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Category Archives: Church Life

Your Children and the Church

Do you choose a church based on your perceived needs of your children? This question has come to me in various forms over the years. Some are looking for a larger youth group or children’s program. Some families attend churches where their children do not have peers, or in one instance, they did not like the “type of children” that were attending the program. In either case, they begin looking for another church. The parents start investigating the churches in the area and where most of their child’s school friends attend. Then . . . They go.

I have four children. I share this with you so that you will understand that I know the desire for your kids to be in an environment where you think they will flourish. As a parent, you desire the best for your children. If you are a parent and you are struggling with this question, I would like to share a few things with you.

It is your job to lead the home

Your child is a gift from God, and you are stewarded to lead them in a manner that glorifies God. There are times that we as parents tend to relinquish power to our children that they are not ready to handle. It is not your child’s responsibility to choose a church for your family to attend; the weight is on your shoulders as a parent.

It is your job to point to Christ

In the process of evaluating a move, please consider the function of your home in the spiritual life of your child. God designed the household to be the primary place of theological instruction, and he gave us the church to help accomplish the task. Before you move to a different church for the sake of your children, evaluate if your home is taking the primary role of spiritual development.

The responsibility of the parent is more than just transportation to church services and functions. Parents have the responsibility to instruct and instill Scripture into the lives of their children. Please do not consider leaving a church that seems to have little to offer your children if you are not giving your children the foundation they need in the home. If the foundation of the household is faithful, the children will lack nothing.

As a parent, you attend church for your spiritual health, and the byproduct of that pursuit will be a spiritually healthy home and spiritually fed children. Your children will follow in your footsteps, they will worship as your worship, and they will feast on God’s Word as they watch you study God’s Word. You are a far more significant influence than any local church.

Older generations are a gift

We have a ‘s wonderful children’s program at Oak Ridge Baptist Church. The lessons that our children receive are second to none. However, I find that the program is not the foremost blessing for our children – it is the people in the church.

I sat today and watched my 8-year-old sit and have lunch with people much older than him. In fact, one is over 80. He loves these people, and the people love him. I see my 12-year-old sit and work with ladies well beyond her in age, and it is a blessing. They have helped teach her to sew and crochet – she learns from them. They model an ethic, propriety, and love of Christ that is often absent among her peers. My two middle sons love the men in our church. They see how these men treat their wives and how they serve the church body. These blessings are invaluable to my children and me.

Church isn’t about your children

The church is about God and displaying His glory. If we choose a church based on what the church offers our children, we are inadvertently teaching them that church is about them. We instill a consumerist idea about the church that only harms the church and our children. Be careful that you do not teach them that God is just honored in the “bigger and better.” Teach them about contentment and looking for the blessings God has given in the church you currently attend.

I pray these thoughts will help you as you serve your church, or as you look for a church.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Church Life, Family Life

 

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The Forgotten Ordinance

He entered my office full of doubts and sorrow.  Raised in the church, he was now facing the conviction and guilt from years of indulging the flesh.  The choices he made never lacked conviction, but as he continued to pursue the sinful desires of his heart, a callous slowly formed that quieted the internal battle. Recent events in his life ripped away the callous and the conviction kept at bay for years was now meeting his mind and heart at full force.

“He” is a person that I have met many times as a pastor. The looming culture of the Bible belt is one of secularism that disguises itself as Christianity. Obesity from the things of the world has become prevalent, and the “belt” no longer fits.  Subjected to this atmosphere many in the church have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and been baptized thinking that was the end of the story.

Therefore, when “he” shows up at the church and walks the aisle again, that person is looking for a “do over.”  Most of the time they feel as though something was wrong the first time, and they may be correct.  Sometimes they will tell me they did not understand the decision they previously made and desire to pray and be baptized – again.  

