Posted in Church, Politics, Social

Keeping Our Heads (when others are losing theirs)

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 9, 2016

election-2016

With millions of other Americans, I watched in something approaching shock as Donald Trump was elected president of the United States on November 8th.  Pollsters were so wrong in their predictions, and supporters of Clinton so sure of victory (including the vast majority of the news media), the whole process seemed almost surreal at times.  There are a few timely reminders to take from this.

First, we should stop believing what the major news sources tell us.  Much, if not most, of what is ‘fed’ to us is designed not to inform, but to indoctrinate, not to tell us what has happened, but to tell us how to think.  By any measure, the effort has been amazingly successful.  ‘Politically correct’ positions are presented with positive language, while ‘politically incorrect’ positions are presented in a negative light.  The responses of major news outlets to Trump’s victory is a case in point.  Most of them are opining on “what went wrong in the election” (Answer: Nothing) – as if the system must be wrong, since their candidate lost.  Others are ‘advising’ Trump on how he must govern.  This isn’t news; it’s propaganda.  Ignore it.

Second, our society has embraced atheistic, materialistic humanism (the idea that there is no God, that there is nothing but matter, and we are in control of our own destiny), and it has bred a culture of false self-importance.  We think that getting rid of those who disagree with us will make everything ‘bad’ in society good, and getting the ‘right’ person to lead us will make everything ‘good’ better.  This ‘messianic syndrome’ is prevalent in America, and causes irrational reactions (crowds rioting in the streets the night following the election because their candidate lost is one example).  If it goes unchecked, it can ultimately lead to anarchy.

As Christians, we should exhibit a wisdom that is ‘out of this world’ – that does not follow the foolishness of those who are blinded by sin.  How we react to this election, which seems the most startling in my life, can be a reflection of our faith in God, not men, and our commitment to His eternal truth, not the unstable and uncertain direction of our human leaders.
Every person who has lived through a few presidents probably has a view on which ones have been good, and which were not.  Some who are a little older than me might point to Eisenhower or Kennedy.  In my experience, and in my opinion (no offense if you disagree!), Reagan is the greatest president I have known.  But as I think back over the years of his presidency, I realize that the idyllic visions I had when he was elected didn’t happen.  Yes, there was much good that came out of those years – the economy was healthy, our military was strong, and the ‘evil empire’ of communism was weakened significantly.  But abortion was not stopped, or even impeded.  Our national debt grew worse.  There were moral and ethical scandals in his administration.

Many Christians – while disapproving of some of Trump’s actions and words, viewed him as a ‘better option’ than Clinton.  Her unbridled support of not only abortion, but also Planned Parenthood’s selling parts of aborted baby’s bodies, is an egregious evil.  Her ethical standards were an embarrassment to even her supporters.  Her deception and outright lies concerning Benghazi, and dubious accumulation of millions of dollars through the Clinton Foundation, are just two examples.

But while we may feel like Trump winning was the better outcome, we should ‘keep our heads’ about us.  We all know that Trump is not ‘the answer’ to America’s problems, or the solution to our evils.  Whatever ‘good’ he may do – for example, appoint justices to the Supreme Court who, unlike recent appointees, will uphold our Constitution – this is only dealing with ‘surface wounds’ in our nation.  The deeper needs are all spiritual, and will only be turned around when we recognize our Creator, accept His offer of life through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and follow Him.  Let that be our focus…as we head into the coming years.

Posted in Church, End Times/Revelation, Resurrection, Social

Super Tuesday’s Past…Super Sunday’s Coming!

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, March 4, 2016

Tuesday, March 1st.  ‘Super Tuesday’!  Millions of dollars were spent leading up to it, with candidates touting their qualities, and trying to outdo each other with promises on how they would fix all our problems, and give us everything we want for free!  Honestly, it reminded me of the scene in Napoleon Dynamite scene where Pedro, running for class president, says, “Vote for me and all of your wildest dreams will come true.” Super Sun 1

What is amazing is the number of Americans who swallow this tripe!  Millions of  Americans went to the polls, cast their ballots, and – well, settle in for another eight months of this!  Which leads me to say two things: First, while political ads can drive you to the brink of insanity, we should be thankful that we have the right to vote, and a number of other rights and freedoms that most people in the world do not enjoy.  Second, while I’m not a pessimist, I can assure you that no matter who wins, we’ll be subjected to this quadrennial drum-beat in four years, unless…unless the Lord returns first!

