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God, Our Stronghold

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Never in my lifetime have I seen an event have as significant effect on daily life as the coronavirus epidemic.  I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9-11, but in both cases, it was business as usual almost everywhere.  Not so with the coronavirus!  Indeed, it even has affected our worship here. 

I don’t know how most feel about this, but I myself find it profoundly unsettling.  Lots of things that I thought would go on unchanged suddenly have changed.  Dealing with a crisis like this is outside the experience of even our oldest and wisest elders.  The future is uncertain and may be bleak.

However, despite the uncertainties of life, one thing does remain certain.  Stores may have closed, schools may have shut down, but God is still God.  Indeed, He is still the same God He was thousands of years ago, a God who protected His people from every calamity and disaster so long as they trusted in Him.  This morning, then, I would like to go through Psalm 46 to see what we can learn from its depiction of God as our stronghold.

The first thing that we see here is the importance of TRUSTING GOD NO MATTER WHAT.  Look at Psalm 46:1-3.  I have to say, I really love the CSB rendering of v. 1 here.  It tells us that God is a helper who is always found in times of trouble.  Not part of the time.  Not even most of the time.  All the time.  When things are worst, that’s when God is closest!

Because that is true, we as His people don’t have to be afraid.  People in the world, sure.  Frankly, they should be afraid.  They’ve put all their hopes in this life, all that they worked so hard for is being disrupted, and even life itself may end much sooner than they were expecting.  If I were in that position, I would be terrified!

However, we have not put our hope in this life.  We have put our hope in God, and that is very different.  We know that as long as we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  He will be with us through every day of our lives, and He will continue to be our strength and our protector even after our lives are over. 

This doesn’t mean that we should abuse His protection by being heedless and foolish.  God expects us to be wise, plan for the future, and take precautions.  However, we do not rely on those precautions.  We rely on God, and He will not disappoint us.

God will protect us, and that is true without exception.  In vs. 2-3 here, the psalmist is envisioning essentially the destruction of the physical creation.  As God once separated the land from the waters, the psalmist is imagining the earth collapsing back into the waters, so that everything becomes formless and empty again.  Even then, says the psalmist, God’s people don’t have to be afraid.  It is still true today that no matter how bad things get, we can continue to trust God.

The second portion of Psalm 46 concerns GOD’S HELP FOR HIS CITY.  Let’s continue in Psalm 46:4-7.  This is about the city of Jerusalem.  The psalmist expresses his conviction that she will never be toppled.  Why?  Because she is the dwelling place of the Most High.  She might endure some long, dark nights, but when morning comes, God’s help will come with it.

Today, of course, God’s promises do not apply to the earthly city of Jerusalem.  Instead, He is concerned with the Jerusalem above, which is His church.  As we sing, the kingdoms of earth pass away one by one, but the kingdom of heaven remains.  The kingdom of Christ is an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed.

As a result, we can be confident that God will continue to support and sustain His church through this time too.  I don’t think that’s a confidence that we can place in any merely human institution.  I don’t know how, but I suspect that the coronavirus is going to change our society in some significant ways.  Things are going to be very different a year from now than they are now.

However, the Lord’s church is one of the things that will not change.  I fear that a number of businesses will fail in the coming economic downturn, but that won’t happen to our congregation.  In fact, I think that the months and years ahead will offer many opportunities for the church to grow.  There are an awful lot of people out there who have been trusting in other things and now are in the process of realizing how foolish that is.  We always need God, but that fact is more obvious when nothing else is working.

Finally, look at how powerfully God will exert Himself to protect His city.  All of the things that the psalmist said earlier were the worst that could happen, those are the things that God will do to protect His people from their enemies.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  I don’t think that’s true.  The only thing we have to fear is abandoning God.  He will take care of everything else for us.

The psalm concludes by urging us to KNOW THAT HE IS GOD.  Consider Psalm 46:8-11.  Here, we finally see what problem the psalmist is concerned about.  At this point in time, God’s people are facing an enemy invasion.  However, he predicts that God will defeat the invasion so thoroughly that His people’s enemies will lose even the ability to invade.  His victory will proclaim His deity and glory.

