Friday, October 3, 2014

Christian Cotton Candy

It is autumn, a time of year for carnivals and festivals and fairs and football games. That means that over the next several weeks, copious amounts of cotton candy will be consumed. Any parent worth his or her salt knows one important thing about cotton candy – it’s best consumed in small amounts. Eat too much, the kids get really hyper, and then possibly sick. Cotton candy is great is small doses. It is not so great when you eat too much.

I’m afraid that much of what Christians are consuming today, and believing is good for their faith, is little more than spiritual cotton candy. It may provide a temporary high, but it has no substance, provides no nourishment, and may actually be making them sick instead of healthy. Let me be more specific: much of what I see passing for Christianity today is little more than pop culture with a Christian bow. Much of what I see passing for the faith right now is little more than spiritual kitsch – the latest “Christian movie,” nice Christiany slogans posted on Facebook walls, Christian radio that is “safe for the entire family,” and political ads disguised as devotional material. And it’s not that movies, or slogans, or music, or politics are bad, though some of these things are certainly better than others. It’s simply that they can never replace the things that are really meant to nourish our faith. They’re cotton candy – fun, with very little substance. They’re not the kind of food that puts spiritual meat on the bones.

I have very little patience or trust in anything but the Word or any person but Jesus which promises spiritual transformation. So this is a call for Christian seriousness, a faith which is rooted in the person and work of Jesus, which is guided by the Word, which has an eye on the history of the church, and is not distracted by the pseudo-Christian junk that is out there. A faith that is mainly guided by slogans and bumper stickers is not a faith that will stand the test of time, in this world, or in your soul. We live in a society that is increasingly secular and sometimes hostile to the Christian faith. If your personal faith is not grounded in seriousness, it will not stand up. When big questions arise, when trouble erupts, if all you have is Christian pop-culture to fall back on, it will not be a safe landing spot.

So watch Christian movies, listen to Christian radio, post Christian slogans on your Facebook wall, and participate in politics. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But see it for what it is. It is not where the heart of the Christian faith lies. The heart lies in the Gospel, the story found in the Bible of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It lies in the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible study, worship, and community. It lies in loving and serving your neighbor. These things will provide real nourishment for you, the kind of nourishment that build you into what God wants you to be. And when you are becoming that, you can handle a little cotton candy from time to time. You’ll just find that you want less of it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Go Ahead, Be a Rebel

Our society loves a rebel. The iconic picture of the “Rebel without a Cause,” James Dean, is a part of American folklore for a reason. There is something about someone who refuses to let society define who he is, who makes his own way, who rebels against the standards that others have set for him. Our society has embraced this “rebel” mentality to its fullest extent. There’s a real sense now in which everyone is a rebel. But when everyone is a rebel, is anyone really a rebel? When everyone is “raging against the machine,” who’s operating the machine? When everyone embraces doing their own thing, then isn't that pretty much the same thing as everyone being the same?

Can I suggest something? One of the most counter-cultural things you can do in a society like this is follow Jesus. It’s a true act of rebellion in a culture that has, on the main, rejected him. In a culture that doesn't believe in objective truth, saying, “Jesus is truth,” is an act of rebellion. In a culture that embraces doubt, faith is an act of rebellion. In a culture that puts individualism above everything, making yourself accountable to a church is rebellion. In a culture that frolics in sexual sin, chastity is an act of rebellion. In a culture that loves divorce, faithfulness to a spouse for life is an act of rebellion. In a culture where anger is the norm, joy is rebellion. In a culture where fear rules, courage is rebellion. In a culture that loves to be mean, kindness is a true counter-cultural act of rebellion.

Now, you may read this and long for a day when being a Christian was not considered an act of rebellion. I’m afraid to tell you that such a day never actually existed. Our savior was crucified as a rebel. His followers were chased and martyred for the same reason. The early church knew that they were “strangers and exiles” in this world, and true believers have always faced difficulty and persecution. You may believe there was some magical time here in the Bible Belt where following Jesus was the norm for most people – ask those on the other side of Birmingham hoses in the Civil Rights Era whether that was the case. Real faith in Jesus leads to a different kind of life; a life that ALWAYS looks like rebellion against the norms of the culture.

