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Posts Tagged ‘church’

20161023_113955I have had the privilege of visiting many church buildings/structures within the United States as well as overseas during my adult life. I have been in Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant buildings of worship, as well as being too close to Voodoo “churches” for comfort! Within the walls of many of the Christian structures I have found great comfort, likewise within many of these structures I have felt unfulfilled. I am not sure when the unfulfilled feeling became noticeable to me, perhaps as I crossed the threshold into my 50’s, years that is.

My first memory of worshiping in a church building was that of a one-room frame structure with only a fan for the summer and gas heaters for the winter. Sunday school (Bible Study) was in the same room, as the people broke into four age groups and occupied the corners to study.

There was an upright player piano with a circuit-rider Preacher. The music leader (Worship leaders had not been invented yet) was a hard working laborer who, after 5 days of working 12 hour days and under the power of the Holy Spirit, would sing his heart out. Then he would lie in the bed of his truck because his arthritis hurt so bad the steel bed was a welcome relief as he listened to the preaching through the open doors of the church. His favorite song was The Old Rugged Cross, as became mine at the ripe old age of 5 years.

After I had been in this church building for about two years, a crisis occurred, another denomination built a BRICK church building next to ours and it had an indoor toilet!! We were not sure they were saved! Long after I had moved on to other places and church buildings many committee meetings had occurred at my original church, eventually leading, my ‘starter’ church building to gain in-door plumbing and conditioned air. Yes, God is good.

Through the years and various church buildings I became somewhat of a cross aficionado…. kind of. I discovered little crosses, big crosses, metal crosses, wood crosses, even crosses with Jesus still on them; some were painted, some were stained, some were raw wood. The crosses were put together by various means, such as, glue, nails, or ropes, even welded. Many of these crosses, I noticed, were at the front of church buildings. Some of the crosses were on dangles and cords that people used for bookmarks, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.

I became impressed with the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ in relation to the core of my relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. During Master-Life training, many years ago, we were discussing how to avoid becoming distracted in our prayers and quiet time with the Lord. This is when I realized, 20161120_105708that for me, the need to vision a blood stained, empty cross to orient myself to my purpose in Christ Jesus. The Bible tells me:

Luke 9:23  Then to everyone he (Yeshua) said, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution-stake daily and keep following me. (Complete Jewish Bible)

Luke 9:23  Then He (Jesus) said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

As the years have gone by, it has become apparent that many churches have removed the cross of Jesus Christ from their buildings. I have wondered why?

1 Corinthians 1:18  For the message about the execution-stake is nonsense to those in the process of being destroyed, but to us in the process of being saved it is the power of God. (Complete Jewish Bible)

Leonard Ravenhill, an English Christian Evangelist, has been credited with saying, “One never really knows the height of God’s love, unless he first identifies with the pain of His loss.”  Is it possible that many congregations/ Pastors exclude the cross of Jesus Christ from their sanctuaries because they have not identified with the pain, suffering, and death of Jesus? This type of thinking could derive from the fact that the congregation does not believe that Jesus really died or that his death and resurrection provide a “get out of Hell free card” such that the focus is only on what the believer gets from God, not what the believer brings to the worship of God in his daily life. It is possible that congregations/ Pastors do not want to identify with the pain of Jesus’ death because they would rather focus on the happy, more pleasant concepts of the life of a believer without recognizing that it was the work of the painful cross that yielded a promise of joy in service to God.

Without the cross, there is no need for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit calls the believer to the cross of Christ as the believer confronts his failure to live a life of righteousness as reflected in the Decalogue, found in Exodus, chapter 20.

Romans 2:14-16  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:24  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Luke 14:27  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Apparently, the cross upon which Jesus Christ died is central to the life of the follower of Jesus Christ, not to be worshiped, but to be seen as the most important tool that God uses to remind the believer of the pain and suffering the Savior of mankind endured in response to the Creator of all things for the sin of mankind. Paul of Tarsus understood this focal point of his faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for his salvation. Paul knew about enduring suffering in his physical life.

2Timothy 3:10-13  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul finished his writings with the book to the Philippians. In this book, he notes that he keeps pursuing the goal (mark) of the “high calling”.

