The Church Will Survive, Part One

There was a time when the leaders of the church were referred to as “spiritual doctors.” They had the medicine. Leaders in the true Christian church today still have the medicine. Before applying medicines, however, we first need to be diagnosticians. We need to answer questions about how Christians ought to respond to a world that has littldoctor-cartoone care for itself, much less for the church. How do we care for a society that is allowing itself to go straight to hell — and insisting that we come along for the ride? The church needs to address these questions.

The church will survive. Here’s a look at several of the reasons we can hold this conviction firmly.

Christianity Contains the Seeds of the Church’s Survival
In addressing the ills of the church, leaders need to be able to make changes that allow the church to serve Christ better by serving His people better. We need to do this without making compromises regarding the message. While the message is unchangeable and eternal, the way we view the church may need some alteration along the way. We need to understand that the church, as we Westerners see it, may not be the only way to be the church. Os Guinness (in his book, The Gravedigger File) articulated this idea well when he wrote:

What is the secret of Christianity’s capacity to survive repeated periods of cultural captivity? On the one hand, it has in God’s Word an authority that stands higher than history, a judgment that is ultimately irreducible to any generation or culture. On the other hand, it has in its notion of sin and repentance a doctrine of its own failure which can be the wellspring of its ongoing criticism and renewal.1

God has promised that He will always keep a remnant. Elijah thought the church was a goner when he whined to God that he was the only follower left — and now the enemy was trying to kill him! God responded by telling Elijah, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18).  Gently, God fed and sheltered Elijah — and sent him off into retirement. The church does not depend upon Elijah’s efforts — or mine. God is in control and He has promised that He will always have a remnant. The church may change what it looks like, but it is not going away.

The key thing for Christians to remember as they ponder the possible demise of the church — and how to go about saving it, is that it’s not their church. It’s Christ’s. Paul made this abundantly clear when he wrote:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.(Ephesians 1:17–23)

Next time: We will look at Efforts at Resuscitation and Christian Education.

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The Beauty of Work

There’s a story about a firefighter in Iowa who hit it big a few years back. He won $4.1 million in the state lottery. Yet, a few years later he was back at his old job. Only he had to go through training all over agaFisshin and start at the bottom of the seniority list. Did he go broke? No. At the point when he returned to work, he was still receiving $150,000 per year from the lottery commission. So why would a millionaire go back to work as a rookie firefighter? He just wants to work. He simply got tired of sitting around managing all the property he’d bought.

There is dignity and fulfillment in honest labor. There is no better example than the labor God has performed, and continues to perform on behalf of His people. God never rests from His labors. And He expects His people to follow His example. He expects His people to labor on for Him until it’s time for our “eternal retirement.”

God’s Work
The Bible is our record of what God has done – and a promise of what He will do. And it shows that He’s a master laborer. God is not only the entire construction crew for all of creation, He is also responsible for maintenance.

When we talk about an artist’s creative output, we usually refer to his/her work. The work of Mark Twain, for instance, is not the hours of research and writing he put into his craft, but the literary legacy – the many books and articles he authored. Likewise, God’s great work is his creation – including us – all of which He created in six days. Despite the awesome nature of this work, however, we creatures still have the audacity to ask, at times, “what is He doing now?” (or “what has He done for me lately?”).

There have been many teachers who would have us believe that once God finished His work of creation He just went into retirement. If that’s so, it’s certainly the kind of retirement I can understand. People often ask me if I’m retired. “Yes and no” is my answer. I have left full-time pastoral ministry, but I am looking for work at the moment.

God’s awfully busy for someone in retirement. In John 5:17, Jesus tells us, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” The context of this verse in John has to do with compassion (specifically in this case healing). This is God’s work today: compassion. He is still at work. He sent Jesus to a world in need. He is busy sustaining the universe, saving sinners, answering prayer. God is not rocking on the front porch of the retirement home!

Christian Job Opportunities

Hebrew 4:10 states, “anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” We already know that God’s “rest” is not exactly a cessation of work. It’s just a different phase. This is also true of Christians. To say that a Christian will rest from his labors assumes something – that he or she labored in the first place. You can’t retire if you never worked. Verse11 adds the admonition, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” To “make every effort” is to “strive,” or “work continually, ” or “keep on working towards,” some goal.

