I was up this morning at 4:40. I couldn't sleep any longer. I hate when this happens, so I sat up in bed staring into the darkness of our bedroom, debating whether or not I should get out of my bed and open my iPad in another room so as not to wake my wife. As I sat in bed, I began to think of a friend (I'll withhold names so I will not to hurt any of my readers). This friend died of cancer a year ago. He was a Christian, who was once an atheist and an alcoholic. He was saved, grew in grace, taught the Scriptures, and had considered a full time ministry at one point.
This friend also had a son whom I also know well. The son (who is also a Christian) and I have had many talks of the Lord, His church, and of issues concerning Christianity. I sat in bed today recounting one of our discussions. He told me that his father, who wanted to see his former friends saved, many of whom were alcoholics or former alcoholics, would invite them to church in hopes that God would reach them in grace, only to find they were shunned. They didn't fit into this church that was settled in an upscale community. These people who were destroyed by alcohol couldn't find a friend among people who claimed the name of Christ, so they left as spiritually poor as they came. I sat in the darkness of my bedroom thinking of this and becoming angry. Then God gave me a David and Nathan moment.
Yesterday was a good day. All Sundays are a good days for preachers. You study and constantly think on your text that you will soon deliver, you anticipate, mentally rehearse, pray, and finally let it all loose on Sunday morning. When it's all over for me, I feel I can rest from my mental exhaustion. Yesterday was no different. After our worship time, and after escorting the last person to his car, Deb and I headed to a restaurant to meet up with three wonderful, elderly, Christian ladies. After lunch we walked back to our car to head home, but as we did, a car pulled into the parking lot with a big dog in the back seat that caught our attention. The car drove past us and parked very near our car, so we were able to strike up a conversation with the dog's owner. Enter my David and Nathan moment.
As the woman got out of her car, I could see that her car was not very clean both inside and out. It sat rather low to the ground, and looked like it bore the strain of quite a few rough Maine winters. The woman was older than I thought at first glance, and her wrinkles seemed to reveal a hard life. Of course, this was my personal assessment. She was wearing a long dress that was reminiscent of those that girls wore back in the late 60's and early 70's. I believe they called them peasant dresses. This woman looked like an old hippy. She looked the part of something I always imagined I'd be if I didn't come to Christ. She stood out as very peculiar, weird to me. Deb and I have gone out of our way to speak to people in hopes to invite them to church, but as we spoke with this woman I thought to myself that she'll never fit in with us. So, I walked to my car while Deb spoke with her for another five minutes, gave her our card, and invited her to church.
This morning I sat In bed, wide awake in the very early hours, irritated by the unfriendliness and lack of compassion and grace that a church exhibited toward the buddies of my friend; that was until God pointed His finger at me and said, "Thou art the man."
Lord, thank you for showing me what I really am in myself, but then quickly reminding me of what you did in order to pay for my sins. I'm embarrassed by my judgmental attitude, but elated over your favor toward me, my friends and wife, and the lady we met in the parking lot.
Not long ago I posted that one cannot know the goodness of the grace of Christ without going though the conviction of the law of Moses. Let me add that one cannot understand the deliverance from sin without being in bondage to it. For that matter, a Christian cannot know peace without a war, and in the Christian realm, there are many wars all designed to bring more and greater peace in Christ.
It's not yet 5 a.m. and the sun is coming up here in Perry, Maine. I've been awake about an hour, thinking about yesterday. On Mondays, I am usually contemplating our Sunday worship service. Oftentimes, I'm thinking about what I should have done or said, or what I shouldn't have done or said. However, this morning I still have my sermon on my mind.
Yesterday, the church here in Perry observed the Lord's Supper. When I think of this ordinance which is to be practiced until the Lord returns, I think back to people whom I have spoken with in the past who have observed this beautiful memorial in fear and trepidation. Often, this picture of the body and blood of Jesus, His redemption and forgiveness, and our brotherhood and unity, is misunderstood. As a result, something that should be practiced with joy and gladness is often practiced in fear, or avoided.
