Not long ago I took my son, Zane, to the DMV so he could take his written permit test. He gets out of school at 3:40 p.m. It’s about a 10-15 minute drive from the High School to the DMV office. The DMV stops administering written tests at 4:30 p.m. so I booked it to get there in time. We arrived at 4:00 p.m. We checked in. We got a number. Our number had the time we checked in recorded on it. We were on schedule. We sat and we waited for our number to be called. And we waited. And we waited. At 4:34 p.m. they called our number. We went to the counter and informed the nice lady that Zane was there to take the permit test. And her response was, “I’m sorry, we don’t give any tests after 4:30 p.m.” I was calm. I said, “Yes ma’am. We were here by 4:00. We were ready well before 4:30.” She said, “I’m sorry, that’s our policy.” The buttons began popping off my shirt. I started to let out a roar. My lips almost formed the words, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” But I stopped short of turning into The Incredible Hulk. Luckily I paused and thought about this headline—“Local Preacher Arrested for Fit of Rage at the DMV Office.”
For most of us, we are two people on the inside. There’s the sweet, unassuming, normal person. Then someone hits a button, flips a switch, says the wrong thing, and the Hulk comes out. Some of you stood at the altar and married David Banner, only to learn after the honeymoon that you married the Hulk also. Some of you thought you worked with David Banner, but saw the Hulk when you messed up on the job. Some mothers swore that they gave birth to David Banner, but now their teen-ager more resembles a monster that bears their name. Some Christians are godly and righteous church-goers on Sunday, but catch them at the wrong time during the week and the Hulk comes out.
We all have our moments when our inner Hulk comes out. Anger is a natural tendency for many of us. But have you ever thought about our anger and what things can so easily set us off? In Genesis chapter 4 verse 6, God asks Cain, “Why are you angry?” And I think He would probably ask the same question of us, “Why are you so angry?” When safety, Marty Carter, signed with the Chicago Bears he had this to say about the Bears’ rivalry with the Green Bay Packers: “I’m supposed to hate something, but I’m not sure what. I wasn’t even here last year, and I’m mad.” Do you ever find yourself in that same position—you’re mad and you don’t even really know why? Why do politics get you so riled up? Why are you fuming over someone pulling out in front of you? Why are you so mad that Burger King got your order wrong? Far too many folks, far too many Christians even, seem to live on the edge of anger. Why are we so angry? Could the simple answer be that you’re allowing things like pride, jealousy, and an unhealthy competitive nature to rule our hearts rather than Jesus? Don’t be The Incredible Hulk. Be a different superhero. Be like Christ.
Change is not easy. Change usually requires one to step out, sometimes way out, of their comfort zone. Change typically means working harder. Change demands that one set aside personal preference for the good of the church, and that may be the most difficult aspect of change. I understand. I have sympathy. However, I cannot go along with a refusal to make improvements out of a stubbornness to change. Churches that are unwilling to adapt and adjust will die where they sit. They may not have to close their doors, but they will be filled with people who are not growing.
Change seems to be a dirty word in the Lord’s church. For many people, it’s like nails on a chalkboard because change is often associated with altering doctrine. When some church members hear “change” they automatically assume that things will begin spiraling downward away from Biblical truth. Any kind of change, even if it’s necessary, is often met with the phrase, “Well you know, that’s how it always starts,” or, “You know where that’s going to lead.” I am in no way advocating a movement away from scripture. I would certainly never knowingly promote doctrinal error. I admit that not all change is good. Not all change is profitable. Not all change is necessary. However, change can be a really good thing. In fact, in some cases, change is absolutely necessary.
Here’s the change I’m advocating—a return to our roots. Read through the book of Acts. Did the first church just sit? Did the first Christians simply go to church? No. They were more than a church. They were a movement. They were The Way. Church wasn’t a part of their life. It was their life. They were a part of something much bigger than themselves. I want to be part of a movement, don’t you? I’m not satisfied with coming to church. I want to be church. More specifically, I want to be that church; the one we read about in the New Testament; the one that changed the world; the one that was more than a congregation. They were a movement! Let’s be a movement again.
