Can You Love Jesus but Not Love His Church?

Good Question.

If you asked most Christians if they loved The Church they would probably answer in the affirmative. But many would have some mental qualifications.

I love The Church but not all of the people in it.

I love The Church, just not MY church.

I love The Church, it’s Christians I can’t stand.

I love the Church but I don’t need it.

According to a Barna survey, 10% of self-identifying evangelical Christians don’t attend church anywhere. They say that they love Jesus, they just don’t love His church. And the percentage is growing – slowly, but growing.

There are inconsistencies here. As Mark Galli, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today pointed out in a recent article, can people really say that they love Jesus if they “refuse to participate in the community he promises to be present in?” Seems rather inconsistent.

The problem goes even deeper. Can people say that they love Jesus if they consciously choose not to do what He said to do? Hebrews 10:24-25 can’t be any clearer about our responsibility in regard to church attendance. Neither can John 14:15 be any clearer about the standard we are to use to judge our love for Jesus.

You can’t say that you love Jesus if you don’t do what Jesus said to do and you’re not doing what Jesus said to do if you don’t attend church. Pretty simple really.

The real issue here is not attending church verses not attending church. The real issue is an issue of the heart. Will we or won’t we bend our hearts to His will?

There are numerous reasons for the Christian to attend church. Among the most obvious are, Obedience, Worship, Fellowship, Instruction, Ministry, Exercising your Spiritual Gift, and Encouragement. Things that you can’t accomplish or experience on the same level as a Long Ranger Christian.

But the most important reason to attend church is because you love Jesus. Christians who say that they love Jesus but don’t love His church are demonstrating theological inconsistency at the highest level.

You can’t separate Jesus and His Church. To love one is to love the other. To be faithful to one is to be faithful to the other.

It’s no stretch to say, You love Jesus best when you love His church.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Power of a Life

People die every day. The famous ones have their pictures plastered on magazine covers and on social media.

The ordinary people might get a mention in the local newspaper.

Over the last few months our church has said goodbye to two very ordinary people. Two of our most senior saints have gone on to their reward. They weren’t famous but they were lives well lived. They were the kind of people of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

They will be missed by those who knew them.

Norman Zimmerman and Anna Mary Byler were both Pennsylvania Dutch. Such good people.

For those of you who are not familiar with south central PA – You might be Pennsylvania Dutch if you . . .

-You know how to cook, but not without butter.
-Your iced tea is sweeter than Pepsi.
-Your idea of Chicken Pot Pie has nothing to do with a pie and you can’t
figure out why people might think it would.
-You order “dippy eggs” for breakfast.
-The Green Dragon isn’t a Chinese restaurant.
-Three words: Red Beet Eggs.
-You know what a Whoopie Pie, a Shoo Fly Pie and Fasnachts are.
-You out the light.
-You go to the store when the milk is all.
-A “Bud” is not a beer and it’s much better than those cheap knockoffs like
Hershey’s kisses.
-English might not be your first language – ever hear Pennsylvania Dutch?

Back to the main point.

Norman didn’t speak English until he went to grammar school. And even then it was difficult for him. Because of a speech problem he was sometimes hard to understand. But he was a master craftsman, a faithful husband to his dear wife, Ruth, and a man whose word could be trusted.

Anna Mary was, among other things, a self-taught Bible scholar. She may have known more about the Bible than her pastor. She was a woman of grace, of hospitality, of honor and a faithful wife to her husband Marvin.

As I reflected on the lives of these dear saints three things stood out to me.

The first is that neither of them were people who lived in the limelight. They didn’t demand or even longed for the spotlight. It just wasn’t in their nature. Yet both of them accomplished more for the Lord than many who stand in the front of the church.

The second thing that stood out about them is that they were faithful. Faithful to their God, their families, their churches, their jobs, their friends. Unbelievably faithful. It’s a quickly vanishing trait.

The third thing that characterized both Norman and Anna Mary was the power of their influence. They both had great influence on other people. They might not have known it but others did. Their influence was shown in different ways to be sure, but it was – and still is – there. They both had an influence on my life.

That’s the Power of a Life. People left behind whose lives have been marked by your life. We should all aspire to such a legacy.

It was a privilege for me to have been the pastor for both Norman and Anna Mary for the last decade of their lives. They have inspired me to keep on; never quit; don’t give up; be faithful; don’t worry about who gets the credit; love Jesus, my wife, and others; speak the truth – in love and with grace; make my life count.

