Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his Apostles. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:15-19)

There’s a lot packed into the words of Jesus above. For now, let’s focus on the “keys” that Jesus said he would give the Apostle Peter.  What is Jesus talking about here?  We all know the tradition that Peter is the gatekeeper of heaven and when we die we must get permission from him to enter into heaven through the Pearly Gates.  There’s been many a joke told with that as the premise.  Or, the Catholic Church has used this as a proof text to say Peter was the first Pope, and what the Pope says goes.

St Peter Pearly Gates

Let me offer an alternative view. I believe Jesus’ words provide a near-term but very far-reaching perspective on the keys he promised Peter.  Go with me to Acts 2.  It’s the day of Pentecost as the disciples wait, just as Jesus instructed, until he sends his Spirit.  The Spirit arrives like a rushing wind, and speaking in a tongue that all can understand on this festival day Peter preaches the first resurrection sermon.  When he is done telling them what has happened to Jesus, who Jesus really is, they cry out, “What must we do?”  And Peter provides the key, telling them “Repent and be baptized ever one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  He thus opened the door of salvation for all these Jews gathered at this Jewish festival.

Fast forward with me to Acts 10. Peter has been focused on his fellow Jews, most likely holding onto his prejudice against the Gentiles (non-Jews).  He is in Joppa (not by accident where Jonah fled his mission to the Gentiles) and in a vision comes to understand that God has made clean what was formally considered unclean.  Cornelius, a Gentile centurion (Roman soldier) lives in Caesarea and has a vision of his own. He’s told to send for Simon who is called Peter.  He does.  Peter goes and realizes that God has granted salvation by faith to the Gentiles, saying, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”  Peter preaches the gospel to those in Cornelius’ house and God’s Spirit impacts them as it did the disciples on Pentecost. Peter provides the key, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Baptism

The door of salvation is now open to all; both Jew and Gentile! Peter used the keys Jesus gave him, and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.  In other words, to be loosed from your sins, respond in faith, repentance, and baptism, becoming a disciple of Jesus!  For those who do, the door to God’s Kingdom swings open, as do the gates of heaven.                                                                  

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An App for That

When you own a smart phone, it provides amazing technology that makes information easy; possibly too easy. I must admit I enjoy the various “apps” I can add to my I-Phone.  There’s one for the weather, quickly able to access a radar screen to see where bad weather is moving.  There’s one for ESPN so you can get an immediate update on sports scores and activity (there’s even the ability during baseball season to watch pitch by pitch where the ball is within the strike zone, on a visual display).  There’s an app for Facebook, of course.  I have another for my 401(k) and can check the balance of funds anytime.  There’s another for our bank.  There’s one I use for USA Today or Fox News to check what’s going on in the world.  And, I also have a great Bible app on my phone, where I can quickly change versions, highlight text, etc.

iphone apps

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But have you ever heard the phrase “information overload”?

Our culture is inundated with technology that provides information; all kinds of information. At a quick click you can access porn sights, for example, so there’s plenty    of negative stuff out there too.  Of course all of these sites that are free parade advertisements past you constantly trying to get you to bite.  And even if it’s generally positive stuff, it absorbs time.  Unless we manage our time well, that becomes a problem in itself in terms of Christian stewardship.

When we have too much information we tend to gloss over it and don’t pay enough attention to the important things. I peruse the local paper every day, but my focus tends to wander to the trivial stuff (like the funnies) and I often miss the murder on page one.  How did I do that?  Lack of focus.  Too much info and I gravitate to what appeals, rather than to what is meaningful.

If we are Christians, disciples of Christ (same thing), that must mean something in terms of how we live: the choices we make, the values we adopt, the activities we pursue, the character we develop, the service we provide.  We need focus!  Is there an app for that?

