Do I have to worship in a church?

Have you ever grilled with charcoal?  I used to do it all the time.  To get the coals started, I would pile them up, spray some lighter fluid on them, and then apply a match at several strategic locations.  Those coals would begin to burn, and eventually they would be hot enough for cooking.

But sometimes my pile wasn’t quite what it needed to be.  On those occasions, some of the coals would roll off the pile, over towards the edge of the grill.  Almost without fail, those coals would quit burning.  To get those coals lit again, I’d have to push them back over to the burning pile, and soon enough those individual coals would be burning also.

When it comes to our spiritual life, you and I are a lot like those coals.  We tend to need to feed off other believers, to be encouraged by them, to be inspired by them.  God says it this way: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:23-25)

So, is it important for me to gather with fellow believers?  Yes, it is.  God urges us to do so.  When you gather with other believers, not only do they encourage you, but you give encouragement to them.  Just by being there, you tell others that you believe in Jesus, that God’s work is important to you, that spiritual matters are your priority.  That gives wonderful encouragement to others!  And you’re doing it just by gathering with those fellow believers.

Now, to be clear, God also hasn’t told us how to do that gathering.  So, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in a church.  It could happen in a variety of other ways.  (Like, for example, a home Bible study group.)  God doesn’t command a specific way to do it.

At the same time, Christians throughout history have gathered in a “church-like” setting.  In fact, Jesus himself did so.  In the book of Luke we read, “He (i.e. Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16a, emphasis added).  Jesus went to worship at the synagogue.  In our way of speaking, “Jesus went to church.”  And, he did so customarily.  If it made sense for Jesus – the Son of God – to go to church regularly, might it not also make sense for us?  Sure!

Now I’ll quickly confess – I’m not always really excited about going to church, about attending worship or Bible study.  That’s because I’m a sinful human being.  So we go back to that Luke passage above, hearing that Jesus went to the synagogue regularly, and we thank God!  Why so?  Because Jesus was living a perfect life, and doing so in your place and in my place.  Remember,  Jesus not only paid for our sins on the cross, but He also lived a perfect life in our place.  When God put faith in your heart, God gave you credit for the perfect life which Jesus led.  So now God looks at you and at me as being perfect and holy, just as Jesus was!  And that includes our worship life; because Jesus worshiped perfectly, God considers you to have worshiped perfectly, too.

Wow!  That’s good news!  That God would consider me to be … perfect?!?  That’s awesome!  So, what would I like to say to God?  Well, I’d like to say “Thank you!”  Correct?  Sure!  Gathering with other believers can be a wonderful way to do so!

There are other thoughts involved.  For example, which church would I want to attend?  I want to attend a church which is teaching all the truths of the Bible accurately.  What if there isn’t a church like that near me?  Well, perhaps I’ll have to get videos, or access worship opportunities on the internet, or perhaps God might use me to be part of starting a congregation which teaches all the truths of the Word accurately.  Those are difficult situations.

But the general thought is, “Yes, God wants me to gather with my fellow believers, and to do so regularly.”  Why so?  Because God wants to encourage me with His Word, wants me to be encouraged by other believers, and wants to give me the honor of giving encouragement to others.  Blessings on your “gatherings!”

I am too busy to go to church

“Are you going to church this morning?” Mary asked her mother. “Oh, no!” her mother replied. “I have way too many things to do! I just don’t have the time.”

It’s amazing how busy our lives are. What is even more amazing is how much we can miss because we are so busy.

Jesus had a very close friend who was very busy. Her name was Martha. Jesus had come to her home for a visit, and Martha wanted to prepare a special meal for him. She was busy with the meal preparations and she was irked that her sister Mary was not helping her.

What was Mary doing? She was listening to Jesus teach God’s Word. When Martha complained about her business and Mary’s lack of help, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Mary could have been busy too. But she chose to put off her business to listen to Jesus’ word. The Word that Jesus spoke had eternal consequences because it was God’s Word of love and forgiveness.

