Church. Does it really matter?

“Someone tell me why actual church attendance is needed. What’s wrong with me watching it on tv, my device, etc? I mean, that’s better than nothing, right?”

Yes. That’s better than nothing.

Most of the time when someone asks the very-common question, “Is going to church all that important?”, the response will include a passage out of Hebrews:

“…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”  (10:24-25)

But, if I may offer some biblical insight and unpack this topic a little more…

Jesus was not haphazard about the metaphors he used. And, when describing us, he purposefully used sheep – who, by God’s own design, exist in flocks (community). This is the way they are hard-wired. And it’s the way we are hard-wired.

We are, by human nature, tribal.

There is a reason the apex of punishment within our prison system is isolation.

Biblically – and psychologically – we need one another.

It was Solomon who rightly said,

“Two is better than one. For when one falls the other can lift the other up. But woe to that person who has no one to lift them up.”

For this reason, Satan hates Christian fellowship, and will do everything in his power to prevent it from happening. To keep us isolated. Alone.

When is a sheep most vulnerable? When they’re separated from the flock.

Let’s take this topic one step further before I close. (Sorry – I sound like a preacher. I can’t help it. )

People can get lost in a crowd (“big church”). But we connect intimately in community (a small group).

I stumbled across the quote below on my Twitter feed. 19th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, is one of my favorites. Note his words here as to the vital spiritual nature of community and fellowship within the Body. Where do people find community and fellowship?

They find true believers fellowship (koinonia: κοινωνία, cf. Acts 2:42) best in the small group.

That’s where they connect with people on a deeper level.

That’s where they begin to open up and feel safe.

It’s the relationships they make within the context of the small group that keeps them coming back.

Find a church. Find a small group.

We need each other. Faults, failures and all.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick


Pause – And Think About That…

The Hebrew word, “selah,” found repeatedly in the Psalms is thought by scholars to be an ancient musical term used in the Hebrew psalter meaning, in essence, “pause and think about that.”

The following is worth  pausing and thinking about.

In the first century, the church had no spot-lights, smoke machines, electric instruments or sound systems. Not once is it remotely suggested the leaders were concerned with fashion or creating an “atmosphere of worship” by dimming the lights. I could go on.

But, somehow – void of all modern-day trappings of Christian worship – and under horrifically intense persecution – the church exploded in growth and influence.

No soapbox here. Just an observation. nw

Soul Survivor: Surviving Being Hurt by the Church

“One of the seven angels…came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  (Revelation 21:9)

In his book, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church,  Philip Yancey writes, “When someone tells me yet another horror story about the church, I respond, ‘Oh, it’s worse than that.  Let me tell you my story. I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.”

Unfortunately, people being hurt by the church is not a rare thing. But it’s also nothing new. (Think: Pharisees – the church leaders of Jesus’ time.)

Eugene Peterson describes the church as “equal parts mystery and mess.” I’ve witnessed up close the messy side – the underbelly – of church and, as a result, have been ready to give up on the modern-day, institutional church altogether.

But I didn’t. Here’s why.

I sat with a friend in a coffee shop battered, bruised and tired – ready to give up on church. I was deeply hurt, and deeply angry. My friend looked at me and lovingly said something I’ll never forget: “Nick, you can’t tell Jesus ‘I love You but I hate Your bride.” I thought to myself, “Ouch.”

The hurt received at the hands of a church can be devastating.  Someone once said, “Evil is never so evil as when done in the name of religion.”   Has someone in the church hurt you? Spread lies about you? Gossiped about you? Betrayed your trust? If so, trust the Lord. Jesus’ desire is that His Body reflect Him. And when it doesn’t, He doesn’t need our help fixing it.

Following his own negative experience with church, Philip Yancey wrote, “For all its shortcomings, [the local church] is the body of Christ—God’s chosen agent for bestowing grace on a grace-starved world.”

