I fear that we are far too lackadaisical in our approach to the affairs of church life. We accept standards that are far too low as regards to how we order our church affairs.
I fear that this is all to do with the fact that we are in essence a volunteer entity. If you are employed a contact and financial remuneration determine that you need to perform to a certain standard. In church though, generally there is no contract and no financial remuneration and or standards can slip.
So we very easily give the impression of casualness and disorderliness. But this should not be so. As Paul says we are the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15b)
We are the church of the living God. Each true church does not stand as some insignificant entity whose activities are of no consequence. No each church stands to represent the God who is God and that God alone.
How can we be doing anything other then striving for excellence when the One we serve is the all beautiful ruler of the universe. We are not some tin-pot republic we are the Lord’s temple.
Oh the joy of my first foray into the blackberry harvest this summer. So first thing this morning (at about 7.30 actually) I was out with May Lin picking in Blenheim Park here in Feltham which is a short distance from our home (see photo here). There was a sense of returning to many happy exploits in gathering fruit among the brambles over previous years.
I am left wondering why there is such a sense of enjoyment with this activity. One must be the sense of accomplishment. To see the container fill and be filled with blackberries gives a very tangible sense of having achieved something. After a Sunday when you really do not know how much was accomplished through the preaching of the Word, the pastoring of the Bible and the seeking to live in (and lead others into) the ways of Christ, Monday morning was different. The two containers filled with blackberries mean that my labour has got results. But what of my labour yesterday some would say they appreciated things, but that does not necessarily translate into transformed lives. So a Monday morning comes as a happy relief in terms of labour bringing immediate tangible results.
The sense of adventure is also appealing. Seeking to push through the brambles to reach the recessed fruit gives a certain fulfilment. This, combined with a few scratches on the legs, arms and body, all add to the feeling of the harvest having been achieved through some cost.
And then there is the eating of the fresh fruit. There is something special about having breakfast with the fruit that has just been picked. Others can share the blessing through eating the fruit picked and the am that May Lin might make with the blackberries.
So it was a happy start to the day.
We serve a Saviour who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 28:20b). We are called by Him to be servants ourselves. He gives this great teaching through his own example in John 13:1-20. He says If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15)
The Christian has a bias towards serving others. If there is not that bias in the heart and attitude of servant we can rightly question whether they are a true servant of the greatest master of all.
Accordingly a question that should be in our hearts always and on our lips frequently, is “How can I help?” We ask this question because in a Christlike manner we want to use all our energies to help others.
So in the church, and any situation in fact, don’t just wait to be asked, be asking others about how you can help. If you are such a person then you will be a delight to have around. And you will be a living demonstration of the life of your Lord and Saviour.
My traversing of different churches earlier in the year has led me to ponder upon the issues related to order, rigidity, familiarity and informality. When I use these terms I am thinking of the general structure of our services.
I am left wondering whether our churches at the more conservative end of the evangelical spectrum, have not adopted an overly rigid form. We have justified under the guise of being orderly and reverent.
We have seen the excesses of the charismatic movement and deemed that anything that smells of the charismatic approach to worship needs to be rejected. So as soon as someone lifts their hands or claps or moves their body in worship, we conclude, with pharisaical like undertones, that they are “going charismatic”. This, of course, alternatively, means they are “going-off-the-rails.”
We instead stick with our rigid formality and comfort ourselves on being faithful and reverent whilst all the time having no sense of God.
Now I am not arguing for chaos. But I am arguing that we need to think about how we reflect the working of God in our services. I know that some people (and some cultures) are more demonstrative in worship than others and perhaps we. anglo-saxon Brits. are less so. But surely there can be more room for the showing of emotion and expressing that in different ways in our worship services. In this context I have written previous;y here about David and Michal.
Let us also be thoughtful of those from those more demonstrative cultures who come among our churches. I feel we have lost many over the years from our church, Feltham Evangelical, because they could not accommodate themselves to our church culture. Many, I feel, we could have led into a better understanding of God’s way, but alas they moved on from us. There were things they liked about our church, but we expected them to adjust too much. In the end they went somewhere they were more comfortable with. It all makes me wonder whether we could have done more to prevent this.
The book of Acts is a marvellous book to study. it is a book of action. It is the book which presents to us the great establishing of God’s new regime; the church. The church starts in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and spreads as a living organism through the known world.
The first twelve chapters, in many ways, lay the foundations for the work of the Lord’s grace down the ages to the Lord’s return. In these chapters the work of God is established in all groups of people. From starting out as a Jewish entity by the end of chapter twelve the church has well and truly become an entity where all are accepted into the same group. Jews and Gentiles of whatever, race and background come together as one on the basis of being accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ.
