As I was doing my daily trip to Proverbs, I came across a verse in chapter 15 is what it said: Proverbs 15:13 "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. (NIV, all other verses will be the same)
It is a simple statement, and obviously true. Study the faces and the eyes of the people around you, they will tell you what is going on in their heart.
That verse triggered this thought: "The problem with church people is there are too many of them." Now why would my mind lump those two thoughts together? Because we, being the church people, too many times are guilty of not noticing or causing the crushed spirits around us. Why do we do this? We are too focused on being church people instead of a person of God.
When was the last time you heard someone who didn't go to church say something nice about us? Most say we are hypocrites or that we pretend to be better than them. Others refuse to go because of past mistakes made by believers. Maybe we told them they had to fit a "cookie cutter" mold, or pretended we didn't notice them when they walked through the church doors. We have all heard the horror stories.
So what is the problem with us? If we are supposed to be God's people, why aren't we acting like it? Once we figure out the problem, what do we do to fix it?
The first issue we face is not fully understanding and following Jesus's two greatest commandments. Mark 12:30-31 says, "Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."
Let's simplify this down to one easy statement. The greatest commandments are to love God and love people. The most important focus in our life should be God. He created the universe and everything in it, giving him the right to demand our loyalty and respect.
God gave us guidelines to live our lives by, but because we as people are "bent to broken" we willfully chose to ignore and disobey them because of sin. But because he loves us, God sent Jesus to die on a cross for us, even though we didn't deserve it!
The second part of that command is where we mess up. That is the idea of loving people. Jesus isn't talking about the love we show for our puppies, cars, or material things. He is talking about the way God loves us, a love that has life changing power. And when we decide to take this approach to people, we truly live out the first part of Jesus's command, loving God.
Unfortunately, misunderstanding Jesus's two greatest commandments isn't our only problem. Take a look at what he says in Matthew 7:1-2: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
I've heard several preachers say Jesus wasn't actually meaning that we shouldn't judge, which at first I didn't understand. Jesus's words seemed to be pretty clear, and for a long time I followed along with the world in using these verses as an excuse to keep living the same life style.
The first part of the verse says "do not judge." This is where I used to stop, missing Jesus's meaning entirely. God has given us each the ability to chose between good and evil. Therefore, daily we have to judge between the two. We have to choose the type of people who influence our lives, again making a judgment call.
Its not until you add the "do not judge" to the second portion, which says "for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged," that you understand the message fully. Jesus is saying the standard you judge others by has to beÊthe same one you live by.
Have you ever played a game with a six year old? Notice how the rules always seem to change to favor them. People never really grow out of that phase. We set a standard for ourselves, and then hold others to it. That is until we run into a problem that forces us to go outside our standard. Its okay for us, but when someone else does it, they are wrong.
Too many church people have created a standard that is impossible for themselves to live by, let alone others. When we set standards like that we become like the Pharisees. They were not bad people, just living life by the wrong standard. The problem is standards made by you and me are always changing. The good news is, God has already made a standard for us, and it never changes.
What if we as Christians started using God's standard to judge? A standard built from justice, but administered through love. How would that affect the way we look at people? How would it change our churches?
Now that we have identified some problems, let's take a look at the solution. Acts 2:42-47 gives a recipe for changing from church people to people of God. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Verse 42 "They DEVOTED themselves to the apostles teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
Being devoted means getting back to the basics. Find a Bible and start reading it. Not just hurrying through to say we did it, but read to understand it. The more we read, the more knowledge of God's standard we gain. When you come across something you don't understand, study it. If you still don't understand, it's okay. Make it a matter of prayer.
Another important part of being devoted is dedicating yourself back to your church and the teachings of your pastor. God has placed them in a position to lead you. Weigh what they say by studying the word, but listen to what they say. The words that God gives them will help you grow if you apply it.
Step 2: Verse 43-45 "Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common selling their possessions and goods, they GAVE to anyone as he had need."
As we devote ourselves to God's word, our eyes and mind will be become truly opened to the things of God. The spirit of selfishness we are born with will start to fade away.
That brings us to the second item, giving. The most obvious form of giving is money. A few years ago, my grandpa, who was just started to attend church, was discussing the issue with me. He said that he didn't want to give money because God doesn't need it.
He was right because God doesn't need our money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the thousand hills the cattle are standing on, the grass from the hills the cattle eat, and the air in the sky the cattle are sucking in. A guy with all that and more really doesn't need our money.
But, as I told my grandpa, the money isn't the real issue. God wants to know what is more important to you, Him or your money? God has blessed all of us in our own lives, in multiple ways. He is a loving god who wants to do good things for us. Why wouldn't we want to share and give back to him?
Money churches take in is used to pay the utilities and maintenance for our nice places of worship and allow pastors to do ministry. The money is also used to build churches in other countries, feed the hungry, give people clothes, and whatever other need a church sees. Are we so selfish we are willing to let all those needs go because we want to hoard our money? Church people, we need to stop being selfish and give to God what is truly his. If we started tithing and giving like we should, maybe pastors would be able to stop getting up and begging us for it.
Money isn't the only thing God wants from us. He wants our time. Yes, we spend time daily in his word, but that isn't enough.
I have talked to several pastors and they all say the same thing. They all say how hard it is to find people willing to step up and fill positions in their church. Positions like working in the nursery, children's department, vacation Bible school, teen programs, Sunday school teachers, and even small group leaders.
Church people, stop being lazy! Take time to invest in people's lives. One of my best memories as a young person was my youth pastor taking us out to breakfast. Other times he would take us to a dirt racetrack. There wasn't a lot of spiritual talk going on, but they are want helped change me because he was willing to take time.
We don't have to be a pastor or have a degree in psychology to spend time with people. Not good with kids? What about the elderly? Drop in and visit them. See if there is anything you can to for them. Not good with people? What about doing odd jobs around the church? Ask your pastor if there is something you can do.
Step 3: Verse 46 "Every day they continued to MEET TOGETHER in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…"
This goes along with what we were just talking about, but also it's a little different. Before it was just spending time together, verse 46 is encouraging us to build bonds of friendship. Not the friends who come and go with wind, but the friends who stick with you through anything. The ones who will encourage you in a time of struggle, but are not afraid to get in your face when you are doing wrong.
We as humans need these bonds. When I was going through my divorce, it was difficult. I felt like everything I had worked so hard for was being taken away. But I had a group of people who rallied around me, both physically and in prayer. Even though I couldn't see God working in my life, I could feel him moving through them.
Step 4: Verse 47 "...PRAISING God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
The last thing we do to fix our problems is praise God. Praise him in your prayer time, praise him when you are fellowshipping, praise him when you are going through rough times. If we are willing to do that, and all the other things mentioned, look at what God will do for us. God will add to our church families!
Friends, its time for us to stop being church people. Let's stop giving the world more excuses to run from God. Instead, let us be become people of God, examples of why others need to run to him.
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