. We tell people who struggle with sin to attend more church, those who desire to exercise their gifts to start some program or even their own ministry. We're constantly telling those with questions to ask the Pastor or some other supposed authority. Evangelism turns into "invitations," alter calls into "conversions" and conversions into "volunteers." Little do we realize the cost of all our solutions. So far, well, not good. Now it's your turn.
How would you answer the question above? Can I guess your answer? Another meeting. Maybe on Sunday, Monday or another day of the week. Which day are you free so I can come and serve whatever need you might have? Yes, I can serve you, you can serve me, in fact, we could just invite everybody over and we can all serve each other- that is if we haven't already a meeting to attend. I suppose we could just start calling everybody now- all 400 families to see which ones are free to serve, free to serve where, free to serve whom and for how long? By the time we get done with all of this, we'll simply be too tired to serve. OK, let's forget it, we'll just meet on Sunday.
Despite our ignorance at times, anyone can see the absurdity of the above scenario. It's just not possible. WHY! Is it because the Pastor is out of town and won't let us use the church? Is it because there are too many people to fit in any other location? Is it because we won't know what to do with the children? Is it because most of us have no idea how to serve our fellow believers and therefore would just assume skirt the responsibility?
How we build matters
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it" [1 Corinthians 3:10]
No believer is going to dispute that the foundation of both the Ekklesia of God and all of its members is Jesus Christ. This is all too obvious. What isn't so obvious is once this foundation is laid, by Paul the apostle above and others in Romans 15:20 and elsewhere, that foundation will likely be built upon by other people. Note the warning above: But each man must be careful how he builds upon it.
I'd like you to consider your own experience here as a believer. Do you remember who built upon the foundation of Christ in your life? Do you recall any of what they attempted to build? I do. I vividly recall some teaching on abiding in Christ, being separate from the world, the need for repentance and of course the need to read my Bible, pray, fellowship and witness Christ to others. So far so good, these truths were helpful and necessary for one growing through the infancy stages of the new birth. But was that all, no, there was more. There was also need to get committed to the functions that those who shared Christ with me participated in. There was the need to read and study certain materials, read certain books and memorize certain verses. Furthermore, it was assumed that the seriously committed folks would participate in various functions seven days a week and follow those in leadership verbatim. Was this good? Not so much so. You may ask, 'Why not?'
Type of building materials
For those rare souls that still desire and attempt to build into others lives upon the foundation of Christ, two things stand out as paramount among the rest. Exactly what am I attempting to build and what materials am I using to build? The Bible is clear that the builders can use a variety of materials in which to build. 1 Corinthians 3:12, 13 states;
"Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work."
From this verse we can ascertain that there are some materials which fire can burn up (wood, hay and straw) and yet others which fire only purifies (gold, silver and precious stones). The following verses reference rewards and loss depending upon whether the building blocks we utilize in building last. The key word to focus on is remain.
"If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Now, what would be the overriding factor in whether or not our labor will be in vain or not? Obviously the type of building blocks we use. But what differentiates one type from another? Yes, one type can be burned, the other no. But what is the difference between the type that can be burned up and the type that can't be burned? There's a difference isn't there.
Go back and notice the list above I created earlier. The one directly below the solid white line above. What is the difference between the first set of what I considered to be helpful and the latter set which I deemed not so helpful?
In an earlier post, I described how every person I meet is an opportunity to share one of two things. When it came to certain questions by others, I could answer plainly, counter their questions with my own (as Jesus often did) or use these questionins to direct people toward the Person of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether the question was "Where do you go to church," "Who is your Pastor" or any question for that matter, my responsibility is to direct others NOT TOWARD ME, NOT TOWARD A CHURCH, NOT TOWARD SOME LEADER, WRITER, PASTOR or PREACHER or even TOWARD WHAT I THINK THEY SHOULD BELIEVE. MY AIM SHOULD ALWAYS BE TO REPRESENT MY LORD JESUS CHRIST IN RELATION TO HIM AS THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE LIFE. WHY? FEFE. .