How do I know?  What is the basis for this wondrous thought?  The last Sunday in March, this year.  They call the first Tuesday ‘Super Tuesday’ because of the number of delegates up for grabs in the presidential primaries on that day, but I’d sooner call the last Sunday ‘Super Sunday,’ because on that day – ‘Resurrection Day’ – God declared victory over sin and death once and for all through the resurrection of His Son…and His kingdom rule will commence when He returns from heaven.  He’s not making promises, angling for your vote, raising money to fund His campaign: It’s done, He is King of kings and Lord of lords!

Many world leaders have basked in the praise of followers who viewed them with almost messianic qualities, but all have proved to have feet of clay.  Only One can lay claim to the throne of the Kingdom of God, and He is not up for election.  Instead of trying to garner support in order to acquire a throne, He shed His own blood to enable others to share in that reign.  God’s plan to include us in this coming kingdom required the sacrifice of His Son.  I love how the author of Hebrews captures this:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (Heb. 2.9-10, NAS)

Having paid-in-full the price for our sins, God raise His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead.  The empty tomb is the promise of a coming throne!  Again, Scripture is clear (Philippians 2.9-11, NKJV):Risen

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you’re looking for something to really shout about this election season, look beyond the hype and promises of the candidates, and look to Christ.  On March 12th, 19th, and 25th, we’ll celebrate His life, death, and resurrection in the His Story drama, and on ‘Super Sunday,’ March 27th, we’ll celebrate the empty tomb.  Here’s a leader you really can believe in!

Posted in Church, End Times/Revelation, Social

Avoiding the ‘Shemita’ Commotion

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015

ShemitahOne ‘constant’ in church history is the appearance of religious leaders who pronounce the imminent end of the world.  Some sects, like the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Seventh-Day Adventists, boldly predicted the return of Christ, then explained why nothing happened – and survive to this day.  Others within mainstream Christianity have predicted Jesus’ return was just around the corner: Ed Whisenant sold 4.5 million copies of his 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988…and who can forget the “Y2K” scare?

Earlier this year, San Antonio television pastor John Hagee published a book and produced a movie declaring that four blood moons signaled an imminent catastrophic change in the world – the hint being that this could be the rapture.  Now Johnathan Cahn, a Messianic Rabbi from New Jersey, has become famous for his books The Harbinger, and more recently The Mystery of the Shemitah.  Why are so many Christians taken in by this?  How should we respond to the seemingly endless line of ‘Christian’ leaders announcing impending doom and the return of Christ?

First, while I wish Christians would be more careful about believing what prophetic preachers say, I’m glad so many are anxiously looking forward to the return of Christ!  Almost 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2.13), and at the end of the Book of Revelation, Jesus announces, “I am coming quickly,” to which John replies, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22.20).  In Matthew 24, Jesus gives signs that will signal the end of the age, and His return to reign.  We should be looking forward to that day!

But we should be careful.  If history teaches us anything, it’s that Christians are gullible.  Religious hucksters have been marketing their ‘snake oil’ for centuries, and too many of us are buying it!  Why?  Simply because, as Jesus Himself said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt.24.36).  It’s a mystery…and we all love unraveling mysteries!  But while we can look for signs, our motivation should not be to win an argument, or create a following of people who agree with our prediction, but to be ready – that is, to be living our lives for Christ, using our time, our talents, and our treasure to bring as many people to faith in Christ as possible.  So if you enjoy reading prophetic writings, go ahead, but don’t try to start a movement!  Instead, tell someone about Jesus, who died for their sin, rose from the dead, and is coming again!