We should not be surprised by this. The Bible describes Satan as the “god of this world.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) The norm is embracing what he as ruler wants us to do and how he as ruler wants us to think. But the Bible also tells us that through the incarnation of Jesus, the rebellion against this ruler has begun. Jesus landed in enemy territory, and now he is looking for people who are willing to take part in an insurgent campaign to overthrow the current “god.” Now, we don’t fight with the same weapons the rest of the world uses – our weapons in this rebellion are anything but violent. But they are even more powerful.

So go ahead, be a rebel. Embrace the rebellion. It will not be easy – real rebellions never are. But it will be worth it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Jesus is Not Your Boyfriend

As my wife and I were driving down the road yesterday, a song I've heard dozens of times over the years came on the radio. It’s a catchy little tune, with a nice hook. It’s frankly very easy to get stuck in your head – and not even in a bad way.

             Oh, I love the way you hold me, by my side you’ll always be
                You take each and every day, make it special in some way
                I love the way you hold me, in your arms I’ll always be
                You take each and every day, make it special in some way.
            As a defender of the music of Taylor Swift, I can unashamedly say I think it’s catchy. But something struck me as I heard this song this particular time – this was on a Christian station! So I asked my wife, who is much smarter than I, why she thought this sappy (but catchy) little love song was playing on a Christian music station, and she told me the song was being sung to God. One of the verses apparently says, “Lord, I love the way you hold me.” Hmm. I admit to being confused. This blog is not to criticize a particular song – again, I think this one is catchy. But it is to question why we think we can sing to Jesus as if he is our boyfriend. Let me make this clear – Jesus is most certainly NOT your boyfriend. He is the God of Heaven and earth, creator of the universe, redeemer of humanity, and he loves you. He really does love you. But when we confuse the kind of love God has for us with some kind of sappy romance, we really misunderstand what his love, and therefore what real love, is all about.

            And this is not to denigrate romance. God created it. Read the Song of Solomon. It’s in the Bible for a reason. Romance is good, when it is done the way God intended. It’s just that romance is not what God intended for the relationship between Jesus and his people. It’s must deeper, much better than that.

            There are two reasons why I think we have run into some confusion here, and both are misunderstandings of important Biblical pictures. One is the idea of having a personal relationship with God. The Bible is clear – Jesus’ came to the earth, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, was raised from the grave on the third day, and then ascended into Heaven, so he could have relationship with his people. Sin had marred that relationship. Through the Gospel, it has been mended. This is important. You can know God. You can be in relationship with him.  But it’s important that we understand what that relationship is.

            And here is where I think the confusion lies. Many of us have read that we are the “bride of Christ,” and we have misunderstood exactly what that means. You see, the main reason marriage was created in the first place was to reflect the relationship between Jesus and those he died to redeem, his church. Paul calls it the “great mystery” of the Gospel. (Ephesians 5:32) But that does not mean that everything about a marriage between a man and woman will translate into what marriage between Jesus and his church looks like. Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5 exactly what this means. Let’s take a look.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:22-32)
            Now, there is a lot in this passage, but some things are clear about the relationship here between Christ and his church, and none of them relate to any kind of romantic relationship. The husband is to take his cues as to how he is to treat his wife from the way Jesus treats the church – he is to love his wife and serve his wife. And he’s to do this because this is what Jesus does. He loves his people. He serves his people. He loves his people like his loves himself. The wife, on the other hand (and I know this is controversial) is to submit to her husband, in a way that reflects what the church does with Jesus. This is why Christian marriage is meant to be a reflection of the Gospel. For the Christian, marriage isn't mainly about romance (though it ought to also be about that); it’s mainly about reflecting the love and the mutual sacrifice between Christ and his church. And it is why Christians ought to guard their marriages so closely – to do something that mars your marriage is to tell untruths about the Gospel, and therefore tell untruths about God himself.