Today, we need to consider the works of the Lord.  Death is currently ravaging our nation, but that is only happening because God has given death permission to do so.  Even the great enemy of God is ultimately doing His will.  Illness makes us suffer, but it also reminds us of how powerless we are.

I think that most people in our country feel entitled to live to a ripe old age and even beyond.  However, our apparent control over aging and death is only illusory.  None of us can do anything to add so much as a cubit to our lifespan.  The force that God unleashed in Genesis 3 is as much beyond our power to control as the earthquake or the hurricane.

From this, we must learn that God is God.  He is not like us.  We cannot attribute our understanding or our limitations to Him.  He is vastly beyond us, vastly greater than we are. 

If we are not numbered with His faithful, that thought should be terrifying.  There is this devastating force out there that surely will destroy us eventually.  However, if we belong to Him, it should be incredibly reassuring.  His word will shake everything else, ultimately bringing this physical creation to an end, but His kingdom and His people will not be shaken.  Truly, He is our stronghold, the only defender we will ever need or could ever hope to have!   

Managing Toxic Relationships

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

About three weeks ago, a minor tragedy occurred.  Evernote, the program on my phone that I use to keep track of everything, including my sermon and blog-post ideas, crashed.  Post-crash, I discovered that Evernote hadn’t synced since June 2019, so all of those ideas are gone forever.  That means that if you asked me to preach a sermon on something and you haven’t heard the sermon yet, you probably aren’t going to unless you remind me of the request!  For that matter, if you’d like to hear me preach on something and haven’t asked, I’d love to hear your question!

However, since the Great Evernote Crash of 2020, I have had other requests trickle in.  This evening’s request actually comes from a sister who lives out-of-state, but because I know that this is relevant to people in this congregation too, I decided to turn it into a sermon.  She wanted to know how one should deal with toxic people in one’s life, particularly close relatives who are toxic.  Let’s consider, then, how to manage toxic relationships.

Here, I think the first thing that we must do is to RENEW OUR MINDS.  Paul makes this point in Romans 12:2.  Here, he tells us that there are two ways we can think.  We can have a worldly mindset, which will conform us to the world, or we can have a spiritual mindset, which will lead us to be transformed into the image of Christ.  Perhaps the most global struggle we engage in is the struggle to renew our minds, to daily think less like the world and more like Christ.

One of the characteristics of our worldly society is its love of labeling people.  You’re black, you’re white, you’re straight, you’re gay, you’re rich, you’re poor, and that’s all I need to know about you to know who you are.  All of these labels divide and create hostility, and that’s the work of the devil.  By contrast, God calls us to be one in Christ Jesus, to love one another and love Him so fully that all these labels recede into insignificance.

When we’re talking about toxic people, or we’re talking about their close cousins, the narcissists, we must recognize that we are labeling others, and we also must recognize how deceptive and dangerous that is.  “Toxic” and “narcissist” are worldly labels that people in the world use to dismiss and condemn others.  “Narcissist” is at least a clinical diagnosis, but it is widely employed by people who learned all they know about psychology from a Buzzfeed article.  I don’t even know what “toxic” means, except maybe, “Here’s somebody who does things I don’t like.”

The thing is, though, that once we have concluded that somebody’s a narcissist, that somebody’s toxic, our society gives us permission to write them off.  We no longer have an obligation to try to understand their bad behavior, except maybe by reading more articles on Buzzfeed that tell us how awful toxic people and narcissists are.  We don’t have to try to help them because toxic people and narcissists are irredeemably evil.  We can shun them with a clear conscience because, well, they’re toxic and narcissistic!  Perhaps most of all, we don’t have to examine ourselves and ask how our own unloving hearts and bad behavior have contributed to the breakdown of a relationship.  Those labels do a great deal to help people who want to be self-righteous, but they do nothing to help us be more like Christ.