Allow me a bit of liberty at this moment.  This person may very well be saved, or not.  It is not my desire to give anyone a method for determining the salvation of another, but I do want to bring attention to a gift from God that it seems many churches have forgotten.  In his or her “return” to the faith, the person often desires to be baptized again – even when they believe their first baptism was legitimate – they are confused.  Baptism may be the last act of faith they remember and the only expression they recognize.

So, what is our response?  In the current area in which I serve, the answer is often a second, third, or fourth baptism.  As I sit in meetings with other pastors, the stories become more frequent, and the response seems always to be the same.  Have we forgotten the other ordinance?  

What is Baptism?

Baptism seems to be a well-communicated topic.  It is something in which the church rejoices and for a good reason.  I would even “step out on a limb” and say the understanding of baptism and its celebration play a significant role in why people come for baptism again and the church tends to embrace the practice.

However, in Scripture, we see baptism displayed as an initial act of faith.  Yes, there are those that contest this idea and suggest there are other acts that precede baptism and they may be correct.  However, when I state that it is an initial act of faith, I mean it was designed to be at the beginning of a person’s public journey in faith, and there is no record in Scripture to support the repetition of the physical act of baptism.  It seems to commence the outward expressions of a life of faith – there is no evidence that baptism is an act of rededication.  However, there is another public proclamation, or ordinance, that commands repetition.

The Lord’s Supper

Called by a few names in the local churches that surround me, the Lord’s Supper and Communion seem to be the most common labels.  Most people recognize it as one of the four times a year (if the church leaders remember it) a plate is passed with stale mini-crackers and then followed by the dish filled with little cups of grape juice that everyone dreads the thought of spilling.  

I have learned over the years that few people understand the significance of observing the Lord’s Supper.  They easily quote a version of Luke 22:19-20:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ “ (ESV)

However, there is little understanding of the declaration they are making as they participate in this ordinance.  Perhaps churches have not forgotten the activity of the Lord’s Supper, but the church has forgotten what it means and the power of its observance.

A Call to Remember

  At the church in Corinth the practice of the Lord’s Supper, though observed, had lost its meaning.  I do not suggest that no one knew the meaning of this ordinance, but that some in the church had forgotten the rich gift they were declaring each time the partook of the bread and cup.  Read what Paul wrote to this church:    

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

What does Paul tell them about the statement they are individually and collective making as they take of the bread and cup?  He says they are proclaiming the death of Christ!

Every time they met together and participated in this ordinance, they were proclaiming the atonement of Christ.  As Paul writes of the death of Christ, he does not mean it to be understood apart from the completed work of Christ.  As we meet together and participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are making a declaration of the forgiveness of sin, and a restoration of fellowship with God and each other – all because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This truth should change the way we respond to the person that comes to us, struggling and looking for a declaration of a “fresh start.”  Instead of baptism, we ought to point them toward the Lord’s Supper.

A Call to Remind

When was the last time your church participated in the Lord’s Supper?  Are the meaning and declaration taught to the congregation, or was there merely a regurgitation of Luke 22:19-20?

Each time you partake of the Lord’s Supper, you are making a declaration that the atoning work of Christ has been and is applied to your life.  As a church, you are declaring the unity of the body of Christ, proclaiming to one another a bond through the blood of Christ.  For those struggling with sin, it is a moment of repentance and restoration. When taught and understood, it is a powerful experience.  It seems we have forgotten this truth.  Therefore, it is something of which we must remind one another.

The most moving services in which I have participated observed the Lord’s Supper after the sermon.  It offers a chance for the congregation to respond to God’s Word in an impactful manner with acts that provide a remembrance of Christ’s gift of salvation.  When people come looking for “rededication” or find themselves amid struggle, we must not forget the Lord’s Supper and the act of remembrance set forth by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I pray that the next time your church participates in the Lord’s Supper, it will have a deeper meaning for you and your church.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2019 in Church Life

 

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God’s Will And My Special Needs Son

It wasn’t long into the pregnancy that doctors began searching for answers.  We had been through the process before, after all, this human being was the fourth child to enter into our family.  We knew the routine, and the doctors knew our names. I am thankful for thorough and cautious doctors – the medical professionals that sit alongside patients with a bedside manner that voices concern, but also with a presence that calms anxiety.