            But when we talk about Jesus as if he is our boyfriend, it does much the same thing. It cheapens the kind of love that Jesus has for his church. When we talk about being the bride of Christ, we mean that the relationship between Jesus and his church is a real love relationship, one marked by service and sacrifice on Jesus’ part, and submission and worship on our part. But it’s not romance, it’s more than that. It’s true love that promises to last for eternity. It’s not the kind of love that takes you to a special dinner with wine and roses once a month – it’s much, much more; the kind of love where Jesus offers his very life so that you have joy forever. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Defense of the Osteens (Kinda, Sorta, Not Really)

Does God want you to be happy? Is that his main concern? Does he hope you’ll be good, but mainly hope you’ll be happy? Is your main purpose in life to seek your own personal comfort and peace and happiness? Is that really what life is all about, or is there something more? Maybe life is about seeking none of that, laying yourself aside, forgetting about you and caring about others. Maybe life is about being consumed simply by what God wants, no matter what that means for your personal happiness. Maybe personal happiness is not something that you should care about at all? Is that the way it works?

Victoria Osteen, the wife of famed prosperity preacher Joel Osteen, has been a hot topic of controversy in Christian circles for the last couple of weeks because of something she recently said about what the main purpose of living the Christian life, the main purpose of worshiping God is. She seems to indicate that the main point is seeking happiness. Here’s a look at what she recently said at the couple’s Houston mega-church:


If you don’t want to watch the entire thing, here is the part that I think upset people the most:

“Do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”

“Do good because God wants you to be happy,” she says. She tells the people in the congregation not to worship God for God’s sake, but to worship God for their own sake. She is telling them, in essence, “What makes God happy is for you to be happy.” Here’s the problem with what she said – it has a grain of truth in it, enough so that many people who hear it will believe it. But when you take a grain of truth and make it the whole truth, then what you end up with is untruth. And that is what I believe Osteen did in this situation. Let me explain.

The Bible is littered with promises of great reward given to those who follow Jesus. And among those rewards is the reward of happiness. Indeed, God wants you to be happy. Notice what Jesus says in the preamble to the Sermon on the Mount, commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Notice that word – blessed. In literally means “happy,” or “happy in God.” God wants you to be happy, and he wants you to be happy because he is happy: he is "the blessed God." (1 Timothy 1:11) So Jesus is basically saying, “Here is the path to happiness.” But his ideas of where we find happiness are not where we would generally think to look – Jesus promises happiness in poverty of spirit, and meekness and mourning, in persecution for righteousness’ sake. Honestly, this does not seem like the kind of happiness that I commonly hear the Osteens talk about.

You see, the issue with humanity is not necessarily that we are seeking happiness – it’s that we are seeking it in all the wrong places. Jesus promises happiness that comes in turning away from ourselves, not happiness in prosperity, health, or finding a good parking spot at the mall. (Osteen, Joel. Your Best Life Now) God is offering us true, lasting, permanent, perfect happiness, if only we will seek HIM instead of seeking after ourselves. If we pursue God, we will get happiness thrown in. If we purse happiness, we will get neither God nor happiness. C.S. Lewis put it this way in his classic Mere Christianity:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Our problems are not rooted in the fact that we are seeking happiness; they’re rooted in the fact that we’re seeking it in the wrong places. But just because we see that true worship of God will lead to our happiness, we can’t begin to get the idea that worship is simply pleasure, or simply for ourselves. This is, I believe, the mistake the Osteens make here in particularl, and generally with their brand of theology. Yes, there is great joy in worshiping God. But sacrifice is also required. The apostle Paul says that we must “make our bodies a living sacrifice,” and that is our “spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) Worship without sacrifice is not worship at all. Worship that is not first centered on God, and what I can offer to God, before it is concerned about what I will get from God, is not true worship. The promise at the end is certainly joy; but the sacrifice must come first.

Let’s go back to Lewis for a moment, because he illustrates this idea beautifully in his gem of a book, The Great Divorce. In this book, a group of people in Hell get a bus ride to Heaven, and they can stay if they like. (Set aside for a moment that this would not happen, that’s not Lewis' point.) The interesting thing is that almost to a person, every one of them decide they’d prefer to go back to Hell. But there is one man, who seems at first like he would do the same, before something fantastic happens. The man has a lizard on his shoulder. A chatty lizard, who seems to be running the show. That lizard represents some deep sin in his life that the man hates, but still doesn't want to let go of. He is confronted by an angel, who offers to kill the lizard for him. The man is afraid:

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”
“It is not so,” says the angel.
“Why, you’re hurting me now.”
“I never said it wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you.”

