Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
I was up early this morning. No real reason. But when I woke up at 3:00am, I could not fall back asleep. After tossing and turning for a bit, I decided to head down to the couch and watch TV. One of the shows I occasionally get sucked into is called “Mysteries of the Abandoned” on the Discovery Channel. This shows travels the world in search of ignored and neglected ruins. They rediscover all sorts of long-forgotten engineering marvels, decaying cities and empty factories that once stood on the cutting edge of design and construction. Today, these relics are a shell of what they once were. They are rotting and falling apart. In each episode, historians and engineers examine the heyday of these old engineering triumphs. They tell the stories of who originally designed the structure, its historical significance, and why it was ultimately no longer viable. This morning’s story had some local flare; it told of the SS United States—now emptied, abandoned, and anchored in a nearby Philadelphia port. As fascinating as each story is, it is undeniably bittersweet. Sure, it is great to see the pictures and the videos, or the depictions, of when those places were full of life. Yet despite the bustling days of the past, such abandoned structures are now an unavoidable depiction of that site’s current uselessness and demise. Even though these structures were once the talk-of-the-town, they have come to a sad expiration. The stories of their “glory days” are all in the past; that is all they have left. The reality is that these sites are essentially dead.
There is no present.
There is no future.
Thinking about this show on my drive in, I couldn’t help but consider some of the statistics I’ve heard over the years regarding the church in America. It’s been reported that about 3,000 churches close per year in our country. These church buildings are then sold, bulldozed, or now sit abandoned. Additionally, years ago I recall hearing that about 1.2 million people leave the church each year. Each one abandoning their congregation and giving way to faith decay.
We have a God who has promises, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” The presence of our God and the love He has for us exists beyond any set time or tangible place. He is reliable and dependable. In Psalm 94:14 the author comforts us with these words, “The Lord will not abandon his people; he will not desert those who belong to him.” What an incredible promise God makes to us! And this promise is not just to us as individuals, but also to us as a church. God will never leave or abandon our congregation.
I believe that knowing our God continues to be with us, and desires to bless our congregation, assures us that we are still on the cusp of our heydays here at King of Kings. Our "glory days" still lie ahead. Because He is present with us, our future is most assuredly bright. This is true of any faithful, Biblical congregation. To be fair, the present state of the Church in America shows us that we have our work cut out for us. There will be tough times; hardships will come. Yet, we forge on. We continue to gather and continue to worship. We continue to study and continue to pray. We continue to reach out and continue to invite others in. The mission of the church is unchanging; we are to seek and save the lost with the beautiful and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. My hope and prayer for this new school year, is that we begin to really engage our neighbors, our friends, and our preschool families. We need to see the hustle and bustle in the Sunday morning walls of our church; it is time for this place to again be filled with the excitement of adults and the energy of children.
Come on back to church this fall! 😊
“God is taking care of you, even when it seems like you’re all alone. Believe me, God is working hard behind the scenes of your life.” (Anonymous)
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Having returned a bit earlier than anticipated from our Midwest wedding, and because I already secured pastoral coverage for worship here at King of Kings, this past Sunday our family attended worship like a “normal” family. By normal, I simply mean, not as a pastor and pastor’s family. All five of us got into the same car, at the same time, and only about 10 minutes before the service started. We all walked into the church together. We dressed in our summer, casual church attire and took our place in the seats, blending in as just another family in the crowd. When the service was over, we all walked out together, at the same time, and without having to make sure the lights were off and doors were locked. Truthfully, it was really nice and quite refreshing to worship together as a “normal” family. It was also neat to check out a nearby church, with its different style and format to worship. Even if it was rediscovered that I behave much better in church when I’m leading worship. (Although in my defense, the children definitely started it.) 😉
One unanticipated thing that I noticed, even prior to attending that church, was the temptation that the Devil put before me—starting as early as Saturday evening. We had our choice to go to any church at all… OR we could simply not go. Oh yes, I heard the sneaky whispers of that great deceiver. “Take the morning off! Lay low and do nothing! It’s just one week. You don’t need to go. Chill out!” Indeed, even after we narrowed it down to which church we would attend that Sunday, the temptation to play worship hooky did not subside. After all, this was not my church and I had zero responsibilities. No one would know if we didn’t show up. No one would see if we decided to go back to bed. No one would notice if we instead hit up a local diner for breakfast. No one would know if we rationalized our absence with an empty, half-hearted, “We’ll watch the livestream later.” No one would have a clue if we skipped church altogether. I have to be honest; the temptation was really strong to not go. But God’s Spirit continued to nudge at my conscious; reminding me that I know better. Thankfully, we did not cave to the deceiver’s tactics and off to worship we went. I’m glad we did.
Of course, on a typical Sunday, I’m at our church about 90 minutes prior to worship beginning. Thinking through my sermon, finetuning Bible study, moving tables and chairs, etc. I don’t have time to be distracted or tempted. But you all most certainly do! My experience this past Sunday helps me relate and empathize with that temptation. “But Saturday was a late night.” “We could stay home and watch church in our pajamas.” “I really don’t want to listen to Pastor Steve preach again.” These are the persistent ploys and logical arguments that the evil one attacks us with. But we know better; the Bible teaches us better. I love the conciseness in Hebrews 10:25 via God’s Word Translation. It reads: “We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.”