The answer is actually quite simple. The difference between the two lists above is the difference between what originates in heaven with Christ spiritually and what man in his own ingenuity attempts to make into a spiritual reality. For example, Jesus has made it plain throughout His Word that abiding with Him is an absolute necessity if we are to grow as believers. Furthermore, He has made it plain that as Christians He has set us apart from this world and that mandates that we reciprocate that separation by remaining unstained from the pollutions of this world. In other words, we stand against all this world represents as that opposes the God who called us out from it. These truths originate in Christ, they are not "additions" to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, where has God mandated that any believer commit to whatever those that led them to Christ deem is good for them? When did God give the authority to men to decide what is best for those He called unto Himself? Is He not their Lord? Who ultimately then is to set the standard, provide the materials, set the pace and structure the events and people that will enable His own children to grow up in grace? Is it not the Lord Himself?
A true leader in the faith once declared about God's children and his: "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" [Philippians 1:6]
The Courage to judge the Results
Regardless of how long we have lived as Christians, rarely do we find ourselves asking the questions that need to be asked. Occasionally, as was the case in the gathering I attended this morning, a few serious questions were raised in relation to what each of us all admitted was lacking within the local assembly. This included the difficulty of confronting the sin in others, regularly serving with our gifts and the realization of just how little we knew one another. Further yet, just how little we really resembled those new converts poised to turn the world upside down some years back. Have we regressed so far that we no longer identify with what was once our heritage as believers?
Honestly facing ourselves in relation to what the New Testament actually teaches is where we must begin. For when we come to realize the fact of our missing the mark of the many promises of God that stem from a proper expression of God's Ekklesia one with another, maybe, just maybe a slow burning fire will once again be kindled in the hope of living out what has always been our birthright.
We all know that all building projects must be constructed according to the original designers blueprints if the end result is to be obtained. Not one brick nor board, no steel nor saw has begun to be used prior to all of the builders becoming aware of the means, method and intent of the original designers instructions. One mistake can prove costly, sometimes even fatal. Many lives lay in the balance if errors are made.
It is of course possible that the structure remain with certain imperfections despite that not being part of the designers original plans. That said, the structure will be weaker and less likely to endure the strains that will certainly be thrust upon it. It may prove valuable, nonetheless its lifespan shortened. The only way to insure perfection, the only way to guarantee the end conforms to the beginning is to start over where initial mistakes have been made. For unless those imperfections are removed, the whole building shall rest upon shaky ground and shifting sand. At any moment in time the whole thing might collapse and maim or even kill the occupants therein.
In a very similar vein, we do well to consider just how and where we've gone astray from the very foundations that once shaped the New Testament Ekklesia of God. What were the steps and stages that brought us to the place we now find ourselves? Can I offer an explanation that might jog your memory somewhat?
Almost every organized fellowship of Christians started as a small meeting somewhere. Do you remember those days? They were special were they not? A handful of people sharing together, praying together, studying together and likely even serving one another. There was an intimacy among you was their not?
Then something happened. More people started to show up and benefit from those initial labors and desire to be faithful to God. We assumed God was blessing our efforts and eventually someone or everyone made a decision that would alter the course of that small group forever. Whether it was recognized or not, this was the beginning of the end, for now man was to take the reigns away from God the Holy Spirit.
Man Reasons to Himself
In America, there is almost always a predetermined plan that most of these small groups follow once this group of individuals grows to any significant size. Here are the stages although they are not necessarily pursued in this order.
* One or more individuals are designated to be the "official" leaders of the group. They usually take both a religious position within the institution such as CEO, Leader etc and a spiritual title such as Pastor etc.
* A name is chosen for the select group of individuals/families that are regularly meeting together.
* This name is formerly adopted and incorporated as a non-profit entity and therefore tax exempt. This name and subsequent documents are used to open a business bank account for the entity.
* A formal method of giving financial resources is established. It may or may not be called a tithe, nevertheless the participants are encouraged to donate their money.
* The participants become members of the entity (church) etc and some formal method of membership is instituted.
