Sunday, February 27, 2022

Taking up Christianity



In his book Spiritual Depression Martin Lloyd-Jones said that many people in the church that feel like they are not close to God are in that condition because they “are people who decide to take up Christianity instead of being taken up by Christianity.” I like that way of describing it. Christianity cannot be something we just “take up.”


Have you ever used that phrase—take up? Maybe you decided to take up guitar; you strummed it for a few weeks, but the callouses on your fingers got to be too much. You decided to take up painting, but you realized you are no Bob Ross. Many of us have remnants from the things we took up but never mastered. Following Jesus cannot be like a new hobby we decide to give a try. 


Before taking up a hobby we need to decide if we are willing to make the commitment. Do I have room in my house to set up an art studio or a grand piano? Am I willing to spend the money on the new camera or the boat with all its accessories? Some people make these decisions on a whim and then end up regretting it. Some people join a church or make a profession of faith on a whim, without first deciding if following the Lord is something they are willing to do. Jesus addressed this in Luke 14:28 when He asked, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”


Jesus’ point is that we would not start the construction of a building without knowing the cost. No one wants to be halfway finished and realize they cannot afford to complete it. In the same way, we should not declare our allegiance to God without first seeing what that would require, and if we are willing to pay the price. 

Instead of taking up Christianity, Lloyd-Jones said we need to be taken up by Christianity. We need to allow our faith to take control of us. This means that Christianity is not something we do, but something we become. It is not the same thing as joining a club or signing up for a membership somewhere. Christianity, when properly understood, transforms our lives. Those who merely take it up never experience the true transformation it is meant to bring. 


When it comes to Christianity, once we consider the cost we need to go all in. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” This is not like taking up a hobby for a week and then letting it collect dust. When we give our hearts to the Lord and follow Him completely, we will avoid the spiritual depression that results from not being committed to the God we claim to follow. We will grow closer to Him and not have to wonder if we are truly saved.  


Sunday, February 20, 2022

What are You Making?



On a nice spring day a man decided to take his lunch break and go for a walk. As he was doing so he noticed a new construction project taking place, and being the curious sort, he stopped to find out what was being built. He approached the first construction worker he saw and asked, “What are you making?” “Fifteen dollars and hour,” the man said without even looking up. 


Not satisfied, he approached the next worker and asked the same question. “I’m making a building.” The man was beginning to get frustrated but he asked one more person his question, “What are you making?” The third worker said, “I’m making a building, a grand sanctuary to house the glory of God. It will be the envy of all who pass it.”


That man was fired because he was supposed to be building a Dunkin’ Donuts, but I like his enthusiasm. We should view everything we do as an opportunity to make something grand for God. Each of the three construction workers answered the same question a different way, and their answer reflected their perspective. For the first man it was just about his salary, a means to pay his bills. For the second man it was a singular task, getting done what he was hired to do. 


But for the third man he viewed his occupation as a way to bring glory to God. Paul famously wrote to the church at Corinth, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God ( I Corinthians 10:31).” Even if you are making a donut shop, view it as work done for God’s glory. Make everything as good as it can be. This work ethic seems to be a lost art in the business world these days, with people doing as little as possible to get by. 


We need to realize that we are all making a church if we have been saved. The church, after all, is not the building but the people. When we live the way we are supposed to live we become like a church service in the eyes of other people. When you give your boss 110 percent, you are showing people Jesus through you. When you show patience and self-control, you are showing people Jesus. When you do volunteer work or put the needs of others ahead of yourself, you are showing people Jesus. We are building the church when we live the way we are supposed to live.


When that same idea carries over into what we do on Sundays, the church only grows that much stronger. Put your all into your attendance, your participation, your worship, your giving, and your service, and your local church will be one that thrives. Rather than just building a building, you can build a church.    


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Lily of the Valley



In 1881 Charles Fry wrote a hymn with this familiar refrain: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star, He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.” The line, which also forms the title to the hymn, comes from the Song of Solomon. 2:1 says, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” Lilly of the valley and rose of Sharon have become titles for Christ because of this verse. 


Many Christians take an allegorical approach to interpreting the Song of Songs. They say the poems contained therein exist only as a picture of the love God has for His people. Indeed, the Bible frequently uses the analogy of a marriage, with Jesus being the perfect groom, and the church collectively being the bride. I happen to believe the book is meant to be taken at face value—as a beautiful, at times erotic, expression of love between two real people, King Solomon and his first true love, the Shulamite.


