PROJECT 12: STARTING THE NEW YEAR RIGHT
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
These always have been the “go-to” verses to promote regular church attendance. Having grown up attending church, this has never been my problem. My issue has been how much I cared for others with whom I worshiped.
J.I. Packer mentioned a reason to attend church and love other believers that I have never heard preached in over 60 years of attending church (including evening services, chapels, tent meetings, evangelistic meetings, sermons on the radio, sermons on TV, and camp meetings). I have been privileged to listen to (and preach) more than 4,500 messages without hearing THIS…”that all who love Jesus Christ the Lord ought to care deeply about the church, just because the church is the object of Jesus’ own love.” Packer mentioned Ephesians 5:25-27 as his evidence:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (NIV)
I guess I have been blind to the meaning of these verses because I ascribed them more to MARRIAGE than CHURCH.
If Christ loves His church to that degree, and if I aspire to be like Christ, then it follows that part of my love for Christ would include a great love for His church. How can I show disdain for other believers who are loved that greatly by my Savior? How can I excuse my absence from the community of saints by claiming, “I can worship just as well alone on a fallen log in the forest,” when it is clear that my fellow believers AND I are both part of the very church (gathering of believers) He gave himself for?
That being said, I understand why some are critical of church attenders. There are hypocrites in the church. I do not like hypocrites. Yet I’ve been one myself. In fact, every human I have ever met has been one. Eventually each human thinks of himself or herself as THE EXCEPTION to the rule that they apply to everyone else. That is very hypocrite-like and exceedingly common.
Indeed, looking at every other human organization (social, political, or professional) I see the very same hypocrisies without religion being involved. So, hypocrisy is a common human problem, not merely a spiritual issue.
Further, I see why some do not like to be exhorted to be more faithful, or more giving, or more ANYTHING. Preaching does lend itself to pushing people to follow Christ better. However, in looking at every other human organization (social, political, or professional) I see the very same push to DO more, better, or stronger. Even politicians push people and business owners push employees to follow an agenda. The push to “do more” is the same without religion being involved. So, this is a common human problem, not just a spiritual issue.
These, then, are not reasons to avoid church. They are reasons which SHOULD encourage us to be church attenders if we count Christ as our Savior.
Some say, “It is too difficult.” Others say, “I’m too sinful.” A few proclaim, “I do not need religion,” or “I don’t believe in sin.” Lastly, some lament, “Which church is THE church?”
Difficult – Christ tells us that whatever He asks us to do, he will make that burden light. That does not mean it will be easy, but that He will take most of the weight of it (if we allow Him to do so). So, if you are a follower of Christ, then you will love His church, and He will make that burden easier. If you are a lover of Him, then you will willingly participate in a body of believers.
Too Sinful – Clearly we all have sinned. We continue to struggle against our base nature. Yet, while we were enemies of God, He loved us and provided a way. While we were sinners, Christ died on the cross for our salvation. Being a sinner is the norm. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness and living a life of serious commitment to Christ is above the norm. The only “too sinful” thing is NOT accepting Christ’s offer of renewal.
Religion – Absolutely Not!!! No one needs “religion.” Religion is not required at all. What is required is relationship. Strangely, that relationship is both with God and our fellow believers. The two greatest goods are found in these two things: love God and love others.
Don’t believe in Sin? – Are you that blind??? If there is no such thing as sin, why do we have felonies and misdemeanors? Murders, theft, and other sins (it is a very long list) are common enough that newspapers have at least one story per day. They don’t report them as “sin” per se, but it is obvious even to even those with lower IQ that these things are wrong and evil. Sin is real.
THE Church? – That is a bit tougher. There are so many denominations. Yet I have found true followers of Christ in many of them. I have worshiped with godly Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, and many others (not that all those denominations are equal). The key component that unites all of those with whom I have worshiped is their understanding that salvation is only through faith in Christ and their total reliance on the Bible to learn about God’s love. None think there is any other way to heaven except through faith in Christ. So, if you are blessed with a feeling of joy when you spend time with other believers then that may be THE Church for you. For me, there has to be honest studied teaching and preaching which engages my mind as well as my heart. I can “feed” myself, but I like to be challenged to seek all the ways in which God can develop my faith and character.
“Project 12” is what I have named my own attempt to live as a disciple of Christ by believing what Christ said. As part of that I am studying how to live in a way that conveys love to my fellow believers. Honestly, it is not easy for me to be part of His church. As an introvert, I do not enjoy being around lots of other people … at work, shopping, concerts … and especially when I have to “care” about them. So, I still attend church and closely interact with fellow believers (and put up with the anxiety it produces) because they NEED to care about me and I NEED to care about them. AND, I love it.
Copyright 2023 Donald Whelpley
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