* As the size of the group grows, the participants will desire to stay together thus prompting the decision to rent a bigger building, purchase one or borrow money to build one.
* The leaders and participants initially come up with creative ways in which to reach their target "audience." This may include a variety of programs and services they attempt to "sell" to their neighbors.
* The weekly small gatherings will take a different form from those originally utilized. A weekly service will be instituted and maybe even some secondary services, prayer meetings etc.
* Other attendees will jockey for power and position the more affluent the church becomes in society.
* The leaders will assume an authority "over" all of the individual members as their spiritual head/guide etc.
* The entity will use various methodologies to promote their church, programs and people in the eyes of society and in the world at large when given the opportunity.
* When asked, the reason they have done all of the above is because Jesus called them to do it. This in spite of NO SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE as a prior precedent. Why?
Almost without exception, most if not every so-called church in America has followed at least one of these errors if not most of them. Do you see the results of what often well meaning men and woman have done? Are you honest enough to face the reality that this entire list cannot be validated through Scripture?
Reform the Instution/Church
Although many people have tried, it is useless to attempt to reform what by nature must serve itself. That is what institutions must do. They feed upon people, their lives and their money and ultimately block through the traditions above and many more the commandments of God. They must be abandoned.
The End Reveals the means
Anyone willing to be honest can see that the Church and those intent upon promoting it as an institution of God have entirely failed to carry out God's intentions for His people. The gates of hell are prevailing against mans "church." The Church (which is not a creation of God but of men) is a fleshly creation devised in the imaginations of mortal men. As an earthly entity, it cannot, it could not carry out an expression of the kingdom of Christ which is spiritually and heavenly in nature.
It doesn't really matter what any believer attempts to do for God, if the result of one's labors are not resulting in the promises of God. The structure is being built improperly. The only recourse is to tear down what originated with men, and replace it with that which originates in God Himself.
It All Began with a Meeting
If you can still recall that long lost initial meeting of intimate fellowship some years back, I'm relatively sure those days are long gone now. In all honesty, you would probably return there having seen the larger picture that swallowed up the former things. Is it a coincidence that the larger we become the more these leaders attempt to institute smaller groups that meet the needs of the individual members?
Considering the prevalence of these religious meetings which have overrun what we call Christianity these days, just how and where did they begin? Is this the way the believers had fellowship in the first century? Do we have the courage to face this question?
In reality, meetings stifle and compartmentalize Christians. Here are just a few of the ways in which meetings become a hindrance to what Jesus has commanded us to do and be:
* Special days and times are instituted for "worship," "prayer" and other functions. This creates the impression that these particular days and times are more sacred than the other times and days. This is reminiscent of what used to happen with Old Testament Judaism.
* The very fact that these days and times are constantly emphasized creates a spirit of obligation to these days despite God never commanding such.
* Individual Christians, especially younger believers equate regular attendance to meetings with obedience to God. This is far removed from what God would deem to be obedience before Him.
* Regular meetings almost always guarantees some degree of choreography on the part of the leaders. The format of most if not every meeting is decided before anyone even arrives.
* Regular meetings generally prevent Spirit led service as well as teaching. They almost always destroy the interactive participation God desires amongst His people.
* Meetings are conducive to sharing words more than sharing our lives one with another.
* Each individual meeting far too often has a singular focus. A "worship" meeting or a "prayer" meeting etc.
* When meetings are emphasized as a priority, the only way to serve others outside the meetings is to orchestrate them around the meetings. This makes the meetings the priority over other Spirit led service.
* If for some reason a brother or sister cannot make the scheduled time for a meeting, they plain miss out.
* Meetings can be and often are cancelled for all kinds of reasons. (weather, absentee leader etc).
* Meetings often lead to using specific written resources that override the time for the saints' needs to be known and addressed.
* Regular meetings have "start" and "stop" times. How dare we be inconvenienced.
* Regular meeting times give the impression that people are not welcome outside of those times and seasons.
* Religious routines lead to a "this is how we do it" or "have always done it" statements by the members.