The apostles were constantly on the move. People like Paul, Barnabas, and a host of others worked tirelessly to spread the gospel message and to build up the church. They were not sitters. They were movers. Movements move, which means that if want to be a movement again then we must start moving! I don’t believe God ever intended for the church to be a monument or a memorial to a once great movement. You will never convince me of that. Sadly, in many cases, that’s precisely what has happened. Churches have retreated. They have stayed cooped up within the walls of the building and have only focused inwardly. They have kept to themselves. The major emphasis has been on maintaining the flock rather than growing the flock. The tendency has been to focus more on the structure of worship, but not as much on transformation. Churches often concentrate on petty, insignificant scruples and less on brotherly love. They get worked up over societal ills, politics, and what other churches are doing wrong, but show far less passion for evangelism. A lot of things are important; only one thing is most important. We cannot forget our core. We must remember who we are and what we are to be about.
In the twenty years that I’ve been a Christian I’ve heard a lot of talk about restoring New Testament Christianity, but the conversation usually revolves around what we do in worship, in our monuments. No doubt we should concern ourselves with worshiping in a manner that is God-ordained and, thus, God-pleasing. However, restoring New Testament Christianity isn’t just about the form and function of worship. If that is our only focus, then we are falling way short in our restoration efforts. If we’re truly concerned about restoring New Testament Christianity, then let’s also focus on moving beyond the walls of the church building. There is a time to gather and a time to scatter. What we do outside the walls of our building is just as important as what we do on the inside. Let’s be passionate about making disciples. Let’s be participators and not merely spectators. Like our first-century predecessors, let’s be Christ-centered and mission-minded. Let’s be who they were. Let’s do what they did. Let’s move!
We see it on bumper stickers, inspirational posters, and graduation cards. We see it embroidered on pillows or tattooed on a person’s body. It’s the words of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah and it reads, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).’” Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and other “prosperity preachers” use this verse to cater to our culture’s selfish and individualistic mindset. IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU! YOUR BEST LIFE NOW! GOD JUST WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY! HE WANTS YOU TO HAVE IT ALL! Even in the realm of religion, I am still the focal point. And many have bought in to this sentiment. As a result, Jeremiah 29:11 becomes a signature verse for the “Name It and Claim It” theologians. But Jeremiah 29:11 is not about you. The dead give away is found in the heading of this chapter. It reads: “MESSAGE TO THE EXILES”
It’s easy to read a verse like this and individualize it. Here’s what we would like it to say, “I know the plans I have for you Chris McCurley.” But not even the original hearers of this message could not have individualized these words. Jeremiah’s message was meant for the elders, the priests, the prophets, and the people, many of which would not be around in 70 years to see this promise come to fruition. This was a promise of future welfare for the nation at large, not a promise of prosperity for any one particular person. I feel quite certain that the people hearing this message for the first time would not have responded as we often do today. We read this verse and we zero in on the prosper part. We focus in on how God is going to bless us in amazing ways. However, the message to God’s people is that everything’s going to be alright…eventually. After years and years of suffering they’re going to come back home and be restored; not them, per se, but their kinfolk. The grim reality surrounding Jeremiah 29:11 is that hard times were in store for God’s people. Someday there would be restoration. There was hope on the horizon, but only after decades of harshness.
So, is there a take away from this verse for us? Can we still claim Jeremiah 29:11 even though it has nothing to do with God personally prospering us? The answer is, “Of course.” All scripture is beneficial to us, and all scripture can be claimed by us, just not always in the way we would like to claim it. Does God have a plan for you and me? Absolutely! Does He plan for our welfare and not our calamity? Certainly! Does He give us a future and a hope? Without question! But we are dead wrong to assume that the plan involves a long life of comfort and convenience with perfect health and mountains of money.
What about the gentleman whose mother, wife, and three children are all killed in a car accident? What about the young mother of four small kids who is diagnosed with Stage Four cancer? What about the man who works hard but gets laid off from his job and his wife leaves him for another man? What about the family who must deal with the horror of having their child abducted and murdered? Is this God’s plan? Do you see the danger in grabbing hold of certain “Life Verses” and assuming that they represent the totality of God and Christianity? What happens when the miracle you prayed for doesn’t come? What happens when God doesn’t heal your loved one? What happens when the man of your dreams finds someone else? Is God not good? Does He not care?
The apostle Paul stated, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).” Thousands of years from now, it won’t matter how much wealth and status you had. It won’t matter how much pain and suffering you had to endure. This is not about how good one can have it while alive here on planet earth. This world is not our home. This is our temporary residence. We don’t belong here. We are exiles in a foreign land (1 Pet. 2:11). Therefore, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if I am healthy and wealthy in a physical sense. It doesn’t matter how good I have it in the here and now. All that truly matters is that I have the hope found in the abundant life Jesus Christ came to give (Jn. 10:10).