To both Norman and Anna Mary I would borrow from the gospels and say, well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Word of Caution to the Church

There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

Not since the 1960s have we seen chaos in our country on the level that we’re seeing it today. It seems like each morning brings more news of violence.

The burning question people are asking is: Who’s to Blame? We want to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s responsible for the turmoil and chaos?

The truth is – there’s enough blame to go around.

Some have even suggested that Christians are responsible. Before you throw that one out, prayerfully and carefully read this article by Pastor Tony Evans. It should make you, if you profess to be a Christian, a little uncomfortable.

America’s current violence can be traced to Christians’ failures

The horrific shootings over the past few days, in Louisiana, Minnesota and now my hometown of Dallas, have shaken all of us. Tragically, this is even more true for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and now Dallas police officers.

The events are shocking and revolting. Our prayers go out to the families and friends affected most closely by these events, and to those fighting for their lives at this very moment in Dallas. But we must do more than pray.

In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, it says that society was falling apart, and God troubled them with every kind of distress because they continued to reject the knowledge of God. These recent spates of violence – like all our worldly problems — have happened because Christians have failed to advance God’s kingdom, to spread the faith and to do so in a loving, unified way.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians.

One of the real tragedies today is that the Church as a whole has not furthered God’s light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, “Church” has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.

The Church and only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom, so we have unique access to God that nobody else has. It’s about time more churches start using those keys to unlock doors, so that we get greater heavenly intervention in our earthly catastrophe. This is not to negate or downplay the great work countless churches have done throughout time in our land. I applaud and am grateful for all of it. What we have been ineffective at, though, is a unity that increases our impact on a larger collective level. When we unite as so many churches did during the civil rights movement, we can bring hope and healing where we as a nation need it most.

Thus, I believe that the call of the Church is to come together as one on three levels.
One is to pray and call what the Bible calls a “solemn assembly,” which means a sacred gathering with prayer and fasting to invite God’s manifest presence to reemerge in the culture.

Secondly, the Church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.

And third, churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.

Unless the Church steps forward collectively to fulfill its God-given role of influencing the conscience of our culture, our country will keep spiraling downward into the depths of fear and hate.

We must do better. We must unite. We must stand together and commit to one another that we will usher in a wave of change, justice, life, safety, rightness, equity and dignity for all. And above all, we must not let fear or hatred divide us. Peace, unity, love and nonviolence should be our rallying cry and the catalyst for change in our nation. Through this, we can seek to transform the remnants of tragedy into the foundation of a stronger, more equitable future.

It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to stand up and show our nation a better way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Blessing God

Blessing is part of the Christian culture. We pray for God’s blessing; we bless each other; we sing about blessings; we testify about being blessed; and of course we read about blessings in both the Old and New Testaments. You can’t take the concept of blessing out of the Christian experience and still have Christianity.

One of the early places where you encounter the subject of blessing in the Bible is in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram to radical obedience – Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house (Genesis 12:1). Attached to that demand was God’s dual statements about blessing – I will bless you/you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).

From these early statements we get the idea that blessing involves some benefit. When God told Abram that He would bless him, He stated how He would do that; I will bless you and make your name great (Genesis 12:2). The personal history of Abram/Abraham shows how God fulfilled that promise.

When you bless someone it involves doing (or saying) something that brings a certain help to their lives – providing dinner to a shut-in, shoveling your neighbor’s snow-covered walk, driving an older person to their doctor’s appointment, praying with a fellow believer etc.

I often remind our church that our primary reason for gathering on Sunday is to bless God. Yes, there are other issues – fellowship, encouragement, receiving a blessing, and teaching/learning to name a few. And I always hope and pray that people are blessed in these ways. But our real reason for Sunday – the reason that must be even if nothing else happens on a particular week – is to bless God.

Blessing God occurs in a variety of ways. It happens when you come with a submitted heart. It happens when you pray, especially in thanksgiving. It happens when God sees you loving each other. It happens when you sing about God’s greatness, mercy and grace. It happens when you serve. It happens when you listen to the Word. It happens when you make a personal application of the truths of the Word.

In all of these ways, and I suspect more, God is blessed by you – He receives a benefit (if we can speak of God in those terms). The benefit of watching His children walking in the truth (cf 3 John 1:4). The benefit of hearing their prayers of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). The benefit of seeing His love spread to others (John 13:34-35). The benefit of hearing voices raised in praise of His marvelous grace (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The benefit of blessing other people through you as you serve Him/them (1 Corinthians 12:7, 25). The benefit of watching your faith grow as you listen to Him (Romans 10:17).

