Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Quest Against Distractions (and cell phones in church)

Wherever you are, be all there.  ~ Jim Elliott

I have not preached in a worship service for the past two years without a cell phone interrupting worship, without seeing a child, a teen, or an adult texting while we were worshiping or while I was preaching.  I cannot remember the last time I was in a prayer meeting or a Bible study that was not interrupted by a phone call or text message notification.  I regularly visit the terminally ill, and I almost cannot have a conversation with a person who is about to enter eternity without God without being interrupted by the supposed bliss of instant communication.

I have them all - a smart phone, satellite TV, online Xbox 360, and wireless internet - but they have not caused my family to grow closer, my marriage to grow deeper, or my friendships to be more significant. . . nor, I wager, have they yours.

We can, however, turn all of these things off, and I wish that every adult would when they come to church, and that every parent would confiscate their child's cell phone when they walk in the doors. When I am going to have any kind of significant conversation with anyone, I try to close my laptop, leave my phone in the car, or just turn it off if it's with me.

We just cannot value the people we are with if we take every call or text that comes in. We cannot value God when we allow our worship of Him to be interrupted by what everyone outside of church thinks is urgent enough to call us about.

If fast food places have signs stating, "We don't take orders from people who are on their cell phones," why don't we turn them off when we are in a conversation with someone - especially when we are in worship.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Should We Pray Together?

Someone asked, "Why should I come to a prayer meeting?  I can pray just as effectively at home or wherever I am.  Why do we have to get together to pray?"  Sometimes it is better to answer that honest question with a picture rather than a theological explanation.  Here is the picture . . .

     After Jesus ascended into heaven, before Pentecost . . . "When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying... all these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers." (Acts 1:13-14)
     Ten days later, when the Holy Spirit fulfilled the promise of Christ . . . "When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying... then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:1-2, 4)
     At the end of that day after 3,000 had been saved... "And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. . . house to house. . . " (Acts 2:42, 46)
      When the first persecution occurred. . . "After they were released, they went to their own fellowship and reported all... when they heard this, they raised their voices to God unanimously... When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's message with boldness."  (Acts 4:23-24, 31)
     When inequality threatened the unity of the church for the first time, they selected 7 men to take care of all the widows, and ... "They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them." (Acts 6)
     When the leaders of the church began to be killed, and they could no longer safely meet in public to pray together... "So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church..."  after his release, he went to one of the houses "where many had assembled and were praying." (Acts 12:5, 12)

The question is not why I should pray together with other Christians or whether I should. The question is, "Why do you think that you should not be there, praying together with other Christians, as the body of Christ has done since its foundation?" 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Want Comfort, Not Freedom

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ~ Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It only took 17 days for the Egyptians to throw out their dictator. Their primary reasons for throwing him out was joblessness and poverty. They very well may exchanged one dictator for a government of tyranny. This is nothing new. In 100 AD the Roman poet, Juvenal, coined the phrase panem et circenses, meaning "bread and circuses."  The tyrannical rulers of Rome knew the best way to please the crowd was to give away free bread and entertainment.

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Are we truly brave enough to live in freedom, or are we just like the Romans . . . willing to sacrifice our freedom for comfort?  Who do we expect to take care of our poor and needy?  Who do we expect to take care of our sick?  Who do we expect to take care of our retirement?  Bread and circuses.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." Government (and Satan) are all too happy to provide for us, but neither can free us.  Yet, government exists as it does only because it is an extension of us.  We blame government for removing our freedom through regulation and taxation, and then throw out any politician who dares threaten our comfort by cutting the government. We are hypocrites of a high order. And we, who have been set free by Christ, are we any different?  Freedom brings purpose and joy inexpressible, but it also brings responsibility.

We are free to hear personally from God. That freedom, however, requires that we rise early each morning to meet Him, to feast on His presence and His Word. Our pastors and teachers are needed to equip us, but they cannot eat for us. 

We are free from selfishness. Since God has promised to take care of us, we are now free to give of our time and resources sacrificially with a joyful heart.  Do we want that freedom, or would we rather hold onto what we have and put more in our barns?  Do we want the freedom of giving or the comfort of having?

We are free from the bondage of sin, but that freedom requires us to deny ourselves, our lusts, and our pride.  Do we want to be free from sin, or do we not rather enjoy the comfort of our sin?  Do we want to be holy, or would we not rather lay ourselves down in our beds of sin and wrap ourselves in a blanket of eternal security?  Have we not all prayed, "Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep His love be with me through the night And wake me with the morning light And if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take"?

Even we, those who are followers of Christ, are naturally drawn to the bondage of comfort.  That is why Paul wrote the Galatians what He did. They were being tempted to give up the freedom of the Spirit-led life in exchange for the comfort of Jewish tradition.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  That freedom is costly, but it is life . . . real life.

All other is just bread and circuses.