How should we respond to things like the ‘four blood moons’ and ‘Shemita’ theories?  With healthy skepticism!  Too often, these are a distraction that actually serves the purposes of our enemy, instead of promoting a greater joy and appreciation for the grace of God.  Since the ‘mystery of the Shemita’ is the most recent entry into this prophetic arena, here’s my assessment: It’s a mixture of some Old Testament verses with a lot of unfounded speculation about how some Bible prophecy points to something going on today.

When Rabbi Cahn applies Old Testament laws to us today – as if we are going to be judged because we fail to obey them – he ignores that we are no longer under the law.  Like so many ‘Messianic Rabbis’ today, he wants to impose some of the law on us, but not all (none of them are calling for us to bring sacrifices!).  Worse, when he calls America “the Israel of the new world,” he betrays a lack of faithfulness to God’s original prophetic revelation of God.  You cannot replace “Israel” with “America,” and then ‘plug in’ prophecies that fit with the latest world events.  God’s prophecies to Israel and for Israel will be fulfilled by Israel, in God’s time.

More than anything, most of this prophetic ‘scare-mongering’ just grieves me…because it distracts us from ‘pursuing holiness’ (Heb 12.14), ‘walking by the Spirit’ (Gal 5.16), ‘looking forward to our our blessed hope’ (Titus 2.13), and being ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Cor 5.20).  Instead of viewing ourselves as ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8.37), we are alarmed by sensational predictions of judgment, socio-political solutions, and personal survival.

Frankly, I don’t need any theories about the Shemita – or blood moons, or Islamic imams, or even the 70 weeks of Daniel – to know our nation is coming under the sovereign wrath of God.  God makes it clear in Scripture, both for Israel (2 Chron 7.13-14) and other nations (eg. Nineveh, Jonah 3), that sin leads to an outpouring of God’s wrath (Rom 1.18ff).

The ONLY answer to the problem of sin in our age is the gospel of Jesus Christ; every believer receives the Holy Spirit, and the enablement to live a victorious life in the midst of a world that is under Satan’s power (1 Jn 5.19).  Keep telling people about Jesus!

Posted in Church, Goals, Walk

Lessons from an Early Morning Run

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, Aug 21, 2015

Early mornings are a precious time…for sleep!  Frankly, that’s my ‘default setting’ – I’m not a great morning person.  But I have found that a five mile walk-and-jog in the early morning is a wonderful way to start the day, both physically and spiritually.  As the pre-dawn darkness gives way to morning light, there are a number of lessons the Spirit has impressed on my heart.  Here are five.

Race You To Goal_6  The First Battle: Getting Started!  I have never regretted an early morning walk-jog; in fact, I am happy about my decision to get up and go from the moment I walk out the front door on!  But I must confess, when my alarm goes off at five-something and I turn it off, a battle ensues in my mind – with all kinds of reasons why I should roll over and head back to dream-land for another hour.  This is the hardest part of my morning exercise.

My mind tells me I need the sleep; the kids were up late the night before, and furthermore, my pushing-60 body can’t take the punishment.  I’ve even had Scripture come to mind: Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11.28).  ‘Jesus said that,’ I tell myself, ‘so maybe I should stay in bed!’  Or this: It is vain for you to rise up early… For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep (Psalm 127.2).  ‘God will help me get in shape while I sleep!’

So too in our spiritual ‘walk’: The hardest part is getting started, overcoming spiritual lethargy  and deciding to ‘just do it’!  What ‘spiritual exercise’ is the Spirit prompting you to start doing?  Reading through the Bible in a year?  Get started.  Volunteering to help with Awana?  Contact Lee Hicks today!  Getting involved with the evangelism ministry?  Talk to Robert Ambs today!  Remember, the first battle is getting started!


Run hillDownhill, Uphill: Easy times, tough times.
  I follow a set route in my neighborhood, and like most places in the hill country, sometimes you go downhill, other times uphill.  I’ve learned that on the downhill sections, I can pick up my pace – push myself harder.  On the uphill sections, I keep within myself: I don’t push it, just keep from falling off my pace.