We knew months in advance that there were malformations in Levi’s brain.  These abnormalities accompanied the absence of a critical set of nerves that join the two sides of the brain.  With the advanced medical technology, there were so many things the professionals could tell us, but there were also many questions for which they could not give answers.  I remember speaking with one of the neurologists, asking him questions, and listening to his response.  Levi could be on a spectrum that ranged from bedbound, in a vegetative state, to acting in ways the world deems normal.  It was a polite way of telling us they were clueless as to any prognosis.

It was during this time that we, along with many brothers and sisters in Christ, began to pray. When I look back on the day he was born, 5,281 people were watching the blog to see how things were progressing. This number does not count the numerous churches that were supporting us through prayer in a time that we had to lay everything in the hands of God completely and trust him.  A conservative estimate was about 10,000 people praying for our family and Levi.

What Were They Praying?

I would like to be super religious and pious, believing that I along with the others were praying for God’s Will.  However, as a father, I was asking God to heal my son.  I remember when they whisked him off immediately after delivery with no explanations or reason.  We didn’t even get to look at him.  The prayers increase.  I was not praying for God’s will; I was pleading with my heavenly Father that he would save Levi.

Some of you that sit reading this know Levi, but there are others that do not.  Levi is now seven years old and doing things the doctors told us might never happen.  He can walk, he can feed himself, he interacts with others, and uses sign language as his primary means to communicate.  I share this with you because God has done so many works in his life and blessed us in more ways than we could number.

Do We Pray For Levi’s Healing?

Every day I pray that God allows Levi to continue to grow and develop, but I do the same for Emma, Charlie, and Caleb.  I ask God to work in Levi’s heart, but I do the same for Emma, Charlie, and Caleb.  I ask God to call Levi to salvation and use him for God’s glory, but I do the same for Emma, Charlie, and Caleb.  

Now and then, some people ask us if they can pray for Levi.  Levi has people that know him well and pray for him often.  However, these people usually are meeting him for the first time or know of him and the situation.  We covet the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ and celebrate that God’s people care for each other.  The aching of my heart begins with these words in the midst of their prayers, “I declare in the name of Christ, that Levi be healed completely and have faith that it is done.”  No, they don’t use those exact words, but you get a general idea.  They pray that God will completely heal Levi, that he would be able to communicate, move, and operate like a “normal” child.  They even go as far as to declare that these things have and already are happening – that God is healing Levi even in the midst of their prayer.

Why My Heart Aches

As a father, someone that desires God to work in and through Levi, this often sends my heart into a period of turmoil.  I do believe that God can heal Levi, but that does not mean that he will.  I begin to doubt my faith.  Is my son not experiencing the fullness that God has for him? Have the prayers I offered over the past seven-plus years been lacking; therefore, is Levi’s current situation my fault.  Why isn’t God healing Levi?  

Then, I begin to think about what Levi is thinking.  “There is something wrong with me.” “Why do they keep asking God to change me?” “Why is God not answering these prayers?” “Why can’t I be normal?” 

I know the people asking to pray have sincere hearts.  In no way am I condemning them for their prayers or blaming them for the rollercoaster that the prayers initiate in my heart and mind.  However, I don’t think they understand what effects their words have on a parent with a special-needs child or the child.

My Peace

God may never miraculously generate a corpus callosum for Levi.  He may not allow him to communicate verbally.  Levi may not be able to function on his own or live independently. So, what if my prayers for these things are not God’s will?

I believe that Levi was knit together in Amy’s womb.  I believe that Levi is fearfully and wonderfully made.  I believe that God has a desire for Levi and a purpose for Levi. I believe that at this moment in time, Levi is precisely whom he is supposed to be with the limitations that are present.

I believe this because I know that God loves Levi more than I do.  I know that he has plans for Levi that are better than anything I can imagine.  