My friends, God has been honest enough to tell us that there will be trouble in this life. This life is hard, but God has also made us a promise. There is hope on the horizon. There is a glorious future awaiting us. Though we are exiles on this planet, some day we get to go home. Let’s not get things twisted. This life is all about kingdom living, not earthly pursuits. If we don’t have a penny to our name, we are among the wealthiest to have ever lived because of WHO we belong to. A life lived in Christ is the most prosperous life of all. So let’s get busy living it!
I know. The title sounds harsh and, perhaps, un-Christ like. But please hear me out. The Oldham Lane Church of Christ, where I am blessed to serve, has experienced tremendous growth since it was planted in the mid-90’s. What started with 73 members from the Baker Heights congregation has blossomed into approximately 600. It’s exciting for sure, however with growth comes challenges. Where you have people you have problems, and where you have more people you have potentially more problems. The staff and elders at Oldham Lane have made a concerted effort to be engaged and to be ready to handle issues when they arise. But we have also made a conscious effort to be proactive, not just reactive. Some problems and issues arise rather spontaneously. You weren’t prepared for them; they were just laid at your feet one day. Others can often be thwarted before they reach the level of severity. With this in mind, the elders and staff at the Oldham Lane church have come to understand that our congregation may not be for every one. While we welcome everyone and while we invite anyone and everyone to come and see what we’re all about, there are some boundaries we have set and some lines we have drawn to protect the body that belongs to the Lord. Here are a few of those boundaries.
Our church is not for soreheads! If you are someone who is constantly complaining about something, yet never doing anything then maybe our church is not for you. Understand we love you. We are deeply concerned about your soul. And we will patiently love you. However, we will not allow you to threaten the unity of the Lord’s church. Jesus prayed for unity (Jn. 17:21). Paul constantly stressed unity in his letters. Are you a threat to unity? If so, you must be disciplined. There are valid concerns and criticisms that some may have. The eldership should seriously consider these, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the man or woman who has made a sport out of griping; the one who has become a professional nagger. Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be heard. Elders are shepherds of the soreheads as much as they are shepherds of the meek and the sweet. But leadership demands that the shepherds lovingly correct those who do nothing yet gripe about everything. The church is not a forum for your scrupulous ranting.
Our church is not for spectators! We won’t boot you out the door. And, we believe, there is a period of time that new members need to survey the landscape and get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. However, we do have expectations for you. We expect you to be a participator, not a spectator. We expect this because God expects it. God doesn’t need more pew-fillers within the church. He needs more laborers in the vineyard. He needs brothers and sisters who are active participants, not passive recipients. We live in a culture of entitlement and that mindset has infiltrated the church to some degree. Some members feel as though it is the responsibility of the church to serve them when, in truth, we were all saved to serve. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s about the body. Every one has a role. As Paul so eloquently pointed out in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31 we all have a role. Each one of us makes up a part of the body. Whether you are an eye, a foot, a hand, etc., you have a role. If you are not a working part of the body then your part of the body is dead. The body becomes deformed. And someone else has to pull your weight. There are times when a member is wounded and needs the rest of the body to help bear their burden (Gal. 6:2). However, there is no good reason for a fully capable member not to fulfill their role. We are not a consumer-driven church. We are a Christ-driven church.
Our church is not for those who wish to teach, preach or practice falsehood. There is no room in our church for those who wish to preach a different gospel. There is no place for false teachers. We will not give you a platform to proclaim or practice things that are in opposition to scripture. Don’t come to our church thinking you are going to change the message. When it comes to methods we are always willing to try new things. But we will not be moved from where we stand Biblically. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t claim to be perfect, and we are not above studying and learning. Like the noble-minded Bereans, we are always eager to receive the word and are diligent to examine the scriptures (Acts 17:11). We are also very deliberate in our approach to the Bible as we seek to faithfully follow God’s word.
To say, “Our church is not for everyone,” is not meant to be a statement of exclusivity. Quite the contrary, we want every one to obey the gospel and be a part of the body of Christ. However, we also want them to understand what it means to treasure church membership. We don’t want them to merely come to church; we want them to be the church. We don’t want church to be a part of their lives; we want church to be their life. Christ died for the church. He purchased it, member by member, with His own precious blood, which means we have no right to treat His bride in a self-directed manner. This is not about kicking people to the curb. This is about helping God’s children understand what church is and what it is supposed to be about. So don’t come into a congregation of the Lord’s church with an agenda. Don’t assume that because you contribute a lot monetarily or because you’ve been there the longest that you should have more power. Don’t expect the church to cater to you. The church belongs to our Lord and it functions best when each and every Christian seeks God’s will above all else.
