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Choosing a Church

Thursday, May 23, 2019

 

It is certainly true that when I consider the Lord Jesus, there are many things about Him that intimidate me.  I read about His holiness, His meekness, and His love, and it’s sobering to realize that I’m supposed to imitate His greatness in all those things. 

However, there are some things about Him that reassure me, and one of them is that He can be very sarcastic.  Consider, for instance, the question of Luke 6:46.  That’s got some bite to it, doesn’t it?  His point is plain.  If we call Him “Lord” but don’t do what He says, we are no disciples of His at all.

This is important in our individual lives, and it’s important in our corporate lives as members of a congregation.  Is our congregation doing what Jesus says, or isn’t it?  Even a new Christian has to know how to distinguish churches that are from churches that aren’t, so for our ninth half-hour study session, let’s explore the topic of choosing a church.

Before I go on, let me note that the scope of this sermon is going to be limited, as the scope of every sermon in this series has been limited.  This is not an explanation of every nuance of the work of the church.  Instead, it’s a guide to make sure that somebody who knows none of that will be headed in generally the right direction.

The first thing that we ought to do in evaluating a congregation is to ASK ABOUT BAPTISM.  We see the centrality of baptism in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.  Any church that truly is submitting to the Lordship of Jesus is going to do these two things.  They are going to baptize, and they are going to teach those they baptize to observe all the commandments of Jesus.

Several weeks ago, we learned what the one baptism we are authorized to administer is.  It is the immersion in water of a believer for forgiveness of sins.  If a church administers that baptism, they are acting as authorized by Jesus.  If they do not, they are not.

Furthermore, if a church does not administer the baptism of the Bible, its members do not enjoy the benefits of Bible baptism.  They are not disciples.  They are not Christians.  They are not forgiven of their sins.  They likely believe that they are, but they are deluded and mistaken.  Assembling with a group of people like that has no more spiritual benefit than assembling with the Elks Lodge on Sunday morning.

The only way to find out the truth here is to ask.  Go up to the preacher or the pastor or the whoever and ask three questions:  “How do you baptize?”, “Whom do you baptize?”, and “Why do you baptize?” 

Be very careful of weasel-word answers to the last question.  Some will tell you things like, “We baptize because Jesus commanded us to.”  Usually, people who say such things do not believe in baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the only way to smoke them out is to ask them directly, “Do you believe that baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins?” 

If you get any other answer than a “Yes,” you know that the people in that church are not actually disciples, and you shouldn’t worship there.  There’s no need to consider anything else in this lesson.  Those people have flunked the most important Scriptural test.

Second, we ought to EVALUATE THEIR WORSHIP.  Once again, the words of Jesus set the standard.  He tells us what the worship of His people is like in John 4:23-24.  True worshipers must worship God in spirit and truth. 

Notice that Jesus does not say that they will worship God in spirit and sincerity.  Our society likes to confuse sincerity and truth, but they can be two different things.  Sincerity is subjective.  We all sincerely believe things, but we can be sincerely mistaken about them. 

Truth, on the other hand, is objective.  Something is either true or it isn’t.  Even if nobody believes the truth, the truth is still true. 

When it comes to the will of God, we know where to find truth.  Jesus says in John 17 that the word is truth.  Only worship that is authorized by the word is true worship.

Consider, for instance, a congregation that is welcoming and friendly, but they’ve got a rock band or a piano up on stage.  According to ordinary English usage, bands play.  Pianos are played.  The movie titles are And the Band Played On and The Piano Player, not And the Band Sang On and The Piano Singer

Bands play musical instruments.  A piano is a musical instrument that is played.  In both cases, the playing of a musical instrument is being offered as worship to God, and anybody who disputes that has got an agenda.

Let’s test that against the Scriptures.  If the true worship that Jesus contemplates involves musical instruments, we will be able to use the Scriptures to prove that Christians are supposed to worship using musical instruments.   No such evidence exists, so the congregation with that band or piano isn’t worshiping in truth. 

At this point, our next decision isn’t optional.  Jesus doesn’t say that those who worship God can worship in spirit and in truth if they want to.  He says that they must worship in spirit and truth.  If we want to be true worshipers, we can’t be a part of a church that doesn’t worship in truth.

Finally, if we are evaluating a church, we must LISTEN TO THEIR TEACHING.  Once again, this is a sermon point about the word of Christ and the truth of Christ.  Look at what He says about the importance of teaching in John 8:30-31.  Abiding in the word is what makes us true disciples.  When we abide in the word, we come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

The very mission of the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth.  If a church does not teach the truth above all else, it has failed in its mission.

There are several ways this can happen.  First, obviously, is if a church teaches false doctrine.  If we visit a congregation, and we hear things that we know aren’t in line with the Scriptures, obviously that’s not a church to which we should join ourselves.

The second lesson here is subtler.  In order to completely fulfill its mission, the preaching and teaching of a church must be more concerned with the truth than with anything else. 

Sadly, in too many congregations, even ones that get the first two points here right, the teaching of the church does not emphasize the truth.  The preacher’s goal is no longer enlightenment.  It has become entertainment.