That’s a good approach for our spiritual lives, too.  Sometimes everything is going well, and we feel like we could almost ‘walk on water’!  That’s the time to look for new opportunities, to push the pace spiritually, try new ventures.  But other times circumstances overwhelm us – something unexpected knocks us off kilter, or the pressures of life build and make us vulnerable to Satan’s schemes.  That’s the time to ‘stick to basics,’ make time to read Scripture, get alone for prayer and meditation, or meet with a trusted Christian friend who can encourage you.

early morning runSunrise: Sometimes Golden, sometimes Gray.  Some mornings, sunrise is absolutely stunning: Beams of golden rays piercing the dark-blue hues of the sky, punctuated by the occasional star or planet.  As I walk, I feel my spirits lifted, and the words of an old hymn come to mind: When morning guilds the skies, my heart awak’ning cries, “May Jesus Christ be praised!”  Other mornings are like today: Overcast and gray…the only sign of morning sun is the faint glow between dark clumps of clouds.

This is a reminder that as we walk spiritually with the Lord each day, there will be times when the sun is shining and our spirits will soar, and there will be times when the forecast is not good – there will be ‘storms’ brewing on the horizon, and the light of The Son will be less inspiring to our earthly eyes.  But just as the sun is still there, still shining, whether it’s clear or overcast, so too our Lord is ‘shining’ in our lives every day, whether we always see Him clearly or not.  Often, in the still and quiet of those ‘overcast times,’ we can draw closer to the Lord than when it is ‘clear and sunny.’  Remember the Lord is always there: Trust Him!

This walk is for Me – not Everyone!  Some people are always trying to get others to follow their exercise regimen.  If you tell them you walk a mile, they tell you they run three.  Or they feel the need to tell you what you’re doing wrong, and how you need to change.  But this is my walk-and-run.  It’s not for everybody!

Sometimes we Christians are like this: We get our conviction by proxy!  Instead of listening to what the Spirit is telling us to do and doing it, we tell others what they should be doing!  But every Christian is different, and if I tell someone to do something the Spirit is prompting me to do, I may be setting them up for failure and defeat.

If God is prompting you to pursue a spiritual goal, or to ‘go deeper’ in your spiritual walk, great!  Don’t try to ‘export it’ to everyone else!  God wants to work in your life in His time, and in His way.  God will work with others in His time, in His way.  Give Him the freedom to do that.

Running-Goal

Set a goal, and pursue it!  I know my body…and I like to push myself.  I like to challenge myself, to see if I can take 5 or 10 seconds-per-mile off my pace.  I have an App on my phone that tracks my speed, and updates me every five minutes.  I know when I’m slipping back a little, and when I’m ahead of my pace.  As I head into the ‘home stretch,’ I stick to my goal, and finish strong.

In our Christian walk, we need to have goals as well.  Perhaps you have a daily goal: Read the Bible for fifteen minutes, make time for prayer.  Perhaps you have a weekly goal: Spend an hour in prayer with your spouse, or with a close friend.  You may have a ministry goal: To invest time in kids, or get involved with a Bible study, or a ministry like DivorceCare.  Whatever you do, set a goal, and pursue it.  Don’t ‘throw in the towel’ if you fail once or twice; stick with it, and finish strong!

Lessons from an early morning run…are god lessons for the Christian life.  May God bless you as you pursue your daily spiritual walk with Him!

Posted in Church

What It Means to be A Church

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, July 9, 2015

What does it mean to be a church?  Many Christians may be surprised to learn that God has a plan for the church – what constitutes a church, how it functions – and He has not left us without instructions.  In fact, the New Testament is very clear about what God’s plan is for the church, who should lead it and how they should lead it, the different official roles there are in the church, and how we should live together.

At the outset, let me be clear on what we are talking about.  The Bible talks about the church in two general ways.  In one sense, the church is the Body of Christ.  We call this the  ‘universal’ or ‘invisible’ church.’  It is made up of all Christians, and it is impregnable. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mt 16.18).  Nothing can stop it.  It is indestructible.

But if the universal church is impregnable, a local church, like NBBC, is very fragile.  It can easily be hurt, divided, even snuffed out.  Paul planted churches throughout Galatia on his first missionary journey, and within a year they were all in turmoil because of false teaching and internal division.  In fact, every church Paul planted faced internal problems and divisions within a few years.  Jesus Himself wrote letters to churches like Ephesus in Revelation 2-3, and within a few decades, many of them were gone.