After a period of intense negotiation, the man finally cries out for the angel to kill the lizard. It is loud and painful, with both lizard and man screaming in agony, and both finally passing out, the man apparently unconscious, the lizard apparently dead. But what happens next is what is amazing. Slowly, the man comes back to life, and even more back to life than he was before. He grows larger and larger until he is almost as large as the angel. And something even more amazing happens to the lizard. He reawakens, and then transforms into a great stallion! The man jumps on his new stead and rides away into Heaven.

What’s the point here? Worship costs something. When you turn to God, it is not necessarily an easy ride. But it is worth it. The rewards that come after the pain are always worth the pain. This is what Gospel happiness feels like; joy that comes after intense sacrifice and pain, but joy that makes the intense sacrifice and pain feel like nothing. This is why the writer of Hebrews said that Jesus went to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2) This is what real worship is; it comes with the promise of our own happiness, but it also comes with the command to first offer a sacrifice to God before we can experience that happiness.

This picture of worship, and the joy it leads to, is a far greater and more beautiful picture than simply worshiping God because it makes you feel better. Worship is not therapy. Worship is sacrifice, but it sacrifice that leads to joy. It’s like the person who found a treasure buried in the field, and in his joy, sold everything they had so they could buy that field. (Matthew 13:44). The sacrifices are real, but they are worth it for the thing that we get in return – God himself, forever. This is not the Gospel of self-fulfillment. It’s the Gospel of self-emptying and of God-fulfillment. It's the Gospel that says, "Jesus is better than anything."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

40 Things it Took Me 40 Years to Learn

Today is my 40th birthday, and it feels like quite a milestone. I certainly don’t consider myself wise, but I think I have gathered a little wisdom over my four decades. Much of it has been learned the hard way. So here, in no particular order (except number 1) are 40 things it has taken me 40 years to learn.

40. If you want to be noticed at work, be the guy who always complains. If you want to be appreciated, be the guy who shuts up and does his work right. You’ll eventually be noticed also.

39. College teaches you a lot. But you’ll learn more in your first 6 months out of college than you did your entire time in it.

38. There are very few things in life that are worth truly being angry about. It is really important that you figure out what those things are. If you don’t, you’ll either always be angry about trivial things, or never be angry, even about really, really important things.

37. Fear is a terrible emotion to let run your life. It will prevent you from missing out on a lot that life has to offer.

36. Worry is not a virtue.

35. The best things in life are hard. If you never try hard things, you will miss out on some of the world’s greatest joys.

34. On a related note, marriage is really, very, super-hard. But it’s also great. If you knew how hard it would be going in, you would probably never do it. But if you’re willing to put the hard work it requires into it, you will be glad you did.

33. Speaking of marriage, my wife is much smarter than me. Realizing this would have saved our marriage a lot of difficulty early on. There’s a good chance, if you’re a guy, that you need to realize this also.

32. One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to decide from the beginning that your wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. Decide that, and eventually you’ll believe it. In my case, it is objectively true.

31. Don’t judge anything about your spouse based on the first three months of a newborn’s life. There is only one goal during that time – survive.

30. Anyone who tells you they have parenting figured out is lying.

29. Have high expectations for your kids, but also have big helpings of grace.

28. Social media means that we have more information than we ever have had before, but so much of it is absolute garbage. Before you post something on Facebook, check its accuracy. And then check it again. And again. Then wait 2 hours. And then post if you still want to do it.

27. There are few things better than a recliner, a good book, and a baseball game on in the background.

26. People say that people are basically good. I wonder if they've ever met people.

25. You can have a lot of information at your fingertips and still be really, really dumb.

24. Racism takes on a lot of forms. If you don’t think you have some racist tendencies, you probably don’t know yourself very well. Those tendencies are to be fought against.

23. The person who does not fight against pride every day is losing the fight to pride. If you think you’re humble, you most certainly are not.