I don’t have anything against jokes, but if a sermon becomes a comedy routine, that’s a problem.  I don’t have anything against emotional stories, but if a preacher does nothing but move from one tear-jerker to the next, that’s a problem.  I don’t have anything against wisdom from other sources than the Bible, but if a sermon is built around pop psychology instead of the word of truth, that’s a problem.

Brethren, we don’t need a church that will entertain us.  We need a church that will feed us, and only the word can do that.

Listen to Your Mother

Thursday, May 16, 2019

 

Today is a day on which we pay special attention to and honor mothers.  That’s certainly an appropriate thing to do.  Every one of us owes much to the woman who brought us up and cared for us, and mothers do appreciate it when we treat them well on Mother’s Day.

However, when you get right down to it, what every mother here wants from her children is not a nice corsage and Sunday dinner at Outback.  They don’t really want things from us.  They want things for us.  The best gift that any of us can give our mothers is a happy, successful, productive life.

In fact, that’s why mothers tell us the things they do.  It’s not that they enjoy nagging us or making our lives miserable.  It’s that they’ve been around longer than we have, they’ve seen how various kinds of choices play out, and they want us to make good choices and not bad ones.

Mothers have felt this way for as long as there have been mothers, so it’s not surprising that some of this timeless maternal wisdom has entered the Bible.  This morning, then, let’s turn to the book of Proverbs to see what sorts of things we will do if we listen to our mothers.

The first thing that we will do is to BE WISE.  Why?  Because it makes Mom happy.  Consider here Proverbs 10:1.  All of us need to recognize that we have a tremendous effect on our mother’s happiness.  All we have to do to make her miserable is to be foolish, because she knows very well how our foolishness is going to turn out.  She would much rather see us being wise instead.

It’s probably true that all of us will make better decisions if we make those decisions with our mother’s happiness in mind.  When we make decisions in this way, we will pay less attention to the immediate effects of our decision and more attention to what the effects of that decision will be down the road.  We’ll pay more attention to the consequences of our actions.

Let me tell you about some of the wise decisions that my mother wanted me to make.  First of all, she wanted me to assemble with the saints every time the doors were open.  My mother wasn’t anybody’s fool.  She’d seen enough to know that over time, Christians who faithfully attended services got stronger and stronger, but Christians who came once a week, if that, got weaker and weaker and perhaps even ended up falling away.  Is there any commandment that says we have to be here three times a week?  No, but it is wise!

My mother also wanted me to be careful with my money.  When I was a young man, my financial carelessness drove her to distraction!  Here too, it’s a consequence thing.  She knew that if I would be patient and diligent and save, bit by bit, I could build a better, more secure future for myself.  I’d even have money left over to give to the Lord’s work and help people in need.  However, if I was a spendthrift, I wouldn’t have that security in future, nor would I have the financial freedom to be generous.  Generally, wisdom makes a big difference in our lives—whether we practice it or not!

In addition to generic wisdom, there are also specific ways in which the mothers of Proverbs advise their children to be wise.  First, they want them to BEWARE SEXUAL IMMORALITY.  Here, let’s read from Proverbs 23:25-28.  Specifically, we see that Mom here is concerned about two kinds of women:  the prostitute and the adulteress.  In our society, sadly, sexual temptation is as much a problem for women as for men, but these two kinds of temptations remain.

Let’s start with the prostitute.  Obviously, none of our mothers want us to have anything to do with people like that!  However, I think we can expand the principle here to cover anyone who wants to make money off of lust.

Think about it.  Why does A Game of Thrones have all those naked people in it?  Why does so much comedy rely on innuendo and filthy humor?  Why is there so much porn on the Internet?  It’s all there because somebody is trying to get us to lust so they can make money off us.  Those people want us to believe that they care about us having a good time, but in reality, they are as heartless and calculating as the most jaded hooker on the street.  The less we have to do with them and their works, the happier we will be, the happier our mothers will be, and the happier God will be.

Let’s also watch out for the adulteress, who stands for anyone who entices us into sin for the sake of their pleasure.  Notice that I say “their pleasure”, not ours.  By definition, anybody who tries to get us to sin with them cares more about themselves than they do about us.  If they truly loved us, the very last thing they would do would be to endanger our souls!  Here too, the dire consequences are many.  When Mom tells us to stay away, she knows what she’s talking about.

Finally, the mothers of Proverbs want us to AVOID ALCOHOL.  Consider the words of King Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31:1-5.  Admittedly, this is advice dispensed by the mother of a king to a king.  It’s true that none of us are royal, but all of us want to reign with Christ.  It seems to me that we’d still better listen.

That’s all the more true because this advice is not popular.  Just as there are brethren who insist that you don’t have to come to Wednesday night services because there’s no passage that says you do, so too there are brethren who insist that they can drink alcohol because there’s no passage that says you can’t.  In fact, it’s common to find Christians who insist on both of these things simultaneously.

