Letters to the Church (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: The Order

God gave us His “order” for the Church. He told us precisely what He wanted through His commandments in the Bible. In our arrogance, we created something we think works better. (pg. 45)

In the spirit of Cain, we bring an offering we think He should accept rather than what He actually asked for. (pg. 46)

Jesus is returning soon, and He expects to find His church taking His commands seriously. Yet far too often we are more concerned with how well the sermon was communicated, whether the youth group is relevant enough, or how to make the music better. (pg. 47)

He rebuked them so harshly because they had created their own traditions to obey (which aren’t important) and emphasized them more than the actual commands God had given them (which are extremely important). (pg. 48)

Honoring traditions made the Pharisees feel like they were obeying God when they actually weren’t. If we are not careful, we can be guilty of the same sin resulting in the same divine displeasure. (pg. 48)

It may surprise some of you that a forty-minute sermon isn’t commanded but “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” is actually in the Bible (Ga. 6:2). (pg. 48)

It is imperative that we differentiate between what we want and what God commands. Not that our desires are all bad, but they must take a back seat to what He emphasizes. (pg. 49)

They wanted a preacher who would give them the best of human wisdom, but Paul gave them the opposite. He actually limited his words because he didn’t want to diminish the cross of its power. He wanted their faith to rest on the Spirit’s power (1 Cor. 2:1-5). They wanted a Christian celebrity they could all praise (2 Cor. 11), but Paul refused to let it be about him. (pg. 50)

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

In nineteenth-century Denmark, Soren Kierkegaard was appalled at the state church, which he believed had grown apathetic and insincere. Kierkegaard believed that true Christianity is costly and demands humility. Because the gospel exposes out failures and insists that we can find life only through the grace of God, our self-esteem comes under attack as we acknowledge that Jesus alone saves. But what Kierkegaard saw in the Church were constant attempts to make Christianity more palatable, more popular, and less offensive. He said if we strip away the offense from Christianity and try to make things fun and easy for everyone, “then lock the churches, the sooner the better, or turn them into places of amusement which stand open all day long!” (pg. 51)

If we focus too much of our attention on what people want, we will only increase the amount of complaining. (pg. 51)

We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice. (pg. 53)

By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches. (pg. 53)

Maybe we are afraid to ask what will bring Him the most pleasure. Ignorance feels better than disobedience. (pg. 54)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47) Absent from this account is any attempt on the part of the early Christians to conjure up some sort of powerful experience.  (pg. 55)

There’s a keyword in this passage that separates the attempts of our modern church with from the first church: devoted. (pg. 55)

In our impatient culture, we want to experience biblical awe without biblical devotion. At the core of our dysfunction is not necessarily style or structure but lack of devotion. (pg. 56)

We should be asking why Christians are willing to give only ninety minutes a week (if that!) to the only thing that really matters in their lives! (pg. 56)

If we genuinely believed the Word of God was this powerful, what would we do? We would read these words and expect them to have a life of their own. We certainly wouldn’t put so much emphasis on different preachers and their ability to “make Scriptures come alive”! (pg. 57)

I’m not trying to compare the Word of God to a spell book [where the power comes from the words themselves], but if anything, we should treat these words as more sacred and powerful, not less. (pg. 57)

What if we spent more time publicly reading the Word and encouraging others to read it too? I suspect we would be able to sit back and watch in amazement as the Word of God accomplishes what it sets out to do. (pg. 58)

[Chan describes a situation where a friend of his gathered with some friends and publicly read the Bible out loud.] In seventy-two hours, they read the entire Bible aloud! He tried to describe the feeling they had when the final words were read. Ultimately, it was unexplainable. The Word did something that far exceed their expectations. They did in three days what most professing Christians in America won’t do in their lifetimes. (pg. 59)

What would it mean for us to strip away the distractions and become a people who devoted ourselves to Scripture? I firmly believe that we would see a power in our churches like we’ve never experienced before. (pg. 59)