Instead, as Christ’s disciples, we are called to seek to understand others and have compassion.  In many cases, we begin by remembering THE POWER OF FEAR.  Consider the words of John in 1 John 4:18-19.  According to John here, the opposite of love isn’t hatred.  The opposite of love is fear.  In my life, I can’t think of anybody I know who did awful things because of hatred.  However, I can think of plenty who sinned egregiously because they were afraid.

This should transform our understanding of people who tend to get stuck with those labels of toxic and narcissist.  Often, they seem very powerful and strong to us.  They say shockingly hurtful things to us that we never would say to anyone.  They make decisions that seem calculated to make us suffer.  Indeed, they make us feel like we’re a helpless animal in a cage, and they’re taking joy in tormenting us.

However, if we could see the world through their eyes, we would see something very different.  They don’t feel strong and powerful.  They feel vulnerable and weak.  All of those behaviors that seem so offensive to us, in every sense of the word, seem defensive to them.  They are trying to protect themselves from being hurt, from losing something they love, from appearing as a failure, from becoming valueless. 

I don’t say any of this to minimize the evil that fearful people do or the damage that they cause.  Make no mistake:  those who let fear rule in their lives are letting the devil rule, and they will not inherit eternal life!  Instead, I say it so that we can understand them. 

Most of us don’t know what it’s like to hurt others because we are feeling strong and powerful.  I think all of us, though, if we are honest, will admit that we know what it’s like to hurt others because we are feeling hurt and weak and afraid.  We don’t get to write off all those toxic narcissists because, on some level, we are the same as they are. 

Ultimately, then, we must deal with the hurtful, destructive people in our lives by CONSIDERING EACH PERSON.  For an example of this in action, look at Jude 22-23.  Jude knew that people who were wavering in the faith did so for their own individual reasons, so it wasn’t right to treat all of them in the same way. 

Likewise, we have to try to understand the flesh-and-blood people who are in front of us rather than cutting them off because their behavior displays the Ten Infallible Signs of Narcissism.  If we react to them by striking back, which is what all of us instinctively do, most likely, we are only going to confirm them in their fear and their ungodly behavior, unwittingly confirming our own fears.

Instead, over time, we have to show them that they don’t have to be afraid, so that they will see that the sins they think are defensive really aren’t necessary.  We can’t minimize their sin, but we also must make sure that when we speak truth, we do it out of love rather than a selfish desire to elevate ourselves at their expense.  Additionally, we need to remember that the ugly coping strategies that they’ve spent years learning will take years to unlearn too—even if they’re working on it.

Sadly, some don’t want to work on it.  They are sunk so deep in sin and fear that the pain of confronting the truth about themselves is too great for them to consider.  We have to be honest about that too.  Helping a sinner is one thing; throwing pearls before swine is another.

Finally, we have to recognize when we’re dealing with someone who isn’t motivated by fear.  A couple of years back—let the reader understand—I got to know somebody pretty well who did not hurt people because he was afraid.  He hurt people because it was exciting to hurt them, because all the resultant commotion was interesting.  Those people also are beyond us.  It’s a cliché to say that somebody needs professional help, but those people truly do.

Sex, Identity, and Scripture

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Last week, Josh Collier preached for the congregation here about the challenges facing young people and their parents.  He described the typical progression from churchgoing child to atheist:  teenager has questions, gets fluff instead of strong Biblical answers to those questions, and looks for answers from YouTube skeptics instead.

I have to be honest, brethren.  That sermon convicted me.  It made me want to be sure that I, personally, was a preacher who tackled tough questions head-on instead of spouting feel-good claptrap from the pulpit. 

In particular, Josh mentioned that many teens have questions about gender and sexual identity.  I think Clay did a great job of laying out an entire philosophy of Biblical sexuality during his sermon series late last year, but this morning, I want to zero in specifically on those questions.  Our society has all kinds of things to say about sexuality that are completely at odds with what Christians have traditionally believed.  What does the Bible say about these things?  Over the next several minutes, let’s consider sex, identity, and Scripture.