However, I think both arguments miss the point.  If we refuse to consider what wisdom has to say about both church attendance and drinking, we are quite literally being foolish.  In both cases, we need to pay attention to the consequences before we decide what we’re going to do.

Lemuel’s mother spells out the consequences in no uncertain terms.  She warns her son that drinking will lead him to forget God’s decrees and to pervert justice.  In other words, alcohol keeps us from remembering what God wants us to do, and it leads us not to do it.

Today, science has confirmed that Lemuel’s mother was right on.  Even for those who are not drunk, the consumption of alcohol decreases mental function.  It also lowers our inhibitions.  Both of those things make it more likely that we will sin, and on that list, Sin Number One is drunkenness.

In short, brethren, we need to exercise wise judgment when it comes to drinking, and it’s impossible to make the argument that drinking in our society is wise.  Let’s do as Lemuel’s mother advises.  For that matter, let’s do what our own mothers would want us to.  Let’s have nothing to do with drinking.

Psalms 42-43

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

 

Thirsting for the living God,
Seeking favor in His sight,
Still I feed upon my tears
While I sorrow day and night.
In my grief, I call to mind
How I worshiped with the throng,
Coming to the house of God,
Joining there in joyful song.

Chorus:
Why are you cast down, my soul?
Why are you disturbed within?
Put your confidence in God;
I will praise Him once again.

Mourning, I recall Him yet,
Though I struggle in the deep;
He commands His love by day,
And His song will bless my sleep.
I exclaim to God my rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?”
I am wounded in my bones,
Daily faced with mockery.

(Chorus)

Rescue me; defend my cause
From the hateful and unjust;
Why do You reject me still
When in You I put my trust?
Lead me with Your light and truth;
Bring me to Your holy place,
Then will I rejoice in You
And exalt you for Your grace.

(Chorus)

Summaries, Psalms 39-43

Monday, May 13, 2019

 

Psalm 39 describes David’s struggle with human wickedness.  He begins so concerned about his own sinful speech that he resolves not to speak at all in the presence of the wicked.  However, it’s so painful holding his thoughts in that he ends up speaking anyway, not to the wicked, but to God.  He urges God to help him understand his own mortality and comparative impermanence.  All of mankind is equally impermanent.  As a result, he puts his trust in God to rescue him from sin rather than continuing to punish him.  If God does not deliver him soon, it will be too late.

Psalm 40 expresses David’s rejoicing in God’s deliverance.  He waited, God rescued him, put him in a safe place, and gave him reason to praise Him.  Anyone who trusts in God is blessed because God regards people like that.  As a result, David offered himself to God and glorified Him.  Now, he is confident that despite his desperate situation, God still will deliver him.  He looks forward to seeing God disappoint those who want to see him suffer, but he expects that God will give those who seek Him reason to rejoice.

Psalm 41 explains the importance of generosity.  God will protect those who are gracious to the poor, even when they are ill.  This is particularly important to David, because his enemies are expecting him to die and gossiping about him.  David’s illness has led even his close friends to turn against him.  However, David knows that God will deliver him and show His delight in him.

Psalms 42-43 were originally the same psalm, but for some reason were divided up when the book of Psalms was organized.  However, even now, their original unity is obvious.  The original psalm was structured like one of our gospel hymns, with verses and a chorus.  Psalm 42:1-4 is the first verse, 42:5a is the chorus, 42:5b-10 is the second verse, 42:11 is the chorus again, 43:1-4 is the third verse, and 43:5 is the final repetition of the chorus.

Content-wise, the combined psalm is about the psalmist’s suffering and hope for deliverance.  He longs for God like a deer pants for water (Our hymn “As the Deer” is taken from this psalm, though it’s much more optimistic in tone than the original).  He’s suffering and lonely, and he yearns for God’s deliverance.  However, he tells his soul not to be miserable because he knows that God will rescue him eventually.

The second verse adds more information about the suffering of the psalmist.  His situation is so bad that he feels like he’s drowning, he feels like God has forgotten him, and his enemies are mocking him because God hasn’t rescued him.  However, he continues to counsel his soul to peace.

The concluding verse of the original, in Psalm 43, asks God to rescue the psalmist from his enemies and wants to know why he continues to suffer.  He pleads with God to bring him to His temple so he can praise Him.  Once again, though, he urges his soul to be still because he trusts in God.

Rise, O Christ

Friday, May 10, 2019

 

Rise, O Christ, within our hearts;
Come with hope and warning;
Till the night of doubt departs,
Shine, O star of morning!
Break upon our minds this hour;
Dawn in Your perfection;
Prove Yourself the Son with power
By Your resurrection.


Rise, O Christ, upon our woe;
Through Your word, remind us:
Everywhere Your people go,
Still Your light shall find us.

On the midnight of our tears,
Shed Your consolation;
Chase away our darkest fears
With Your sure salvation.

Rise, O Christ, till You descend,
Bright with exaltation;
Bring all error to an end
By Your revelation.
Every eye will plainly see;
Every heart, surrender;
Then arise in victory;
Take us up in splendor!

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