When I lived in Switzerland, I noticed how the Swiss cut hay. They had sloping fields so used no machinery in this task. They cut by hand. Their work was slow and constant. I also noticed that when American students from L’Abri Fellowship worked with the Swiss farmers, they would start off at a much faster pace. Soon they were tired out and sidelined. No work was being accomplished while they tried to recuperate. Christians are called to be like those Swiss workers, continually working in the fields to which God assigns us.

Therein lies the next question. Just what is our assignment? Jesus actually explains this to us in several places. In John 9:4 He puts it this way, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” We – all of us who call ourselves Christians – are supposed to be about our Father’s work. Individually and collectively, we are to be involved in works of service; works of reconciliation. This involves, first of all the reconciling of man to God. It includes, however, works that help reconcile man to man and man to his environment.

There is a true retirement program for God’s people. Hebrews 4:9, tells us that, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” The “sabbath rest” mentioned here (and nowhere else in scripture) is not either Saturday or the Christian Sabbath, Sunday. Rather, it refers to eternal rest – in the future. God promises that there will come a time when His people will rest from their labors – and they will do so for all eternity.

As we contemplate the earthly, and American, version of retirement, we may entertain many, varied thoughts of pleasurable activities. Fishing (tops on my personal list), puttering, gardening, reading, needlework, all conjure up restful thoughts. God promises us rest – just as he rests. When He finished His creative labors, He did not go into hibernation. He is still busy. We will also rest from troublesome, sometimes unproductive toil. Yet, when we enter into God’s Sabbath rest, we will not be idle. This will be a time of uninterrupted worship and service to God and fellowship with God.

The Only Place of Refuge

One of the first Bibles I ever owned was the Harper Study Bible. Yes, it’s the RSV (Revised Standard Version). It was very handy in my formative years as a Christian. I still have it. In fact, while sorting belongings lately, I came across that Bible. I opened it and the page it opened to was Psalm 73. RSV

Asaph, the writer of this psalm, was a noted whiner. He was “envious of the arrogant, when [he] saw the prosperity of the wicked.” As I looked at the page, I saw a section circled (by me). It was these verses:

10 Therefore the people turn and praise them; and find no fault in them. 11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” 12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. 13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken, and chastened every morning.

The note in the margin (again, written in by me) reads this way:

Read over and over and over again.

Introspection – pathetic self-centeredness.

I needed that reminder. I need that reminder. I have felt the same way as Asaph on numerous occasions. I feel that way now. So, I must keep reading. In verses 21and 22 Asaph describes us (him and me) like this:  “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a beast toward thee.” Yup.

But, I need to keep reading. Brother Asaph finished the Psalm in a better frame of mind, writing:

27 For lo, those who are far from thee shall perish; thou dost put an end to those who are false to thee. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all thy works.

That’s the important part! That’s what I need to read often. That’s what I offer to you, too. It is good to be near God.

I actually preached on this psalm as my final sermon when I was at Covenant Seminary. I compared the psalmist to the blues singer. Asaph had the blues, it’s true. Unlike the bluesman, however, he also knew the answer for the blues. He knew that it is good to be near God. He is our only refuge.

What Happened to Good-Old “What’s-His-Name”?

There have been very few updates of essays on this page for quite some time. Re-orienting to life in the U.S. and finding gainful employment have taken much concentration.

  1. Here’s just a taste of what’s going on:cleaning
  • Our book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship, is available both in paperback and a kindle version. Not only we would we be thrilled if you bought a copy and recommended it to friends, we would also like to see some reviews go up on Amazon.
  • Moving back into our house in Maine has been a very strange adventure. We needed to have a new point driven before we could have water. Then we didn’t have hot water until Monday (8/11). There is much that needs to be done after almost three years of sitting unoccupied.
  • Finances are stretched. I am seeking work in lots of avenues. Leads would be appreciated. I am also available to tutor in a number of subjects, including reading, writing, public speaking, theology, history, and political science. I can tutor via Skype. I can also write or edit if you need such services.

That is all for now. Thanks for reading.