I think this discussion must begin, though, with an exploration of LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR.  Paul lays out what this means in Romans 13:8-10.  Here, we learn that as Christians, we are responsible for treating those around us in a consistently loving way.  With respect to our subject this morning, it means several things.

The first of these is that love means respecting others’ choices.  God has given all of us the gift of free will, and as part of that, we have the freedom to make the wrong decision.  Those around us are entitled to their choices, even when, and especially when, we don’t agree with them. 

Being a Christian means that we don’t try to coerce others into doing what we think is right.  It means that we don’t harass, bully, insult, or belittle them.  It means that we always speak of them respectfully, even in our conversations with one another.  It means, in fact, that we treat them with the same kindness and consideration we hope they would extend to us.  All this is true whoever the other might be.

However, love doesn’t mean approving of others’ choices.  This is one of the big lies that the world tells.  They try to get us to believe that loving someone means endorsing their behavior, and if we aren’t willing to endorse their behavior, we don’t actually love them.  In fact, says the world, we hate them.

I reject that, and I reject it emphatically.  The Scriptures tell us that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, and if I love someone, and I see them being unrighteous, how could I rejoice in that?  How can I pat someone I love on the back and tell them they’re doing right when I know that their feet are set on the path to hell?  That’s not love.  It’s selfishness and deceit.

The flip side of this is that love speaks unwelcome truths.  This doesn’t mean that all of us have to march down the street telling passersby that they’re going to hell.  It does mean, though, that we must remain steadfast in proclaiming Biblical principles that others find offensive.  It also means that when those we love are entangled in sin, we must have the courage to speak up.  All of this is universally true too.

Now that we’ve reminded ourselves of our duty to treat everyone in a godly way, let’s consider the Bible’s teachings on GENDER IDENTITY.  Our analysis here should begin with the words of the Lord in Matthew 19:1-4.  The question of transgender, of course, is not one that had arisen 2000 years ago, but the principles that Jesus lays out here tell us which way we need to go. 

He reveals that male and female are not social constructs.  Instead, they exist because God created them male and female.  Gender is a biological fact.  If you were to test my DNA right now, you would find that I have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.  If you were to test my wife, you would find that she has two X chromosomes.  This is because God intended for me to be male and for her to be female.

Everybody knows that biological gender is a fact and, if pressed, will acknowledge it.  However, many in our society will insist that one’s feelings about maleness or femaleness are more important than that biological fact.  From a Biblical perspective, this doesn’t make sense. 

Instead, we must regard our DNA as God’s decree about who we are.  Because we are created as male and female, God expects us to conduct ourselves according to His laws for male and female.  If we do otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves about our true nature, and our conduct does not honor Him.

Some attempt to rebut this argument by pointing to genetic exceptions.  There is some extremely small percentage of people out there whose DNA has become mutated so that it is not obvious whether they are male or female.  I acknowledge that these exceptions exist.  Unlike Adam and Eve, none of us have perfect DNA, and no one has had perfect DNA for millennia.  Mutations are part of living in this fallen world.

However, we should not allow this extremely rare biological ambiguity to justify uncertainty about God’s will in cases where no ambiguity exists.  The vast majority of trans people are unambiguously male or female in a biological sense.  Their problem is not confusion.  It is unwillingness to submit, and we must consider them accordingly.

Finally, let’s examine the subject of SEXUALITY.  Again, the words of Jesus are extremely relevant here, this time in Matthew 19:5-6.  As Clay observed several months ago, this passage lays out the God-approved pattern for sexuality.  Godly sex involves the joining of husband and wife.  Anything that is not husband and wife coming together is not godly intimacy.  This involves various forms of heterosexual immorality, but it also includes the practice of homosexuality.  Those who practice any of these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Notice, though, what it is that is outside of God’s will.  Today, the issue of sexual practice has become confused with identity, so that people who never have been intimate with anyone will describe themselves as gay.  In the Bible, though, “homosexual” is not some kind of global human identity.  Instead, the Bible is entirely concerned with temptation and whether we give in to it.

