Meanderings of a Minister


Who Is Building the Church?

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I was reading this morning about the second time the disciples of our Lord were arrested for preaching the gospel.  In Acts 5, we read about the disciples being arrested.  During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and took them out and told them to stand in the temple and keep right on preaching.  When the Jewish officials found out they were not in the jail, and that everything was locked up tight and the guards were still guarding, they were perplexed at that was happening and what would come of the situation.

Just as they were wondering about the situation, someone, we are not told who, came reported to them that the men from the prison were now standing in the temple and teaching the people all over again.  This caused the captain of the guard to go and try to arrest them, but instead they basically talked the disciples into returning to answer questions about what they were doing.

While they were trying to figure out how to stop them, Gamaliel stood up and offered his wisdom.  He said that others had come claiming to be a deliverer, but when they died, their following petered out.  His advice was this:

“So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

As I read this over again, I was challenged to ask myself, “Who is building the church?  Who is building this church?  Who is building The Church?”  If I am trying to build a church based upon the force of my personality, cleverness, innovation, or any other means of manipulating people into coming on board and being a part, it will fail.  If I am learning to follow Jesus with all of my heart and I am sharing what I am learning with others and they are learning, then God is building the church and to resist what He is doing is to fight against God.  No one has arms long enough to box God!

So, then, this began a period of soul-searching and introspection.  How am I leading?  How are we building our church?  Are we doing it?  Am I?  Is that why I get frustrated when they don’t do things my way?  Is that why it seems there is so little fruit?  If I am building it, it is not going to be much or amount to much.  If God is building it, then it will be all He wants it to be.

How would I know if I am building the church myself?  If I am constantly looking for ways to trick people into coming?  Yep, me.  If I am always worried about what people think of me, you got it.  It’s me.  If I tone down the gospel because it is not popular, it’s me.  If I insist on the songs I like, technology I find cool, Bible study topics that are my favorites, then, yes, it’s me.

So, what does it look like for God to build a church?  First, He will be its focus.  Not the personalities that run it.  Not the latest book, series, or videos.  The focus will be on bringing Him glory and serving Him.  Second, His Word will be central to all that it does.  The sermons will seek to understand Him and His Word.  The music will be in accordance with His Word.  Small groups will study His Word.  His Word will be spoken in its halls, classrooms, and even fellowship tables.  Third, His Mission will be the mission of the church.  While a lot of other activities may or may not be present, a commitment to the Great Commission will be evident.  Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  A church being built by Him, for Him, and in His power will do what He is doing.  Lastly, the church will be marked by joy.  Joy in the Lord, His purposes and His people.

So, if this description is accurate, then we all need to take a look at our churches and ask who is building the church?  If it is a man, we are in trouble.  If it is God, we are in for a treat.

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We Are Not Worthy!

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It never ceases to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture I have read a number of times before and have it hit me in ways that it might not have all of those many times before.  One such scripture is the story of the Prodigal Son.  The story is found in Luke 15.

To get the setting of the story, one must read verses 1 and 2.

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man received sinners and eats with them.’”

So, the story of the Prodigal Son was told because the Pharisees were upset with Jesus for spending time with sinners.  Jesus actually tells three stories with one lesson.  We see this lesson stated in verse 10, as well as other places in this chapter,

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus told these stories as proof of His love for and ministry to those who were far from God.  When Jesus gets past the story of the lost sheep, and the story of the lost coin, he then turns to the story we know as the story of the Prodigal Son.    While it is not my purpose to go through this whole story in this brief article, let’s summarize it.

A young man came to his father and basically said, “I wish you were dead already and I could my inheritance money.”  Surprisingly, the father grants the inheritance.  The young man quickly liquefies his assets and heads out of town to the “far country”.  It doesn’t take long of living high on the hog before the man is broke and has to turn to feeding the hogs.  This is something a good Hebrew simply could not abide, but the man was desperate, so he takes the job.  After serving in this capacity for an undisclosed amount of time, he changed his mind about how bad his father might have been and how bad his life with his father might have been.  He decides to go home.

