Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't Have to Go to Church to Be a Christian?

Recently pop icon Justin Bieber got a tattoo on his leg - a tattoo of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Of course this caused quite a sensation among his followers, the “beliebers” as they have been called. They wanted to know what this meant. What kind of Christian was he? Sadly, Justin said that he didn’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Now I know he is a young man, and young men are known to say stupid things. I know that I said some stupid things like that when I was his age. But this is wrong. Justin either doesn’t believe what Jesus taught, or (more likely) he doesn’t understand.

Many people see problems in the church such as hypocrisy or people weak in faith. Unfortunately they respond by rejecting corporate worship or what some people today would call "religion." People also feel that they can connect to God on their own without other people being involved. Justin probably wouldn't want to be lumped in with Tom T. Hall, who sang, "Me and Jesus, We Got Our Own Thing Going," but I think that's were he and a lot of people are today.

This rejection of religion or seeking Jesus privately is not the solution. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18.20). The writer of Hebrews warns us not to forsake the "assembling of ourselves together” (10.25). We would do well to notice that the longest of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath commandment calling us to worship. Luke tells us that on the Sabbath Day Jesus went to the synagogue "as was His custom" (4.16). Jesus also describes the church as the “body” of which He is the head. No one can love the head (Jesus) without loving the rest of the body (the church) (Colossians 1.18).

In John chapter two we read about Jesus clearing the Temple of animals and money-changers. He wanted to clean up the hypocrisy and weakness that sometimes infects worship. But He didn't tell them to stop coming to the Temple! Instead He renewed worship by calling people to repentance and by offering His own perfect life and death as a redeeming sacrifice.

See "Renewing Worship" (sermon for March 11, 2012)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Handling Condemnation

When I made the decision to go to the seminary, one of my closest relatives said, "You know what most people have for dinner on Sunday don't you?... Roast Pastor!" On my vicarage my supervising pastor was adamant that I develop what he called "alligator hide." The barbs, the innuendos, the vague criticisms, and my all time favorite... the anonymous letters... are just some of the ways people like to smack the pastor.

Everyone gets to feel the scourge of condemnation from time to time. There are just a lot of people out there who love to let you know how bad you are! They do so in the corners and the shadows of life. Double that if you try to do anything in ministry... teach Sunday School, play the organ, lead the ladies' or men's group, etc.

I actually thank God for those who condemn me. The more they condemn, the more I cling to Christ and to His gift of righteousness. As I do that, I also become better at showing forth the righteousness of Christ in my life.

I don't assume that every condemnation is unjust. Condemnations are always a call for self-examination, for repentance, forgiveness and renewal. I find that as I struggle through that process I am also able to sift out the legitimate criticisms from the illegitimate. Another important clue to legitimate criticism is that it usually comes face to face and heart to heart. Those who sideswipe us, usually doing so with illegitimate criticism.

Unjust condemnation is still painful for me. But in that case I also turn to Christ for His assurance: "There is therefore now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8.1).