#weshallassemble

This new tag began to trend on social media last Sunday. As thousands of churches across the country elected not to meet in person to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, Christians all over began to find alternative ways of meeting.

Some Christians met by having their own time of worship.

Families studied, prayed, and communed together.

Some churches took to the radio and even to television.

Thousands, like Burns, took our services online.

As of 10am on Thursday, our morning worship service showed up more than 2,600 times on people’s phones, computers, and tablets.  The video was viewed in part 1,514 times. I know that most of those views were just for a few seconds as people scrolled on down to the next thing on their feeds, but well over 100 “connections” watched from beginning to end. Remember that many of these connections represented families or friends worshipping together. I suspect that even though our auditorium was empty, last Sunday may have been our highest-attended service in history! Several even participated in worship services from churches all over the country.

I can’t wait to get back together to hug and high five and fist bump and be in the same room, but I love that even when we can’t assemble in person, we still assemble. It’s a reminder of the deeper truth that the assembly of Christians is always bigger than our assembly. I’m privileged to be part of that assembly!

All Ear

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

What does God want?

The same thing any parent wants. He wants his children to listen and obey.

Why does he command?

Why does any parent command? He wants his children to grow and be safe and be good and be everything that they could be.

This preacher’s story is attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I sure like the idea:

A missionary translator was struggling to find a word for obedience. There are a lot of words that are hard to move from one language to another. One day, he called his dog. When the dog came running, one of the locals praised the dog and said, “Your dog is all ear!”

That became the perfect idiom for obedience: “to be all ear.”

Do we listen and hear what God is telling us? Do his words go in one ear and out the other?

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

God Favors Faithfulness

Someone has said that in war Providence is on the side of the strongest regiments. And I have noted that Providence is on the side of clear heads and honest hearts; and whenever a man walks faithfully in the ways that God has marked out for him, Providence, as the Christian says—luck, as the heathen says—will be on that man’s side. In the long run you will find that God’s Providence is in favor of those who keep His laws, and against those that break them.

—Henry Ward Beecher

I know that doing right is not a guarantee that good things will happen to us. Under the sun, the race isn’t always won by the fastest nor is the battle always won by the strongest (Ecclesiastes 9:11). However, when we do things right, generally good things tend to happen.

Sometimes people speak of “being on the right side of history.” It is embarrassing to look back and see people arguing in favor of slavery. We want our grandchildren’s children to judge that we were doing right. We don’t want to be in the wrong.

The surest way to be judged right in the end, and the path most likely to lead towards a successful life, is the path that follows the instruction of God. After all, isn’t God himself the definition of right?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

Slaves to the Clock

When we come home from work tomorrow, the sun will still be shining. What will we do?

I love seeing the sun when I get home, but I hate how out of whack both time changes make me feel. The kids don’t adjust quickly. We don’t feel right for a few days. A study in Sleep Medicine found that the spring shift to DST correlates to a 6% spike in fatal car accidents during the following workweek. It’s hard to prove, but that lost hour of sleep may kill 28 people per year.

We have a strange relationship with the clock. What was supposed to be a tool to help us divide the day into manageable pieces has become a taskmaster for us. Did you know that the minute hand was only added to clocks in 1680? The second hand didn’t become popular until the 1700s, and it was the 1900s before the second hand was centered on the clockface. Most of us simply didn’t need that degree of precision.

Do you manage your time, or does it manage you? Do you find yourself wishing away your time, wanting the next phase of life to get here? Do you rush ahead of the clock and worry about tomorrow? Do you try to swim up the waterfall of time and obsess over what happened yesterday? Or like so many, do you kill time without thinking about the scarcity of this most precious resource?

Don’t be mastered by time. Use the precious gift of life, given one moment at a time, to God’s glory.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV)

NO Vacancy?

Back in the dark ages before Priceline and Hotels.com, do you remember what it was like to drive on a road trip and look for a hotel? You’d always look for the sign. Was the “no” light on? If so, the glaring “NO VACANCY” light would send you down the road to the next town. Every now and then, a careless front desk clerk would accidentally leave the “no” light on from the night before and cause the hotel to miss out on some real business.

Sometimes churches accidentally leave a “no vacancy” sign out. They communicate to people that they aren’t really welcome. Can I tell you how it happens?

If we don’t make room for our guests to sit together, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. It’s hard enough to go to a new church. It’s even harder if you don’t get to sit with your family. Don’t get me started on telling someone “that’s my seat.” (I want to be snarky and say that the seat might be saved, but the person saving it might not be!)

If we sit in the same place and talk to the same people, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. Without meaning to, we communicate that we already have friends, thank you very much, and you didn’t make the cut.

If we don’t make an effort to learn names, we’re hanging a no vacancy sign. I know names are hard. Nobody is actually good at it, but if someone visits us for 6 months and we still act like we don’t know them, they’re going to get the idea that we never will.

If we talk like insiders, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. Churches love to have cutesy names for things—that’s not a problem. The problem is when we fail to explain them. Inside jokes make everyone else outsiders. Outsiders see a no vacancy sign.

If we insist on our preferences and our traditions—not the things that are biblical, but all the other stuff—we are hanging a no vacancy sign for everyone who has a different preference.

If we never make an effort to get outside the walls of our building, if we never go out to where the community is, and if we don’t foster creative opportunities to interact with people for the kingdom’s sake, we haven’t just hung a no vacancy sign—we’ve taken our sign down altogether and acted confused when nobody arrives.