22. If you will make a point to be a dealer of truth in love, you will stand out. Most truthy people are not very loving. And a lot of loving people are not very truthy.

21. Dealing in drama may give you a temporary high, but it will ultimately make you a miserable person.

20. You can get pretty far in life by just not being a jerk.

19. Sarcasm is best used sparingly. I’m actually still working on this one.

18. The older you get, the dumber you get. I had everything figured out at 25. I have much less figured out right now.

17. You’re never too old to stop learning.

16. Faith and doubt are brothers. You don’t need faith unless you have some doubts.

15. On a related note, a lot of things can be figured out with a pen or pencil and a Bible and prayer. But it will take time.

14. Sports are fun. Sports are not God.

13. Sex is fun. Sex is not God.

12. Everyone’s worshiping something or someone. What or who are you worshiping?

11. Money is like fire. It can be very beneficial when kept under control, but very dangerous when it gets out of control.

10. Your online bank account will tell you a lot about what you think is most important.

9. Those who tell you all Christians are meant to be rich have not read the Bible.

8. Those who tell you all Christians are meant to be healthy have not read the Bible.

7. Those who tell you all Christians are meant to be wise have probably read the Bible.

6. The resurrection of Jesus is pretty much the only reason I’m a Christian. It’s the one fact that I cannot escape from. If it’s false, I am following a false faith. But since its true, it must affect every part of my life.

5. There is a LOT of stuff out there that calls itself Christian that is actually garbage. If you think you hate Christianity, let’s talk about it. I might hate what you’re talking about also. Jesus may not like it too much either.

4. Outrage is not a fruit of the Spirit.

3. A lot of Christians spend far too much time talking about the things they are against, and very little time talking about the things they are for. Strive to do the opposite.

2. True Christianity is not found mainly in the things you avoid. It’s found mainly in the things that you embrace.

1. Jesus really is better than anything. It took me most of my 40 years to realize this; wish I’d realized it sooner. I’m hopeful you figure this out sooner than I did.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thugs, Punks, and the Image of God

I, like many people on Sunday night, saw the exciting ending of the Seahawks-49'ers game in the AFC Championship. And as exciting as the game itself was, the post-game might have been even more entertaining. For those who haven't heard yet, the game ended with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deflecting a would be game-winning touchdown pass into the the hands of a linebacker for an interception. The game was over. The Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl. Sherman was the hero. At least he was for a couple of minutes, until the clock officially ran down to zero.

That's when sideline reporter Erin Andrews caught up with Sherman, and he gave what has become a classic post-game rant, when asked about that final, game-clinching play. "I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get!" Sherman screamed. "Don't you ever talk about me!" 

My first reaction was for my jaw to drop. It's rare you hear that kind of candor and bravado from an athlete, at least in public.My second reaction to the rant was professional: I thought Erin Andrews must be the happiest person on the planet. Reporters work their entire careers hoping for sound bites like that one. My third reaction was that the internet was about to blow up.

A quick check of Twitter and Facebook confirmed it. Some called him a thug. Others a punk. Some people called him things I won't repeat, and suggested things should be done to him that seemed a bit over the top. The bottom line is this; many people decided, based on a 15 second sound bite, that this guy was a bad guy. And nothing you could say or do would change their minds.

We all want life to be cut and dry, black and white, simple to understand. That's why we use labels. It's a shorthand way to make a judgment on someone without having to put too much thought into it. But situations, and people, are never as simple as they originally appear. When we label someone in that way, it's really an attempt to write someone off, to not have to wrestle with any of the complexities of their life. We do this in the other direction also: Good guy. Hero. Role Model. 

But as Christians, we know that it is just not that simple. First, let me be clear: Christianity says certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. It's pretty cut and dry on that. But people are a little more complicated. The best people are capable of some really bad things. The apostle Paul himself said, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (Romans 7:19) No matter how "good" a person may be, outside the grace of God, they are capable of horrible sins. How many times have you been shocked that someone you considered a "good person," was caught cheating on his wife, or stealing from the company coffers, or simply losing her temper on her children or co-workers? 