Indeed! There are two: the Bible, and the church.  The Bible is a collection of inspired manuscripts written by men who were linked to God in history, providing God’s values and expectations, providing stories of human victory and failure to walk God’s way.  It’s a very honest book, documenting the sins of its heroes just as it documents their successes.  Ultimately God is the hero!  This collection of books leads us to Jesus Christ and the salvation he provides through his sacrifice for our sins, which can be accessed by faith, as we make Jesus Lord.  The church is a resource where the mature can help school the immature, where we all remember and learn, where we seek to make the Bible teaching real in our life.  Read the Bible, participate in church, make application.

Distractions? There are many.  Don’t let modern technology rule.  Access God’s apps!

The Devil’s Schemes

Thoughts from the devil’s perspective…

Television. Ah, even the word is music to my ears.  A human once said when seeing an early version of this tool, “This is a device that can teach people.”  We got a big kick out of that one.  Oh, it can teach alright!  We use it most effectively.  Much of the secularization of the American culture has come as we gradually encourage those in Hollywood to introduce anti-biblical concepts through the stories told on television.  Slowly but surely this modem of secular morals brings more violence, more sex, more vulgar language, more un-Christian thought into the minds of those who set passively and soak it in.  What was once unthinkable, becomes thinkable, even acceptable.  Must say, we are very proud of the results.

Our adversary must be frustrated with our success. He has gone to great lengths to provide written instruction, a book of sorts, to his followers, with stories that illustrate the catastrophes caused by rejecting him, stories that direct these followers to key elements of right relationship, stories that demonstrate his love for these abhorrent creatures, his forgiveness, but also his requirements.  We have actually encouraged the publication of these instructions, all neatly bound in an attractive book with footnotes, introductions, references, etc.  At the same time, we’ve encouraged busyness to the extent that this book lays dormant on shelves.  Busyness, laziness, no matter.  Few really read this stuff, or even go to their so-called places of worship to hear the “preacher” talk about it.  Many of those who do go, allow habit to close their ears.  Kudos to my demon friends for the extent of this success.

HolyBible_on_shelf

Along similar lines, I am very pleased with how we’ve largely removed this “book” as the guidance for cultural issues like homosexuality and sex outside of marriage for straight couples. By successfully making this an emotional issue based on feel-good and selfish thinking, it has become a subjective topic that has created a wave of support for us, even among his followers.  Hey, when the rule book lies dormant on the shelf, or when feelings overcome an objective reading of the guidelines, our battle is almost won!  Pairing love with obedience, faith with faithfulness, commitment with sacrifice (as truth in a sinful world is pursued), such common-sense things lose their weight when these humans become convinced that it’s all about selfish indulgence in this world, little thought of the next.  Well done, I say!

More victories come our way when we allow attention around holidays (a play on the words Holy Day), to become more about traditional tomfoolery. The virgin birth of their hero becomes a side show for Santa Claus and an excuse for drunken parties.  The resurrection (I shudder to say that word) becomes some vague imagery with a rabbit, of all things.  All Hallows (Saints) Day was intended to recall those who set an example for these “followers,” but we have turned it on its head with Hallows Eve (Halloween) and a sugar filled quest for candy amidst ghouls and goblins.  Our strategies have been so very successful, I think you must agree.  These are just a few examples of many victories.

Sure, there are those diehards we can’t get to.  Those who actually do rely on “the book” and work together to reinforce what our adversary desires.  But their numbers are diminishing.  Thank the devil!  Oh, shall I boast, since that is me?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church: Eph. 6:11)

Eden and the Overthrow of Evil

Yes, we live in the wreckage of the first Eden; and yes, the New Eden (the renewed earth when Jesus returns) will be grand, with so many stories and wonderful things to do. But sandwiched between those two things is a question we might ask: what about all the terrible things that have happened in this world, the evil that Satan has caused, the justice that is needed, how does that all get reconciled?

We long for justice in this life, don’t we? There are the examples of extreme evil, like what Adolph Hitler caused during the 1930’s and 1940’s with the concentration camps and brutal killing and experimentation done on innocent people.  Throughout history there have been many versions of this.  But most of the evil we experience takes place at a lower vibe.  You feel it, and I feel it.  The hurt of divorce, when two people who once “thought” they loved each other now seem like enemies bent on doing damage.  The loss of a job through no real fault of your own, and scrambling to make ends meet and support your family.  The pain of sickness and disease that cause a loved one to be debilitated and makes it hard for you to focus on the good things in life.  The accidents, the carnage of war, the gossip and back biting – too often within the church; then there’s government leaders who take advantage of their position and benefit themselves while putting their thumb on people.  Corporate leaders who allow greed to make unethical practices the norm.  It goes on and on.  It all started with Satan back in the original Eden, and he continues to play his part, but we all contribute in some way, big or small.  We may not be Hitler, but we sin, and we add to this compounding effect of a world gone mad, of a world that is held together only by God’s grace as he patiently waits for as many as possible to repent.

Hitler-SS-Berlin

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling for demons, and a haunt for every unclean spirit… All the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries.”  (Revelation 18:1-3)

We’ve all seen the drunkenness of this maddening wine, haven’t we? Truth is, we’ve taken a few sips.  But our sin may be small compared to much that goes on.  Jeremiah speaks of the “high places” that were built to sacrifice sons and daughters (Jer. 32:25).  Horrible.  Yet we still see such, instead of “high places” it’s the mother’s womb.

Yes, evil must be overcome, and we won’t see that in this life, not fully at least. Oh, for a savior, for a pathway to pure relationship with God, oh for all the wrongs to be righted.  We have found that in Jesus, haven’t we?  God laid our sins upon him and we can be forgiven, we can have a way to be cleansed.  But that is only for the “few” who accept Jesus as Lord.  What about those who spit in his face, who want nothing to do with him, who revel in their sins and add fuel to the fire of this wreckage?  Or, what about those who have been persecuted for their faith, many dying; who have done their best to live a godly life and yet faced repeated heartache?  Justice in all that?

It’s why we need to have a clearer view of what awaits us. Not floating on a cloud and singing songs for eternity (that motivates few), but living on a new earth where sin is gone and Eden is restored, where rewards are given for the good we’ve done as we’ve followed Jesus as Lord.  Satan and those who align themselves with him will be tossed into the lake of fire, justice will be meted out, and we will have an eternity to gain understanding and enjoy life the way it was meant to be, the way you’ve always wanted it to be!  Where have you wanted to go, what have you wanted to do, what dreams have gone unfulfilled?  Don’t worry, my friend, all of that will be realized.

“I Can Only Imagine” was a popular song a few years back, I liked it too. The problem is, if eternity is left to our imagination it can become something very vague and unreal.  What we face in eternity is a new Eden, an earth that is restored to all its grandeur!  Don’t just imagine; it is real, it will be yours, and evil will be overthrown.

Stories Told in the New Eden

I’ve written about the wreckage we live in, this side of Eden. Sin has messed us up, it has messed up the world; but both you (and I) and the world have hope for renewal.  Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). He was talking to the 12 apostles, but we will experience this renewal of all things too.  Heaven is no vague thing with us floating on a cloud, that’s a secular version, not what the Bible teaches.  Listen, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away…” (Rev. 21:1).  At the end of time, when Christ returns and this world ends as we know it, it won’t go away, it will be renewed!  We will have a New Eden, where we live free from the impact of sin.  Oh, the stories that will be told.  Just imagine…

You’re sitting on the green grass looking out over the beautiful landscape. The sun feels so good, the perfect temperature.  There are ocean waves crashing up against the beach in the distance, creating a soothing sound you love to hear.  And then you see him, walking over the crest of the hill with a crowd.  It’s Moses!  What a striking figure, beard running down his chest.  Everyone settles into place, Moses stands on a rock, and with acoustics that allow all to hear exactly what he says, he starts to talk.  “I can remember the time when we stood in a place much like this.  We could hear the waves crashing against the beach of the Red Sea.  Thousands upon thousands stood behind me, anxious to know what would occur as the Egyptian army raced toward us.  And then, I raised my staff toward heaven…”

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Another time and you are visiting the holy land, walking the terrain, thinking about all that has happened here. As you top the hill and look out over the valley before you, with a small creek running through the valley, you hear voices over in a grove of olive trees.  You walk toward the sound and find a group of people listening to the storyteller.  Intrigued you set down among them, and you hear a strapping young man named David begin.  “Yes, he was a big man.  Stood about 9 feet tall.  About the size of that statue Michelangelo made of me years later.  His armor looked like it weighed more than me, his spear was long enough to pierce three men with a single throw.  I would have been unable to defeat him in a normal battle.  But God was with me, and I had a skill.  I went to the banks of that creek you see down in the valley and picked up five smooth stones, putting them in my pouch.  His forehead would be my target.  I sighed deeply, then I started to run toward him…”

David and Goliath

And as time goes by you encounter Noah, oh what tales he has for you, you listen as Methuselah speaks about all that he saw in his 969 years on earth; you set in wonder as Elijah sets the stage for his battle with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. When he’s done, he says he wants to tell you something else that is unique, and he talks of the whirlwind and chariots of fire that took him into God’s presence without experiencing death.  One day, as you have your morning coffee, you see a couple walk by.  They come to your door and knock.  You recognize them somehow.  They want to tell you about naming all the animals, and the joyous time of the first Eden.  Will there never be an end to the wonder of it all?

Then there’s Jesus!  And, us ordinary folk.  We have stories too.  Won’t it be grand?!

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22)

Living in the Wreckage of Eden

Oh, what a sight it was. As he looked out over the landscape, he couldn’t help but think this was something amazing.  Animals gently grazing, fruit trees with luscious food, a stream running smoothly over rocks that seemed to be placed just so, with tender care.  It’s been called Eden, thought Adam.  Adam’s wife Eve was preparing a meal, smiling, beckoning for Adam to come and be playful again.  Things were just so perfect.  But then Eve remembered.  There was another person, with the voice of an angel, but eyes that seemed to contradict the voice.  He was not like them, yet he was like them.  He made Eve think of the slithering creature they had seen down by the orchard one night, almost serpent like.  He wanted to see her, tonight.  Should she go?  There was a certain intrigue about him.  Maybe…

You know the story. And you know the biblical proportions of the damage that was done once both Eve and Adam gave into to the temptations presented to them.  That damage has compounded due to each one of us participating in defiance of our Maker.  You have felt it, and I have too.  The unexpected death of a loved one.  The diagnosis of cancer.  The loneliness and impact of divorce.   Abuse & selfish arguments that defy the good relationship we truly want with the other person.  There are food shortages in much of the world.  Even recently we’ve seen earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanoes erupt.  Wars, rumors of wars. Then there is our society that seems to have gone mad.  People hating other people because of their politics, wanting gun control (but be sure to shoot those who don’t before you put the guns away).  It’s all wrapped up in a word.  We don’t like it much, but we know it.  Sin.

And so, we live in the wreckage of Eden. God placed his angel at the entry, flaming sword in hand, and would not allow sinful man to return to his perfect environment, no fruit from the tree of life.  We’ve been struggling to make sense of things and right the wrongs ever since.  We take one step forward, and two back.  And that’s the nature of things.  Unless.  Unless we can find a way to have a new creation.

cherubim-flaming-sword

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old is gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17) It was promised in Isaiah, “See, I will create a new heaven and a new earth, the former things will not be remembered.” (Isaiah 65:17) And it will be fulfilled with Jesus’ return, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  (2 Peter 3:13) And again, from John the Apostle, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

Is this world messed up? Indeed.  Has your life been messed up at times, maybe even now?  Indeed, I would expect you to say.  But God has not left us to wander aimlessly in the dark.  Through Jesus he has provided forgiveness of sins, a renewed relationship with the Lord, and a pathway back to the wonders and joy of Eden.  The wrongs will be made right, every tear will be wiped away.  Health restored, vigor renewed.  Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, very soon.  It’s what you’ve been longing for.  Me too.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life…yielding its fruit.” (Rev. 22)

Hollywood Preaches

“I have always felt life first as a story – and if there is a story, there is a story teller.” G.K. Chesterton

Life doesn’t come to us as a math problem. It comes to us the way that a story comes, scene by scene. What will happen next?  You and I don’t get to know those specifics of our lives; we just enter in and take the journey as it comes.  We humans have lingering questions.  Who am I really?  Why am I here?  Where do I find the meaning of my life?  What does God want of me?  Sometimes it feels like a movie that we’ve arrived at 45 minutes late.  Interesting stuff, but I don’t get it!  To know the answers, we must engage with the story teller, we must see the bigger picture.

