What is the church? If you were to attempt to define church, where would you begin? How would your own experiences and culture shape your definition? And once you had arrived at your confident definition, how would your perspective compare to the view of a believer in Iran, Sudan, or parts of Asia? Would non-Western believers agree with you about what the church is? Does church mean the same thing to them as it means to you? In other words, if you had to draw a picture of the church highlighting its purpose, identity and mission and the only resource you had was the Bible without cultural context at all, would you ever arrive at anything that looks like the typical church in America? Your answer is your own, but I must confess that after many years of studying what the Bible teaches about God, His mission and the community through which the mission is to be carried out, I conclude that the church in America bears little resemblance to the missionary movement of the New Testament called the church.
By the day, our culture spirals like a plane out of control, but as our world plummets to the abyss of a godless existence, the church continues to embrace and even celebrate lifeless forms and dead processes that have become obstacles that keep us from engaging the world around us. Truly, many churches are little more than “white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). The church in America desperately needs to shake off its grave clothes and repent of its failure to embody our King and his mission.
There is nothing more important the church does than worship. What happens when the church gathers corporately on the Lord’s Day or any other day for that matter is nothing less than miraculous. The worshipping body becomes the place where heaven and earth meet once again and foreshadows a day when the two will be eternally restored in the presence of our resurrected King.
However, it seems that somewhere along the way the church in America changed the metric by which church health is measured. Biblically speaking, the church is to be something far different than what it has become in many of our communities. Spiritual maturity, deepening faith, radical obedience to God’s Word, loving community, the centrality of authentic worship, sacrificial service, and resolute commitment to the local body of Christ and a clear understanding of its mission are but a few of the undeniable characteristics of a church that faithfully represent its King.
And though few church leaders would disagree with this summary of a healthy church, the average church in America continues striving to attract those who will fill our buildings and if, by chance, we succeed in bringing more people into our buildings and populating our programs then we go home happy and convinced that God is at work. But such an image is not to be found in the Bible.
In the Scriptures, the movement of Christ, the apostles and the early church is ALWAYS toward the world. There is not a single clear example of a church in the Bible whose energy was spent on drawing people into and growing its own presence in a central location!
The church then and the church now is a gospel movement, by which the Spirit-filled people of God are deliberately and strategically seeking to create missional encounters with people in every sphere of life. It’s not unusual at all for a pastor or Bible teacher to make the claim that all of God’s people are missionaries. But there is little reason to believe that either the average church or the members on its rolls live as though this were the case. The greatest missionary opportunity in the world exists in our own backyards, not within the sanctuary walls. More than ever before the church needs to be driven out of our institutions to become, once again, the kingdom movement of the redeemed who are creating missionary encounters with the culture around us.
What do you mean when you use the word, church? The better question is what did Christ intend when he created and breathed life into this body? With great urgency the church must become a mobile community that reflects our Savior and his mission rather than one crafted to meet the perceived needs of man.
Maybe the corona virus was something that you took lightly when you first heard about it, but as you’ve watched it move across the globe, your lightheartedness has been transformed into anxiety and worry.
And watching the news, looking at online sources, and engrossing yourself in social media doesn’t help. In fact, it only makes it worse. I’ve found myself, at times, beginning to become overwhelmed by fear and worry. This usually happens after I’ve read a news story, heard updated numbers of cases and deaths, or read a story or article that someone shared on Facebook. NONE of these things has done anything to calm my fears. It has only heightened them. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Can you relate?
Don’t let what you hear on the news drive you to despair. Instead, let it drive you to the One who has the answers and who is in control of it all. What does calm my fears and renew my trust? Saturating myself with God’s word.
I’m not saying that we should hide our heads in the sand and pretend none of this is going on. We should be aware of what is happening around us. I’m not saying we should be nonchalant and act like it’s not serious. It is very serious, and our actions should reflect that. What I am saying is that there is a balance we must maintain.
There is a pendulum that we are all on that swings from extreme worry on one end to full trust in the Lord on the other end. And to be honest, even we Christians (the ones who know where and Who to turn to) can find ourselves way out on the end of worry and fear. Let’s swing ourselves to the other end and go the resource God has given his children.
I’m not saying to stop watching the news, but what if we immersed ourselves in the word WAY more than the news? What a difference it would make! We’d probably be less worried, less self-serving (or less self-preserving), and we just might find ourselves becoming restful, calm, and at peace.