My text was I Corinthian 11:17-34. I attempted to show the Corinthian abuse of this memorial. Paul would even go so far as to tell them in verse 20 that they weren't gathering for this memorial at all, but rather to consume food indiscriminately, even to the point of not caring for people in the church who had no food at all (vs.21). This lack of care and compassion toward their blood bought brethren was a result of divisions or schisms, which in turn led to heresies, which can be defined as a party spirit (vs.18, 19). In a nutshell, their assembling together was counter productive (vs.17).
In verses 23-26, Paul the apostle describes the correct practice and the theology behind the Lord's Supper. Today, these verses are usually quoted during our observance of this memorial. They are the words and practice of Christ Himself to His disciples the night He was betrayed (vs.23).
Now for the part that puts some folk on edge. There is a warning in this observance in verses 27-32. We are told of the possibility of participating "unworthily", and we are to "examine ourselves" in order to avoid chastisement which could come in the form of sickness, or even death. Considering this warning, one could understand the fear that some people have when they walk into church and see the elements on the table in front of the pulpit.
However, we need to ask ourselves, What is it that I'm to look for in my self-examination prior to partaking the Lord's Supper? The best way to answer this is to see why it was that Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves. What were these Corinthians doing that made them unworthy to participate in this church ordinance? I believe verse 22 holds our answer. There were some in the church that held such a disdain for their brethren that Paul said that they "despised the church of God" to the point of shame. In verse 29, Paul tells these unworthy Christians that chastisement is a result of "not discerning the Lord's body."
So, some despised the church of God. What is the church of God? These same people didn't, or maybe even refused to, discern the Lord's body. What is the Lord's body? For both of these questions, it is not "what", but "who". Who is the church of God? Who is the body of Christ? The answer is the same to both questions. We who have been saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ are the body of Christ, and the church of God. Paul's advice to these offenders was to "wait" or tarry for those brothers or sisters in Christ that had little or nothing, those whom they neglected (vs.33). The thought here is exercise care and to consideration to those whom they previously ignored. It is a call to love and unity in the church.
The next time that you meet on Sunday, and you happen to find yourself confronted with the bread and wine of communion, don't panic hoping that you can think of every sin that you could have possibly committed since the last observance. Rather consider your attitude toward your brothers and sisters in Christ who you are about to partake with. Unity among believers is so important, and not only unity, but loving care for the needs of those who may not have what they need in life.
I've said often that no one church can reach the various cultures within its community. In other words, we need churches that can reach the older generation, churches that can reach the younger people, churches that can reach both blacks and whites, white collar and down-and-outers, moralists and the worst of sinners. I may be dead wrong about that.
The church in Corinth seemed to have been quite diversified. We read of the rich and their lack of concern for the poor. The church was made up of the social elite, and people who had no status socially. Immorality was also a problem in the church at Corinth, and may have reached Paul's ears by the voice of the moral. Corinth, being a port city, was bustling with different cultures.
So, why do we feel the need to create churches which appeal to a particular group of people? What is our problem in the western world? I think that there could be a number of reasons, but the one thing that bound the Corinthian believers together, in spite of their schisms (they did continue to meet together), is the Gospel. Their differences were many, but the grace of salvation brought down to them by Jesus Christ was the same. They had different gifts, but the same God. The Gospel was the glue that created community as flawed as it was.
What's the problem here? Why are many churches lacking a diversified community? Again, I think there are a number of reasons, but off the top of my head I believe that:
1) with all our desire to reach people, we are attempting to do what we ought to be asking God to do. I'm all for trying to reach people, but God may want to reach them from my church, and not necessarily from a new one geared to the whims of those we want to reach.
