Scattered

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1

And so it begins. The enemy now has another target. He has been trying to destroy Israel for centuries. He tried to destroy the Son of God, and now he must destroy the church. It just keeps going from bad to worse for him. But he’s tenacious, even in defeat, because he’s still a master of deceit and he finds a lot of willing accomplices.

But even his greatest efforts at wreaking havoc often end up serving the purposes of the Father who can use whatever the enemy intends for evil, for good. As all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

It has to be really frustrating to be the devil, perhaps that’s why he so angry all the time—as are his minions.

Speaking of unhappy minions:

Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephen’s) death. . . .

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest– Acts 8:1 and 9:1

Saul, one of Satan’s best minions, is portrayed as walking around in a state of perpetual anger muttering murderous threats and stirring up hate against the church— until he runs smack into Jesus. Another evil plan backfired. But that’s for next week. For now, he’s serving the purpose of scattering the church like seeds blown on the wind into fertile fields.

 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Acts 8:3-4

I find it funny how blinded and ignorant the hearts of evil men are as to how they are often used by God to accomplish exactly what it is they think they are destroying. I’m sure it was not very funny for the church at the time as they lived in fear of being dragged off and put into prison, but the fruits of their commitment to share the gospel, to sow the seeds, wherever they ended up soon produced much fruit.

It’s interesting to see, and a challenge to discern, what God is doing, and will do, with our current situation as the enemy seems to have found a new boldness and some new weapons for persecuting the church in America today. But rest assured, God can use any challenges we are, or will face, to advance his Kingdom and release his Spirit to work. If we’ll just keep scattering those seeds and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.  For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.  And there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:5-8

Just as the scattered church thought they had lost everything, they found they really had everything, they had the keys to the kingdom. And this scattered and battered band of Messianic refugees brought great joy to the world, because they brought Jesus.

Keep bringing Jesus!

The Lord’s heart is for you, for your heart, and for your mission. Carry on. HS

Church is Not…

Jesus was asked the question one day; By what authority are you telling us how we should do things here in the house of the Lord?’ Boy, if that doesn’t rank as the stupidest and most ironic question of all time, then it is certainly high on the list. ‘Who am I to demand that things be done God’s way in God’s house? Well, I’m God—any more questions?’

The stories in Mark 11 can be difficult, it’s like–Wow Jesus seems a bit harsh in his responses to a couple of different situations here—is he having a bad day or what?

No, Jesus is just done. He knows his time is short and he had no more patience for seeing his Father’s resources and gifts wasted, squandered and used for personal enrichment at the expense of those who need fed.

From a distance the temple of Jesus’ day looked spectacular. It was by far the grandest and most magnificent thing most of these people had ever seen. ‘Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I am excited about getting what my weary soul needs once I’m in there.’

Then they walk in and find themselves surrounded by a market place atmosphere being overseen by high and mighty looking men in very expensive clothing and bling that cost more than many of them made in a year, or maybe a lifetime. Yet the smell of manure hangs heavy in the air.

They are told their sacrifices are not sufficient—but for a price, they can exchange them for an acceptable animal, and they can exchange their heathen currency for a holy shekel—for a small fee of course—so that they can pay their entrance fee. . . er temple tax, and of course, still tithe and give alms.

Then, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the crowd and watch the spectacle of the sacrifices being made by the professional priests up on the big platform—but then, ‘please move along, there are others waiting to come in.’

They then find themselves back out in the street, hungry both in body and in soul, feeling empty and taken advantage of. So they use what little money they have left to buy lunch and head home telling themselves that they are better off because they did their religious duty and went to the temple.

‘Well, maybe next time I’ll feel like I had an encounter with God. I had better start saving up now.’

People were going to the temple hungry and going away hungrier—and that made Jesus furious. He could see exactly what was going on, he could see into the hearts of greed that had made the temple a business, and he could see the sorrow and despair in the hearts of those who came to be blessed and forgiven but found only outstretched hands, not in blessing but in taking.

