Continual Dependence Upon God

“As they had their pasture, they became satisfied.  And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me.”—–Hosea 13:6

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Believers often talk about their need for God.  This need for God is the basis for anyone to come to faith.  And without understanding the depth of our sin, even our very existence, no one can begin to understand true faith in Jesus.  People may say they have a need for God, but how many really comprehend their need for continual dependence upon God in our day to day lives??

Many will give lip service when it comes to saying they have a continual dependence upon the Lord.  They may even sing songs and hymns like, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, as an anthem of relying on God.  However, many believers tend to live their lives and only turn to God only in desperate times.

Tragedy, pain, and loss are just a few of the types of experiences when even secular people may reach out to God.  It is in these times when people exhaust every human option that leaves nothing but to hope in God; a God that they rarely, if ever, even think about any other time.  There is something about feeling without hope that can provide an opportunity to go to the One True Source of all lasting hope.

Most of the time, though, as soon as these difficult circumstances pass, people go back to business as usual.  The sad reality is that it is usually no different among many professing believers today.  It’s almost as if God is merely a safety net when people are desperate, but then they return to living and controlling their own lives once again.  There are so many examples in Scripture where people look like they turn to God, only then are quick to ditch their so-called faith as soon as things get back to normal.

Each of us are at least guilty of living selfishly to some extent.  Hopefully we find ourselves growing in living out our faith in all areas of our lives, but the truth is, there are times that we don’t.  It is a humbling realization that we need to be reminded of continually.

If we are to live according to true faith, we must find ourselves with a continual dependence upon God throughout each day of our lives.

Easier said than done.  Even though we would like to claim that we always live our lives for the Lord, we all struggle with keeping our focus on Him.  But there are no excuses.  We must wake up each day with the purpose of walking with the Lord to make sure we don’t find ourselves drifting away.  We do this by spending time in prayer, reading and studying the Bible, meeting with other believers, and submitting ourselves in obedience to the Lord.  This continual dependence keeps us connected and pursuing the Lord no matter what we may encounter each day.

There are so many things that distract us from our faith in the Lord.  Some not bad in themselves, but can pull us away nonetheless.  Often times our feeling of stability, or having things under control, give us a false sense that we are doing okay.  But just as times of seeming chaos can drive some to God for a time, the feeling of assurance and that all is going well can also drive people away from God in selfish-pride and arrogance.

In Hosea 13, we see that the conditions of being well provided for led to the people becoming “satisfied”.  This satisfaction was a comfortability and a seeming stability.  The perceived security resulted in pride and forgetting about God.

This is quite common for people across all ends of the economic spectrum.  Sure, the scale might shift in the actual amounts of wealth and the things people possess, but the same attitudes still reside.  Hence the feeling of being “satisfied”, at whatever level, has the temptation for any of us to fall away from the Lord.

It’s almost as if there is a great warning, not about whether we may or may not have wealth or possessions, but in our pursuit.  The warning is for us to be on guard against pride; so that we don’t believe that it is by our knowledge and by our strength we have all that we have.  It is a continual acknowledgement that by God’s grace, His mercy and wisdom, that we even wake up each day.  It is by God’s blessing that He guides, directs, and provides.  And it is by God’s sovereignty that we humbly bow ourselves in recognition that He is God and we are not.

A continual dependence upon God is rooted in our daily relationship with Him.

When we profess to live for the Lord and sing songs and hymns like, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, it isn’t just a trite cliche, but a humble acknowledgement of our submission to God.  By turning to God throughout our days, in all things, we lay down our lives and seek to glorify God who is our All in All.  It is through this that we express of our need for forgiveness of sin, our need for wisdom and guidance, and our ultimate need for God Himself.

Trusting in God isn’t easy.  It is natural for us to want to go our own way, do the things we want, and get puffed up with pride when we get comfortable.  But as believers in Jesus, we need to be known as people who continually seek God and pursue Him and His Way throughout our lives.  Not only does this confirm our own faith, but also serves as a testament to others of our faith in Jesus.

What Is Church??

When thinking about church, I often reflect on my time in Bible college and coming to a fork in the road; either I was going to follow God’s Word or follow what many people were calling “church”.  What was being promoted as “church” by seemingly most, was something different from what I was learning in the Bible.

In my final two papers for college, I wrote on the topics, “The Nature And Role Of A Pastor” and “The Nature And Role Of The Church”.  I ended up getting a lot of criticism because people thought there were far better and more pressing things to write about.  I realized, however, that if we don’t get faith and the Church right, what are we truly left with??  Thus, I began a deeper search in the Bible for answering these two major subjects.

What I learned in writing those papers is still critical.  And even more, I return constantly to these same subjects when I see what faith and churches have fundamentally transformed in to being today.  That being said, there is no way in a simple blog post that anyone can even begin to tackle such a huge subject.  But to try to sum it up, the Church is simply the worldwide set of individual believers.  Churches, then, are the local gathering of these individual believers.