With that said, I believe we also have latitude to take the love of this couple and use it to illustrate the way Jesus feels about us, and how we should feel about Him. H.A. Ironside said of the lily and rose analogy, “It is perfectly right and proper to apply all of these delightful figures to him; for any figure that speaks of that which is beautiful and of good report can be applied to the Lord[1].”


So since it is Valentine’s Day week, can we spend a minute thinking about how much God loves us? Song of Solomon 2:1-2 serve as a great depiction of this love. She speaks of herself in the first verse, saying she is a lily in the valley. Have you ever seen a field with just a single lily? If there is one lily, there are thousands more. Elizabeth Mulloy wrote, “She asks, Who am I? I am nothing special that the king would want to know me, hear my fears or share my dreams. I am just a common wild flower[2].”


You are one of seven billion people in the world, one lily among all the others in this valley called earth. How would God even know who you are, let alone care about you? But He does! Even the very hairs on your head are numbered (Matthew 10:30). It is natural for us to feel the way the Shulamite woman felt in this poem. Of all the lilies in this valley, why would you ever look my way? She becomes like her father-in-law David, who asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him Psalm 8:4)?”


But the king’s response in verse two is perfect. He takes her own words and turns them in such a way as to melt her heart. He replies, “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” Daniel Akin paraphrased his response this way: “You are not just a flower among flowers, one of a million. No, you are one in a million, a beautiful wildflower among thorns[3].”


The king of Israel was saying, “When I look out into the valley, I don’t see fields of flowers. I see one beautiful lily standing out among thorns.” The phrase so is my love among the young women was his way of saying everyone else was just a thorn to him. 


I am not saying that God views some of us as thorns. The point is that we can make the love of God personal. He loves you. He loves me. And there is plenty of love to go around. We do not settle for scraps of His attention, being evenly divided among all of the planet’s inhabitants. When God looks at you, you might as well be the only person in the universe, and He gazes upon you as if you were the only lily blooming in a field of thorns. 





[1] Ironside, H.A., Ironside Commentaries: Song of Solomon, p.26

[2] Mulloy, Elizabeth, Divine Love Song, p.59

[3] Akin, Daniel, Christ-Centered Exposition: Song of Solomon p.39

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Is Going to Church Enough?


I believe that being a part of a local church is very important. Obviously some have physical reasons for not being able to attend in person, but there are people who can go that choose not to. There are wonderful benefits to being part of a church body that some miss out on, saying that they do not have to go to church to go to heaven. 


The Bible tells us not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), so we should make it a priority. On the other extreme are those who think they are going to heaven simply because they go to church. Often I ask people about their relationship with the Lord, and they tell me they go to church. Those are two completely different questions. It is possible to go to heaven without going to church, and it is possible to go to church and not go to heaven. I would not recommend either of those options! 


I want to address those that might think their church attendance will get them into heaven someday. Please allow me to point out two occasions in which Jesus spoke to those who regularly attended church. In Luke 4 Jesus spoke in His hometown synagogue, and if I may paraphrase the message, Jesus basically compared Himself to the prophets Elijah and Elisha, two men who specifically helped Gentiles (a poor widow and a general with leprosy); He was sent by God to help people who were in need. By implication, He was comparing the people in the synagogue to those desperate Gentiles. The point was that just being religious Jews was not enough to put them in good standing with God. They still needed to repent of their sins, recognize their need for a Savior, and put their trust in Jesus, not in what they were doing. 


How did the people respond? “And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff (v.29).” They wanted to murder Jesus because of His words, so they understood that He didn’t view their attendance as being enough to save them. 


Another time Jesus spoke to a church was in Revelation 3 when delivering a message to the church at Laodicea. These church members were affluent because of the industry in their town, and they thought their prosperity was a sign that God was blessing them, so they must be all set spiritually. Jesus told them the opposite: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (v.17).’” 


Is it possible for you to go to church every Sunday and not be a Christian? Absolutely. Your attendance is great, but you must understand that is a good work, and good works do not save (Ephesians 2:8-9) because we can never do enough of them to counteract the sin we have already committed against a holy God. The only thing to do is follow the advice Jesus gave that church at Laodicea: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (v.19).” Repent—that is, change your mind, realize you cannot save yourself by your good works, and recognize that Jesus already did all the work to save you. Put your trust in Him, and then you wont just be a church attender, you will be a real part of the Body of Christ.