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Aren’t They all Churches of Christ?

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Sunday afternoon my daughter and I went driving for a couple of hours as part of the requirement for her getting her license.When we drove past a local Church of Christ she asked me “aren’t they all churches of Christ”? Wow…what a question!

My daughter has been raised in church so she is of course well versed in “church”culture. Yet her question prompted me to ask her a question in return,which was “is it confusing for an 18 year old to see churches with so many different names”?

“It sure is” was her immediate response.

All of which got me to thinking: what kind of Godly relationship can we expect our children to have with the Lord when we who are supposed to be the leaders of the church are sowing so much confusion into their lives? How in the world are they supposed to know who’s right and who is wrong?

For example: according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there were an estimated 43,000 Christian denominations in 2012.

Forty.

Three.

Thousand.

Which begs the question:

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?  1Co 1:13 KJV

So I ask again: how is anyone,much less a young adult,supposed to figure out which church to attend,or which doctrine is the right one?

We have instilled in our daughter the importance of reading her bible and of having a right relationship with the Lord,but I have no illusions that she will agree with me on every single point of doctrine.Nor should I expect her to read from the same version of the bible that I do.She is an independent young woman who with God’s help must chart her own destiny.

So what of those who do not yet know the Lord but may be seeking Him? To which of the 43,000 denominations do they turn to? Yours? Mine?

Of course,all of us believe we “know the way”,or at least have some assurance that we are on the right track.And heaven knows we could start our own version of jihad,or holy war by laying claim to having the answers for everyone.For certain we all know that wars have been fought and inquisitions enacted throughout the ages all in the name of “church”.

Many Christians today like to believe that their church can be traced back to the Apostles and Disciples of Christ.Some believe that their church was started due to a direct revelation from God Himself.Still others lay claim to a particular religious figure from the past,or as in the case of most mega churches today they follow a personality.

But do you see how difficult it can be to sort through this mess of religiosity?

Catholic,Baptist,Methodist / Wesleyan,Lutheran,Presbyterian,Pentecostal/Charismatic,Episcopalian/Anglican,Churches of Christ,Assemblies of God,Church of God,Seventh-Day Adventist,Church of the Nazarene,Church of the Brethren,Independent Christian Church…and on and on it goes…

Jesus said that “Do [you] suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” Luk 12:51 NKJV

Jesus was NOT referring to the church in this passage! Any division in the church comes not from Him ,but from US!

If the church’s divine mandate is to go out and make disciples of all nations,is it any wonder the church is failing so miserably? We cannot even agree among ourselves what we are to believe! And we expect the lost to somehow look at us as the answer to their lost condition,to entrust their eternal souls to our care?

Something has gone horribly wrong in the church! It would seem that any person that disagrees with their church doctrine or polity is free to start their own…to the tune of 43,000 of them! And I can assure you I have seen this happen far too often.The next time you’re out driving in your city,start looking at the various church signs out there.The number of them is astounding! Are all of them right? Are all of them wrong?

I cannot presume to speak for anyone other than myself in matters of faith and salvation.We are all on a journey of our own.Indeed,we are instructed in the word to work out our own salvation:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;   Phl 2:12 NKJV

What I do know is that many established,long time Christians are finding themselves at a critical juncture in their faith walk.Gone is the confidence they once had that the church had all the right answers.The church has been silent for far too long on issues of grave importance.Either that,or they have given them a simple,cursory response when what was called for was the voice of God thundering from the nations pulpits!

To answer my daughter’s question:”aren’t they all churches of Christ?”,I have to be honest and say I think not.What I know to be true and without fault or wrong is not any church or particular denomination,but rather Jesus Christ Himself.

He is the spotless Lamb of glory,God’s sinless sacrifice offered once and for all for the sins of all men everywhere.

And upon this truth I stand.

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Oh What A Season!

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“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.      Luke 14:27  NKJV

The Cross…

Yes,of course I know that this is the season of the Manger,the Magi,and the virgin birth of the Son of God.

My mind however,is not on any of those.My mind,and especially my heart,is on the Cross.

All of Christendom is rightfully preparing to celebrate our King during this Christmas season.

Choirs are rehearsing and the children’s play is almost ready for the big day.

I get it. I really do.I hear the wonderful Christmas songs on the radio.I love to look at the pretty decorations that have taken many hours to assemble.

In many ways I feel like a kid again at Christmas.My mind goes back to happy times as a child,laying under the Christmas tree for hours looking at the pretty lights.Hardly able to stand the wait until Christmas morning.

I hope I never lose that feeling,no matter how old I become.

Maybe you can relate?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christmas,about Christianity.About us who claim that name “Christian”.About the One who authored it all.