Now there are many questions we can ask as to the characteristics of the Church, but two critical questions to start with are:

1. What is the purpose of Church??

2. What does the Church do when gathered together??

Often what we see is that most people simply accept what is being promoted as “church” and then look for one that has a pastor with the most charisma, the best music, provides an “spiritual” experience, has many diverse “ministries”, and fulfills their so-called “needs”.  It ends up being a game of who can attract the most people by sharing “Jesus” in the most “relevant” way.  But if we were to each begin by asking what the purpose of the Church is from Scripture instead of what “I” can get out of church, we would be a step closer to living out the Truth.

A book in the Bible that helps us understand the characteristics of the Church is the book of Acts.  Acts describes the beginnings of the early New Testament Church and what was important to them right after Jesus’ accession.  Acts isn’t the only book in Scripture to understand the purpose of the Church and what believers did as they gathered, but you really can’t understand the Church without it.

In Acts 2:42, it describes that the Church was committed to four critical things; the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.  By all accounts, the Church was simplistic and relational to the core.  Believers were focused on the teaching of the Bible, encouraging and challenging one another in fellowship, taking communion and sharing meals together, and spending time in prayer with one another.  If those things were important to the Church then, can we conclude that these must be important for us today??

Since the Church was individual believers gathering together to be taught Scripture, have intentional fellowship, take communion and share meals, and be devoted in prayer, it provides the essential foundation from which we, as believers, should view church now.  This isn’t to say there isn’t more, but it seems people have gotten so far away from the simplicity of Church laid out in Scripture that most of what we see going on today has very little of these things as their true foundation.  People may say their church is “Bible-based” (whatever that means), has small groups or “life groups” (whatever those really are), partakes in communion and/or has events with meals for the church, and has prayers that are offered during services.  But if we are to be really honest, don’t you think that many have complicated things so much to the point that many are much more concerned about defending their “churches” when challenged, rather than striving for the Truth??

The issue at hand is that churches have confused “going and making disciples” with a myriad of “spiritual” sounding endeavors disguised as “church”.  Bible preaching and teaching has been replaced by someone “formulating” sermons that spend more time discussing illustrations, promoting new books, quoting people with some “deep and nuanced“ insight, and telling stories, than systematically going through the Bible itself.  Most are being told that their contemplative spiritual formation and “missional” activities are real faith, rather than the Gospel itself.  The average person really doesn’t know the difference and never questions if it is Biblical, because everyone seems to be doing it.  Just gotta find a “church” doing it the best and start attending.

To say that people’s understanding of faith and church is a mess would be a massive understatement.  With so many different “expressions” of churches, are we to simply accept the validity, beliefs, and practices of all??  The clear answer is, no.

Just because someone or some church invokes the name of “Jesus”, doesn’t mean we are on the same team.  On the outside, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between one church and another.  One may put more emphasis on one element or another, or one may have a different style than another, but without diving deeper into what they really believe, it is sometimes tough to see what they are really about.  That’s why it’s critical that our starting place is being always grounded in all of the Bible and keeping our discernment honed if we are to walk in the Truth.

One sure-fire way to know what people believe and what they understand about church, is to look at what is important to them.  Are they more concerned about “social issues” or the Gospel??  Do their pastors, leaders, and people spend more time talking about the “events” of the church or promoting some popular “christian” book, rather than spending real time diving into the Word??  Do they elevate the beliefs and opinions of man over true obedience to the Lord??  Does their church spend more time marketing, branding, and talking about the latest trends of the day, or the simplicity of “going and making disciples”??  And maybe, just maybe, it’s not question about “their” church, but rather one we must each really ask about “my” church.

Even these things can be difficult to discern at times.  But if we want to make sure we are following the Truth and surrounding ourselves with others seeking the same, we will be willing to adjust our lives accordingly.

This may mean that we need to find another church or even possibly change the way we do church.

When the Church isn’t about the pastor, the buildings we are told are necessary, and all the other trendy things we see in churches today, we begin to see the Church looks a lot closer to some of the small groups that get together to truly study the Bible and minister to one another.  So we have to ask, why the huge emphasis on these large gatherings and calling this “church”??

We have been led to believe that “church” is what happens on those larger Saturday night and Sunday morning services.  Small groups are just small groups.  But when we know that the Church actually looks more like these “small groups”, why do people tend to revert back to calling these other times church??  Maybe it’s just a matter of what we’ve embraced as “church”.

Let me suggest that I think that it is important to address the issue of the size of church.  It may be possible that larger groups gathered to be the Church may be able to function like what we see in the Bible.  But I think it is, at best, much more difficult.  It is easier for most to simply “attend” church rather than each person being spiritually invested in and practically ministering to one another.  If the church is more about what each of us has to “give” to the spiritual growth of one another rather than seeking about what I can “get”, then church has to be done in a way that we are able to get to know people personally.  Why not, then, be more focused on multiplication of smaller churches at a quicker rate than simply growing larger and larger organizations??  The size of church is really important, but it must be left for another time.