Philippians 3:14  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (King James Version)

Philippians 3:14  I keep pursuing the goal in order to win the prize offered by God’s upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua. (Complete Jewish Bible)

This naturally begs the question of what is the “mark of the prize of the high calling?” The mark is the cross with all the humiliation and pain suffered by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Where is that “Old Rugged Cross…where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain…..it has a wondrous attraction for me. For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary…..In the old rugged Cross, stain’d with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above to pardon and sanctify me…..To the old rugged Cross, I will ever be true. Its shame and reproach gladly bear. So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross ‘till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged Cross and exchange it some day for a crown.” (https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=old+rugged+cross+lyrics)

The lyricist, George Bennard, understood the meaning of the ‘mark’. I wonder the effect that has been wrought upon the surrounding communities as our churches have denied the centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ in the lives of their congregants? If it is missing from your sanctuary, please return the cross of Jesus Christ to your sanctuary of worship. The cross will be found in the hearts of the congregants and Pastors who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. You need only bow in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior and seek your identity in Him. Then, you will want the cross in your primary place of worship to remind you of God’s great mercy that was poured out for you that day as He sent His son, Jesus Christ to the cross that all mankind deserved; thereby offering to all mankind eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.

May God forgive our insensitivity to His cross and restore in our souls the great desire to return to the first works of the believer in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Gardening

My daughter and I have recently had the experience of planting new little vegetable plants in our new garden located in central Louisiana. It is not a large garden by any imagination, in fact; it is small; about 6 ft by 40 ft. I do realize there are readers that do not have the space for any garden and plant in pots, only. This prompts one of the deepest, most provocative, metaphysical thoughts I think I have ever had, “Why do we plant?”
To Christians, it would seem rather counterproductive, I mean, after all, didn’t God say that we would struggle with the thorns and vines as we tilled the soil by the sweat of our brow? I think I could find something else to do in life with information like that, yet….I plant.
My father planted. My father’s father planted. My mother’s father planted, in fact, I had the opportunity to plant with him (many stories here!!). I am quite sure that most of my ancestors planted.
Is it because we have been warned of the struggle that we seek the challenge?
I remember when God brought me my life-mate. One of our favorite times spent together was the planning of our first garden. We started out in apartments and, yes, we planted in pots. With our first house, we moved to the trusty “square-foot” garden. I must say that seeing watermelons grow vertically in panty hose holders was quite a site! This definitely provided motivation to think out of the box and I am quite sure my children have altered perceptions of reality because of this method of gardening. I even think the raccoons had no clue to look up for the watermelons.
Psalm 139 confirms that God knows our character so much better than we do. Perhaps it is the struggle with planting that identifies some of the innermost strengths of our character as humans created by the eternal God. Certainly, to plant, one must overcome the inertia of the “couch potato”; the dirt must be brought under submission of the “gardener” through chemical manipulation and terra-forming; seeds must be nurtured to shed their seed coats in the correct environment, send down roots, and eventually grow the fruit that will be consumed. The whole process is fraught with potential disaster every step of the way.
Some of us may never actually put the seed in the dirt, but we watch the plants grow around us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, in some way, we have a need to be part of the struggle.
We not only consume our plants, but many of us tend to grow plants to see their beauty and enjoy their fragrance. It seems, at times, that observation is our motivation rather than eventual consumption. It is almost as if some are missing the point to life by simply observing and not participating in the life cycle of the plant.
The Christian church, as a whole, has become observational and turned away from participatory behavior in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some in the church do not want to get the dirt of the garden on their hands. Jesus Christ does tell us that the burden of His cross is light. Could this be because all who enjoin the struggle in Christ’s cross are focused on one thing, following Jesus Christ and are no longer seeking individual recognition and achievement to satisfy their personal pride?
God notes in His scripture that He has placed within the heart of mankind His law. We know what is right and wrong, yet we seek not to engage the world, but rather to observe. We are not interested in planting, so it seems. The world has become an angrier place. Perhaps, this is the result of not doing what we know is the right thing to do. I know when I take this position it makes me quite angry with myself.
I encourage you, to engage life, fully. Learn to plant and enjoy what God has made. The struggle is good for it brings growth, strength and dependency upon the only one who has the truth, God. Planting allows us to participate in the growth of God’s Kingdom. May you be ever mindful of the “Great Commission” of Jesus Christ from Matthew 28:19-20 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
May you find the true blessing of Gardening,
FPB

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