Life Back Then

This was posted by John Mark Hicks this morning on Facebook. I thought it was too good to not share. We get to take a look into the early life of the church!

Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus (probably around 130-150 A.D.)

“Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life….With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign…And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country….They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all people….A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.”

1 Peter 2:12, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the nations, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

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The Shocking Truth About Floaters

Floaters frustrate me.

Do you know what I mean by “floaters?”

Floaters are the people who float from church to church so frequently that they never settle in one place long enough to really be a part of a church family.

Floaters frustrate me.

I knew a family of floaters one time. The head floater of this family told me that his family simply couldn’t find a church family that suited them. Oh they’d find churches where they liked the music fine, but didn’t much like the sermons. They’d find a place where they liked the sermons, but didn’t much like the music. And the members of these churches  seemed friendly enough, but the floater family never could seem to make friends (probably because they wouldn’t stay put long enough to really get to know anyone.)

Floaters frustrate me.

But they are also a valuable source of insight and information for a church.

You see, floaters have had far more first experiences with churches than you or I probably ever will. They are hyper aware of their surroundings each and every time they step into a worship service. Because of this, they will see things and experience things you miss due to familiarity.

What do I mean? When we become familiar with our building, our worship style, our Bible class style, the layout of our building and parking lot, we overlook certain things that might be off-putting to visitors simply because they are familiar.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. I visited a church a few years ago that had a serious odor as soon as you walked in the front door. It was bad. It smelled like an open sewer the moment you cracked the front door. Turns out that there were bathrooms just inside the front doors that were causing the problem (huge problem), but nobody there seemed to notice.

Another example was a church that had a lighting problem. Over the years a large number of bulbs and fixtures stopped working, and nobody bothered to fix the problem. It was so bad that I witnessed people getting out flashlights in order to read their Bible. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

We become blind to the way other people view us, our worship, and our facilities. It’s a good idea every once in a while to ask visitors, or frequent floaters how things could be improved.

If nothing else, ask yourself some of these questions as if you were visiting your church for the very first time:

  • When I pull in the parking lot, can the entrances clearly be identified, or am I going to have to drive around the building a few times in hopes of finding an entrance?
  • Does the exterior of the building look like this church cares about its facilities, or is the landscaping and appearance an absolute mess?
  • If I am stepping into this building for the first time, do I have any idea where I’m going? Are there signs and people here to help me find my way?
  • Will anyone explain to me what I’m going to experience during my time here? How long is the service? What are we going to do? Why are we going to do these things? How am I supposed to find this information out?
  • If I visit the church website (yes, you absolutely need one) will I be able to answer all of the previously mentioned questionsas well as get a sense that this is a loving, vibrant, and active congregation that cares deeply about people? All people?

And quite possibly the biggest question of them all:

  • If I were to attend this church as a visitor, would I feel that my presence was greatly appreciated, that people cared about me enough to get to know me, and that my time here was the highlight of my week?

If you are unsure about that last question, then I would suggest your congregation do some serious rethinking of how you do things, because you just might be the reason those floaters keep floating by.

And floaters frustrate me.

 

Radical Disrupts Place of Worship

No this isn’t a recent headline from the New York Times. It’s likely what the Jerusalem Daily Gazette would have published the morning after Jesus cleared the Temple.

There is so much we can learn from this passage, but it so rarely gets brought up in churches. Questions about this passage always pop up. “Why would Jesus do such a thing?” or “Doesn’t Jesus love everyone? Why would he cause such a scene in a place of worship?”

There are two accounts of this happening in the Bible. One recorded by Matthew, the other by John. Today we’ll look at John’s account of this event.

John 2:13-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Clears the Temple
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When I was growing up, I would hear someone reference this passage the moment a fundraising catalog entered the church building. But that’s just not the context for what Jesus is reacting to here. So if you don’t want to buy that stale popcorn, you may have just lost your scriptural basis for doing so. To fully understand what Jesus was so outraged about, we have to look back into history and take a look at what it took to worship at the temple.

Ever since the temple was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, it was the national place of worship for all Jewish people. As many as 2.5 million Jews would travel vast distances to worship God in His temple on holy days! And as we all know, there’s always cost involved when traveling.

Besides the cost of travel, a Jew wishing to worship would also have other monetary demands put upon them as they arrived at the temple. The “Temple Tax” offset the cost of maintaining the temple, and was equal to 1 day’s wage. If you were traveling with a foreign currency, you must exchange your money at a rate of 2 days wages. If you brought your own animal to offer as a sacrifice, there was a fee of 1/2 days wage for someone to inspect the animal. If you failed inspection, or couldn’t afford to travel with your animal sacrifice in tow, you could normally purchase doves at the cost of 2 days wage. But in the temple courts prices had been raised to nearly 40 days wages!

If you calculate the cost in modern day figures, it would cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 just to worship at the temple!

These services that Jew’s had set up as a convenience to traveling worshippers had instead become a roadblock preventing the poor from being able to worship God in his temple, all the while lining the pockets of the religious leaders. No wonder Jesus was upset!

It’s stunning to think that something which started out so noble by aiding God’s people in worship turned out to be just the opposite. God’s people lots sight of what they were doing, and what they were causing to happen around them.

Question: What sort of things stand in the way of worshippers today, and what can we do as the Church to remove those obstacles?

Grand Opening

Many people wonder why God doesnʼt send big, visual, miracles our way anymore. They read about people speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, casting out demons, and they wonder why God seems so distant. We read about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Why are none of us recipients of the miraculous empowerment of the Holy Spirit? Why isnʼt God allowing his people to perform miracles here and now? Well, we can find out in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 2:3b-4 – This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

According to the writer of Hebrews, God used signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit as a way of testifying that his son, Jesus, did in fact bring salvation to those who chose to obey him. The signs were a way for God to indicate to humans that this shift in the way of doing things was divinely orchestrated! Simply put, God was using the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the miracles kind of like a grand opening at a new store. Letʼs say that a store that has been around for quite a while is purchased by some new owners, and they come in and renovate. Of course they want everyone to know about the changes, so they do this by having a big grand opening where they give away prizes, and do big and very showy things to alert the people of the changes. Now the grand opening doesnʼt last forever, and it doesnʼt need to. Thereʼs no reason for you to have a grand opening several years after the fact because it serves a purpose, and then itʼs no longer needed. The same is true with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and miracles in Godʼs church.

These people were so used to the Old Testament way of doing things that when Godʼs people were bought by the blood of Christ, and they were now under new ownership, God wanted to get the message out. He had a grand opening with all kinds of wonderful and very visual miracles, healings and the like that announced to the world once and for all that a new way of doing things was here. Out with the old covenant (or old testament) and in with the new covenant (or new testament)! So what about us today? We donʼt need the grand opening. Instead, we need to be looking forward to the time when the store gets relocated into itʼs permanent location in Heaven. Until then, we are the word of mouth. We are the means by which Godʼs church keeps growing and developing new members.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.