They were not being challenged to draw near to God, they were being manipulated, shamed and marketed—all wrapped in a polished veneer of religion to make them think this was all necessary to keep them from being damned—it was truly evil.

So yeah, a little violent overthrow of some tables was in order to try and set things right. But the arrogance of the priests, Scribes and Pharisees would not let them see that Jesus was trying to spare them the true destruction that their hard hearts would bring on. When the Romans would destroy their temple and the very ground it was rooted on.

Then they, like the fig tree, would be cut off from the source of life.

Sobering

To me there is a very sobering lesson in all of that for us as the church and for me as a follower of Christ. Are we being fruitful? Am I being fruitful?

We have talked about this often lately because it is literally happening at breakneck speed all around us—churches and ministries drying up from the roots. Dying overnight. It has been happening for several years actually. Church attendance in America is dramatically down and churches have been closing left and right.

And now the process has been sped up as all that many ministries depended on—the financing their huge buildings, staff, programs depend on—has been severely cut. Because people have either not been allowed to go to these programs and huge buildings, or because they realized that they were not truly being fed, only entertained, so they decided to stay home—and, to keep their money.

Or they’re happy to just watch church online—it’s just so much easier, and I don’t have to pretend to be okay.

Thank God for the means to bring the message to those who cannot be in house, but I’m sorry—that is not church.

Church is not—

Church is not just a sermon, online or otherwise. Churc is a gathering together of the saints- a coming together to learn, worship, encourage and exhort, pray and visit, laugh and cry, hug and touch—things we all need as human beings—as the church of Jesus Christ. Church is not a place or an event, we are the church—wherever we are together is church.

Church is us coming together to have God sit enthroned on our praises, to have Jesus move among us when two or more gather, to feel the presence of God as we invite his Spirit to move among us for healing and correction.

Church is a place where you gather to be taught the word of God by a pastor who loves you and knows you, who invests in you so that you can bear fruit to share, who challenges you to be a better person, a true disciple of Jesus Christ, not just a ticket holder to heaven.

It’s a place where we bring our voices together and lift our songs and our hands straight to the throne of God and feels his pleasure in our sacrifice and open our hearts to hear his voice.

Church is where we gather to share and give of what we have been entrusted with, knowing that it will be invested back into the Kingdom where God would reveal needs to alleviate, and opportunities to sow and equip the workers of the harvest.

When a place that calls itself a church stops doing that, any and all of that, Jesus takes issue and starts cleaning house. As a pastor in this consumer oriented society where the church at large has embraced a marketing mindset not unlike the cooperate world, that is very frightening.

I have been involved in church leadership and ministry for a few decades now and I know all the reasons for everything shiny and professional, all the bling and the pop, the technology and the marketing—and it all seems very reasonable and necessary to take advantage of every means possible to share the gospel.

But it too often turns into a beast that has to spend more energy and resources to feed itself then it does others.

Then you wake up one day and find that the people who are being drawn to your grand design are walking away empty never to return.

‘I thought; Surely God dwells and moves in this place and I was excited about getting what my weary soul needed once I was in there.’

Instead they found salesman with outstretched hands promising the means to a more pleasing sacrifice to the God who wants to bless you—if you’ll only commit to the program and keep paying the temple tax. Then Jesus comes in and turns over the money tables and drives out the merchants, rebukes the priests, and speaks in parables the mysteries of the kingdom for those who have ears to hear.

True Church

And those who stick around to hear, will be asked to share—and they will. Because they cannot hold in the fire. God cannot be stopped and his plan cannot be thwarted—and the enemy fears that. The true church will survive—and prevail.

“Because the people have spoken these words,
    I will make my words in your mouth a fire
    and these people the wood it consumes. Jeremiah 5:14

Who gave you the authority!? God did. Any more stupid questions?

No one can stand up to or prevail against the word of God and the wisdom given to those who love God and his word.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, this is just getting good. . .