I suppose there could have been Christianity without a stable and a manger,yet that is the way the Father ordained it.

There could have been Christianity without the angels declaring “peace on earth,good will to men”…yet that is how God ordered it to be.

And lest I be labeled a heretic,I guess there could have been Christianity without setting aside a day in December to honor Him who was born of a virgin.

Yet there could be no Christianity without a cross.

The Cross.That awful instrument of torture and death.That Cross,where no Wise Men were in search of the Bright and Morning Star.

No gifts were brought to THAT Cross.No gold,no frankincense,no myrrh.

No Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes surrounded by barnyard animals.

Tonight my mind is fixed upon a Cross.A lonely Cross.A desperate Cross.A bloody Cross.

Yes…THAT Cross.

Why the Cross? And why now? It’s almost Christmas time after all!

From a Babe in a manger to a King on THAT cross.

Birth to Death

Born to die.

For you and I.

This Christmas season my prayer is that in the midst of the twinkling lights and holiday gatherings,we pause to reflect upon the Gift of God.

The gift of that Babe in a manger.

Where Satan and every demon had to pause in sheer terror at the site of the One who was destined to destroy the powers of darkness for all time.

The gift of THAT Cross.

Where new life suddenly became available to all men everywhere,and the curse of death had been broken once and for all.

As we celebrate Jesus this Christmas season,let us never forget that He has charged us to bear our cross and follow Him.This is the only way we can be His.

Oh What A  Season!

What A Reason For This Season!

Ron

 

A Final Thought From The Vine

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12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”.       John 15:12,13   NKJV

The gospel of John is far and away one of my favorites books out of the 66 books that make up our Bible.In it you will find just about every conceivable human trait on display at one time or another,and I often marvel at the sheer range of emotions found within it.

Jealousy…Anger…Bitterness…Love…Forgiveness…Greed…Grief…Despair

All of these and more are on display. Life is on display here.

Whenever I read John’s gospel I look to the end of the book with apprehension,knowing of course that before I get there Jesus is going to be violently murdered.But before the lies and betrayal, before the accusers line up to spew forth their hate filled demands for vengeance, Jesus spends His final hours doing what He always did.

He taught.

About love.

Jesus taught his disciples that He had a commandment for them. And that commandment was that the disciples were to love one another as Jesus had loved them.

What? Jesus is within a few hours of enduring the most horrific death imaginable. And He knows it’s coming.It’s unavoidable. He knows it’s coming because it was for this hour that he came into the world.

Yet His focus is on imparting one last word to those who had walked with him for over three years. His focus was on love,and more specifically that the disciples would love one another like He had loved them.

All of this begs the question “what kind of love is this”?

Well,for one thing Jesus loved them to death,didn’t He? He even went so far to say that there was no greater love than this,that a man would lay down his life for his friends.

Other worldly love. Incomprehensible love. God love.

I’d like to know that someone loved me this much,wouldn’t you?

How about you?

A new comfort zone?

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Comfort zone…

We all have one,or maybe several.

Our comfort zone is that place where we are most comfortable and can live in a way that pleases us.

There are comfort zones at work, comfort zones at church, even comfort zones within our own homes.

They’re places where we can just be ourselves without fear of judgment or backlash from anyone.

And we all LOVE our comfort zones, don’t we? And we HATE the notion of being uprooted from them!

Having been involved in church ministry for over 37 years now I know a thing or two about comfort zones at church. There can be great comfort in working alongside others who are all a part of the bigger ministry team.And there is a lot of comfort in knowing that every Sunday you will be delivering a sermon to (mostly)friendly people who share the same values as you do.

But what happens when our comfort zone begins to become a place of discomfort? Like when going to church every Sunday hearing the same music and listening to the same sermons and seeing the same faces no longer seems to satisfy our soul?

Ever been there? I certainly have,and in fact I have been in that place of discomfort for nearly a year now.

I’ve grown stagnate.I’m not growing.The rituals of religion are choking the life from me.

Being a minister I know all the stock answers to this dilemma because I’ve handed them out to others for many years.

I know all of the scriptures that we use to lift up and encourage the faithful.

And I still believe in every one of them.The answers are found within the pages of God’s word and I have never doubted that for a moment.

I still read…I still pray…I still encourage the discouraged….I still desire to extend the mercies of Jesus to the hurting.

Yet my comfort zone has been swallowed up with a yearning for something more than religion or even church as we know it.

Within my heart burns this thought that God did not save me from the life of Hell I was living to simply spend the rest of my days as a “Sunday Performer”.Turn it on.Turn it off.

Enough already!

