Category Archives: Church

Ruins are Ruined

These are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in Capernaum sometime three or four hundred years after the time of Jesus. It was the most magnificent building in town.  Rightly so, because it was the place where people came to try to draw close to God.  The idea was that the greater and more magnificent the building, the closer one could get to God.  That concept is still practiced today.  That synagogue  was probably built on the original foundation of an earlier synagogue that had fallen down, likely the one in which Jesus spoke the following words:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  (John 6:51)

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”.  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  ​(John 6:58 — 59)

The bread he was referring to was Himself.  When you visit the synagogue you stand among dilapidated ruins.  You also can visit enormous, ornate, modern houses of worship and sometimes be standing among ruins.  Ruins, because in some of those places it is very tough to draw close to God in a lasting and meaningful way.  But when you come to Jesus by faith, you are filled with God’s presence in a continuing way, with His Fresh Bread of Life.

More Than a Song

A flower spoke to me about worship.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  We were singing in church and I happened to see someone, lost in praise with arms aloft and an expression of abject wonder and joy.  She reminded me of how flowers turn to face the sun and, as they do, receive nourishment and vitality. The strength and life they receive is then manifested in the flower.  In a sense, they glorify the sun by their outstretched beauty.

It struck me that worship works much like that.  We tend to think of worship as an act that is directed toward God, a one-way deal.  But in reality, worship is interactive.  As we turn our attention toward God, praising Him, we also receive new strength and vitality from Him in that process. Like flowers turning toward the sun.  And, like flowers, as we to God in worship, His glory and beauty is manifested in our worship.

9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!  (Psalms 57:9-11)

A Reminder

Why do people whisper in an art museum?  Never could figure that out but suppose it has something to do with awe.  Stand in front of a Rembrandt and somehow you don’t feel like talking.  At least not out loud.  And yet, in most church settings, as people come bopping in, laughing, calling to their friends, there seems to be no sense of awe.  This is nothing new and it is understandable.  You can see a Rembrandt and you can’t see God.  It’s easy to forget where you are and what you are doing.

But God is here.  Not just in church, but here, with us as we go through life.  And when we pause, to talk things over with Him, here’s a reminder from Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

There’s a great scene in the movie, Papa, where a cub reporter, who idolizes Ernest Hemingway, and has sent him a fan letter, answers the phone and discovers it is his hero calling.  Once he’s gone through the “Who is this really?” routine and knows it really is Hemingway on the phone, suddenly he can hardly form a single word, much less a sentence.  That’s the idea here.

That is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, I guess we better start with a quick word of prayer.”  Or, “Ralph, would you say the blessing?”   If we could open our eyes to see Jesus, Himself, seated in the meeting or at the table, such lines would seem insulting.  Like, “Before we tell you what we think you should do, God, we’re just going to say a few religious sounding words to kind of set the right tone…”

If we are in our right minds, we fear God.  This means treating Him with appropriate reverence, respect and a willingness to let Him call the shots.  It means recognizing He is God and we are not, not even close.  There is no more important setting for the fear of God than when we are about to address Him and listen.

A Good Church?

There’s a lot of weird churches out there.  Unhealthy, conflicted and sometimes dangerously wrong in what they teach.  Trouble is, these problems often lie hidden.  You can’t tell the condition of a church by how nice it looks, how upbeat the music is or by the size of the congregation.  Good churches come in many shapes, flavors and sizes.  So, how can you know if you’ve found a good one?  What do you look for?  Here’s a description of the first church, the initial gathering of people who knew Jesus.  I think it describes some of the most important things to look for in a church:

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.  (Acts 9:31)

Good churches will surely have a peaceful vibe and will seem to be growing stronger and adding people.  But not necessarily always.  For example, what seems like a lack of peace may actually be a manifestation of honest willingness to address a tough problem.  And what seems to be peacefulness may be an unhealthy passivity of a congregation that is under someone’s thumb.  Same thing with temporary swings in attendance.

But central to the health of a church are the two phrases highlighted above.  A good church is very aware of the awesome and somewhat frightening presence of Almighty God.  They understand His amazing power and perfect understanding and are reverently responsive to Him in a natural way.  And a good church is mostly made up of people who, by having put their faith in Jesus, are alive with the Holy Spirit.  Instead of going through religious motions, they are engaged in an exhilarating relationship with the Spirit, being encouraged, strengthened and instructed by Him.   A church where these two are present will likely be one where you will be blessed and changed.