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Emphasis: The Church



Today's reading is part of a mini-series I'm doing on the church. If you've already read the introduction to this mini-series, please begin here to read my response to the sixth question.

If you've not yet read the introduction, please read it first. The intro sets up the purpose for this mini-series and will help you to make sense of it all. Click here to go to that intro.




Question Six: Is the church fully cooperating with the Spirit in what God is leading it to do?


I once saw a photo of a large church during a worship service. The picture was taken from the back, everyone was standing and singing. The lights were bright, the music appeared to be lively, everyone seemed happy, the praise team seemed to be singing their hearts out , and all looked like an ideal church setting.

But the caption read, "This is what a dead church looks like." You had to look carefully to discern to what the caption referred, like in one of those Where's Wally? books. Over against the wall was a table on which sat a small, model church building. On the front of the little church building was a sign that read, "Our church's missions involvement." It was all dusty, cobwebs had formed all over the "church," and no missions money or activity was present anywhere. The outward signs were present in the bright lights and smiling faces, but the soul of the church was dead, evidenced by its neglect of the main thing.

The question, "Is the church fully cooperating with the Spirit in what God is leading it to do?" is a question that must be answered by each individual church. If I were to answer this question in regard to the church as a whole, I'd answer, "Yes, there are signs that it is." But when I consider some individual churches about which I have knowledge, I'd have to say, "I'm not as confident that they truly are cooperating with the Spirit as they should be." For many churches, it seems the soul of the church is dead, even though there is so much outward activity.

The word "cooperate" means, "to work or act together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit" (www.dictionary.com). For a church to qualify as doing this, three factors come into play.

First, the church must understand that God, through His Spirit, is up to something all around that church. He's at work, He's drawing people to Himself, He's involved in spiritual warfare, He's healing the broken-hearted; He's at work on almost every street doing what He does toward the goal of redemption.

Trouble is, many churches haven't learned to recognize how and where God is working. They often are too busy doing their own thing: they're running their programs at the expense of building relationships with those up the street; they're worshipping the Lord of the Harvest but failing to notice the part they play in the harvest all around them; they talk about missions but fail to go and do missions. In short, they are self-centered and near-sighted. So far, I have to answer my question in the negative.

Second, they must choose to join with God, to work with Him in what He's doing all around them; after all, that's what God wants them to do and is likely the reason He placed them there. The problem many churches have is that they assume that because they are God's representatives to their communities, that God's not at work there unless they take Him to the neighborhoods. But the truth is He's already there, already active, already at work all around them. His ear is attentive to the prayer of the helpless; He is mindful of those truly seeking Him and He's at work in their world's to draw them in. If He waited on the local churches before He began to work in our communities, He may never make it into the neighborhoods.

But He doesn't wait, and for the church to qualify as cooperating with the Spirit, the church must choose to join God in what He's doing all around it.

Problem is, it's not always pretty or clean or cut-n-dried or redolent. God is at work in the home of the addict right down the street from the church; are we going to cooperate with the Spirit and join God in what He's doing there? Are we willing to get our hands dirty in order to be the voice of God to liberate that addict through the powerful Good News of Jesus Christ? God's at work in the abuser, the victim, the homeless, the unemployed, the woman struggling to stay with her husband, the businessman who lost a fortune when the stock market tumbled, and the mom who sees relief from all the pressures of life and single-parenthood only in the barrel of a loaded gun.

You see, God really loves these people. I mean, He not only created them, but He also sent Jesus to die on the cross just as much for them as for you and me. His heart bleeds for them; He longs to hold them close, to wipe away their tears, to strengthen their hearts, and to whisper in their ears that everything's going to be okay. But something seems to happen to us when we get saved: we seem to hoard God's love. We seem to mistake being God's chosen people (which is what the church is) with God's favored people (which is what we are not).

The truth is He doesn't love those of us inside the church more than those who are lost four doors down; He loves them just as much as He loves us. He longs to be in fellowship with them, too. He longs to see them sitting next to us in worship, developing a heart of compassion for their lost friends. He wants to use them in the life of the next person who's ready to enter the Kingdom.

But somehow, we've forgotten that; many of us no longer remember how it feels to be without hope, without love, without God; so what do we do? We install cameras on the front doors of our churches and talk with the dying world through little intercoms. We walk in to the church building and find false security when the lock clicks, shutting out the lost world. We don't want to be bothered. When the stinky, dirty, unbathed, and unkempt stop by the place that represents God to them, that place that is the last place that smacks of hope to them, we diss and dismiss them, telling them that they'll find the answers they're seeking and the help they need at another location just down the street. Is that cooperating with the Spirit in what He's doing in our communities? Did He bring that lost, hurting, needy person to our door in vain?

Third, we have to forget about only doing church and ministry and outreach on our terms and learn to do them on His. Some are guilty of wanting new people in their churches, but only if they dress like them or smell like them or look like them. But most people in need don't get it all together and then come to church all spruced up and ready to walk with the Lord. They come on their terms, and their terms are, "Please, love me and help me like I am. I want to get to where you are, but I have to start where life finds me, where I am right now. This is where I am; will you be Jesus to me here, on my terms, in my space, in my life?" If we're not willing to do that, to work with them on their terms and on God's, then our church may end up like the church in this story sent to me by my friend, Gary, from Oklahoma.

One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt, and boots that were very worn and ragged. In his hand he carried a worn out old hat and an equally worn out Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories.

As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to him, or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. 'Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what He thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.'

The old cowboy assured the preacher he would. The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.

The preacher approached the man and said, 'I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.'

'I did,' replied the old cowboy.

'If you spoke to God, what did He tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?' asked the preacher.

'Well, Sir, God told me that He didn't have a clue what I should wear. He said He'd never been in this Church before.'

How do you rate yourself in regard to cooperating with the Spirit? How would you rate your church? Please join me in praying that you and I will cooperate with the Spirit in all that He wants to do in and through us to the glory of God.


Matthew 25:34-45


34 Then the King will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared
for you since the creation of the world.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,


36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.'


37 Then the righteous will answer him,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in,
or needing clothes and clothe you?

39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did
for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'


41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who
are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44 They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45 He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of
the least of these, you did not do for me.'










Copyright 2011. Faith Matters by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.

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