2) I believe there is a poor to mediocre understanding of what the Gospel is and isn't. As much as the Gospel has come to the forefront in recent years, and has challenged a fundamentalism that is locked in legalism, we are all still learning. To be thoroughly gripped by grace is still yet another rung on the ladder.
Are we making the Gospel more complex than it really is? C.H. Spurgeon once commented that his theology can be summed up in four words, "Christ died for me." Do we really need more? Isn't this enough to create community within any church? Are we still doing what we've been doing for the last 50 years, but with a different approach? You know what I'm talking about. Going out and telling people that Christ died for them, but you'll have to also start thinking like me.
The last time I posted to my blog was......., well, too long ago. I was living in Greer, SC, and now I'm in Perry, Maine. I think we're settled in now, so hopefully I will post on a weekly basis. Here's a thought about relationships that stemmed from a Wednesday evening chat with a few church members here.
Jesus lived on earth for approximately 33 years before He accomplished the work of being our substitutionary sacrifice for sin. In scripture we read of only the last 3 years of His life. What did Jesus do the first 30 years? He created relationships. He didn't isolate Himself from society, He placed Himself in the the midst of it. He dwelt among us full of grace and truth. He went about doing good; so much good that all the books in the world could not contain all He did for people, in the apostle John's opinion. How important are relationships within the church and the community? You tell me.
It's 10:30 pm on a Saturday night and I'm laying here in bed considering the move Deb and I will be making just one week from today. We are heading to Perry, Maine where I'll assume the pastorate of an independent church. So much is running through my mind; the job I'm leaving, the climate, both weather-wise and politically, the cultural differences between SC and Maine, and especially family and friends. Tomorrow Deb and I will say goodbye to church friends, most likely till we meet again in Heaven. Times like this are bittersweet, having an excitement to go and serve God in the capacity that I believe He called me to, and feeling sad to leave so many good people behind.
Just this evening I got together with a pastor friend for dinner and fellowship. He's a sweet guy who loves the Lord, and has been an encouragement to me for the past three months or so. It almost doesn't seem right that close friendships are developed only to end up long distance. Deb and I will miss Manning and Ann.
Then there's my own flesh and blood. Chuck has been our pastor for over 15 years now, and he and our daughter Tina-Marie, have been a huge part of our lives in SC. Reagan, Rocco, and Reese are precious to us. They are going through their own move back to CT to join a ministry in Ridgefield right now, and we anticipate being able to see them much more then we ever expected. It still leaves a longing in my heart for the closeness we have been blessed to share with our children and grandchildren for the past 16 years.
TJ lives less than ten minutes away with his wife and two girls. When he broke the news to his daughters that Papa and Mimi will be moving away, Lydia cried. Deb and I had the joy of babysitting her everyday for a whole school year while mom taught. Lydia's little sister, Vivian, has also been a joy to watch grow up as well. We will miss much of the girls growing years.
Mike, Ashley, and Bradley live across the street. I see Brad every day. I'm his playmate. I'm almost always getting in trouble with him. He has been a joy to watch grow for the past year and a half from this short distance. I'm going to miss so much of him. It breaks my heart that he will not understand why we don't live across the street or are suddenly not in his life anymore. Tears well up in my eyes thinking about it.
So, the question that could be asked is, "Why?" Why go from the comfortable climate of South Carolina to Maine's unpredictable weather? Why leave family and friends? Why? My answer is simple. We are leaving because Christ is worth it.
Deb and I meet for coffee each morning on the living room couch and talk before I head out to work. This morning we wandered onto the latest political scandal and chatted about how irritating the political climate is in America. Personally, I'm sick of reading about all of this, and yes, it makes me mad that political corruption is so open and blatant. Here are a few thoughts that came out of our conversation.
