Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Church

A great small group ice-breaker is, “When  was the first time in your life you remember thinking about God?”   That is an easy question for me to answer.  My first memory of God comes from church.  While my parents were not fully-committed Christians they did make sure that my brother and I went to Sunday School and church on a fairly regular basis.  I also remember attending Sunday School and worship in the summers at my grandmother’s little country church.  Those times were wonderfully enjoyable for me and I know without a doubt that was when I had my first thoughts of a personal, loving, just, all-powerful, and all-knowing God.  I also remember that very early on, I learned that this great God is revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ.

I suspect that most of you reading these words can point to church as the place(we will be reminded that church is not a place) where we first heard about or met God.  Even if your experience of God goes back to a friend or family member, chances are that they got their knowledge of the Lord from a local body of Christ.  And almost all of us have grown in faith through the church.

So, church is important!  Yet I have seen a distortion of what I believe God’s plan for the church is and I have witnessed many unbiblical and unChrist-like expressions of the local church.  I confess that I have sometimes contributed to this false church by sinful, selfish, and sloppy behavior.  Yet, through the scriptures and in my own personal prayer time I have seen a vision for what this bride of Christ can be.  I have also seen how God uses the church, in all her imperfections, to demonstrate Christ to the world and to draw people to Himself.

I was watching a Christian singing group one time that I knew a little something about the members.  One was a former convicted felon; one worked in a beer factory; another was divorced .  These people were ministering beautifully and were pointing to Christ in their words, music, and demeanor.  The Lord was using them despite their imperfections.  So does He use His church.  We truly have a Treasure in these earthen vessels.(II Cor. 4:7)

There are some common errors that strong Christians and pastors commit on a regular basis.  One is statements that refer to the church as a place.  We all know that the church is not a place.  There is nowhere in the New Testament that describes the church as a place or a building (except metaphorically).    Yet we continue to say things like, “Let’s meet at the church.”  Or “My church is on Elm Street.”  This criticism may seem like nit-picking but our words eventually show our theology.   This misconception of what the church is can affect everything we do as the body of Christ.    The church becomes something to maintain—something static rather than dynamic.   

A corollary to that misconception is the one that refers to a Church building as the house of God.  I hear it almost every Sunday from pastors, deacons, elders and committed laypeople.   Yet the New Testament clearly states that the church is not a building and a building is not the Temple(Acts 7:49).  What this error does is tell us that God can only be found in this or similar buildings and that He is not in other places or He only visits other places but lives in the “sanctuary”.   So we better be “reverent” in the church building but we can be more free elsewhere.  I think you can see where this leads.

Before I am accused of contradicting myself let me say that church meeting places are important and special.  But they are special because Jesus is there when believers meet there (Matt. 18:20) and He also dwells individually in each believer (I Cor. 3:16, 6:19,  II Cor. 6:16).   A church meeting place is holy, only because God’s holy people are there, when they are there.   I have warm memories of church, early in my life, but it is the pastors, Sunday School teachers, and other adult believers who influenced me about the Lord, not the bricks and mortar. 

So let the church be the church!  Let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Blame Game

I've noticed that most polititans are blaming the other side for the financial crisis we are in.  Usually its just politics but I have the sad feeling that, in this situation each side really believes it is right.  No one is willing to take responsiblity for the mess we have.  This problem is nothing new--it started with the very first man and woman, Adam and Eve.  When they ate the forbiden fruit and lost their inocense they each played the blame game.  Adam blamed Eve and God(for giving him Eve).   Eve blamed the serpent who talked her into it.  I think they actually believed it was not their fault.

When sin is not your fault, you don't have ask for forgiveness. But then, of course you don't get forgiven!.  Most of us can't see our faults. We can see others' sins just fine, but not our own.  Such blindness might make us feel better, but it will never change us.  I have noticed that even many Christians have blind spots.  (Didn't Jesus say something about log in the eye?).  There are certain failures we just don't notice that we have.  For example, I know folks who would never purposely break one of the ten commandments, but they don't tithe.  I know some faithful tithers who never share their faith with others.   Some believers would never miss attending church but never lift a finger to help someone in need.  On and on it goes!

  All this blindness is where the cross comes in to play.  When we realize that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again we can begin to see.  We can know that being forgiven is far better than thinking we are perfect when we aren't.  The Holy Spirit can point out our shortcomings and the blood of Christ can wipe the slate clean!   This all happens when we give God our lives and ask Him by faith to reveal our sins and forgive them.  The amazing thing is that even if we think we have not sinned, we carry around the guilt of it.  We just have trouble identifying the cause of some of our problems.  We often think of the symptoms as the cause, rather than the result of our unease. 

 Someone may think that the pain he or she is feeling is the fault of God or their upbringing or a bad teacher or a judgmental pastor or bad luck or any number of things except their own.   These people refuse to take responsibility for the condition they are in.   When this denial happens, the condition will continue.  the secret is to understand that Jesus took the blame in our place.  It's OK to let the Holy Spirit point out our need and let the risen Christ change us.  Read Romans 8 and see that God is on our side.  He is for us!  Why be against yourself?  Take the blame, then turn it over to God.  He can take it.  And He can change you to the point that your faults become less and less. 

Let the Democrats and Republicans blame each other.  Don't you play that game.  God loves us all too much to leave us in our sins.  But He is too much of a gentleman to force us into His life-changing forgiveness.  Come to Him--He is already at your side.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Please Don't Call Me Reverend

I am new at this.  I am a retired pastor.   Well, I'm not really retired--I've tried that, twice and I don't like it.  I have just returned from a 7 month stint as pastor of  an english-speaking church in Germany and I do not yet have another church to serve.

I have received Jesus Christ as my Savior and have been filled with the Holy Spirit--all by God's amazing grace.  He has called me to pastor churches, which I have done for over 35 years.  I love my calling and would not trade it for any other vocation(even being a sports announcer) but I do not consider myself any better than anyone else.  I do not like the term, "reverend" at all.  I do not like to be called, "reverend', even though that is exactly what I am ofter called.  The title implies that I am to be revered and I am not.  Only God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is worthy of such an honor.  I put my name at the top of this blog as Dr. Harry C. Smith so no one would address me as reverend and also to give what I say a measure of credibility.  I have earned a Doctor of Ministry degree and my total post graduate education involves 120 credit hours yet, even that title is not who I am.  I am Harry Smith, who loves the once-crucified but now risen Lord Jesus Christ, and I have opinions on various subjects which I feel led to share with any who might read them.

This blog will contain comments on many different subjects.  Most of them will be spiritual topics that are biblical and contemporary.  Some will deal with my personal views on a variety of subjects including sports and politics.  When I am not dealing with non-spiritual subjects I will try to remember to remind readers that this is only my personal opinion and is subject to my humanity.  In other words, such views may or may not be how God sees the situation.  Most of the time I will write as if I was preaching in a pulpit to a congregation.  In those cases I expect that the Lord is speaking through me.  Even then the readers should understand that my words may or may not be God's words.  I can only pray that I am close enough to Christ to know His will and hear His voice.  In baseball, a good hitter gets a hit about one out of three times.  I would love it if one third of my pulpit comments were straight from the Lord!

  I don't know if anyone will read this or any of my blogs to follow.  If you do read this I would love to hear from you.  And I welcome your comments on all that comes from this desk.