That precious Word was more important than anything Martha might be busy doing. God’s love and forgiveness is the one thing needed in your life too! Being busy is okay, but as you realize the good news of God’s Word you can find room for it in your busy day.

How can I be sure God loves me?

The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The lake reflects the sky. The trees are deep, living green. You and your family are healthy and happy. Work has been going great. You feel like a million bucks.

Wouldn’t you agree that God loves you?

Yes, today perhaps.

But clouds may cover the sun tomorrow. The lake can look rough and angry. The leaves will fall. The world can look bleak. Today’s good health turns into tomorrow’s sickness, accident, or death. Things may go sour at work. A family’s fragile happiness can turn to dust. Horrible things like earthquakes and terrorist attacks happen in God’s beautiful world. Then you ask, “Does God still love me? How can I be sure?”

You can’t be sure by looking around in the world. In fact, there’s another complication. We all have the voice called conscience inside us. Conscience tells me that I should do right. It also tells me that sometimes I do wrong. I don’t deserve God’s love. In fact, I deserve to be punished. I can’t be sure that God loves me by looking inside myself.

No, the only way to be sure that God loves you is if he tells you so himself.

He did tell you. He sent his Son Jesus with a message for the world. No one has ever seen God, but God the heavenly Father’s Son came to earth to tell us about him. Jesus tells us that God loves the world—all people. He loves us in spite of all the wrong we do. Jesus showed us God’s love not just with words but in action. He gave his life for us.

So how can I know that God loves me? Not by my experiences in the world. Not by looking inside myself. Only God’s messenger, his own Son Jesus, can tell me for sure. The message Jesus brought is written in the Bible. The Bible brings us Jesus. Jesus says God loves us—always. His word can make us sure of that.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

How do I worship God?

Worship, most of us think, is something that happens in church. And it does. But it does not start or end there.

It is better to say that worship is something that happens in our heart. It’s what happens when God speaks to our heart and our heart responds to God.

For worship to take place, we have to hear God’s message of love. We call it the gospel, which means “good news.” God tells us that good news in his Word, the Bible. He tells us how he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to win forgiveness of sins for us and give us eternal life.

When God’s good news reaches our heart, it lifts the weight of guilt from our soul. It makes us happy because God loves us and he cares for us. Our happy response is to love him back and to say, “Thank you, God!” And we praise him. Also, as with other good news, we want to share it with others.

That is worship. Because it starts in our heart, we can worship anywhere. We just need to keep in mind that it has two sides: God speaks to us, and we respond to God. Another way of understanding worship is that it is everything we do because of our faith in Jesus.

The impact of worship multiplies when we join in worship with other Christians. That is where church comes in. In church God talks to us through Bible readings and preaching. The church service is designed to remind us how much we need Jesus and how he has filled our needs. He lived a perfect life that God the Father credits to us. Then he took upon himself the punishment we deserve for sin when he died on the cross. He proved our eternal joy when he rose from the dead, assuring us of a new life in Christ!

In church, believers together respond with music and song, thankfulness and praise. We pray for each other and encourage each other with God’s promises. We form a bond of Christian love and faithfulness. We work together to serve God. Therefore, each of us can say with David in Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ ”

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More Bible passages about worship, taken from the New International Reader’s Version Discoverer’s Bible:

Colossians 3:16, 17. Let Christ’s word live in you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct each other wisely. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing with thanks in your hearts to God. Do everything you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ.

Romans 12:1. Brothers and sisters, God has shown you his mercy. So I am asking you to offer up your bodies to him while you are still alive. Your bodies are a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God. When you offer your bodies to God, you are worshiping him.

Hebrews 10:25. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.

What is love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. – 1 John 3:16

If you asked ten different people what love is you may very well receive ten different answers. Ask a three-year-old and his answer may be a simple “mom.” Ask a psychologist and you may have to settle in for a long and complicated response. The answer given by a fifteen-year-old girl will likely be very different than the one given by a sixty-year-old man who has been married to the same woman for 42 years.