I like church signs. I do. I must admit, however, that most of the time they’re downright corny and make you roll your eyes. Like: “God answers knee mail,” or “Stop, drop, and roll won’t work in hell,” or “Dairy Queen isn’t the only place with great sundaes.” However, I did see one church sign recently that bothered me a little. It read: “Worry ends where faith begins.” I don’t disagree with the premise. I do believe our faith should override our worry. But I’m not sure this pithy or trite little saying is going to help a lot of people who struggle with worry or anxiety. The issue is much deeper than this. The person struggling with worry is not necessarily someone who is deficient in faith. We must be careful not to send the message that faith is some magic cure-all; that once you get more faith all your troubles will go away. We must also be careful not to suggest that worry or anxiety means you don’t love God enough. The subtle message we often send to the worrier, to the anxious, or to the depressed is: If you just believed harder, you wouldn’t be dealing with these things. My friends, that’s a terrible message to send.
We tend to deal with worry by dealing with the emotion and never digging below the surface. We see the church sign that says, “You’re too blessed to be worried,” or we read in the Bible, “Do not worry,” and we stop right there. It’s a direct command. “Do not worry!” And someone says, “But I am worried.” The preacher responds, “Well stop it! You’re sinning!” And the worrier ends up even more worried because the Bible says not to worry and they can’t stop worrying.
In order to deal with worry effectively, we must deal with what it’s tethered to. Worry is directly tied to devotion. The things you’re devoted to are the things that will cause you anxiety. Behind the issue of worry is the question, “What are you living for?” What are you pursuing? What are you chasing after? The emotion follows the devotion. Worry is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to examine the things that get more of your attention than God does. Over-worry comes from over-loving something. We need to reveal what it is we over-love so that we can put it in its proper place.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus preaches on the subject of worry and anxiety. The essence of His message is this: When has God ever let you down? Don’t allow your worry for tomorrow to erase God’s faithfulness in the past. You can’t control tomorrow. You’ve never been able to, and you never will be able to. Let God be in control of tomorrow. You be faithful today!
Death is difficult. It makes people very uncomfortable. As a result, people often say and do the wrong thing in an attempt to comfort the mourning. Some try to “intellectualize” the feelings of the one who is grieving. Some informal studies show that the majority of advice grieving people receive implies that they should not feel the way they are feeling. This is reflected in statements like: “You’ve got to be strong.” “You’ve got to dry those tears, pick yourself up, and get on with your life.” Sometimes, in our best efforts to comfort the grieving, we actually complicate the process.
My friends, we have no right to tell the bereaved how they should feel. Different people tend to grieve differently. Our goal should be to show love and provide support. We don’t have to say anything. In the midst of devastating loss, Job’s friends came to be with him. They traveled to be with Job in an effort to “show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). Their intentions were right. It’s when they opened their mouths that they got it all wrong. Many times the things we say, in an effort to provide some comfort, are untrue and place an even greater burden on the grief-stricken. I’ve often heard it said that “time heals all wounds.” Those of you who have experienced the loss of a spouse, a child, a close friend, etc., can attest to the fact that this sentiment is false. For some, the passing of time can ease the heartache, but time doesn’t heal ALL wounds. The sting of loss is always there. It may get easier, but the emptiness is ever-present. Comforters will sometimes appeal to the good in one’s life, reminding them to focus on their blessings. I once conducted the funeral for a couple whose fifth child was stillborn. An individual tried to console the couple by pointing out that they should take solace in the fact that they still had four healthy children. Needless to say, those words were no consolation. And please, please do not attempt to comfort someone who is mourning by suggesting that their loss is God’s will. Have you ever heard these statements?
• “God needed him or her more.”
• “It was just their time to go.”
• “God needed another angel in heaven.”
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to death and how to handle it, but I do know this—we do not serve a God that intentionally takes the lives of our loved ones. Why would God need a small child more than the parents? Why would God need a thirty-year-old mother more than her children?
The best words of comfort we could ever say are: “I love you,” and “I am here for you.” It should also be noted that nothing takes the place of our presence. One of our own should never grieve alone. We need each other; it’s just that simple. When we’re hurting, we need a hug, we need an ear to listen, we need a shoulder to cry on. More than pithy sayings, we just need you to be there.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. -1 Thessalonians 4:13