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament and today began reading the story of Moses in the book of Exodus,and was reminded of his battle with his own comfort zone.Here are a few verses of the story:

1Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. Exodus 3:1-4 KJV
Moses’ life started out in a way that could hardly be called comfortable.Born at a time when all male children were supposed to be killed at birth,his mother instead placed him in a small ark and placed him at the rivers edge,choosing to place her baby in the hands of fate rather than see him killed.
Being rescued from this predicament,Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh.Along with that came the many privileges of education and training alongside every other Prince of Egypt.Moses certainly enjoyed the good life for quite a while,yet there burned within him a different spirit.An unquenchable yearning for something more.
A spirit that manifested itself one day when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew kinsman,and in defense of this man he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand.
So long Comfort Zone!
Moses made a fateful decision that day,a decision that would forever alter the course of his life.In an instant he was transformed from a prince of Egypt to a man with a price on his head.It was this event that turned Moses’ life upside down as he became the hunted and fled for his life. He who had enjoyed the perks of royalty had been humbled to become nothing more than a tender of sheep, which is where we find him in the verses above.
While this is just the beginning of the story,I want to focus your attention on the first verse where we find Moses on the back side of the desert. No where’s ville. The other side of the tracks. A place where only the worst of the worse go to hide out.
Now consider the disparity of his former life and the life he now lived. A life of pleasure has become a life of solitude and hardship.A life of tedium and danger. A life so far removed from his former existence that the two can hardly be compared.
From the ultimate comfort zone to the back side of the desert. Worlds apart.
Of course,we can all agree that Moses is far worse off than he was before.
But is he really? Let’s look at this from a different perspective.
From a simply materialistic point of view Moses has made a left turn and is headed the wrong direction.Say good-by to “Your Best Life Now” Moses!
Yet I happen to believe that in his heart Moses had reached a point to where he could no longer look past the status quo. He had to stand for something or continue to march along side everyone else’s cookie cutter life.I mean, why be different when we’ve got it made,right?
So let me get to the point with this thought: right where you are,right now,in whatever comfort zone you happen to be in….are you pursuing the God of heaven with passion and fervor?
Or are you like the masses simply going along with the crowd content to just be in that number?
I have many more thoughts about this man Moses and his divine purpose which I will share later,but for now let me close with this thought;
We can stay in our comfort zone and be content that we’re doing all we can,or that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.Follow the program…Don’t deviate…Dress the part…Act the part….Eyes on the prize.
Or we can take a look at our lives from a broader perspective and ask ourselves: is this really all there is to this Christian walk? Is following God really just about Sunday attendance, an offering, a prayer, and see you next week?
Am I really that content? Should I be that content?
Think about it!
Be blessed,
Ron

There was a time…..

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There was a time when the church was very powerful. However, as many of you who read this blog know,I have long been of the belief that the church in America is dying.Rotting from decay and abuse unparallelled in the 2000 year history of the church.

Very uplifting topic…not. But one that must be stated.

Actually,the church has been in a state of decline for many centuries so it’s not like this should come as a startling revelation to anyone.It’s just that for so long we have been able to disguise the decline by supplanting the power of the church with one theme or program after another,all constructed to look like the Spirit at work among us.This spirit of denial however can no longer camouflage the fact that the church has lost its way.

Oh sure,there have been seasons of growth and prosperity(if that is how one chooses to measure spiritual increase). Yet surely by now we have come to understand that growth and prosperity are by no means indications of God’s blessing upon us.Think about it….how far do you have to go to find a beautiful church filled with hundreds of people who never reach beyond the walls of their church to minister to the hurting.Programs for every subject matter within the friendly confines of the campus…but those on the outside?…..not so much.

And lest you remain unconvinced that the church is dying I suggest you simply open your eyes to the rampant evil that has engulfed society.Without a strong,vocal church opposing sin on a grand scale,well….this is what we get.

The writings of Paul and other New Testament authors give us a picture of the power that the early church had.Thousands being converted in a single day,cities being “turned upside down”,the sick made whole and the dead raised to life again.

Yet a curious movement began to creep into the church during this time,a movement which prompted the Apostle Paul to declare:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.    Gal 1:8 KJV

The simple truth of the Gospel message had already become polluted and preverted.Men who knew better had began teaching “another gospel”,a word not from the Lord.This preaching of “another gospel”was considered by no less an authority than the Apostle Paul to be so dangerous to the mission of the church that he declared that those who do such things should be accursed.

And you thought I was tough!

You see, Paul understood that the strength of the church rested upon the foundational truths of the Gospel.He knew very well that if those truths were to be undermined that the church would lose it’s power and influence.And even though a great many today will say otherwise,the truth is that this is exactly what has happened.