For every church that appears to specialize in hurting people, there are many more who truly embody the love of Christ.  Find one.  Regardless of how deeply you’ve been hurt, never lose hope in the church as a whole:  it’s Christ’s Body.  And “you can’t tell Jesus ‘I love you but hate His bride.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

All He Did Was Invite Me to Church

For 30 years, I’ve been sharing my story with teenagers of how “a boy who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home wound up serving the Lord in full-time, vocational ministry.” The story always includes the following:

1. A friend of mine invited me to go to church with him.
2. The people at his church were the most loving people I’d ever met. That church was the embodiment of love. I wanted to live there.
3. After watching how much hope, truth, and purpose Christ was giving to me and everyone around me, I told my Youth Pastor (Jim Hardwicke) I felt like God was calling me to surrender my life to Him in ministry – whatever that may look like.
4. On July 15, 1980, at Youth Camp, I surrendered my life to the gospel ministry. My Music Pastor (Bob Griffin) told me, “Nick, if you can be happy doing anything else, God’s not called you.”
5. I can honestly say, even after 30 years, I don’t believe I could be truly happy doing anything else.

That entire story began with an invitation from a friend who loved me enough to invite me to go to church with him. That friend, who lived directly across the street from me, was Curtis Simpson. I mention his name every single time I tell this story because Jesus started this story by using the simple, loving invitation of Curtis. I always finish my story by telling students, “You never know the impact a simple invitation to church may have on a person. For me – it set in motion a lifetime of adventure with the risen Christ.”

I haven’t seen Curtis since 2000. This afternoon, guess who dropped by to see me. The mountain of a man in the photo here is my friend & brother, Curtis Simpson. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for inviting me to go to church with him.  nw

curt & nick

“Don’t Bring Black People”

Donald Sterling is the owner (for now) of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. This past week, a recording of a conversation between Sterling and his almost-50-years-younger mistress surfaced, setting news networks, the sports world, and social media ablaze. Sterling has never professed to be a model of morality. But no one expected to hear what he said on the recording.

The conversation was prompted by a photo of Sterling’s then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, with NBA Hall of Famer, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. When Sterling saw the photo it struck a nerve, prompting him to confront his girlfriend. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation between Sterling and V. Stiviano:

Stiviano: I don’t understand, I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.

Sterling: Well then,….don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.

Stiviano: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

The reason this is so shocking is not because the man is racist (racism is alive and well all over the world.) What’s shocking is that it comes from the owner of a team in the NBA – a league comprised of SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT African Americans.

The NBA waited patiently as NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, decided Sterling’s punishment. That punishment was handed down today (4/29). From “Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been BANNED FOR LIFE from associating with the Clippers and the NBA, and fined the maximum of $2.5 million. In addition, Commissioner Silver said he has asked the Board of Governors to force a sale of the Clippers.”

Sterling has never professed to be a Christian. So we shouldn’t expect him to live like one. However, this story brings up a good question: Does the poison of racism still live in Christian life today?

In his book, “Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church”, Philip Yancey writes about his days growing up in a church-going family in Georgia. Yancey, a white man, writes, “In the 1960’s, as black students sought to integrate Atlanta’s churches, our leadership mobilized lookout squads who took turns patrolling the entrances lest any black ‘troublemakers’ appear. I still have one of the cards they printed up to give to any civil rights demonstrators who might appear. The card stated: ‘Believing your motives to be foreign to God’s Word, we cannot extend a welcome to you and respectfully request you leave the premises quietly. Scripture does NOT teach ‘the brotherhood of man….”

Wow. Just wow. (I would’ve loved to have been the one to break the news to that church that Jesus wasn’t white.)

A half century has passed since that card was printed. But, today, the sad joke within church circles is, “The most segregated hour of the week in America is Sunday morning Worship.”

Racism is nothing new. (Think: Hebrew slaves in Ancient Egypt) Moreover, Jesus, a Jew, grew up in an extremely racist culture. “Jews do not associate with Samaritans,” the woman at the well told Him. (John 4)

I have to admit, I don’t remember a single sermon I’ve ever heard on the topic of racism – and I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years. Like gluttony, gossip, and other “regionally acceptable sins”, it’s rarely even mentioned.

So, was the card printed by Philip Yancey’s church leadership true? Does God NOT teach ‘the brotherhood of man?” (Do I really have to ask that? :)) You be the judge.

