Archive | August, 2016

Two things Jesus did not tell us to do (but we do), and one he did tell us to do (but we don’t)

5 Aug

I’m super excited that the Olympics start today.  Soccer is my favorite sport, so while I’m disappointed the US men’s team didn’t qualify, the women’s team looks to make a gold medal run, and I’ll be cheering them on!  In honor of that quest, I thought I’d show you this picture of a Jesus figurine doing a bicycle kick, one of the most acrobatic and impressive ways to shoot a soccer ball.  In particular, notice the caption, which is meant to be humorous.  As fun as it would be to imagine how good Jesus might be at soccer, this picture raises a question.  Obviously Jesus did not teach someone how to do a bicycle kick.  But he did teach a lot of other things, and there is misinformation about what he taught!  We Christians can do a lot of things thinking that Jesus taught us to do them, when in reality he didn’t.

As the title of the post suggests, what comes to your mind when you think about the possible two things that Jesus did not tell us to do, but that we do…a lot?

A few years ago, I read the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, and in the book the question regularly comes up “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”  The book is the true story of Jim Henderson, an evangelical Christian, and Matt Casper, an atheist, who travel around the United States, dropping in on worship services at twelve churches of varying stripes, shapes and sizes.  Jim and Matt spend time discussing what they experience, and numerous times, in response to what he has seen at a particular worship service, Matt asks Jim “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”

Most often Matt asks that question in critique of churches that have placed great emphasis on buildings and highly-produced worship experiences.  Matt’s is a penetrating question.  I ask you to think about it because the answer is very easy to come by.  Just take a few hours and read through the four Gospels and you will find the answer.  I would suggest that there are two things in particular that we Christians do a lot of that Jesus did not teach us to do.

What are those two things?  While Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God, and teaching and leading his disciples, he did not instruct them to build buildings so that they could hold worship services.

First, let’s take a look a the practice of building buildings.  On one particular occasion while the group of them were walking near the temple grounds, the disciples remarked how amazing the temple building was.  Jesus’ response went in a surprising direction.  No doubt the temple grounds were actually an astounding work of ancient architecture.  Beautiful and majestic.

If you look at some of the models recreating what the temple mount probably looked like, even the small-scale models are impressive.  The temple mount was the pride of the city of Jerusalem, the nation and the people of Israel.  But Jesus had other thoughts.  He said to the disciples “it will all be destroyed.”

Jesus was saying “Hey guys, don’t put all your eggs in that basket.  God’s doing a new thing, and it doesn’t involve a building.”  Those early Christians took Jesus’ words to heart.  For the first few hundred years of the church’s existence there is absolutely no record of Christians building buildings.  They met in homes.  Building places of worship was not the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Did Jesus tell us to build buildings?  No.  He did not.  And yet, we have, haven’t we?  Lots of them, all over the world.  Is it wrong for Christians to build meeting places?  No.  Jesus did not prohibit the building of meeting places.

But here’s where it gets murky, and where we need to be exceedingly cautious when we Christians purchase property and put up buildings.  Jesus’ comments about the destruction of the temple suggested to the disciples that they not become enthralled by buildings.  Though God had made a building, the temple, to be a central element of his interaction with the nation of Israel in the past, God was now doing a new thing.  God was relating to people through a new means, and Jesus himself was paving the way for that new relationship with God.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil, making it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to have a restored relationship with God, the temple was unnecessary.  It was at the temple where sacrifices for sin were made, atonement for the nation.  But through Jesus’ sacrifice, the old system of sacrifice and the temple that housed it became obsolete.  In fact, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, would go on to write that we, Jesus’ followers, are the temple of God.  Amazingly, wonderfully, God lives in and with those people who give their lives to become his disciples.  We no longer go to a building to meet God, he is always with us.  So when we endeavor to build a building for gathering, we should be very sober-minded about it.  It is all-too-easy for that building to dominate the life and ministry of our church family.

Very much related to building buildings, there is a second practice that Jesus did not tell us to do.  He did not teach his disciples to have worship services.  Again, read through the four Gospels and you won’t find a shred of teaching about having worship services or what they should include.  For as much energy and money and personnel as we Christians put into our Sunday gatherings, you’d think there would be at least a little bit of teaching from Jesus about it.  There is none.

But once again, I ask, just because Jesus doesn’t mention it, does that mean it is wrong to have worship services?  No.  While Jesus’ disciples and the other writers of the New Testament mention nothing about building buildings, they do mention worship gatherings quite a bit.  In fact, we read in Acts that the early church did gather regularly, and perhaps, in order to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, carved out time for a worship gathering on Sundays, which in their culture would have been the first day of the work week.  It would be like us worshiping each week on Monday nights.  Early in the second century AD, before the church was even 100 years old, there is also clear evidence, through the writings of Justin Martyr, who was discipled by John the Apostle, that Christian worship gatherings had standardized orders.  None of this is wrong.  In fact, like the building of buildings, a regular day of the week for worship, and orders of worship services, can be used for good.  But to answer Casper’s question, Jesus did not teach us to do this.  And if we are honest, we have placed an enormous emphasis on it.

At one particular church worship gathering that featured a large building, smoke machines, video screens, and a highly produced service of worship, Casper was particularly incredulous.  “Really?,” he asked Jim, “Did Jesus ask you guys to do this?”  But we need not focus on a spectacle like that.  The reality is that even tiny churches that cannot afford an expensive production can still invest a lot of time, energy and money into their worship gathering.  I would guess that tiny churches invest probably a very similar percentage of their resources into the Sunday worship service as a megachurch.  I do not know this for a fact.  I simply suspect it is probable.  Consider the salary the staff makes, and how much of their time is directed to Sunday morning.  Consider the infrastructure of buildings, utilities, equipment, and upkeep.  Consider the volunteers and all the hours they put into meeting, planning, lessons, practice.  Add that all together, and let us humbly remember that Jesus did not tell us to do any of it.

What remains, then, is to ask, “What did Jesus tell us to do?”

Join us Sunday, August 7, 2016, at Faith Church at 9:30am to find out.

How to rehab a relationship

1 Aug

Do you have relationships that need rehab?  There is help!  Fellowship!

In the very first account of how the earliest Christians interacted with one another, Acts 2:42-47, we read that they devoted themselves to the fellowship?  What is fellowship?

That word “fellowship” in verse 42 is defined by Louw & Nida as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement.”

This passage describes how these first Christians practiced fellowship.  They clearly had close mutual relations and involvement.  Their relationships went far beyond just seeing people for an hour or so on a Sunday morning at church.  They didn’t have Sunday morning church.  They had no church building. Instead we read that they were together often, meeting in the temple in Jerusalem (presumably for larger group gatherings), and then sharing meals in homes.  Everyday.

When you read the whole description, they were sharing not just meals, but their whole lives.

Jump ahead a few chapters to Acts 4:32-37, and here we see more information about how the first Christians shared life together.  People would sell off property in order to raise cash to help those in need!  They saw none of their possessions as exclusively theirs, but as capital they liquidate if needed to help the suffering.

From Acts 2 to Acts 4 our best estimates are that only a few months have gone by from the very first day of the church.  That means Jesus was still very, very close in their hearts and minds.  And what are these first Christians doing? They are following his teaching.  We’ve seen how they are interacting with one another.  Why did they do this?  Jesus taught them to! What did he teach them?

In the final hours before he was arrested, put on trial and killed, John 13:34-35 tells us about the last teaching that Jesus gave his disciples: “A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Relationships in the church, Jesus taught, should be clearly known by love.  Can it be said of you that you are loving the people in your church?  How do we practice this love?

In Romans 12:9-21 Paul says “weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn.”  We need to walk with people through the difficult aspects life.  We need to be there for them to talk, we need to listen, we need to allow them to face sorrow knowing that people who love them are right by their side.

In that same passage Paul also says “rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Loving relationships include celebration. Lots of celebrations happen for married people (bridal and baby showers, etc). But what about celebrating people and events that would be considered unconventional in our culture?  The church needs to celebrate singles as well, when you get jobs, new houses, or achieve accomplishments.  We also need to spectate at your hobbies, your sports, your extracirriculars.  We churches should throw more parties!

We can also look to deepen relationships.  Like the early church, one excellent way to deepen relationships is to have people over to your homes.  Get to know them.   Start with the people in your Sunday School class.  Invite them to your home!  Maybe then move on to the people in your small group.  Who are you doing life with?  Who are you caring for in ways that push your comfort zone a little bit?  Call them, text them, email them, go out for coffee.  Take the initiative to care for them.  Fellowship has to go beyond the structured programs.

Certainly not all people and all personalities aren’t going to be best of friends.  Some personalities connect more easily with others.  For example, Jesus, though he had hundreds of followers, focused on twelve.  Within that 12, he focused on his inner circle of three: Peter, James and John.  And even within that three, there was one who was called his Beloved, his best friend, John.  But Jesus was certainly focusing on others, doing life with them, sharing meals, talking through real life issues, and he did that for more than 1 or 2 hours a week.

Are you doing life together with people like the early church did, like Jesus did?

In this Growth Process sermon series, I said in the last sermon that Jesus doesn’t just want Sunday morning worshipers, he wants people to worship with their entire lives.  That means moving on to Fellowship.

But Fellowship isn’t just hanging out with people on a Sunday morning for 15 minutes, or even going to the church picnic or Family Night.  The kind of Fellowship that Jesus desires for his followers must be marked by “love one another”.

I’m not saying that you have to be best friends with everyone in your church family.  That’s not possible, even for a congregation that is less than 50 people.  But it is possible to get really close to a smaller group.

So have you moved beyond being a Sunday morning worshiper to becoming a fellowshipper?

How does a disciple of Jesus move beyond just Sunday morning fellowship into “love one another” and “life together”?

Examine your life and your relationships.  Pour your life into one other.  Love and reach out to those who are more difficult for your personality to love.  And to those who you are already in relationship with, seek to go deeper, interact more. Pray for and encourage one another on a new level.