I will continue to ask God to do a great work in Levi’s life, just as I ask him to do so in Emma, Charlie, and Caleb’s lives.  I will continue to pray that God allows Levi to develop into a God-honoring young man. I trust that my heavenly Father has a more excellent plan that Levi’s earthly father can fathom.  I believe God will use what the world deems as limitations display his love and glory to the world.  Therefore, if Levi is never “healed” God is still good and God still loves Levi.

How Can You Help?

I do not dare speak on behalf of parents that have children with special needs.  As I father, I want to share with you what has benefitted our family the most.

Pray  I am not speaking of the prayers I mentioned above.  Families with special needs children need prayers for stamina, prayers for peace, prayers for rest, prayers for faith and faithfulness.  The other children in the family need prayers that they would not be embittered or jealous.  Pray for the parents as they try to meet the needs of all the children.

Help  Does your church have a way for the family to worship together, or a ministry to allow the parents to have times of worship?  Our church is composed of an amazing group of people that continually pour out love on us and our children.  Often, churches are an uncomfortable place for parents to bring their kids with special needs.  They are hard to keep quiet, the atmosphere of people raises the level of anxiety, and the stares of people with good intentions heightens discomfort.  Are there people in your church gifted to work with these children?  Are there people that are willing to learn?  How can your church reach out to these families?

Love  These children are created in the image of God.  God loves these children.  These households were placed together by God.  God chose the parents.  God is at work in a million different ways, and these families have come into your lives for a particular purpose.  Love them well.  Speak words of encouragement.  Build relationships.  Get to know the family.  Let them know that normal is not defined by society or culture.  Instead, normal is learning to operate in the purpose and design of God, trusting him in every step.

Is It God’s Will?

Will Levi be completely healed?  I do not know – maybe not on this side of heaven.  Do I pray for healing?  Yes.  Is his lack of healing my fault, or because of my lack of faith?  No.  Do Levi’s limitations limit what God can do in and through him?  No.  Does God have a plan for Levi? Yes.  Do I know what that is?  No.  Do I trust God?  Yes.

I trust that God’s will is happening today.  I choose to be satisfied with that portion even as it pertains to Levi.  Praying in a way that models these truths is the best way you can minister to our family, and it is a good way to begin ministering to other families that are similar to ours.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2019 in Church Life, Family Life

 

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Me, My Bible, and the Holy Spirit

I was across the room, watching everyone recover from the holiday meal.  The people were perched around the room, enjoying visiting with others they had not seen in a while.  In an attempt to make conversation, I heard one of them talking about their Sunday school lesson and asked the person what they used to help them study the Bible.  The answer still rings in my ears, “I don’t use anything, all I need is the Holy Spirit.” I share this statement with you because it is not wrong, but it is also not entirely right.

The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the truths conveyed in Scripture.  Apart from him, we cannot ascertain anything spiritual.  Christ affirmed God-given understanding when he acknowledged Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:17) and the role of the Holy Spirit as taught in John 14:26.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is crucial in our understanding of Scripture, but the statement made by this person neglects how the Holy Spirit often works.

The Spirit’s Gift to Mankind

We need to step back for a minute and look at God’s design of the community.  Genesis 2:18 tells us “It is not good for man to be alone.” However, to apply this strictly to the marriage context does not do it justice in the scheme of creation. Humanity was not designed to be alone. Adam and Eve were the starting point for population and community . . . We are designed to operate in a community.

This truth continues to resound in the New Testament as the church is established and needed for the fostering of faith.  The concept behind Hebrews 10:25 is believers need to meet together to help each other in the faith.  As Christians, we were designed to need iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).  It is clear – one way the need for community exhibits itself is in the design of the church.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians telling them of gifts given to the faith community, the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers (Eph 4:11).  Each of these gifts is for the equipping of the body.  No matter how you understand each of these roles, this is the point:  God gifted us with each other to help nurture our faith and spiritual growth.