1) What goes on in the world is often a diversion from what is really important. We blame politicians for causing smaller controversies that divert the people’s attention from bigger issues, but I'm convinced that Satan uses things like political scandals to divert the attention of God’s people away from God. Now, I know Facebook is a social site, and people are free to chat about, post, and rant and rave about anything they want, but I wonder about those Christians who post a steady diet of negative politics without ever posting something positive about God. I’m not saying that they are not right with God, but it makes me wonder where their priorities are.
2) It is easier to rant than to repent. Deb mentioned that it is so easy to post a political statement then it is to pray for our immoral and unethical leaders. I know I'm guilty of this. I've found myself so upset with politicians that I didn't want to pray for them. That attitude needs to be repented of. Every Christian should want to do the will of God, and when we find it, we should be willing to do it. Paul told Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” I Tim. 1, 2. Is it possible that we have lost this “peaceful and quiet life” because we do not pray for our leaders?
3) God is still KING of kings and LORD of lords. He is still on the throne of Heaven overseeing the affairs of the world. He still brings up powers and takes them down at His will. I remember when Bill Clinton became president. Someone I know was at Northland Bible College and had mentioned that kids throughout the school were upset and crying because they didn't want Clinton as president. I’m sure this was the first time most of these students had voted, and the man they voted for, lost the election. The thought that came to mind was that even though these kids, who would consider themselves conservatives, were disappointed, God was not. Conservatives voted for their man, and God voted for His, and God won. God is still sovereign, and we should rest in that.
One final thought, and this is my opinion. I do not believe America will see a revival until people are brought to their knees. When tragedy strikes, people look for God, churches are filled, and lives are changed. The Twin Tower disaster is an example of that. For weeks after, the churches in the city were inundated with people concerned about their souls. People realized how short life was for those in the towers, and became acutely aware of their own mortality. As a result, many were saved. However, unlike that horrible day in New York, what may be coming for America could be more destructive, but along with destruction will be revival. God has a greater purpose than what we often see, and He may very well use our present political climate to bring about that purpose.
What is wrong with the New Testament local church today? Why are we so anemic in America? You might say that it is because we don’t agree on everything, or because churches are weak in their doctrine, or some other answer. I believe our answer to these questions is simply the fruit of a deeper problem. Consider what I'm going to say as my opinion only, so here it is.
1) I believe the church has a number of lost people in their membership, and that’s because the church has watered down the Gospel to a method, rather than a message. "You don’t want to go to Hell, do you?" Who in their right mind would answer, yes? "OK then, just say this little prayer and your in free." I can not tell you how many people over the years I have heard say that they knew they were saved because they asked Jesus into their heart. We are saved by believing on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by saying a prayer. The prayer is the result of believing. The thief on the cross believed first, and then said to Jesus, “Remember me when you enter your kingdom.” And by the way, I’m sure there are a number of lost pastors attempting to guide God’s people who are preaching every Sunday, too.
2) Many Christians in today’s church live by the law instead of by grace. They are confused about the doctrines concerning law and grace, and justification and sanctification. Many Christians do not understand that they are once for all “justified” by God upon their belief in the finished work of Jesus. That means that their relationship with Him does not change because they have sinned. God still loves them, they are still the object of His affection, they are still sons and daughters. The believer can do nothing to merit salvation, and he can do nothing to alter his relationship with God. Sanctification on the other hand means that we are still being perfected, and that perfection will not be realized on this side of Heaven. God is still working on us all.
Lost people, misled Christians and Christian leaders fill our churches, and because of this, the church is anemic, majoring on obscure teachings, and raising "issues" higher than the Word of God.
I'm sick of hearing, "I take a stand" from people who need to take a walk. Standing is idleness. While they proudly proclaim that they take a stand for or against something or someone, they are in essence, stopped dead and going nowhere. TAKE A WALK!!! Put feet to your stand and see if you can change, by the grace of God, what you're for or against.
Thoughts to Ponder
Tom Genovese, Sr.
What you read in these pages comes from my contemplation, meditation, or just plain thought about for no specific reason. I am the author of these pages unless otherwise specified.