On the other hand, Jesus makes clear that even the most pagan of people are capable of great good,  loving their brothers and family and friends. (Matthew 5:47-48) You don't have to be a Christian to have a major positive impact on the world. Ask Bill Gates. God's common grace stretches its hands everywhere.

This is the bottom line: every single human being is made in the image of God, and when we throw labels on them, it is an attempt to dehumanize them, and therefore de-legitimize their image-bearing. All of us are cracked images in our current state, but none of us are beyond having that image repaired and restored, eventually, perfectly. So for Christians, there are only two labels we can put on people - redeemed and redeemable. It would be good for us to remind ourselves of that regularly.

Here's what I know about Richard Sherman. He bears the image of God. It is a cracked image, just like mine. But it is not beyond redemption. Thankfully, neither was mine.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Church Attendance and Other Life and Death Matters, Part 1

We are quickly approaching the New Year, and for many people, that means making New Year’s Resolutions. I am neither a proponent nor an opponent of such resolutions; but if you are one for them, or are considering making one this year, can I make a suggestion for one? Why don’t you commit to being a regular, active member of a local church? If you are a Christian, this is vital. It’s not an extra, an add-on. It’s at the heart of what the Christian life is, and it has increasingly become neglected in our society. Many who call themselves Christians NEVER attend a church, and regular church attendance has been redefined to include people who show up once or twice a month. Over the next several posts, I hope to convince you, if you fall into either of those two categories, that this should not be! And if you are at church every time the doors are opened, I hope to also convince you that mere church attendance is not even enough, that we ought to be striving for real community with our fellow believers.
            Let’s begin with that first step; understanding the importance of regular church attendance. There is simply no Biblical way to defend avoiding a regular gathering with fellow believers, certainly not for any extended period. Take a look at what Hebrews 10 has to say about this.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23:25)

Take a look at several things from this passage. I want you to notice the connection between perseverance and church attendance. The passage begins with a call to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Now, notice what he says. We do so, knowing that God is faithful. I’m Southern Baptist through and through, so I believe in the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” or the promise that all those God saves, he will keep. So the writer of Hebrews says we should hold on, recognizing his faithfulness to us. Jesus has died for our sins, and he has created a way for us to have relationship with God. So we are to hold fast.  How do we do that? We get the answer in the next verse, with a positive and a negative command.
The positive command is this - We consider how we can stir one another to love and good works. So the means by which God causes us to persevere in our faith is by having us be around people who will stir us to love more and live better. This is how our faith grows, and it is how we hold fast. And then the negative command follows the positive one – we don’t neglect meeting together. We cannot stir one another to love and good works unless we are regularly meeting with other believers. And we will not persevere in our faith unless we are constantly stirring one another to love and good works. And notice what else this passage says. We shouldn't neglect meeting together, but we should encourage one another all the more as “we see the day drawing nearer.” What’s the point here? Our society says that church attendance is less important than it once was. Hebrews says regular gathering with the saints is more important. Every single day, it gets more important. The closer we get to the return of Jesus, the more important it is that we meet together.
Now, it requires more than simply showing up at church to make this happen, but it will most certainly not require less. God has given us the church, and one of the main reasons he has given it to us is so that we will last, we will persevere, until the end. If we ignore regular church attendance, we have no reason to think that our faith has the kind of legs that will last.
Does this mean that we must be at church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night? I’m afraid this passage does not go that far, much to the chagrin of some of my pastor friends, I’m sure. But what it does say is our meetings ought to be regular and not-neglected. So if you are a believer, look back on your last year of church attendance. Was it regular? Was it neglected? Might the New Year be the time to re-commit to regular church attendance? Could you set a goal to be there a certain number of times this year? I think it’s quite clear; this is life and death. It’s not simply an extra. Your faith depends on it.
Now, I know I have made this issue much simpler than it is in reality. There are a myriad of reasons why people who profess to be Christians do not attend church. I hope to address them in a post coming up in the very near future. I also plan to talk about the difference in simply being a member of a church, and committing to it in a way that will truly help you grow in your faith. Finally, I hope to suggest a few reasons when it might be okay to leave a church, with the idea that you immediately begin looking for another one. Be on the lookout for those posts in the near future!