Even though these answers may all be different, they likely all revolve around the same thing–emotion. Describing what love is usually involves describing how a person makes them feel or the committed feelings they have about a certain person.

God doesn’t talk about emotion when he describes love in his Word. He talks about action. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Love is defined by the greatest act of self-sacrifice ever made. God’s own Son gave up his life for you. He didn’t do it because of the way you made him feel. He did it because he knew it was the only way for you to live with him forever. He shed his blood not because he saw some great potential within you. He shed his blood because the sin within you needed to be washed away.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for you because his desire to save you eternally was far greater than any desire to preserve his own life. That selfless, self-sacrificing action is the very definition of love.

Now that you know what love is, go and love others.

Why does God love sinners?

Let’s take another question first. “Why do mothers love their children?” Mothers love their beautiful babies, but they love their ugly babies, too. It’s not because of how the child looks or what the child does. Mary, the mother of Jesus, loved her son. But probably the mother of Judas, the traitor who turned Jesus over to his enemies, loved her son as well.

Why do mothers love their children? God made mothers that way. Mothers love their children. That’s the way mothers are. We call it “mother-love.” It’s an unnatural mother that does not love her own child.

God’s love is something like mother-love. God loves the people he makes. That’s the way God is. In fact, God made us so that he could love us. In the beginning God made the world. At the end of his creation he made the human race, a man and a woman. The world and everything in it is a gift from God to the human race. He made you and me in our time because he wanted to love us, too.

Because God our maker loves all of us so much, he deserves the obedience, respect, love and trust of the human race. Beginning with the first humans, we haven’t given God what he deserves. We keep cutting ourselves off from the God who made us. We are rebels who run away from God. In other words, we are all sinners.

Why does God still love us?

He loves us because that’s the way he is. God is love, and he doesn’t change. Because he loves us, he made a plan to bring the rebellious human race home to himself again. That plan is the main plot line that runs through the whole Bible.

Really, the whole Bible is the story of God’s love for sinners like you and me. Why does he love us? That’s the way he is. God is love, and he doesn’t change. No matter who we are. No matter what we’ve done.

God says: I the LORD do not change (Malachi 3:6). God is love (1 John 4:16). He describes his plan in John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Why is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead significant for me?

It was refreshing, though the situation certainly wasn’t. Sandy’s mom had spent a wonderful, joy-filled day with her and her ten-month-old daughter. But it took just one moment. What started as a minor health scare quickly escalated, resulting in an emergency trip to the hospital. Less than two days later, Sandy’s mother went home to heaven.

They weren’t ready to lose her. If they could have their way, she’d still be here. So what was so refreshing? “We ask that God’s will be done.” “I’m glad she is in Jesus’ arms.” Throughout the entire tragedy, that’s what Sandy wrote.

How could she be so upbeat? In the midst of mourning, she was a modern-day Martha. Martha, fighting through tears for her brother Lazarus, freshly laid in the grave, boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).

How could she be so confident? How can I be so confident? As a result of Adam and Eve’s first sin, death was introduced into the world. As a result of sin, I’ve lost loved ones. As a result of sin, I myself will lose my life one day. And as a result of my sin, God tells me there’s only one place where I deserve to go, hell.

How can I be so confident? Because I have a loving Savior. Where I struggle and fail each day to love and obey God, Jesus didn’t ever fail. Even when loving God meant dying for me, Jesus obeyed. His love for me took him to the cross. His love has taken away all the guilt of my sins.

How can I be so confident? Because I have a living Savior. Jesus died, but he’s not dead. His resurrection is more than just an occasion to commemorate once a year on Easter. It’s the proof that Jesus not only forgave my sins and conquered hell, it’s also the promise that because he lives, I also will live. When I die, in his loving and living arms, I will live!

Jesus’ resurrection gives me confidence. It makes me confident to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” I am refreshed in every joy and every sorrow because I know that my Redeemer lives. And when at last my earthly journey is done, I will wake to live forever with my Savior because my Redeemer lives.