Neglecting the Gift of Community

The statement given above ignores the design of God.  In essence, it says it is okay to be alone – in our study.  Yes, the Holy Spirit can teach the Word of God and help us understand its contents, but the Holy Spirit has also given us a community in which to foster that knowledge.

Let’s look at the position of a Sunday school teacher that would assert they need no help to guide their study.  Aside from ignorance, this might merely be a statement of arrogance.  After all, the teacher assumes that the students need to hear what the teacher has studied.  In other words, the lesson is essential for people to understand. However, if we genuinely believe that people only need their Bible and the Holy Spirit, then the teacher is irrelevant and not need.  Do you understand the hypocrisy and arrogance?  The teacher becomes a source that others need to hear, but the teacher needs to hear from no one else.

The same understanding applies to a pastor claiming they need no help in understanding the Bible because the Holy Spirit directs them.  I firmly believe the Holy Spirit leads people in learning and preaching.  However, if that is all that is needed, then there is no need for him to share a sermon.  Instead, he needs to tell the people to go home and read the Bible for themselves, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)  We must learn to handle God’s Word properly, and that ability comes from the saints that have gone before us and those with us.  Our church and the community of believers are a gift from the Holy Spirit that we should not avoid or neglect.

Embracing the Gift of One Another

There have been many men of God that have touched my life and taught me more than I can record. Men like Earl Taylor and Jim Mays have encouraged and corrected me outside of the seminary structure.  Why did I listen to them?  Both of these men amassed years of experience and wisdom that I would be foolish to ignore.  In the seminary structure, there were men of God that knew Scripture and its intricate parts in a way that I long to experience.  These men knew more than me.

The Holy Spirit gifted them in different areas, and when they operated in these areas, they were a gift, used by the Holy Spirit in my life.  On my shelves sit works penned by men as they struggled to understand Scripture and how it applied to the Christian life.  They knew more than me, they studied more than I have, and they faithfully served the Kingdom of God.  Just as I would be foolish to ignore the wisdom and knowledge that have been passed on to me through mentors, it would be just as unreasonable to ignore the works of such fellow believers who are no longer with us.

No, you do not need more than your Bible and the Holy Spirit.  However, do not neglect the gift of the saints that the Holy Spirit desires to use in your pursuit of Christian growth and biblical study.  Read what others have written.  Use the plumb line of Scripture to evaluate their work. Learn from those who know more than you. Treasure the words of those who are wiser than you.

Barnabas helped Paul. Aquilla and Pricilla corrected Apollos. Paul taught Timothy, Titus, and many others.  As believers, even in eternity, we do not become omniscient.  Therefore, we still need teachers now, those living and those gone on to be with their Savior.  Let their works help you understand the Bible.

 

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2019 in Church Life

 

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The Perfect Church

It usually happens about the time someone finds out that I am a pastor.  What is the “it” to which I am referring?  “It” is when someone tells me everything they think is wrong with the church.  Sometimes it is the church they attend, but other times it is a list of reasons they no longer attend church.  Most of the time, these are deep seeded feelings.  I know this because in the impromptu conversation they are quite detailed in their explanation and there is no hesitation while they gather their thoughts.  Is the church as bad as some of them think?

Countless theological truths probably need clarity at this point.  Some want to know a definition of the church, whether I am speaking of the visible or invisible church (if this confuses you, ignore it and keep reading), if I am speaking of the local church, or if I am speaking of the global church.  Let’s set all that aside for a minute.  I am writing about the local church;  the one you and I attend each Sunday, and maybe the one that fueled the critics’ thoughts.  Whether it is the largest church you know, the smallest church you know, denominational, or non-denominational, I am talking about the local church. Moreover, I am talking about a church that holds to the authority of Scripture, the message of the Gospel (by grace through faith, only through Jesus Christ), and an orthodox view of the Trinity.  (Yes, I could probably make the list longer by giving more details, but you would eventually stop reading.)