There are many areas in which churches today have no resemblance to what we see in Scripture.  It is all a matter of if we are willing to submit ourselves to following what the Bible says or to simply go along with what we have learned and have been told is church.  What this requires is gathering together with other believers that are seeking the Truth; even if it means that it may look different from most of the churches we see today.

There is so much more to say about faith and the Church, but I hope this may be the starting place for each of us to return to the Bible to understand these things, rather than modeling our beliefs and practices by much of what we see in our world today.

Where Is The Discernment??

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and steadfast — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made minister.”—— Colossians 1:21-23

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What if you were inside your home sound asleep and didn’t realize the house was on fire and quickly burning to the ground.  What if you had a terminal disease, in which you only had a short period of time to live, that doctors, family, and friends knew about, but you were unaware.  Or what if the things you believed about faith and church were not actually true.  Would you want to know??

We all know the answer.  Of course we would want to know.  But when it comes to discernment about Christianity and churches these days, people would rather not hear the “bad news”.

The truth is that what many are following and believing about “Christianity” is no where near the truth of what we see in the Bible.  I don’t go a day without seeing, hearing, reading, or meeting with those that are claiming to be following the Truth, but don’t realize that what is disguised as true faith, is only leading them to destruction.

Let’s be clear.  It’s time for all believers to wake up.  The cost is too great; eternity is at stake.  And I for one, can’t sit back and watch as those around me walk around like everything is just fine when many believe and are a part of something that is leading to their eternal demise.

I know some may be thinking, “Here we go again, another post about how ‘all’ churches are bad”.  Or that, “Randy is just ‘upset’ and has is out for anyone who doesn’t believe ‘just like him’”.

The truth is that there are very few people these days that I find who are humble and teachable enough to talk about the real issues happening within so-called churches.  And even more rare are those who are really committed to reading and studying the Bible to be able to sift through truth and error or even truth and opinion.

I do admit that I find myself pretty upset at times.  But even more, really sad about the direction in which I see so many going.  When I, and those believers I talk with, struggle with being able to point to any churches that are actually preaching and teaching the Bible, as well seeking to live out the true characteristics of the Church we see in Scripture, it is really troubling.  This is the reason that I cannot sit idly by watching people embracing things that are so unbiblical.  It is crushing.  I care far too deeply to not speak up and warn anyone and everyone I am able.  Even if I need to speak repeatedly about the same things.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a remnant of earnest believers seeking to follow the truth of Scripture.  And I know there is a remnant of churches that are seeking the same.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  Much of what we see today is not really what the Church looks like from what we see in the Bible.  Enough with the excuses that there are “no perfect churches”.  And if we are really honest with ourselves, let’s not simply “settle” when we know that the pastors, leaders, and people in churches aren’t willing to make bold stands for the Truth; especially when it is not popular.

When you read through the Bible, it is clear that God cares deeply about the Truth.  In the New Testament, it is one person after another pleading and appealing for people to remain steadfast.  If it mattered that much in Scripture, shouldn’t all who claim a faith in Jesus have the same zeal for the Truth??

It is easy to sit back and not question whether what we are being taught or what we believe about faith and church is right.  It is easier to keep the status quo than be known as confrontational.  The old cliche is that it is called the “comfort zone” for a reason.  We have been told that inviting our friends to church, “serving” in the church, being activists for “social justice”, and doing community service projects are stepping outside of our bubble and being a part of “something bigger than ourselves”.  But in reality, these things look more like the world than truly “going and making disciples”.

I have been warned throughout my time in ministry that I need to be careful in criticizing churches and what people believed.  And I have taken that advice to heart and still often think about that counsel.  It is important to not rashly go after things without careful prayer and study.  I’ve also learned that when there is clear danger, we must speak up.  People may not like hearing the truth, or even like us because of us trying to share the truth in love.  But what most miss is that it is quite unloving to not tell someone the truth; even if it is difficult for all involved.

We must contend for the faith.

Paul reminds us in the first chapter of Colossians of our prior life of being engaged in “evil deeds”, all that Jesus has done for us, and the critical importance of finding ourselves “firmly established and steadfast” in the faith.  This isn’t just a suggestion, but a command that we must examine ourselves with daily; that we are personally growing in applying God’s Word to our lives and surrounding ourselves with others doing the same.  We must not “move away from the hope of the gospel” in order to compromise, accommodate, or even be afraid that we might hurt people’s feelings because of speaking the Truth.

Churches and what people believe about Christianity are truly on fire, have terminal diseases, and much of what is being modeled is not true.  It may all sound good and be wrapped up to sound “Christian”.  But we also know from 1 Corinthians 11:12-15 where it says, “But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting.  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

We must take what we are seeing today extremely serious and separate ourselves from the clear compromises.  I challenge each of us to consider how to define the Church from what we see in the Bible and not by what is being peddled as “christianity” and “church” today.  I bet we would all find that we need some serious adjustments in order to truly be living as the Church.

In the next post, “What Is The Church??”