In chapter 13 there is a transition. Paul and Barnabas are set apart (see vv1-3) to be the chief leaders in bringing forward, under God, the spread of this church. I want then briefly to look at what happens in ch 13 vv4-12 as the work of God begins to move forward and outwards:
- The Holy Spirit works through the church. In v3 we read that “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. the church sent Paul and Barnabas off to their new ministry,” However, in v4a we read “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit. ” So we ask who did the sending? The church and the Holy Spirit did. The Holy Spirit works through the church to move forward his work. It is essential to remember this as we engage in the work of the Lord’s grace. The Holy Spirit works with and through the church. This is the normal way of God’s workings.
- They preached the Word of God. in v5 we hear that “They proclaimed the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues,” Their priority in starting out in mission was to preach the Word of God. And so it should be for us. The Word of God should have priority.
- Strange things happen and strange people appear. There is a Jewish man who is a sorcerer. We might say what is he doing there? A Jewish man involved in sorcery; that cannot be! And not only that he was a false prophet as well (see v6). For the Jews, a sorcerer and a false prophet should have had been completely rejected, but there he was. There are many things that are not explainable, Paul and Barnabas are not preoccupied by this strange development; they get on with the work. Yes, they rebuke him (see vv9-11), but this was because they were set on the Word going forward to the proconsul. We need to be fixed on getting on with the work ourselves. Odd things happen and incongruous situations transpire, but these should not divert us. We must continue with the work of getting the Word out.
- However, there is an intelligent man there who wants to hear the Word (see v7). Truly intelligent men always want to truly hear the Word. People may have a poor intellect, but if they want the Word they are intelligent. Let us be praying that we find them.
- Barnabas and Saul were together and known to be together. In v7 the pro-consul called for both of them. It is good to work in fellowship with others.
In these verses we see certain patterns set for how the work of God will progress to the nations through the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. In many ways patterns are set that do well to follow today. In our ministry we should have the same priorities of Paul and Barnabas:
- Fellowship with the Lord’s Church.
- Dependence on the Holy Spirit working through the church.
- Preaching the Word.
- Not being diverted from the ministry.
- Finding “intelligent” men.
- Working with other godly believers.
We read in Mark 10;45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Then tie that in with what He said to his disciples in John 13:14-17:
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Our Saviour came into this world on a serving mission and He sends us out into our lives on a serving mission. We live amongst a “let them serve me” culture in the West. It is our call though, to turn this culture upside down. We are to display and create a “serving” culture. Anything else is a misrepresentation of our Master and Lord. In John 13:1-17 our Lord displays His serving character in the most menial and abasing way, by washing His disciples feet. We show we follow such a Master by exhibiting similar behaviour.
So I challenge you and myself about our attitude in going to church tomorrow. Will we go to be served or to serve? Will we be thinking about what blessings I can get or what blessings I can give? The pattern established by our Master shows which way we should go.
So as we prepare for the Lord’s Day which is Resurrection Sunday, tomorrow, let us seek to be displayers of the living Lord Jesus in serving one another. Think and pray about who you could go and speak to. Consider what service you could render to someone which could bless them. I feel we lose out individually and collectively in our churches because we have the wrong attitude towards the church and its activities.
Let us remember we serve a Lord who came not to be served, but to serve. And that service was to the giving up of His own life-blood on the cross. What will i give up so as to bless someone tomorrow?
The Church of God needs every member, as part of the army of the Lord, active in service. The needs are great; the church is weak and the world is perishing. And yet it is a sadness and burden to me to be aware of many whose effectiveness in the serving of the Lord is far less than what it should be.
These are the categories of people as I see them:
- There are those who have just not woken up to the issues at hand. They are “asleep in Zion”. They have not grasped that their lives are to be a living sacrifice for the Lord.
- There are those existing in quietude in churches, which are insular and passing away their days aimlessly, on the way to glory. There is no stirring up in the preaching (and fellowship) and no calling on the people to rise up and make progress for the Lord.
- There are those who have fallen into sin and been disciplined and thereby are no longer constituted as part of the church.
- There are those who through the fatigues of church life have lost their edge. Rather than stepping forward and encouraging others forward they look at the scars and bruises from their past days of service and are left settling for a quiet life.
- There are those who are full of vigour and raring to go for the Lord, but circumstances have providentially worked so that they have ended in a backwater. As a result their zeal and gifting are not matched with opportunity.
- Those who have back-slidden, having lost their first love have no desire to engage with the Lord and His people.
- There are those who have sought to step forwards for the Lord. They have wanted to be active in the Lord’s service, but have been told a la Eli to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 to go back and rest.
- There are those in churches where just a few of the “in crowd” do the work and the rest exist as passive spectators.
- Others have seen the hypocrisy in the church and have deemed they no longer want to be a part of it. They do church at home.
And in all this I’m left longing for the troops of the Lord to be fully marshalled for the battles and tasks ahead. How can this happen?
- With a renewed vision of the gospel and it’s mighty power to save.
- With an awareness of how lost the lost are.
- With amazement at the wonderful love of God to us in Christ Jesus.
- With prayer to the Lord that they would be put in the place where they can serve the Lord passionately and fruitfully.
Oh Lord stir me more to be active for you and to stir many others raised up into valuable spiritual activity.