* Regular meetings mandate a regular place of fellowship. This place usually costs money to rent or to buy. This appears to obligate the members to an expense that is entirely unecessary.
* Regular meetings lend to appointing "special" teachers, worship leaders and others who retain control over these functions.
* Regular meetings are almost always formal verses casual. This is a detriment not only to the saints but sinners who may stroll about on occasion.
* Regular meetings hinder the possibility of sinful men witnessing our unity and love for one another which leads then to salvation. They should witness this mainly in our neighborhoods and how Christians interact daily in our homes.
* The Biblical precedent of daily reading, prayer, fellowship and breaking of bread is nearly impossible when our regular meetings become the priority.
* Regular meetings destroy the wonderful spontaneity that results from daily fellowship one with another.
* Regular meetings almost always exclude confronting sin, admonishing one another, asking questions or excercizing one's gifts as the Spirit leads.
* Regular meetings almost always stifle or silence the majority of believers if for only a time.
* Regular meetings are prone to exalt certain members who exercize the majority of the responsibilities.
* Regular meetings detract from the confession, axiom and lifestyle, "Christ is my Life"
* Scheduled meetings lead to advertising one's sectarian religious name and times of service.
* Scheduled meetings enhance and solidify the sectarian names men choose for "their" group of Christians. This perpetuates the local saints in their failure to discern the local ekklesia. They propagate the "our" mentality.
* Scheduled meetings and all the forms above lead to men attempting to build a church to God's glory in direct contrast to God Himself building His own Ekklesia.
Need I continue. Despite this rather extensive list, proponents of regular and scheduled meetings will still defend without hesitation what so obviously was rare if not non-existent within the New Testament Ekklesia.
It is possible as previously suggested that some believers simply neglect to pursue what they know is evident throughout the New Testament. It is also possible that these same people are hard pressed to understand how they or anyone could possibly turn the tide of what has become so commonplace among us. They have resigned themselves to the status quo of the day. Others still face another dillemna. They have allowed the practices of man's religion to deceive them. They point to the creations of men and say things like, "Look at all the good that results," or "God is using it," or "I like it" etc. I hear you, and I don't dispute any of that. But that isn't because of our choices, but despite our choices that some "good" results. Just because good may result (which actually always results for those who serve God) is not an adequate excuse for continuing to support that which God isn't building. God will also judge severely those who disobey Him and that will also result in the "good" of God's glory.
When I had the former conversation with my friends yesterday at the restaurant, I also asked a question in relation to this subject matter. Are you willing to sacrifice whatever and whomever is necessary in order to accomplish God's true intentions through His people? The initial silence once again was indicative of the solemness of the situation.
Our religion ends where God's starts
"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" [James 1:26, 27]
I find it interesting that God Himself has chosen to characterize man's religion through deception, pollution and an abundance of words. If this isn't an apt description of man's institutions and formal meetings than I don't know what is. It's an exact match. We do a lot of talking although rarely do we meet the real needs of the sinners and saints. We're far too busy with our worldly pusuits and man centered theology. True religion isn't merely putting a new face upon all of the same endeavors, it's a radical upheaval of all that once was for something new. That something new doesn't cling to the old but abandons the former entirely. We should have learned this a long, long time ago.
It should be noted that God does sanction and support some religion. This religion is characterized by love, obedience and purity and is exemplified in the verse above. It cannot be lived through eyes still refusing to see or those still captivated by the attractions so present in this world. There is something that must die in order for life to become manifest. We're after that life, the only thing worthy of our devotion, the only source of hope for those needy and perishing.
Opening this study is the verse in 1 John 3:16, 17 that states;
"We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?"
The above verse should serve as an adequate thermometer in discovering just how passionate we really are about serving God in obedience or persisting in our rebellion against Him. In the future, we can continue to limit God's interaction and expression through the constructs of our own making. We can also choose to forego those constructs and allow the corporate expression of Christ to become manifest among us and before the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places for His name's sake.
It is no coincidence that after the affirmations and admonishments of the seven ekklesias of Revelation that Jesus says to you and to me;
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the ekklesias."
Are you listening?