Churches don’t hang no vacancy signs on purpose, but unfortunately, they do it all the time.

Racism

Humankind has a nasty tendency for dividing into groups: us and them.

The Jews hated the Samaritans. The Zealots hated the tax collectors. The Pharisees hated the “sinners.”

Hate might be too strong of a word for what normally happens.

More often our feelings are subtle. We stereotype and label. We cut “our” people more slack than “their” people.

The Jewish Christians were suspicious of the Gentile Christians and vice versa. Somehow the Greek speaking widows got neglected while the Hebrew-speaking widows did just fine in Acts 6.

The Bible is clear: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Humans like to divide on the basis of skin color and language, but God does not approve.

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, there was a beautiful mixture of Parthinians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Cretans, Arabs, Romans, and Asians who came together to learn of Jesus.  We praise the Lamb who “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight! Christ followers must be serious about combating all of the ugly -isms that creep into our hearts. We need to make sure we are aren’t doing things—even little things—that make it harder for the body to be united like Jesus wants.  

In Support of Singles

Valentine’s Day can be tough on our singles. Unfortunately, church isn’t always an easy place for singles either.

Well-intended friends try to fix you up. Many of our activities are hosted by couples, so it’s easy to get left out or feel like a third wheel.

We have a lot of people who are afraid of saying the wrong thing so divorced people and widows find themselves alone in a crowd.

I wish I had an easy solution for the hurts and frustrations our singles have felt. I don’t. I do have an apology—I’m sorry that life is hard, and I’m sorry that we have made it harder.

In the Bible, singleness is not viewed as a defect, but as a sign of spiritual maturity:

Paul wrote, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)

He continues, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is….Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife…I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided… I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:26-27, 32-35)

Singles aren’t second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. I want to make sure that I act that way!

A Geography of Faith

God designed our hearts and minds to lock on to certain places.

When I walk into a room and forget what I’ve come to do, I turn around and walk back in. It’s funny how that jogs my memory.

When I drive past a cemetery, my mind almost involuntarily remembers the graveside services I’ve attended there.

When I visit Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, I have flashbacks to the birth of our kids.

I smile every time I see the pedestrian bridge across the Cumberland River in Nashville where I proposed to Leslie.

I cringe whenever I pass the dentist’s office.

We recognize that, in one sense, there is no such thing as “holy land.” The rocks in Israel aren’t sacrosanct—but there’s still something special about the fact that our heroes of faith lived and died there. We know that the church building is built with the same drywall and steel as the firehall, but the weddings and funerals and baptisms and worship services have a way of sanctifying it in our memory.

One thing I’ve noticed while reading through the Old Testament this year is just how prevalent the “geography of faith” is. Abraham and Jacob set up altars to remember God’s providence in specific places. Joseph was adamant that his bones not be left in Egypt, but taken back to the land of promise.

This principle could be abused and idolized, but used correctly, it’s helpful.

It’s wise to intentionally remember the times and the places when God has blessed you.

Here’s an exercise to try: draw a map of the big God-moments in your life, and let the geography of your faith remind you of the journey God has brought you on so far.

Thirsty?

Have you ever had a plumber come to work at your house? If he has to shut off the water, it is amazing how it happens. Like clockwork, immediately everyone either needs to use the bathroom or wants a drink of water!

When I read the Bible, it is easy for me to be really hard on the people in the stories.

The Israelites whine and complain.

The apostles argue amongst themselves.

Everyone misses the point.

I like to pretend that I would have done so much better! (Yeah, right!)

In Exodus 15, after the Israelites cross the Red Sea, they head into the Desert of Shur. “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (Exodus 15:22 NIV).

How many days would you travel by foot in the desert without water before you started to complain?

Maybe that was the wrong question. How many hours would you make it?

Not long at all!

If I read the text right, they only started to grumble when they got to Marah, where the water was bitter.

I’m not letting the Israelites off the hook. Grumbling is never a blessing, but the fact it took them at least three days to start doing it shows us greater faith and patience than we might have realized. Ten minutes after the plumber shuts off a faucet in my air-conditioned house, I’m thirsty. It took the Israelites three days!

Let’s make a lesson out of this: the next time I start to grumble, I’m going to ask myself, “Can I wait 3 days?” After all, in the Bible story, a lot can change in three days…

Don’t Make It Worse!

Government officials in Delhi, India, were concerned about the deadly Cobras in the area, so they came up with a simple solution: they put a bounty on them. Citizens could turn in dead snakes for money.

Initially, that’s exactly what happened, but before long, some people saw an opportunity. They began to breed cobras to turn in for the bounty! The government was frustrated by this turn of events, so they cancelled the program.

Now that the program was over, cobra breeders were out of business. What did they do? They released their inventory into the wild. By the time the program was over, there were more Cobras than ever!

What’s the moral of the story? There’s no problem that government can’t make worse? Maybe!

Many times when I try to solve a problem, I make it worse.

Do you remember Abram and Sarai? They had a problem. God had promised them children, but they didn’t have any. So they decided to solve the problem themselves. Abram had a child by Sarai’s servant, Hagar. Not only did this not solve the problem—God had told Abram and Sarai that they together would have a son—but it made it worse. Now there is a woman scorned, a boy raised in a broken home, and ultimately a new conflict that lasts throughout the duration of history.

David’s sin with Bathsheba was bad enough, but it got even worse when he tried to solve it at the expense of Uriah’s life.

Here’s some simple advice: when you mess up, do whatever you can not to make things worse!