The Good Shepherd Leads You

The Lord is my Shepherd; I’ll not be in want. – Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23 describes our Savior God as our Shepherd. And because he is our loving Shepherd, we come to this confident conclusion: we shall never be in want—we shall never lack anything we truly need.

How does the Lord our Shepherd give us such confidence? We can trust where our Good Shepherd leads us. He guides us for our benefit, even if it doesn’t always appear that way.

Many people want to be leading their own life. As they strive after numerous things, they look somewhat like a dog chasing its tail. They pursue money, possessions, popularity and many other things, but those things don’t give them any true peace and lasting fulfillment. They know what they want for themselves, but they miss what they need for a relationship with God.

Give thanks that we do not have to be part of this vain chase. We do not lead. Our Shepherd does, and his lead is always for our greatest benefit. He supplies everything we really need for our physical life. Most importantly, he gives us what we absolutely need for our souls: the forgiveness of sins which he provided by laying down his life for us!

Take comfort in the confidence that your Good Shepherd is always leading you. Trust him, and gladly follow the Lord who is your Shepherd.

Does God really care?

Does a shepherd care about a lost sheep?  Does a father care about a wayward son?

Jesus Christ used both examples to assure those who have made terrible mistakes, assumed deplorable lifestyles, or suffered grievous loss that God cares for them. Jesus was being criticized because he “welcomed sinners” (Luke 15). So he defended his compassionate care with two stories that people would understand.

In the story of the sheep, a shepherd owns a hundred sheep, and one of them becomes lost. He takes a calculated risk, leaves the other ninety-nine sheep, and goes after the lost sheep. He calls it by name. He rescues it.

He joyfully puts it on his shoulders.

The wayward son isn’t ignorant, like a sheep, but rebellious. He demands his inheritance and then lives the wild life in a distant country until he spends it all foolishly. His money and his pride gone, so he returns to his father and pleads to be hired as a servant.

Instead, he is welcomed by his father like a king. A party is thrown in his honor.

Now, a shepherd may take a privilege or two away from a sheep that tends to stray, just to keep that rascal in plain sight. A father may not be so willing to extend responsibility to a foolish son. Neither indicate lack of loving care, however, but just the opposite – a loving care that is willing to help even if it hurts.

We will sometimes see the loving care of God and appreciate it. Other times we will see sadness and pain. During sad times our limited understanding can yield to our faith that God understands more than we do, and he cares in a way we can’t understand.

We turn to his promises and hold him to his Word, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

How Can I Live in the Presence of God?

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

If you want to live in the presence of a holy, perfect, and righteous God, then you need to be holy, perfect, and righteous yourself. If you are holy, perfect, and righteous, then you can live in his presence and live in his presence forever.

This is the situation that every single human being ever born into this world finds him or herself in. It’s also a problem. A huge problem!

It’s a problem because none of us can meet this standard that our holy, perfect, and righteous God has placed on us. We are, by our very natures, stained with sin and so everything we think, say, and do is stained with sin too. We have failed to meet God’s standard. We have not kept his law in the righteous way that he demands. We deserve to be cast away from his holy, perfect and righteous presence forever.

This is how the story of every single human being ever born into this world would end if…

…if Christ would have never entered into our story. But praise be to God, he did! He entered into the story of humanity as God himself made flesh and into our story for a very important reason. He came to live the righteous life that God demands of us. The righteous life that we could not live on our own he lived in our place–perfect obedience all his life to every last one of God’s laws. Now, his righteous life is for all of humanity as a free gift. So, how does this gift of righteousness become our own?

God’s Word teaches, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Christ’s righteousness becomes our own through faith. Through faith in what Christ has done for us, we personally receive the righteousness that Christ has won for the world. Therefore, through faith in what Christ has done, we stand before our righteous God with the righteousness that he demands from us—not a righteousness we attempt to produce ourselves, but the righteousness that has been gifted to us by Christ. That means, by faith in Jesus we live in God’s righteous presence forever!