Our health and vitality as a church will depend on whether or not we assiduously follow God’s plan for the church.  This is no different than following God’s plan in other areas of life.  We have ignored God’s plan for marriage and the family in our country, and we have reaped the breakdown of society which results.

What, then, is a local church?  An assembly of believers that gathers together for worship, fellowship, teaching, and prayer.  This four-fold breakdown is found in Acts 2.42:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The unity of that early church was its greatest strength.  People shared freely from what they had with others who were in need.  They were persecuted and poor, their leaders were imprisoned, and many were put to death – yet their influence was great.  But as the years passed, problems started to arise.  There were divisions, infighting, and that, in essence, describes much of church history to this day.

Richard Halverson, former chairman of the US Senate, summed up the history of the church: “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on living for Christ.  Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy.  Then it moved to Rome and became an institution.  Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture.  Finally it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

The church in America has become big business, and it is often run like one.  Megachurches have their ‘CEOs’ who oversee empires with huge budgets and cutting-edge facilities.  Church-growth gurus teach seminars on how to keep getting bigger and bigger.  But often, lost in all this effort to grow, is any concern for the directions God gave for the church in the New Testament.  Let’s get a quick overview.

First, who is the leader in a local church like ours?  Only one answer here: It is Jesus Christ.  He’s not up for re-election, and he never steps down.  No one can take His place.  He is the head of the church, and the unchallenged leader.

Eleven years ago when I came to New Braunfels as the first pastor of NBBC, I preached my first sermon from 1 Samuel 8: “Is there a man at the top?”  In 1 Sam. 8, Samuel is grieving because he is the judge of Israel, but the people have come to him asking for a king.  He feels that the people have rejected him as their judge, and God replies that “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8.7).  If there is a man at the ‘top’ of a church, that church has rejected Jesus Christ as head of the church.

What then is a pastor?  You will search in vain for a pastor – at least by that title – in the New Testament.  You never read about “pastor so-in-so in the church at Corinth.”  Why?  Because according to the NT, churches are not led by a pastor.  They are led by a group of men, called elders.

The term “pastor” actually means “shepherd.”  In the early church, there were men who had a gift of teaching, and if these men became elders, they were known as “pastor-teachers.”  If you want to know what the biblically-correct title for me is, it is “teaching elder.”  I am an elder first, and my gift is teaching, so I teach.

This means, therefore, that I have no more authority in this church than any of the other elders.  You know me better, because you see me up front every Sunday, but I am first and foremost an elder.

“OK,” you say, “then what is an elder?”  An elder is a godly man who exhibits the character and capabilities listed in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.  In the NT, elders were never “elected” – they don’t ‘run for office.’  They are ‘recognized’ by a congregation for their godliness and leadership by example.  Others look up to them for their spiritual maturity.  They are not appointed by the pastor; they are recognized by the people.

Elders have three main tasks as ‘shepherds’ of the ‘flock’ of God.  Like any good shepherd, they guide the flock, seeking to lead it in the direction God wants them to go.  This means spending hours praying and discussing what the church should do.
Secondly, they guard the flock from predators inside and outside the church.  When Paul called the elders of the church at Ephesus to him in Acts 20, this is what he told them (vv28-31):

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”

Paul knew Satan would throw everything but the kitchen sink at the little church in Ephesus, and that this would require the elders there to be on guard – sometimes against ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ from inside the church.  Elders guard the church.

Finally, elders give food to the flock.  They teach God’s Word, and help the church apply what the Bible says to our lives.  Elders motivate the church to learn to ‘feed themselves,’ too.  I do this each week when I preach, but teaching is something elders do 24-7, as they meet with and minister to people in the church.

Someone might ask, “To whom do the elders answer?  Who are they responsible to?”  Only one person: Jesus Christ.  In 1 Peter 5, Peter says that when Jesus, the “Chief Shepherd,” comes, He will reward the ‘under-shepherds’ – elders – for their ministry.  This is critical: Elders are do not answer to people, or do what they want.  They listen to God, and follow Him.  If an elder does what he wants to do, or if he has his own agenda, He will answer to God.