Rev. 5:9-10 – And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from EVERY tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Gal. 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Acts 10:34-35 – So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

And this list doesn’t even include all the “whosoever” verses i.e. “Whosoever comes…” “Whosoever will…” “Whosoever believes…” (“Whosoever” meaning, “ALL are invited…”)

Imagine if God was racist, or bigoted. He sends His only begotten Son to die for mankind – with one caveat. He tells His Son: [When you come back to heaven], “Don’t bring white people.” Or, “Don’t bring idiots.” Or, “Don’t bring people with diabetes.” Or, “Don’t bring depressed people.” Instead, Jesus (God with skin on) stood up and shouted, “If ANYONE thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” (John 7:37)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A House United

[Jesus prayed,] “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently [divided]…” Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, Address to the Republican Convention

Our country was never more vulnerable to the attack of other nations than during the Civil War. President Lincoln knew this all too well, which is why, when beginning his Address to the Republican Convention, he chose to use these eternally true words of Jesus Christ.

So, why does the devil work so hard to drive wedges between the people of God. Jesus told us why: “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.” “Indeed, the more I come to know the Lord’s heart,” wrote Francis Frangipane, “the more I am convinced that disunity among the people of God is the work of hell.” In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine said: “Division in the church is worse than war, because it involves eternal souls.”

Satan, working tirelessly to fragment the Body of Christ, appears to understand the following biblical principle more than many Christians: United, the New Testament church assumes the position, nature, and power of what Jesus intended it to be – what He prayed for it to be: an unstoppable force. C.S. Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape wrote to his demon apprentice, Wormwood, [A united Body of Christ is] “a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy.”

“I will build My church,” Jesus said, “and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal region) shall not prevail [overpower it.] (Matthew 16:18)

As seen in the passage from John’s gospel, cited at the top, Jesus prayed specifically that we “may be one.” Frangipane observes, “If Jesus is eternally praying for our oneness, then we must recognize that Satan is continually fighting against it. The devil knows that when we become one with Christ and, through Him, one with each other, it is only a matter of time before this Jesus-built church will destroy the empire of hell!”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick
Quotes from Francis Frangipane are from, “A House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division”; 2005.

Church? Not For Me.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The Christian “blogoshpere” blew up last week when popular Christian author, Donald Miller, (Blue Like Jazz; 2003) wrote a blog explaining (1) why he doesn’t attend a local church, and (2) why he can worship God better outside of the local church. You can read his blog here.

Don’t get mad at him. Plenty have done that already.

Miller’s “mistake” was sharing his personal journey on the world-wide-web, allowing comments. Anyone can leave a comment – even idiots.

The reaction to his blog was so strong that Miller wrote a “follow up” blog a couple of days later, clarifying that his intent was never to give the impression that he is “anti-church,” but rather sharing his spiritual pilgrimage where church is concerned. You can read his “follow up” blog here.

After I read Miller’s “follow up” blog, my heart hurt for him. I left a comment. My first statement: “Hi Don. I have a message for you: I love you, my friend.”

This is not the place to write a thesis on the “doctrine of the church.” My purpose here is to simply remind all of those who, like Miller, have honest questions about the relationship of believers to the local church that Jesus can handle your questions. He loves you. So very much.

Biblically, “church” is not defined as “bricks, mortar & wood.” In truth, walls are optional. The “Church” of Scripture is the Body of Christ, comprising all believers. (“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Cor. 12:27) What’s vitally important, though, is that we’re connected to the Body (as made clear in the Hebrews passage cited at the top.)

There are a number of reasons Jesus used the metaphor of sheep when describing believers. One reason is that any shepherd will agree that when a sheep has strayed/becomes isolated from the flock they are easy prey for the enemy.

As I closed my comments to Miller, I included a quote from a book by Philip Yancey, entitled, “Church: Why Bother? A Personal Pilgrimage”. Introducing his first chapter, Yancey includes a quote by J.F. Powers from “Wheat That Springeth Green” that, at least to me, perfectly describes the local church: “This is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But, she gets where she’s going. Always has, always will, until the end of time. With or without you.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick