How Real Is Your Faith?

faithWe are all about trusting Jesus. We love to sing about how great is a our God. We nod in devoted agreement as our friend encourages us to, ‘keep believing.” And, we get squeamish when someone mentions how hard their family life is. More Faith!

We often associate faith with passionate prayers, faith healings, and moving choir solo’s. Those who trust do incredible and noticeable things for God. But according to the Scriptures that greatest displays of faith come during the normal moments of life. Those who are truly trusting in the sovereign rule of God are those who obey God regardless of their circumstances, who love others well, and who faithfully share the Words of God.

While Israel waited for their new king to appear, Samuel was living out the gospel. In 1 Samuel 9:15-27, we encounter one of those occasion where God peals back the edge of heaven to give us insight into his plans. He tells Samuel that Saul is coming his way by divine order. The lost donkey’s were no accident; they were a divine instrument of God designed to accomplish his will. God tells Samuel that his replacement is coming. And Samuel responds to God’s revelation with obedience, love, and proclamation.

51YR+MUIt2L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Though Saul’s inauguration would end Samuel’s political rule, crushing the Prophet’s hope for a family dynasty, he submits to God’s commands. Samuel obeys God and installs Saul as the King of Israel. Friends if we believe as A.W. Pink said, “that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that he is on the Throne of the universe, directing and working all things after the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11),” then we will obey God. We will attend church even if that means our son will go from starting point guard to professional bench warmer. We will tithe even if that means we can’t afford that new sports car or that vacation rental. We will share Christ even when our cousins and uncles mock us for being prudes. We will obey even when its costly because we understand that God reigns. We understand that God gives talent, money, and good friends.  Real faith produces unconditional obedience. Those who trust God will obey God even when obedience diverges from their feelings and appears costly.

Next, Samuel loved Saul. He prepared choice food for Saul and his servant. Samuel gave the soon-to-be troublesome king lodging. Samuel cares for Saul because he knew Saul arrived by God’s design. If we share the same knowledge, we will not see the wayward children, the cranky bosses, and the annoying church member sniffing a few rows behind us as divine aberrations that must be avoided at all cost. We will not seek to drive away unpleasant people. Rather, we will love them. We will speak well of them. We will encourage them. We will bring them meals. We will pray for them. We will invite them into our homes. We will love them.

Friends this is one of the greatest signs of true faith. If our heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh, we will love those who hurt our platforms, who disrupt our lives, and who set us on edge. Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44

  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Friends if we have faith, we will love our enemies. We will not attack those who attack us. We will love them because we realize God has placed them in our lives by his decree!

Lastly, we will share the Word of God. Samuel tells Saul all that the Lord has told him. If we trust in God, we will share his revealed Word with our friends and family. We will long to see the single-mom with the five loud kids come to faith. We will long to share the gospel with the guy who has a Mohawk, tattoos, and cutoff khaki shorts, and we will continue to share the gospel with our rebellious daughter who routinely mocks our faith. We will embrace the challenges that come with caring for a single-mom who will bring a life-time of financial struggles into our church. We will welcome the guy whose very presence will challenge our suit and tie sensibilities. And we will welcome our daughter back into our church even if that means people will talk and question our wisdom. Why? We do these things because we trust in God’s sovereignty. We trust that the gospel we hold is the same gospel that will give these and thousands of others hope. So, we preach the gospel accepting all the challenges that come with new converts.

Do we trust God? Do we obey God when obedience is convenient and inconvenient? Do we love the loveable and the unloveable? Do we share the Word of God? Do we have faith?

Why Don’t My Kids Go To Church?

KIDSWhy don’t my kids go to church? We could easily replace kids with spouse, friends, parents, neighbors, and host of other people. And then, we could ask the question again. Why do those who have been exposed to the gospel, ‘raised right,’ and know all the Sunday school answers drift away from the church?  They talk about getting back into church. But their alarms never go off, their cars never start, and their spot on the pew next to your’s remains empty. Why? Why don’t our kids and our loved ones come to church anymore?

Now before we dive into the topic, I want to acknowledge that this article has apathetic Christians in view. As the never ending news-cycle makes clear, some men and women leave their local church because their church ceased to be a biblical church. The local assembly went from sharing God’s love to spreading sin, caring little about those who were spiritually harmed and/or physically abused by its leaders. This article is not about those who have suffered under evil pastors and church leaders.  Rather, I want to prevent further abuse and will discuss that more below. Our focus is those who drift away.

God takes on the hearts of our apathetic children and loved ones in 1 Samuel 7. In the previous chapters, we read that Eli and his sons had sent the Ark of the Covenant, the judgement seat of God, into battle. The Ark was captured by the Philistines who obliterated the Israelite army. But the Philistines do not keep the Ark long. All the cities who hosted the Ark experienced plagues and death. After suffering under the hand of God for seven months, the Philistines send the Ark back to Israel. The people of Israel celebrate and then desecrate the Ark. Seventy men in Beth-Shemesh die. And the Ark is once again sent away. Little national thought is given to the worship of God for the next twenty years.

First Samuel 7:2 says, “From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.”

What does all this have to do with our kids and loved ones who don’t attend church? Everything!

The Israelites grieved for 20 years. But they never worship God; they were worshiping their idols. In verse 1 Samuel 7:4 we finally read, “So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.” Though they had grieved much during those 20 years, they had not repented.

They same is true of our indifferent kids. They feel guilty about their lack of attendance stickers. They talk about returning to church. But they do not act on their guilt because they don’t love God. They are serving other idols, idols of the heart (Ez. 18). They live for money, houses, cars, vacations, the success of their kids, and the next thrill. They care little for God because God is not their master. Those who worship things other than God naturally have not time for worshiping God.

Those who have repentented, worship! After they Israelites repent they do church! In verse 6, we read,

So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When men and women repent of their sins. They worship God. They assemble together and pursue God with a unified zeal. Notice that the people of Israel have gone from worshiping idols to enthusiastically worshiping God. The are fasting and praying. And this is not an isolated act. Read the Gospels and the Book of Acts! Those who repent have an unending appetite for worship!

Those who love God do not come to church to get a favor from granddad, to impress a girl-friend, or to make mom stop nagging them. No, they come because they love God. They want to come. Bind believers in chains, and they will pull at them till they are once again free to worship with the people of God. Jesus affirms this passion in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

On the flip side those who have not repented, will not love church. They will find church judgmental, irrelevant, and boring. They will mourn their feelings of guilt but will never come to worship because their hearts serve another master.

If we or our loved ones care little for church, can never find time for the people of God, and think all that religious stuff is a superfluous nicety, we and they have a faith problem. We have a repentance problem. We have loved ones who claim Christ but do not know Him. 1 John 2:19 clearly states,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Those who willfully and intentionally leave church because they are busy are not saved.

Now some of us our slow, to label our kids and loved ones as unbelievers. We saw little Johnny get baptized; we went on mission trips with Sally; and, we sang in the choir with Phil. Yes, they have absent from the church for 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years. But they lost a child, they went through a tough transition, and they are just so busy. Shouldn’t we seek to win them back into the church? Shouldn’t we try to reengage them by getting them to help with the ushers team or to serve as the Sunday school event planner?

No, friend we should not welcome those in unrepentant sin back into the church as if they never left. We should like Samuel call them to repent and then invite them to worship. Notice that the worship services resumed after the people turned from their idols and not before. If we neglect the doctrines of repentance, faith and sanctification, we will destroy the very churches we seek to save.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

When churches embrace cheap grace, they implode. Our churches are filled with evil men and women who stir up conflicts, who silence gospel preaching, and who abuse children and teenagers because we have embraced cheap grace. We have welcomed both those who hate sin and those who love sin into the heart of the church. Instead of practicing church discipline to help lost know they are lost, to protect the glory of God, and to defend the defenseless, many church leaders let both good and evil people come into the church and stay in the church. As a result, our churches are wrecked by all types of evil. Did not Paul write in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”

The same tragedy occurred in ancient Israel. Eli refused to discipline his wicked sons. Because Eli looked the other way when sinners entered God’s house, God’s house became of place of physical abuse, sexual immorality, and drunkenness (1 Samuel 2:12-3). Eventually, Eli’s ministry and family were undone by sinners masquerading as the servants of God. Can we repeat Eli’s failures and hope to escape his judgement?

Instead of wishing for a reality that does not exist, we need to treat our children like unbelievers they profess to be by their works. We need to lovingly call them to repentance at every divinely appointed opportunity. We need to mercifully warn them that their works point to damnation and death. And if they refuse to hear us and are members of our church, we need to practice church discipline.

Our kids and loved ones don’t come to church any more because they don’t love God. Are we ready to deal with this reality? Are we ready to pray for them, to evangelize them, and to discipline them?

Fig Trees, Empty Faith, And Jesus

fig-treeWhy in the world would Jesus curse a fig tree? The son of God who created all things, who knows all things, and who can do all things curses a fig tree because it did not bear fruit. Some scholar’s believe Jesus was throwing a temper tantrum. The God of the universe was hungry. He walked up to a promising fig tree and then zap it for failing to provide food on command. We can easily imagine Jesus acting like our hungry toddlers who start screaming because they had to wait five minutes for their food.

But this view of narrative recorded in Mark 11:12-21 is not accurate. We know Jesus cannot throw a sinful temper tantrum because he is sinless. I John 1;5 clearly states,

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Nothing in the Mark 11:12-20 or the parallel passage in Mathew 21 indicate that Jesus is angry at the tree.

Moreover, Jesus had every reason to expect to find fruit on the fig tree. Before a fig tree blooms, it produces small baby fruit. Any fig tree full of leaves could reasonably be expected to contain fruit. Jesus is not anticipating the impossible. Rather, he and his disciples approach the tree with the reasonable expectation of finding fruit. The reality of the tree’s fruitlessness reveals that Jesus is up to something.  He is not denying his deity by going ballistic on an unsuspecting plant.

Jesus curses the fig tree for the benefit of his disciples and for us. He employees the tree because he wants us to worship him in spirit and in truth. He wants us not to trust in the appearance of godliness but in the fruit of godliness.

We read in Mark 11:14 and 21

And he said to it “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” His disciples heard it…And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi look! The fig tree that your cursed has withered.”

Jesus used the fig tree, a frequent symbol of judgement, to reveal that God will judge all who practice empty worship. Right after Jesus curses the fig tree, he walks into the temple and begins turning over tables. Jesus was displeased with the showy religiosity of the Jews. They Jews were so busy getting ready for and making sacrifices they had ended all prayer and worship in the court of the gentiles. Instead of using the space to worship God, they were using it for profit. Christ condemned them, saying. “Is it not written my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Christ selected the Jews to be his people so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He selected them, gave them the law, entrusted them with the sacrificial system so that they could proclaim the judgement and mercy of God to the world. But instead of calling the world to follow the one true God, the Jews were consumed with selfish gain. They were using the things of God to make much of themselves. Like the fig tree, they appeared full of life. Yet they lacked all the fruit of true repentance.

Instead of judging the Romans, Jesus comes back into Jerusalem on the Tuesday after the triumphal entry to condemned the Jews. He comes to condemn the religious people who were offering empty worship to God. Jesus is not interested in the worldly kingdoms around us. He is not primarily concerned with our cultural icons and with our politicians. He is concerned with the people of God. He is concerned with rooting out all who claim Christ without truly worshiping Him.

True faith consists of more than your program attendance. It consists of more than serving through building houses, than singing solos, and than giving large sums of money. True faith consists of loving God with our heart soul mind and strength. True faith consists of hearing and responding to the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. True faith is defined by fruit.

Anyone can impress someone for a brief amount of time. We can play the church game. We can do all kinds of things to appear godly without worshiping God. We can go to Bible Drill and memorize sixty plus verses without obeying the Scriptures. We can volunteer to bring meals to the sick and not love Jesus. We can help serve in the nursery and not love our neighbors. We can offer to sing a solo and be consumed with self-worship. We can even make a rather noticeable donation to our local church and be driven by pride. We can do all these good things and more to impresses our parents so that we can look forward to a great Christmas, to win over our girlfriend, to earn favor with God so that our kids get into a good college, to earn a contract from a fellow church member, or to get the little extra push for our upcoming city-council election. We can all do big, nice and flashy things for God without every repenting of our sins. We can appear to be godly for a time without every truly worshiping Christ.

Do not present this empty worship to God. He is not impressed. He curses all who practice such religion. He cursed the fig tree, he turned over the money tables, and he will condemn all who think that can please God with empty worship. God is not a man like us. He cannot be bought or manipulated.

We should offer God true worship. We should surrender our whole life too him. We should memorize, give and serve. But when God and others examine our lives they need to find more than the showy leaves. They should find hearts that daily grow in their understanding of the Word. They should find children who once lied all the time reguarlly telling the truth. They should find the unkind daily becoming more hospitable. They should find that the prideful are daily becoming humble. All who worship God should be fully affected by the gospel. True worship makes much of God and radically changes us.

If we offer God empty worship, we are cursed. God is never fooled. Thankfully, we still have time. Our children still have time. Christ became the curse for us (Gal. 3:13). If we will repent our sin and trust in him for our salvation, he will redeem us. He will die in our place. The judge is also the redeemer. There is great hope for all who lived cursed lives.

What about you? Is your empty worship?