Science does not provide the answers we need. Far too many scientists (not all to be sure) say the answer to the question “How did it all begin?” is “An accident.”  To the question “How will it all end?” they repeat themselves, “Probably by another accident.”  And we sigh, thinking that doesn’t feel like a life worth living; knowing there must be a better answer than that.

Then we go to the movies and watch what on the surface appears to be a secular story, but it is interesting how it plays out. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”    In all such stories, we see a similar theme.  There is love, adventure, danger, a hero, an evil adversary, sacrifice is required, odds that seem insurmountable, and yet in the end the hero is victorious!  Ever notice how such themes are common in movies, yet depict a scenario so similar to the picture the Bible paints?  Wonder why that is?

Hollywood Preaches

The Sound of Music, Braveheart, Gladiator, Rocky, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, etc. On and on we could go with movies that tell the Bible story, they just don’t use the Bible characters.  A positive scene with peace, then something goes wrong, there is an evil person who wants to hurt the protagonists, things seem desperate, a battle is fought, and the hero must overcome many obstacles to win the day and restore peace.  Isn’t that the Bible story?  Hollywood preaches this over and over without even realizing the parallel.  All such stories have the same basic structure because these stories borrow from the Larger Story of life. Use this as a teaching tool with your kids as you watch movies.

Maybe we can learn from Hollywood how to better position ourselves for life’s story. Not religion as usual, just going to church on Sunday with proper manners. Religion is often man’s attempt to find God, but with Christianity we find God’s attempt to find man (you and me) through Christ.  That relationship and what it means defines our part in the story. Do we side with the evil one, or with the hero?  To wade into the muddy water in-between puts us in danger.  But we play a part in this story, to be sure. “Going to church” is a piece of it, we sure aren’t super heroes, so we need encouragement and resources.

And we finally realize that the only person who can properly define this story is the author himself. Wouldn’t it be something if he wrote it all down for us to read, to study, to learn from and work from?  “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” says Sam to Frodo in Lord of the Rings.  I wonder.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1) A hero has arrived; read of him and learn the true story.

Eat This Book!

I’m the leader of our Wellness Team at work, a group of people called “Vitality Champs” because we develop programs and encourage people to become involved with Vitality, a website oriented wellness program where you do a variety of things to gain points, qualifying for a lower health premium and hopefully improving your health in the process. At least that’s the goal.  One of the things emphasized in Vitality is eating good balanced meals and paying attention to your nutrition.  No matter how much you exercise, if you don’t eat nutritional things, you will not be in good health.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel we find an interesting account of God telling Ezekiel to eat a scroll. Here’s what is recorded: “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here.  Eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel.’  So, I opened my mouth and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’  Then I ate it and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”  (Ezekiel 3:1-3) do

Eat This Book 2
How do we eat this book?

There is an old Jewish tradition that says when the rabbis teach their students, before the lesson begins they will put a drop of honey on the student’s tongues, to remind them of the sweetness of studying God’s Word and what it provides for them. Not a bad idea (dad and mom, with your kids).  Ezekiel’s account is not the only place we see God’s Word compared to honey.  Psalm 19:9, 10 says, “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.”  But, if we neglect them, if we claim to follow the Lord but disregard his teaching, we see something else.  “And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it.  It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” (Rev. 10:10) Here John has a revelation that is similar to what Ezekiel experienced, but for those who hear God’s Word and don’t do anything with it, God’s Word turns from life to death, from sweetness to bitterness.