If we really want to come before God with clean hands and pure hearts, we need to have a greater awe and longing for His Word alone. (pg. 60)

So imagine what it would have meant to them when they gathered with the few people who shared their mission and beliefs. Imagine sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people who loved you unconditionally and whose loves had changed in the same way as yours. As you gather, you can’t help but remember those who used to sit at the table with you but were killed for proclaiming His death. Some who gather with you have injuries and scars from the persecution. You break the bread and eat it, remembering that Jesus had broken His body so you could find life in Him. Imagine drinking wine with these fellow believers as you recall how His blood was shed. He did this for you so you could be cleansed and forgiven of all your sins. Can you see how powerful this experience would have been for the church every time they gathered? (pg. 61)

If Communion has become boring for us now, it could be that we’ve lost sight of the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. (pg. 61)

God wants us to love the Lord’s Supper so much that we feel as if we can’t live without it! Have you ever felt this way, or have you allowed the broken body and shed blood of Jesus to become just another theological concept? (pg. 61)

Remember that Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet and commanded them to love one another just as He loved them. It was after this that He taught them to stare at His broken body and shed blood to remind them of how He loved them. As we consider the cross and look around the room, we should be asking ourselves, “Am I willing to love the people in this room to that extent?” This probably sounds impossible to most churchgoers, yet it’s what Christ asks for. Just imagine if the Church was made up of people who would literally go to the cross for one another. How could people shrug their shoulders as they witnessed that kind of love? (pg. 61)

Do you remember the last time you gathered with believers just to pray? Or is prayer something you do only before you eat or something your church does only when it needs to transition out of the sermon while the band walks onto the stage? (pg. 62)

If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. (pg. 62)

If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant. (pg. 62)

In Acts 4, the early Christians had just prayed for signs and wonders and boldness. Immediately after, the ground shook and they left in boldness! Don’t you at least want to try this? Don’t “church activities” sound pretty boring in comparison? How can we read about the experience of the early church as they prayed and then settle for energetic services? I believe there is something deep in you that would love to pray intensely with like-minded people, hoping to see a supernatural response. (pg. 63)

God commands the Church to be devoted to His Word, to fellowship, to the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer. Why? Because God desires His people to experience Him. (pg. 63)

He has given us a road map for seeking and finding Him, and we have forsaken it because we think we have better ideas.  Can you see how absurd that it? (pg. 64)

Our job is to reveal God to people.  He is present in His word, fellowship, Communion, and prayer.  Rather than creating our own pep rallies, our calling is to simply put Him on display and watch how He draws people to Himself.  If they are not interested in Him, what do we think we are accomplishing by trying to lure them by other means?  We have to accept the fact that not everyone is interested in God.  We just need to make sure that it’s really God we are putting on display.  Otherwise we run the risk of people attending our services who have merely fallen in love with us. (pg. 64)

Isn’t this exactly what we do with God?  We have learned that we can fill church buildings if we bring in the right speaker or band.  Make things exciting enough and people will come.  We say, “God, look how many people are coming because they love being with You!”  But do we really think God is fooled by this?  Do we think God is pleased?  He knows how many would show up if it was just Him.  He knows there might only be a few if all we offered was Communion and prayer. (pg. 65)

And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and it’s the only number Jesus is counting.  Not our attendance, budget, or buildings. (pg. 66)

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my alter in vain! Malachi 1:10 (pg. 66)

Years ago, my friend from India drove me to a speaking engagement in Dallas.  When he heard the music and saw the lights, he said, “You Americans are funny.  You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band.  In India, people get excited just to pray.”  He proceeded to tell me how believers back home love Communion and how they flock to simple prayer gatherings.  I imagined God looking down on the earth and seeing people on one side of the planet gathering expectantly whenever prayer was happening.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, people show up only for the most talented people and the “atmosphere”.  It’s embarrassing. (pg. 67)

Let’s dream of believers on their knees, speechless because they grasp the weight of speaking to Yahweh. (pg. 68)

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