In preparation for going home, the son comes up with a speech he is planning to deliver to his father in which he would ask not to be restored, but only to be allowed to work for his father and have a place to stay and food to eat.  Here is his speech from verses 18b and 19:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”

As the son makes his way home, the father sees him coming and runs to him and starts to hug him and kiss him.  Notice what speech the young man gives his father.  It is found in verse 21:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The Father, seemingly not even hearing this confession, shouts orders to his servants about restoring the young man to his position in the house as a son.  What was the difference between what the young man had rehearsed so many times along the way and what he actually got to say?  He did not get a chance to ask to be made a slave, but was reinstalled as a son.  The Father was glad to have the son home, well, and under his protective roof once again.

The rest of the story shows the older brother upset that the father will receive the wayward son.  Jesus told this story to help the religious people to see that He had come to reach the very people the religious people were upset He was reaching.  They had missed the point.

So, when I read this story again, what popped out to me?  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were upset that Jesus was ministering to people who were not worthy of Him, but they did not realize that is the description of all of us.  None of us are worthy of God’s love.  Whether we wear a business suit, jogging suit, or loin cloth, none of us are worthy.  Whether we have a billion dollars, or are in debt trillions of dollars, we are not worthy.  Whether we have a doctorate degree, or dropped out of elementary school, we are not worthy.  That is why it is grace!

Many of us church people forget that we are saved by God’s grace and; thus forgetting, we fail to show that same grace to others.  Maybe we had better come back to God on our knees and cry, “We are not worthy to be called your sons or daughters.  Make us like a hired hand.”  And then, we will realize the blessings of God’s grace that, in Christ, we are called His sons and daughters.



Where Do God’s Blessings Come From?

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Chances are good that, if you turn on the television and tune into a religious channel, you will hear a lot about God’s blessings.  You will hear that God wants to bless you beyond your wildest imagination.  You will hear that God’s main concern is that you be happy, fulfilled, wealthy and blessed.  Actually, they are right!  But, many times, they are just as wrong.  Allow me to explain.

First, we need to understand what blessing means from God’s perspective.  The word for blessing in the Old Testament actually comes from a root word that means to prepare.  It is a word that, properly translated, means much more than just stuff.  So many times we think blessing means that we get a new car, new home, lots of money, etc.  Sometimes this is the case because God gives us those things in preparation for what He wants us to do and do with them.  This is not always the case.  God equally blesses the person that has nothing as He works in his or her life to prepare them for the ministry He has ahead of them.  Sometimes God even uses difficulty to prepare us to be useful for His Kingdom!

Consider the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Her husband has died, the food is gone, and the creditors are going to take her two sons away as payment for her husband’s debts.  She is at the absolute end of her rope.  She has nowhere to turn; however, she does have one last desperate choice.  She goes to Elisha, the prophet, and asks for his help.  With the desperation that we can only see in a mother that trying to keep her family together and her home intact, she cries out to God through His prophet.  Much to her chagrin, the prophet asks what she wants him to do?  She has no answer.  He asks what she has left in her house.  She replies that she only has a little bit of oil and that is it.

This is the chance where she has a choice to make.  She has presented her request to God and He has responded by asking her to give up the little she has.  That would probably not make for a successful television ministry, but it was what God wanted.  Faced with this call to action, the widow had a chance to obey or not obey.  By not obeying, she could protect the little she had and continue to find a way out that was more appealing or popular.  If she obeyed, she would have to trust that God knew what He was doing and would take care of her.  She chose to obey even though it made no sense from a human standpoint.  What did she receive?  God’s blessing.  In this case it was stuff, but it was not the stuff that mattered.  It was her obedience that taught her to trust God and provided her example for us that mattered and still does.  Her difficult circumstance was the blessing!

What are you facing right now that is tempting you to question the goodness of God?  What are you going through right now that is not what you wish it would be?  What difficulty is threatening to crush you?  Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be God blessing you, not with stuff, but with the opportunity to obey and learn about Him, grow closer to Him and be used more by and for Him.  Maybe instead of searching the television channels for a person to make you feel guilty and inferior because of what you are going through, you should spend that time talking to the One in charge of your circumstances and ask for Him to guide you through it.