You may have heard recently about some churches in which the elders, following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, have come out in favor of homosexual unions.  Did God change His Word?  No.  Are they following God?  No.  They are following men.  They are no longer ‘elders’ in the biblical sense.  Elders guide, guard, and feed the flock of God, and they will answer to God for how they do it.

What about deacons?  The NT says less about deacons than elders, but still clearly reveals their role.  The word “deacon” means “servant.”  In Acts 6, the first ‘deacons’ were recognized by the church in Jerusalem.  The Apostles were committed to praying and teaching, and needed help with practical issues, meeting people’s needs.  Seven men were chosen to minister to these needs.  In 1 Tim. 3, Paul lists qualifications of a deacon.  They are strenuous!  Deacons are recognized by a church for their godliness, and serve the needs of the body.  They answer to God, and those who serve well are rewarded (see 1 Tim 3.13).  If a deacon has his own agenda, or does what he wants to do instead of following God’s will, he will answer to God.

That brings us to the congregation – the sheep, the flock.  What is the responsibility of the flock in relation to their leaders – in particular, to the elders?  Here, the NT is very clear.  Turn first to 1 Thess 5.12-13:

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Live in peace with one another.

Hebrews 13.17 echoes this message:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

The responsibility of the members of a church toward the elders is to appreciate them, honor them, obey them and submit to them, so they can lead the church with joy and not grief.  Let me be blunt: The elders of NBBC have a demanding task; they battle Satan’s attacks on this church, and seek to guide this church the way Jesus Christ wants them to.  They desperately need your prayers and your encouragement, not attacks and criticism.

A few years ago Barbara Throndson wrote an entry in her blog entitled “Honor Your Leaders,” drawn from Hebrews 13.17:

It is not our job to critique or counsel our leaders.  Rather ours is to submit, support, follow, and obey… it (is) clear that when leaders wander off-track, we are not to follow them, lest we all wind up in a ditch.  [But] I have seen too many instances where the issue was not unbiblical behavior, (but) just a difference of opinion, style, or agenda…  I don’t want to give my God-appointed leaders grief. No complaints. No criticisms. Rarely suggestions.  Rather encouragement and blessing.

 Spiritual leaders have big jobs.  Chuck Swindoll says, “There’s probably no profession more emotionally enervating than pastoral work.  It’s filled with all kinds of groaning within the spirit that are often too deep for words.”  Our leaders need and deserve our prayers, our support and our appreciation.

My wife returned this week from a visit with her mother and family in Australia.  They live in a little rural town called Dungog, with not many people, and fewer churches.  While she was there, Jen attended Dungog Baptist Church with her mother.  It’s a small church; the main hall might hold 100 people, but closer to 20 attend.  The average age is somewhere north of 70.  The stone building is probably well over a hundred years old.  The clapboard walls and décor remind you of something from the 1970s.  The pews are uncomfortable.  It is often cold and the portable wall heaters hardly help.  There is no ‘worship team’ leading the latest worship songs, no drums, just a man or woman strumming a guitar, leading songs that were popular twenty years ago.  There is no pastor; a man drives in from another town each week to preach.  A real ‘loser’ of a church, some would say.

But when Jen spoke of the church, her feelings were just the opposite.  It was unencumbered, simple, and authentic.  No one came for a show, or a flashy program, or excellent music.  The pastor wasn’t a dynamic speaker.  They were there because they loved the Lord, and wanted to fellowship together.  It was the opposite of the mega-church ideal that we often strive for in America.  What if we spent our lives trying to build something in our church, only to discover when we stand before Jesus Christ that what we focused on wasn’t what He wanted at all?

At the beginning of each football season, it’s said that legendary coach Vince Lombardi would stand before his players, hold out a football, and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”  In other words, ‘Let’s get back to the basics!’

In a similar way, let me say, ‘Brothers and sisters, this is a church!’  When we forget God’s plan for the church, we start fighting and tearing each other apart.  We criticize our leaders instead of honoring them.  And we all hurt.

God grant that we can all get back to what it means to be a church.