Churches Struggle

So now, let me give you a word of caution. I am about to talk about a section of Scripture in a book that has more opinions about it than there are options for coffee from your local barista – the Book of Revelation. (Cue the surprising yet troubling music: Dun-dun-duuuun!)

As I sat a read the portion to the seven churches, I thought about the many critical feelings that people share with me about churches.  If you go back and read Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, you will find the following list, and I have tried to summarize the main focus of each message.

Ephesus: The Loveless Church
Smyrna:  The Persecuted Church
Pergamum: The Compromising Church
Thyatira: The Corrupt Church
Sardis: The Dead Church
Philadelphia: The Faithful Church
Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church

Six out of the seven churches had some pretty serious issues at hand.  In fact, only one received a favorable report.  I am not going to thoroughly explain every problem, though I do encourage you to read Christ’s evaluation of each church.  I desire to bring one thing to your attention – Christ called each group of gathered people a church.

The church at Philadelphia was not perfect, though Christ gave it commendation. However, Christ called it a church just like the gathered group in the city of Thyatira.  These churches consisted of people who struggled with sin on a daily basis.  Though in sin, Christ calls them a church and desires repentance and restoration from them. Churches struggle because they are composed of people who struggle.  Some churches handle these struggles well, and some do not.  Some churches deal with an individual’s struggles well, and some do not.  There is no perfect church.  With this in mind, we go back to the complaints, the lists of wrongs, and the voices of condemnation.

Your Church Struggles

The music may not be the greatest.  The preacher may struggle to be a pastor; the pastor may struggle with preaching well. Some people are not friendly,  the church may not have a large children’s program, and the youth program may not have the activities you desire.  The church may have Sunday School instead of small groups, or they may have small groups instead of Sunday School.  Do you see that none of these are even close to the problems that Christ saw in the seven churches addressed in Revelation?

Let’s consider that the church you attend has problems similar to those faced by the churches in Revelation.  Those issues certainly need to be addressed, and there is a biblical means for doing so in Matthew 18:15-20.  In some cases, if there is no repentance or corrective measure taken, it may be time to leave. (When to leave a church would require an entirely separate post.) However, I want you to know that the things people share we me often fall within the group of problems listed in the previous paragraph.  Rarely do they involve the issues contained in Revelation.

You Might Be Part of the Solution

Here is my question: What are you doing to be part of the solution?  We read in Ephesians 5:25-32 that Christ loves the church.  Christ showed his love to the seven churches by giving them a message to produce repentance and restoration.  Christ desires the church to be blameless and spotless.  He wanted this for the churches in Revelation, and he desires that for our local churches.  Your church with all of its problems is still a church, a group of people loved by Christ.

Let me give you three questions to ask yourself regarding your complaints:

  • Is the issue at hand a sin problem or a preference problem?

The music not being the kind of music you like to listen to is not a sin problem, it just means that your preference is not being satisfied.  If the problem is a matter of preference, it is probably an issue within your heart.  If the issue is a sin problem, then it needs to be addressed: first to the person in sin, and then possibly the leaders of the church.

  • Are you willing to help be a part of the solution?

Let’s say for a moment that you have a legitimate concern:  youth in the church have no teacher, and there are no activities. Are you willing to set up the events or are you willing to learn how to teach the youth?  Maybe your desire for something godly to happen in the church is God placing a task on your heart!

  • Do you love the church?

This last question is the most crucial one to answer.  We should love the things our Savior loves – including the church.  If you love the church, then be an edifying voice in the midst of criticism.  The world deals enough blows to the church.  Don’t join in on the condemnation.  Show grace and mercy in your speech; show love in your willingness to serve; show your dedication to Christ by your desire to walk with your church through its struggles.  If you love the church, let your words and actions give evidence.  If you do not love the church, then there is an issue in your heart that needs attention.

No church is perfect, and I may have created more questions than answers.  Do you pursue the church in love and service they way God pursues you? My prayer is that God would give you a passion for his church that would manifest itself in the way you speak and serve.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2019 in Church Life

 

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