It is not a sin to be tempted.  Jesus Himself was tempted.  If there is some Christian who is tempted to homosexual acts throughout their life, but they resist that temptation, they are righteous in God’s eyes.  Admittedly, those who are inclined only to their own gender must be celibate, but that’s no more than we expect from any unmarried Christian.  Only husband and wife have the right to be intimate.

Being tempted is not a sin, but giving in to temptation is.  When we repent, we can find God’s forgiveness, but if we don’t repent, we never will be right with Him.  Our society today endorses all sorts of sins, but in the end, we know that God will judge the sexually immoral.

Voting and the Christian

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Some of the topics that the brethren here ask me to preach on are fairly innocuous; others are downright radioactive!  So it is with this morning’s subject:  how it is that Christians should vote.  Obviously, 2020 is an election year, so voting is on everyone’s mind, and it is probably true that the outcome of the presidential election, especially, will have a significant effect on the country’s direction for the next four years.

In reaction to this significance, brethren have taken a variety of extreme stands.  For instance, I know Christians who believe that unless you vote, and unless you vote in a certain way, you are sinning.  At the other extreme, David Lipscomb and a number of other brethren in the 19th century believed it was a sin for Christians to vote or participate in government at all.  These are some pretty strong views, but what does the Scripture actually teach?  This morning, let’s consider the connection between voting and the Christian.

In this regard, the first thing that we must do is to HONOR THE CONSCIENCE.  Here, consider Romans 14:1-4.  On its face, this passage is about how Christians should handle disagreements over eating meat.  However, the principles that Paul sets out here govern our interactions in any matter of individual judgment.  Anytime the Bible doesn’t spell out clearly what we should do, Romans 14 tells us how to handle it.

Though this is not obvious to many Christians, voting is just such a matter of individual judgment.  Here’s why.  Unlike the Old Testament and the Qur’an, both of which have much to say about good government, the New Testament is a moral code meant for Christians and churches, not nations.  When we try to turn it into a code for nations, which it was not meant to be, we end up using our judgment to pick and choose which parts apply.

Now to this, some might say, “That’s not true!  When I’m in the voting booth, I vote the Bible and the whole Bible!”  That might be our self-perception, but it’s not really what we’re doing.  Let me give you an example.  I think all of us here this morning are agreed that adultery is a sin, and it’s very important for all of us to avoid adultery. 

However, for few of us does that carry over into politics.  We don’t make their position on adultery a litmus test for candidates.  Indeed, we even may be willing to vote for candidates who have committed and are still committing adultery.  We have used our judgment to decide that something that is very important to us religiously is not important to us politically. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that’s a problem.  It’s impossible for us to vote without making these kinds of judgments, and I think that God gives us the freedom to vote as long as we do so according to our conscience and best judgment.

We must acknowledge, though, that we are following our conscience and our judgment, and therefore must not judge or despise brethren whose conscience leads them to vote differently.  I recognize that there are brethren who are passionately committed to Candidate X and cannot understand why another Christian might vote for Candidate Y instead.  However, our passion does not give us the right to condemn another’s conscience.  Even if we think their choice is terrible, we must respect their right to make it.

Second, when it comes to electoral matters, we must SPEAK WISELY.  Consider Paul’s admonition in Colossians 4:4-5.  Even though this is specifically about outsiders, it surely applies to the way that we speak to one another as well. 

In particular, there are three elements of wise speech that I want us to consider.  The first of these is that wise speech is truthful speech.  Sad to say, there are many Christians who are not careful with the truth when politics is involved.  I think the problems come when we do get too attached to candidates and parties.  We become so passionately convinced that our candidate is the best ever and the other candidate is the worst ever that we become willing to believe every slander that is made against them.  We’ll see some meme on Facebook and click “Share” because it feels true to us even though a little digging would reveal that it came straight from a Russian robot!  Brethren, repeating slander is slander too, and it’s a sin.  We have to be careful!