Again, this is not a new revelation,or at least it shouldn’t be.Preachers have been stating this for some time now.

Way back in 1963 there was a preacher who penned the following words from a jail cell in Birmingham Alabama.Words that ring more true today than when he first uttered them.As you read these words I ask you to compare them with the state of the church today and see if you don’t agree that they were indeed prophetic.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church,it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.”         Martin Luther King: Letter From Birmingham Jail             16 April 1963      
Be blessed,
Ron

Jesus built this church on love

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Thinking today about the church and it’s mission.

There are about as many opinions about what the mission of the church is as there are people writing them.

See if you’ve heard some of these “missions of the church”…..

  • make disciples
  • mentor
  • evangelize
  • witness
  • preach the gospel

OK, you get it, right? The church has a great many missions,or assignments.

While all of the above are true,there is one mission that I believe supersedes them all.I believe the greatest mission of the church is also the area where she is falling far short in her assignment today.

Love

Loving one another. Like this:

14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love [his] brother abides in death.

15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down [our] lives for the brethren.

17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.     1Jo 3:14-19 NKJV

You who have aligned yourself in any way with the church,do you not understand we are commanded to love?

Our assignment is not to hate. It is not our mission in this life to neglect the lonely and destitute while we surround ourselves with friends and family. It is not for us to ignore the pleading of the hungry as we gather around our table filled with good things to eat.No,it is not our calling as the church of the Living God to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the screams of the lost.

I cringe every time I hear of yet another person who has been cast aside by the church as “not good enough”,as if any of us could ever be good enough.The only good in any of us is the Christ we are supposed to represent.

I wince at the thought that some who call themselves”Christian”consider others “not worthy”,as if any one of us is actually worthy, or deserving of the love that has been shed abroad in our hearts.

Our mission,our calling,our very purpose,is to love.

Love them all.

Father,help us to understand that our righteousness is as filthy rags.Our arrogance is a stench in your nostrils.

Jesus built this church on love.

And only in His love can we find grace and help in these troubled times.

Be blessed,

Ron

Christ, and Christ Alone…..

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I’ve been reading and thinking quite a bit lately about the single most important “thing” in this life,and most certainly the life to come. This “thing”,for lack of a better term, is “Salvation”.

“Salvation”. No matter how you describe what happens at the end of this life,every Christian has this hope within them that by the grace of God they will be…

  • SAVED
  • REDEEMED
  • RESCUED
  • SPARED
  • RANSOMED

Call it by whatever name you, your church, or your denomination calls it. The meaning is still the same.

Abiding within the Christian is a promise from God who cannot lie that we are going to be saved.Awaiting us is a new home in Glory,and an eternity that will be spent in His presence. Never again will our bodies suffer disease.Pain will be a thing of a past that we will no longer remember.

For the rest of eternity we will never know the heartbreak of a loved one going on before us. Every tear shall be wiped away,for in that place of eternal joy there will never be another tear of sadness or grief shed.

Sounds great,doesn’t it? So how do I get this Salvation?

Well, it cannot be earned or bought with money. You can never do enough good deeds to receive it. No one else can get it for you. It’s something that millions,perhaps billions have attempted to gain but in spite of their best efforts to buy it,earn it,or steal it have fallen short of the mark.

No friends,this Salvation is made possible because of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the Cross. In other words,the price has already been paid.Now if that isn’t the best news you’ve ever heard!!!!

So how can you know that this is real and not some made up tale from long ago? How about we search the scriptures for some proof?

The apostle Peter delivered quite a message to the chief priests,rulers,and scribes the day after he and his fellow disciples had been imprisoned for teaching the people about Jesus. In this message,which I have included below, Peter spells it out very plainly in whose name comes this salvation I am speaking about.

Acts 4:1-12…

1:And as they spoke to the people, the priests, and the temple commander, and the Sadducees came on them,
2:  being grieved that they taught the people, even to announce through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3:  And they laid hands on them and put them under guard until the next day, for it was already evening.
4:  But many of those who heard the Word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5:  And it happened on the next day that their rulers and elders and scribes, gathered to Jerusalem,
6:  and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest.
7:  And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name have you done this?
8:  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders of Israel,
9:  if we are examined today on a good work for an infirm man, by what this one has been healed,
10:  be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in this name does this man stand before you whole.
11:  This is the Stone which you builders have counted worthless, and He has become the Head of the Corner.
12:  And there is salvation in no other One; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.   Emphasis mine

Well there you have it friends. Salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone. No other name that has ever been spoken can save you except Jesus Christ. Praying to or calling upon any other is futile.

Christ, and Christ alone…..

Romans 10:9-10
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Be blessed,

Ron

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