Do we truly “hear” God’s Word? It’s more than just allowing words to go in our ears.  In fact, the Hebrew word “Shema” is what precedes what Jesus called the greatest commandment.  “Shema (hear), O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.”  For the Israelite, “to hear” meant more than words going in your ear, it meant truly hearing, resulting in heeding the words and obeying the Lord, truly loving him.  Are we exposing ourselves to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and are we meditating on what we learn and acting in response?  Only when we do so have we truly heard.  Only then are we spiritually nourished.  And such defines real faith.

The writer of the book of Hebrews continues the metaphor by saying that we need the meat of God’s Word, not just the milk of a new Christian, as we mature in faith (Heb. 5:12). Yes, we need the spiritual nutrition that only comes from study and application of the Bible.  Don’t neglect to eat this book!

“Your words were found and I ate them; and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.  For I am called by your name, O Lord God of hosts.”  (Jeremiah 15:16)

Church – Why Bother?

Church-Why Bother

I grew up going to church. Mom was a dedicated Christian, but Dad was not in the early years. He would drop Mom, my sister, and myself off on Sunday morning at the side door of 1st Christian Church in Vandalia, MO. I’d attend a Sunday school class, then I’d attend worship and set with mom, my sister Sandy, and mom’s parents (my grandparents). This continued for all of my growing up years. Eventually my Dad became a Christian and was there with us. Over the 13 years until I went to college this was part of almost every week. I was part of the youth group as a teenager, part of the Christmas plays, even sang in a quartet a few times (I know this part of the story is hard to believe). Then I went to college and strayed for a few years, but as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he’s old he will not depart from it.” There was danger in my straying, but I came back and with some bumpy roads since then have continued as a man of faith in Christ ever since.

Why do I say all this? To illustrate that church matters. The primary teacher of children growing up should be their parents, but even when this happens effectively it is very important to have a social element that reinforces such teaching and provides encouragement, connections and resources that help the individual stay the course. I’m here to tell you: church matters! We live in a day when you don’t hear that message much. Many ask: Why bother with church? They just prefer to “believe” and go their individual way.

People are busy. The kids have school activities, mom and dad both work, there’s always something, and Sunday is the one opportunity to sleep late and relax (unless there’s a school or sport activity on Sunday, even Sundays are busy now days). Then there’s the typical church services. They don’t appeal to many men who are action oriented, who love to be outside, who work hard and don’t particularly enjoy group singing and sitting through an hour of religious stuff. It becomes easy when the culture disregards such things to disregard them ourselves.

And then there’s those people. You know, those Christians. They can be an odd sort, with personalities that are as varied as the general population, some are mature, some not so much, some have unusual perspectives, some are very loving, some very strict, some are hypocrites who proclaim values they do not live up to. All of that and more. It can become very easy to be frustrated with such people who don’t always live up to the standards that even you believe should be “Christian.” I recall the old rhyme: To dwell in love with the saints above, well that will be glory; but to dwell below with the saints I know, well that’s a different story. But then there’s you….

You struggle with sin (things God in the Bible state are wrong), just like everyone else. The people criticized in the church are really a lot like the critic. A lot like you. For all of us there’s a process we must go through to take an infant faith and allow it to mature. So yes, there are plenty of those who wear the name Christian who can be criticized. Some aren’t really Christian at all; they just wear the name. Others are sincere, they just need to get further into the maturation process, growing more like their Savior. But it takes a process, for them and for you.

And that brings us back to the church. The “gathering of Christians” (what the word church means) is for that very purpose. We gather to encourage each other, to study God’s Word together to learn the path he wants us on, to remember what Jesus Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection (in the Lord’s Supper). We pray, we sing, we give to the gospel cause. We attend a class or small group and get to know others on the same path. Kids grow up having what their parents teach them at home reinforced in a social environment. It’s not always a pretty path, but in this sinful messed up world, it’s the best path of all! Can’t we recognize the value of church?

“Let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.”  – Hebrews 10:24, 25