If your primary purpose for attending church is to bless God then several things will be true:

-You will make church about Him – not about you.
-You will go to church for what you can give – not just for what you can get (and get something while you’re there!).
-You will search for ways to bless God (and others) – not just be blessed.

It’s all in your perspective.

Next Sunday, whatever else you do in church, plan now to be a blessing to God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Worship?

Worship has received a renewed emphasis in Christian circles in the past decade. That’s a good thing. Anything that causes us to think about worship is good.

With that said, I wonder if the reason we talk about it more today than our parents or grandparents generations is that they had it but somehow we missed it. They didn’t talk about worship – they just worshipped. We talk about it but don’t. At least not like they did. Perhaps.

Several years ago Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled The Heart of Worship. It was made popular by a number of Christian artists including Sandi Patti. You can listen to Matt Redman’s version here.

The lyrics of the first verse and chorus are:

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

The song is true, as far as it goes. Worship is all about Jesus. It is all about what’s in our hearts. It’s true that it’s about blessing Jesus, not just being blessed. It’s true that we’ve turned it into something less than it is.

The shortcoming of the song (and this may never have been Smith’s goal) is that it tells us what worship ISN’T but it doesn’t tell us what worship IS. And that’s rather important. We won’t be able to worship until we know what the worship of Jesus is supposed to look like.

So let me offer some general thoughts on worship that I believe are grounded in a study of worship in the Word

  • Worship is more about how we live each day in the holiness of Jesus than it is about what we do on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about giving to Jesus than it is receiving something from Jesus.
  • Worship is more about who we are as sanctified people than it is about what we do (and it is about what we do).
  • Worship is more a life-style of obedience to Jesus than it is an hour spent with Jesus on the first day of the week.
  • Worship is more about the time we spend with Jesus every day than it is about the hour we spend with Jesus on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about serving Jesus than it is singing about Jesus.
  • Worship is more about Jesus than it is about me.

I don’t claim these statements define worship in its totality. Maybe you can add to them. But they are a place to begin the discussion.

So the question is: Are we really worshiping or are we doing something else?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Will They Come Back?

As a pastor of a small church one question that is always on my mind (probably more than it should be) is Will they come back? I’m referring to people who visit our church. We like guests at our church and we do our best to make them feel comfortable. We want them to come back; to enter into worship with us; to become part of our family; to mature in God’s Word; to have their lives changed by the power of God.

But the reality is that many and perhaps most visitors don’t come back. For whatever reason (I’ve never found an unobtrusive way to get this information) they come one or two Sundays and we never see them again.

So I’m always looking, researching, trying to learn. One person who has a great deal of experience and knowledge on church issues is Thom Rainer who blogs at www.thomrainer.com. He has written several articles in the past year on the issue of churches and visitors.

In a blog titled Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service he lists things we should say to someone who is visiting our church:

1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”

2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.

3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.

4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.

5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.

6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.

7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.

Wow! When was the last time you said one (or several) of these things to a visitor in your church?

In another blog titled Ten Commandments from Happy Church Guests he listed comments from people he interviewed after they visited a new church. Here’s what made them feel positive about their experience:

1. People introduced themselves to the guests. “Several people introduced themselves to me. I did not get the impression it was either contrived or routine.”

2. Someone asked the guest to sit with her. “You know, as a single person, I can feel pretty lonely sitting by myself. I am so glad Joanie asked me to sit with her. We plan to get together for coffee.”

3. There was clear signage. “From the parking lot to the children’s area to the worship center, everything was clearly marked. It was sure easy to get around.”

4. There was a clearly-marked welcome center. “It made it real easy for me to ask questions and to get some information on the church.”

5. The kids loved the children’s area. “My kids were so happy with their experiences. We will be back for sure.”

6. The children’s area was secure and sanitary. “That is one of the first things I check when I go to a church. This church gets an A+!”

7. Guest parking was clearly visible. “From the moment we drove on the parking lot, I could find the guest parking. It was marked very well.”

8. The church did not have a stand and greet time. “My wife and I just moved to the area and are visiting churches. If we visit one with that fake stand and greet time, we don’t return.”

9. The members were not pushy. “They seemed to really care about us rather than just making us another number on the membership roll.”

10. The guest card was simple to complete. “Some of the cards in other churches ask for too much information. This one was perfect and simple.”

Again, he has some thought-provoking ideas.

Whether or not visitors return to our church is not just about how we treat them or how they feel after the service. There are many dynamics that play into such a personal decision. However, we need to do all we can to make sure that we, individually or collectively, are not the barrier that causes them to look elsewhere.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve