Where Is Your Support?

You need other people. This is counter-intuitive to our modern culture, but it is true. We have become a society of people who do not live together, do not work together, and do not support one another. Our friendships often are little posts of social media about what perfect meal we just ate, what beautiful vista we just saw, or what frustrating politician we want to disparage. But such pseudo friendships have little to do with helping us when we really hurt.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, in the middle of his despair about the worth of life, Solomon points out how much human beings obviously need one another. One man alone cannot make it. One woman alone is not enough. We need support. We need to live in community. We need someone to pick us up when we fall. We need people to encourage us when we struggle. We need people to help us see when we are wrong.

In ancient Israel, community was a lot easier. You did not move away from your family land. Generations would live together on the same piece of property. Little compounds grew up where four generations would live up close to one another and share the load of the family farm. In the community, men gathered at the city gate to discuss the needs of the community and set right wrongs.

But in our culture today, people believe that we can live as total individuals, totally alone. And, for a time, you can. But in the end, most of us will realize that God has not designed us to live in this world alone. In Israel there was the gathering at the city gate and the family. In post-exilic Judah there was the Synagogue. In the New Testament era, there is the local church. And God has never designed people to live outside of those kinds of communities.

Think about your life. Where is your system of support? Who will help you when you hurt? Who will come and tell you when you are wrong, but still love you enough to help you grow? Who will care when you are sick? Who will hurt with you when someone hurts you, but also keep you in check so that you do not foolishly seek to hurt others back?

One person alone has a hard time. Pairs do better. Cords of three are strong. God made us for communities. And this is the beauty of a solid local church. A good church is a family. A good church will bring us together. A good church helps us have the support we need to survive this life. A good church puts people from different backgrounds and different personalities together, and we learn to function together as a unit because we have a common standard in the word of God.

You might say to yourself that this is not your experience in the local church. I’m sorry to hear that. But there are a couple of possibilities as to why this is. It is possible that you, in your experience in the church, have not been open to genuine community, genuine fellowship. If you are not willing to open your life to others in the church, you will not have the community you need. This is a problem you must work to rectify. You must show others that you are willing to be friends. You cannot expect that it is the job of others to seek you out and test your interest in community.

Of course, it is also possible that you have been in a bad local church; they exist. Find out if your church loves the word of God highly. If it really loves the word and not simply the concept of being a big church, it will be open to stronger fellowship and greater community. Talk to your pastor or elders. Ask how you can help establish greater community.

The point that Solomon made 3,000 years ago is still true. We need community if we are going to survive in this hard world. How will you find it?

Why So Weird?

I had a conversation recently that brought up the question of why some believers are so very weird. I’m not talking here about why believers are weird to the world. The lost world will never understand why we follow the ways of the Lord regarding all sorts of issues related to worship and even basic morality. But that does not answer why some believers can get so very strange, slipping way out into left field in their doctrine and practice.

Proverbs 18:1-2

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.
2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

These two verses at the beginning of Proverbs 18 do a great job of showing us what is a danger that some believers face. Isolation is deadly. Cloistering together with only a few believers can often produce an echo chamber leading to very dangerous thinking. Believers need other Bible-believing believers to help them to examine their thoughts and their doctrine to be sure that nobody is driving the car off a cliff.

Of course I do not assume that there is no danger in following the crowd. In America, the modern church produces a whole lot of bad doctrine and bad thinking. I’m surely not suggesting that believers need to be influenced by prosperity preachers or megachurch strategies. We need to be sure that our influence is genuinely biblical.

What I am saying, however, is that we need to be careful that we are in contact with other believers who love the word and who have the right and the ability to challenge our thinking when we suddenly develop a “new” way to understand something. If the only voice you hear is your own when you propose a new way to keep the Sabbath, to think about roles in marriage, to discuss the standards for baptism, or something similar, you are likely to walk into some strange territory. We need to hear the voices of believers from the past who helped develop solid confessions of the faith. We also need to hear the voices of trustworthy believers in the present, especially if they see us wandering off into weirdness for weirdness’ sake. And even our local churches need interaction with other local churches to make sure that we, as a group, have not gone somewhere novel.

This is true in big doctrines, and it is true in day-to-day living. Isolation is deadly for the believer. God designed us to be united together in a community, a family, a body called the local church. You need to be thinking and praying and living alongside other believers. You need to see people who hurt in different ways than you do so that you can learn compassion. You need to be around people who are smarter than you, or who are smart in a different way from you, so that you can learn from their experience and study. You need to hear solid arguments and not merely your own voice.

How Good and Pleasant

In the Psalms, we run across great glory and deep sorrow. We find praise and lament. We find expression of love and imprecations. We find gigantic texts in praise of Scripture and sweeping histories of Israel. And we find tiny little psalms, songs we almost forget, that have beautiful truths to share.

Psalm 133

1 A Song of Ascents. Of David.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Psalm 133 is all of 3 verses long. And what do we learn from it? What does it praise? We see the beauty of the unity of brothers. There is something good, something glorious, something magnificent when brothers dwell together in unity.

David tells us in this short text that, when brothers live united, it is like oil poured over the head. It is like the sweet and sacred anointing oil flowing over the head and shoulders of the high priest. It is sacred, special, and sensational. There is a good feeling, a refreshing feeling.

David also says that unity is like dew on a mountain. This is the original mountain dew, not a caffeinated sugary mess. It is just lovely to see and refreshing to the soul.

When brothers dwell together in unity, there is a blessing of life from the Lord. That is what the whole Psalm is pointing us too. Unity among the brethren is a sign of the blessing of God on us and a cause of further blessing.

Now, in David’s context, he is dealing with the nation of Israel. It is good when this nation, as the people of god, lives united. It is good when the people are kind to one another. It is good when they resolve conflicts simply. It is good when they are headed in the right direction together. It is sacred, beautiful, and it brings a blessing.

But what about our context? Of course the same is true. It is good when the people of God, the church of the Lord Jesus, find loving Christian unity. It is good when we live together graciously. It is good when we are humble enough to care about others and their needs. It is good when we let go of our preferences in nonessential areas so as to be kind to others. It is good when we lay down our lives for one another. It is good like we see in this Psalm. It is good like sweet and sacred oil on the head or the dew on the mountain. When we are united, when we care, when we help each other, we are showing that we have the blessing of God and that we are receiving even more blessing from our Lord.

Yes, this is a Psalm we can quote in about 10 seconds. Yes, it is short and simple. But it is surely needed. All churches need brothers and sisters in Christ who come alongside one another. WE all need people to care about us and people we can care about. We all need to learn to live this life together as we honor the Lord.

And, of course, as a disclaimer, we do not unify when major sin or major doctrinal error is threatening the honor of the Lord in our body. We go after that sin and lovingly press for repentance. We must never use the word unity as a club to prevent a person from calling us to be faithful to the word of God. But even as we call one another to righteous living and faithful biblical interpretation, we do so as brothers and sisters. And if we have been living together in unity, if we have been showing godly love, we will do a much better job of helping each other to turn from sin and honor the Lord.

Christians, let us pray that we will have a Psalm 133 church. May our fellowship be sweet and sacred. May our lives be united under the word of God. May we find the church family that refreshes our souls like the dew refreshes mountain plants. May we receive the blessing of the Lord, life forevermore.

You Need Friends in the Church

Do you have friends? No, I do not mean to ask you if you have people who know your name and will smile at you as you pass by. Do you have real friends? Are there people to whom your life is tightly connected? Are there people in your local church who know you inside and out, who speak truth into your life, who encourage you when you hurt, and who kick you in the pants when you need it?

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he shared a particular desire with them that speaks to us about our need for the church.

Romans 1:11-12 – 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Paul was an apostle. IN so many ways, we think of Paul as the apostle. Paul is the man who God used to take the gospel to the gentiles. In Acts, it appears that Peter fades into the background as the ministry work focuses on Paul as the book moves forward. Paul personally wrote 13 of our New Testament letters. Paul’s influence is clear in the life of Luke, and thus Paul’s fingerprints are on Luke-Acts. And though I do not think Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, his teaching oozes from the pores of that book too. If there was a titan of the early church, a man used by God to shape the growing body of believers in the first century, it would be hard to settle on any single figure more than Paul.

Thus, it is no surprise to us that Paul would want to get to the Christians in Rome so that he could encourage them. Of course he would want to do this. Of course Paul would know that those folks needed his teaching.

What is a surprise, however, is that Paul said that he wanted to be mutually encouraged. He wanted to be strengthened by the faith of the Romans as much as he wanted to give of his own faith to the Romans. Paul saw both that he needed to go to Rome for the good of that church and he needed the Romans for the good of his own soul.

Let me say to you, dear Christian, that you are not wiser or stronger than Paul. And if Paul needed the church, so do you. If Paul needed to get himself to be with other believers for two big reasons, so do you.

You need the church in two big ways, no matter how strong and self-sufficient you think you are. You need the church to encourage your soul. You need the people of the church to challenge your thinking, to teach you truth, to encourage your heart, to test your patience, to bring about your repentance, to prod at your sanctification, to show you love, to help you to forgive, to live out the biblical “one another” commands, and so much more. You cannot live the Christian life that God commands you to live without the help of the other believers you find in a local church.

And you need to be a part of a local church so that you can do for others the very things you need others to do for you. If you are a brainy Christian, you need to help other believers understand the truths that God has gifted you to learn. You need to encourage the weak. You need to give kindly to others. You need to show compassion. You need to train up believers who are younger than you in the faith. You need to encourage and strengthen older believers. You need to grow the church as you love others in Christ with truth, mercy, compassion, grace, love, joy, and so much more.

You cannot be a faithful Christian and not connect in the church. You cannot be a faithful Christian without friends in the church. You need friends in the church whether you think you do or not. You need people that you can hurt with your words so that you can learn to temper your words and seek forgiveness when you fail—this is good for your humility. You need other Christians who will drive you nuts with their weaknesses, as this will teach you to love them as Christ loves them and gave himself for them. You need Christians who are smarter than you to remind you that your thoughts are not the best thoughts ever thought by thinking thinkers. You need Christians who can barely make themselves read a book but who put you to shame with their deep seasons of prayer and their gloriously sweet hearts to serve others, hearts you would do well to learn to imitate.  You need kind Christians who teach you not to be a jerk. You need jerky Christians to help you to be compassionate toward sinners as God has been compassionate toward you even as you participate in their sanctification.

At the end of the day, if you are a believer, you need the church. So do not disconnect. Find a body of believers. It will not be perfect. Find a place where the gospel is preached faithfully. Find a place where believers walk through life together, sometimes getting it right, often getting it wrong, but always wanting to glorify God. Find a local church and dive in. Love the people. Care for the people. Help the weaker grow. Learn that you are also the weaker and people help you grow. Obey Christ and love his church. You need this.

Who We Must Not Be

In the life of the church, there are a lot of things we want to get right. We want to be doctrinally sound. We must be biblical. We want to honor the Lord in our worship and with our lives. We certainly want to stand against error and sin.

But there is a failing that we can run into if we sharpen ourselves to oppose the wrong without also being made gentle by the grace of God. I think that error is something Jesus condemns the religious leadership of his day for in Matthew 23.

Matthew 23:4 – They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 

This is who we do not want to be. There are Christians who are great at burdening other people. Many of us are wonderful at telling you what you must not believe or what you must not do. Many of us are great at piling on other people guilt and man-made standards of righteousness. And when we do it, we often do so because we think we are helping the ministry by smacking others with the truth.

But the Savior does not seem to love the idea of loading people down with burdens if you are not also getting under that burden with them to help them move along. That kind of religion is not Christianity. True, biblical, Christ-honoring faith is a faith that will most certainly call people to faith and repentance and obedience to the word of God. But true Christianity is also a faith in which we love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and where we all know that we are in this life together on purpose.

Christianity should include a relationship of fellowship, mutual edification, and progressive sanctification. You most certainly should help me know when I’m messing up or missing the point. I most certainly should call you away from error and toward truth. But in our lives, we should also be walking together, side-by-side, helping each other toward that faithfulness. I do not help you if all I do is smack you with the truth and walk away from you without helping you. You do not help me if you tell me all that I should be that I am not, but then you do not actually come help me become what God wants me to be. This is why Christianity is lived out in the local church and not solely on the Internet. We need each other. We need to be in each other’s lives. May we learn to press forward with truth, but never to press without grace too.

The Necessity of Church Attendance

A believer cannot obey God without being a part of a local church. Stop, read that again. It is impossible for you or me to obey God without being an active, regular, present part of a local church. [As a disclaimer, I’m not aiming here at a person who has no local church near him to attend.]

 

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.

 

The author of the letter to the Hebrews has spent ten chapters pointing to the glory of Jesus. Jesus is our great high priest, much greater than Moses or the Levitical priesthood. Jesus is kind and understanding. He made a single sacrifice for sins, just one, and the sacrificial system is at an end. He opened the way for the people of God to freely enter the presence of God.

 

It is in the light of such glorious things that the author of the letter then tells the church that they are to do certain things. Look at the passage in context.

 

Hebrews 10:19-25 – 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.

 

See all the “since” statements. Since Jesus has done all he has done and since Jesus is who he is, we are to respond in certain ways. We are to draw near to God (v 23). Would anybody rightly argue that a Christian can be what he is supposed to be without drawing near to God? We are to hold fast to the confession of our faith (v 24). Would anyone argue that someone can be a faithful Christian who does not hold fast his confession? And we are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds (v 24). And again, I point out that no Christian can be what we are supposed to be without obeying this command.

 

But how are we to obey the command to spur one another toward love and good deeds? The author makes it plain. WE do this, not by giving up meeting together. Instead, we spur one another on by continuing to meet together and encouraging one another (v 25).

 

So, let me say it again in case you think I’m not clear enough. If you have the physical capacity to attend a local church, you must do so in order to be obedient to the word of God. For a believer to be obedient, he or she must encourage other believers as we meet together. This is part of faithful, biblical Christianity.

 

Now, let’s consider what is now the common practice of American Christians. I’ll not try to prove the statistics, but you can look them up easily. American Christians tend to attend church around 2 to 3 Sunday’s per month. There are 4 Sundays in a month. Thus, there are many who claim to follow Christ who make it a regular habit of refusing to worship with other believers at least twice per month. This is disobedience to the word of God, plain and simple.

 

OK, we do not do each other any good by sitting here and bemoaning the state of American Christianity. We do no good by talking about denominations where 2/3 of church members could not be found on any given Sunday even by the combined efforts of the FBI, CIA, and NSA. Instead, let’s talk about you and me. Instead of worrying what others should or should not do, ask yourself if you are being what God calls you to be?

 

God says to you, believer in the Lord Jesus, to make sure that you are regularly encouraging other Christians. How do you do that? You do not give up meeting together with them. You keep showing up. You show up when you feel like it. You show up when you do not feel like it. You show up when you could have done something else. You show up when it is raining. You show up when it snows. You show up when it is hot. You show up when it is beautiful at the lake. You show up to take part in the worship of Christ and the encouraging of believers.

 

Again, I’m not here writing about the person who would have to walk 75 miles through mine fields just to attend a service. Nor am I putting guilt on the shoulders of a mom who has to sit at home with a little one running a fever. Nor is this supposed to hurt the heart of an aged saint who cannot leave the house. But, hear me, if you are an able-bodied believer who has a local church nearby where the gospel is preached, go. It should feel utterly foreign to you to let a Sunday go by without being gathered together with people of God you know and love for the sake of worship and encouragement.

 

“Ah,” you say, “but none of the churches near me see the doctrines of the Bible as perfectly as I do. So Obviously, I cannot attend any of them.” While it is possible that a believer is in a setting where there are simply no churches nearby of any sort of faithfulness, the more likely truth is that the person making such a claim is thinking far too highly of himself and his discernment. Go and love people. Go and encourage people. Who knows, you may actually become part of the solution to the problems you see. Or you might find out that some of the things you are elevating to 1st level issues are actually not.

 

Let’s not worry about all the what ifs that could arise here. Instead, let’s strive to be obedient. If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, regular gathering together with the people of God should be normal. Absenting yourself from such a gathering should feel as weird to you as RUNNING OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH your shoes on the wrong feet. Sure, you may have to do so in an emergency, but it will feel wrong and you will correct the problem as soon as you can.

 

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.

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