Second, we must speak graciously to speak wisely.  This too is the result of misplaced zeal for politics.  We become dead sure that we are right, right, right, and anybody who disagrees with us is wrong, wrong, wrong!  It becomes our goal, especially on social media, to shove the truth down the throats of the folks on the other side.  Well, guess what?  That’s contentiousness, and contentiousness is a sin too!  Over the past several years, I’ve seen far too many cases of brethren who aren’t friends anymore and won’t even speak to each other because of political disagreement.  Make no mistake:  that’s tragic and wrong.

Third, we speak wisely when we remember our true goal.  We are called to be Christians first and political partisans second, and nothing we say as political partisans ever should interfere with our work as Christians.  Offending people with the truth of Christ is one thing.  Offending people over politics is quite another!  Here’s a good litmus test:  If somebody from the other political party read what we have to say about politics on Facebook, would they still want to go to church with us?  If the answer is “No”, we have gone too far.

Indeed, the last thing that I want to encourage us to do this morning is to PUT THE GOSPEL FIRST.  Look at Paul’s great statement of faith in Romans 1:16.  It is the gospel that is the power of God to salvation, and only the gospel.  Politics and voting never can be.

This has implications first of all for our congregation.  Let me be clear.  This is not a Republican church.  This is not a Democrat church.  This is a church that belongs to Christ.  In the work of this church, we are wholly devoted to Him, and that means that we have neither time nor attention to spare for dabbling in politics.  It also means that regardless of how they voted, all who seek the Lord are welcome here.

Second, no matter how attached to our political causes we may be, we must acknowledge that politics can’t save souls.  Only people who are willing servants of Jesus will inherit eternal life, and no government, no matter how powerful, can make the unwilling become willing.  Through the threat of punishment, the government can change actions, but it can’t change hearts.  Only the gospel can do that, one heart at a time.

I’d be the first to admit that our country has a lot of problems.  Indeed, we live in a world with a lot of problems.  Given those problems, I understand why so many look to politics as a savior.  In reality, though, the only Savior is Jesus Christ.  If we want to change the world, we do that by proclaiming Him, first, last, and always.

This is why, for so many, social media represents a giant missed opportunity.  They’ll share all these memes and get in all these political arguments, but when it comes to the gospel, they have little to nothing to say.  Brethren, is that right?  Let us never put our hope in voting, politics, or the government.  Let’s put it in Christ where it belongs.

"Raised in the Church" or Disciple of Jesus?

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Tonight’s sermon is yet another sermon-request sermon, and in this case, I was asked to preach on the difference between someone who attends services because they were "raised in the church" and someone who is here because they are a disciple of Jesus.  This is a relevant subject to many of us because it touches on the two-edged nature of having been brought up by godly parents.

On the one hand, godly parents are a great gift.  I myself benefited immeasurably because both of my parents were devoted Christians and raised me accordingly.  However, with that gift, there comes a trap, the trap of free-riding on our parents’ faith and never developing a faith of our own.  If all we do is show up here because Momma and Daddy did, but we never truly commit our hearts to the Lord, we’re no better off than if we spent our Sunday mornings watching Captain Kangaroo!  Lest we ourselves fall into this trap, let’s consider this evening the difference between someone who is raised in the church and someone who is a disciple of Jesus.

I see three primary differences here, and the first is that someone who is merely raised in the church honors the traditions of the church, but a disciple of Jesus honors His word.  Consider what Jesus has to say about the dangers of tradition in Matthew 15:7-9. 

We often use this verse to wag our fingers at all those tradition-following denominations, but this can be just as big a problem within the Lord’s church.  When people go to churches of Christ but don’t know the word of Christ, the practices of their church basically become their Bible.  What they see becomes their standard of right and wrong.

This is problematic because it elevates human tradition to the level of God’s word, which is exactly what Jesus is criticizing in Matthew 15.  Like every church under heaven, the Jackson Heights church has human traditions.  However, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we won’t be able to distinguish between the things we do out of tradition and the things we do because they are commanded. 

Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, a preacher friend of mine happened to be waiting on the Lord’s table during the second serving, and afterward, when he offered another opportunity to contribute to the Lord’s work, he prayed before passing the plate.  After services were over, an older sister came up to him and ripped him up one side and down the other.  She said that her late husband had been a deacon and an elder in the church, and never had she seen anyone do anything as disgraceful as praying before the collection on Sunday night!

Now, is there anything unscriptural about offering such a prayer?  Of course not!  However, because the traditions of her church had become this sister’s Bible, when he violated those traditions, she reacted as strongly as if he had violated the word. 

Brethren, that attitude is the fountainhead of apostasy!  All of us are responsible for knowing why we do what we do, and being able to distinguish between God’s commandment and human tradition.  There’s only one way to get there—by returning to the word again and again until we understand the commandments of the Lord for ourselves.

Second, where someone who is merely raised in the church will be content with staying the same spiritually, a true disciple will seek to grow in Christ.  Consider the Hebrews writer’s critique of the failure to grow in Hebrews 5:11-14.  Of course, there are all too many Christians who were not raised in the church who fail to grow anyway, but spiritual immaturity is certainly one of the hallmarks of the generational Christian.

Again, the basic problem here is making the church and not the word our standard.  After all, when do all of us see the most Christians?  It’s during our Sunday morning assembly.  Thus, if you’re getting your information about Christianity from the practice of the church, you will conclude that the thing that you do in order to be a Christian is to come to church on Sunday morning.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think coming to church on Sunday morning is great!  I know there are younger Christians here who are fighting hard to make regular church attendance part of their routine, and I applaud that. 

Yes, being a disciple of Jesus involves coming to church, but it does not consist of coming to church.  And yet, to all appearances, there are lots of Christians who think that discipleship is about churchgoing.  There they are, year after year, decade after decade, filling a pew, but they never do anything, and they never seem bothered by their inaction.  They are the thorny ground in the parable of the sower, and we know how Jesus feels about Christians who never bear fruit!

This evening, then, let’s each of us pause to take inventory of ourselves.  Let’s each of us cast our mind back 10 years and remember the kind of Christian we were then.  If you haven’t been a Christian for 10 years, remember who you were when you obeyed the gospel.  Then, compare the old you to the current you.  Has there been a change?  For that matter, has the change been good?

Are you, for instance, better about reading the Bible regularly than you were 10 years ago?  Do you pray more frequently?  Do you spend more of your time in serving others?  Are you more willing to share your faith with outsiders?  Do you contribute more generously than you used to?

There are many other possible questions, but they all make the same point.  If we are not changing for good, we are not growing, and if we aren’t growing, we aren’t faithful disciples of Jesus. 

Finally, those who are raised in the church seek to please others, but the disciple seeks to please God.  Look at Paul’s question in Galatians 1:10.  Indeed, we can say that if we primarily are seeking to please others, we are not disciples of Christ, whether we are in this building or not.

Often, this has to do with our relationship with our families.  Many of us have had the frustrating experience of teaching someone the gospel, pointing out the truth about baptism, and having them say in reply, “I can’t believe that, because if it’s true, then Grandma went to hell.”  They are more loyal to their families than they are to God and His word. 

Sadly, there are all too many church-of-Christ attendees who come out of family loyalty too.  They belong to the Lord’s church because Grandpa did, but if Grandpa had belonged to a denomination, that’s where they would be.

Arguably even worse are those who attend services to keep peace in the family.  They have no faith of their own, but they come because it’s easier than falling away would be.  I saw a particularly tragic example of this in Illinois.  A brother returned to the Lord after decades out of duty, and he came back with such zeal that he brought his family with him.  They filled a whole pew! 

However, some years after that, he died, and after the funeral was over, I don’t believe I ever saw any of them again.  They weren’t following God.  They were following Daddy.  They were following Grandpa.

Brethren, ain’t nobody going to get to heaven by following their family!  It’s not enough for Jesus to be Mama’s Savior and Daddy’s Savior.  He has to be our Savior.  We have to love Him ourselves, with all of our heart, and all of our mind, and all of our strength.  We have to love Him so much that we are willing to abandon our earthly family.  Only then are we truly His disciples.

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