Don’t stop gathering. Don’t stop worshiping. Ironically, the message we heard last Sunday at this “other” church was a discussion on what healthy churches look like. Once such thing, pulled from Acts 2, is that a healthy church is one where people consistently show up for each other—a community with a shared belief in God and a genuine love for one another. Isn’t that what we want our church to be about? A place where we can find guidance and strength in God’s Word. A place where we can find support and prayer from fellow believers. A place where we can find acceptance and community. A place where people are able to be served and willing to serve others. A place that lifts us all up in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. A place where God’s good word proclaims that we have value and worth. A place where we want to go because we have good friends and maybe even a little fun!
I know the temptations to stay home are real, especially in these last summer weeks. But keep showing up. You’ll be glad you did.
“I go to church as an expression of my need for God and for God’s family.” (Philip Yancey)
“Do not go where it is all fine music, grand talk and beautiful architecture. Go where the Gospel is preached. And go often!” (Charles Spurgeon)
“The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church… is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.” (D.L. Moody)
This is probably my last correspondence with you all for quite some time. In fact, this may be my last weekly blast to you as the full-time pastor of King of Kings. It is nothing personal, and I didn’t get myself into any trouble. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Please allow me to explain. Within the past 48 hours, I have gotten three different emails from three entirely unrelated people. But in each instance, I am the lucky recipient and benefactor of three pending deposits into my bank account. Imagine my great fortune to know that three unrelated, foreign businesspeople have each chosen me to spread their funds. Within minutes after I send them each just a little bit of my personal accounting information, my currently putrid bank account will be inundated with transfers from overseas. One for $500,000. A second for $2.4 million dollars. And a third for $16.3 million dollars. Of course, I will be making a sizeable donation back to the church, but nevertheless it seems like a good time to alter my life’s course. It was never my intention to retire this early, but with this streak of good fortune I have begun looking for a house on a southern island as my next residence.
Hopefully, by now, you know that I am joking. I know that these emails are scams. I immediately delete the email and block the sender. But sadly, many people fall for such scams. Whether they come via email or over the phone, good people are often led astray and duped by people into sharing their important information. What they think is an unforeseen blessing, turns out to destroy them. What sounds like a satisfying and exciting gift, turn outs to be a hoax. Their lives are irreparably damaged.
Scams come in spiritual forms as well. During our time on this earth, we are constantly distracted by different things that take our focus away from God. Some of this can be turned into our own idols that we worship and put all our focus on instead. God continues to teach us to not be persuaded by false teachings and idols because only He can give us truth so that we can abide in Him. Jesus warns about false prophets and teachers who come to us with twisted ideas about belief in God and how to live our lives. In Matthew 7:15 we hear, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” These people might use the right religious language or seem to be great leaders. But the truth, Jesus says, is that they are like wolves who will wreak havoc within a sheepfold (the church) if they are allowed to go unchecked. You can be persuaded by anything that stands in the way of your relationship with God. People within the church can be a part of this as well and use God’s Word to make their false teachings seem believable, as humans we are easily convinced.
Much like the emails I received, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Being involved with false teachings, whether you spread them yourself or believe the lies they present, causes you to be corrupt and tears down your Spirit. What deceptively promises to help, will actually harm you because it removes your gaze of worship away from the Creator. Don’t get duped! Anything apart from God never can fully satisfy our lives. However, while we may be tempted to take advice from teachings we believe to be easier and decide to follow other things we believe are good for us, only God truly knows what is good. Remember this verses from last Sunday? “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We need to understand that if we abide in God, He will reveal the truth to us through His Spirit and through His Word. I recently saw a Facebook post that said: “I am studying the book of Micah right now and came across this gem of a verse in which he laments how people don't want to hear what's true—they want to hear what makes them happy: "If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' that would be just the prophet for this people!" (Micah 2:11) Some things never change, right? The pleasing "prophets" for today's people just keep repeating in one way or another that every individual is their own authority on the truth and morality. And people love them for it more than they love acknowledging the authority and goodness of their maker (cf. Romans 1).
My friends, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must always view everything through the lens of truth itself: the Bible. Spend time in God’s Word, digging deep in Scripture, meditating on it and committing it to memory. The more you understand and internalize the Bible, the easier it will be for you to discern truth from lie and solid doctrine from false teaching.
Ope, time for me to go. I just got a phone call about my car’s extended warranty—good thing I’m getting all that extra money wired to me soon! 😉
“Error always goes to church because Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, infiltrates the systems of religion, particularly Christianity even true Christianity and plants his seeds of error there and a gullible, witless, uneducated, undiscerning church becomes a victim.” (Martin Luther)
“The teaching of a false prophet cannot withstand scrutiny under the divine light of Scripture.” (John MacArthur)
Pastor Steve Vera