When worry begins to take over, turn to Him for comfort, encouragement, strength and rest. When I begin to swing on the pendulum toward fear, I’ve found myself turning to God’s word, and most recently I have been turning to the Psalms. Reading and pondering verses from one psalm leads to other psalms, which then leads me to another one. It’s like a story of God’s rule and reign, his steadfast love and faithfulness, and his promised goodness is unfolding before my very eyes. And I find my response is to simply rest, wait, and be still.
Below I’ve included some of the verses that have brought me back to a place of trust and reliance. My prayer is that as you read through them, the words of Yahweh will lift you up and point your eyes to the One who is ruling and reigning and to the One who deserves all our praise.
Be encouraged! He is enthroned on high above it all!
The verses below have been the path of my journey through the Psalms just in the last few weeks, but there is so much more. Go on your own journey and see where God leads you. I’ve also found that listening to praise music calms my soul, renews my trust in the Lord, and reminds me of what I know to be true. Below are a few songs that have offered comfort and have helped me offer praise to our Maker in recent days.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11). Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord (Psalm 107:1, 43).
The steadfast love of God endures all the day. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. (Psalm 52:1, 8-9)
I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)
Your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. . . . Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. (Psalm 68:10, 19)
Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31, 19, 23-24)
For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. (Psalm 112: 6-8)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. (Psalm 20: 7-8)
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:19-21)
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 111:4-5)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91)
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered. . . . He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations. . . . For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. (Psalm 105:5, 8, 42)
Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. (Psalm 77:10-15)
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. . . .But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:1-5, 17-19)
He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:8-11)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. . . . “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11)
Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)
I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:1-2)
The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore. (Psalm 93)
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! (Psalm 97:1)
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! (Psalm 99:1)
But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice. . . . And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds! (Psalm 9:7, 10-11)
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)
God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. (Psalm 47:8)
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:10-11)
Tis the season when the most oft asked question is, “What are you thankful for?” I think we’ve somehow missed the point of thanksgiving and gratitude when we reduce thanksgiving to simply a list of things we’re glad we have. You hear it as well. “I’m thankful for my family, my health, my country, my freedom, my dog, my provisions, etc.” Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong at all with being thankful for these things and more. But simply acknowledging the things that I’m glad I have is not thanksgiving.
You see, true gratitude is biblical. It’s so ironic that there are atheists, irreligious and practical pagans all over the country who will acknowledge or celebrate Thanksgiving this week in some way never realizing that the attitude of gratitude is 100% biblical. Makes me laugh under my breath slightly. So if gratitude is biblical, then we must look to the Bible for its definition and examples of its true expression. And here is what we discover about thankfulness when we open the scripture. True biblical thankfulness is never about merely listing your blessings. True gratitude ALWAYS expresses thanksgiving to the one who is responsible for our blessings. Thanksgiving is not about the what but the who. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds (Psalm 57:9-10).
Do you recognize today that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the father of lights” (James 1:17)? It doesn’t matter who you are, there is nothing you have that God has not given to you. Your blessings are not the result of your goodness, charm, ability, capability or strength. It doesn’t matter what you believe or if you believe in anything at all. This one fact remains. A good, loving, sovereign, holy Creator holds you and your life in the palm of His hands, and every good thing and even the bad things which God uses for good are His blessings to you.
This Thanksgiving, rather than naming your blessings, give thanks to one responsible for your blessings.
Recently, Rona and I traveled to Rincon, Puerto Rico to serve along side of some wonderful people in the Church Without Walls. We are very excited to see how God may allow us to partner with Followers of Christ all over the island to see disciples multiplied and the kingdom expanded.
No church has had greater impact on New City Church through the years than Soma Church in Tacoma, WA. We are forever indebted to the leaders of Soma for modeling for us what true, faithful discipleship looks like in the local church. Up until now we have only sought to use Soma as an example and encouragement for how we disciple and live as the Body of Christ. However, as we constantly seek to live and serve more faithfully it seems that it would be wise of us to take steps to join more closely and identify with Soma Church in a more intimate way. Conversations have already been initiated to explore the possibilities of New Church Church becoming part of Soma Church in Anderson, SC. Please look over the distinctives found in the above link and put March 3 on your calendar. Tommy Rutledge from Soma Asheville will be with us to discuss more about Soma Church and its mission and vision.