The Heart of the Church

dreamstime_xl_69735318There was a balcony at the back of the church for slaves. It wasn’t hard to visualize the ones who had stood up there (surely they weren’t given chairs), worshiping God while the pastor preached and the people sang. Were they allowed to sing as well? My mind was taken up with wondering what type of life they had led, here in the deep south, seventy-five years before. They had been freed about five years when this church was formed, but obviously the landowners cared enough for their former slaves to provide an area where they could worship. Now it was only a church for the “whites,” and the balcony had been divided into small classrooms. The blacks had their own church, and if I had had my choice, I would probably have chosen to be in theirs, as happy, alive and worshipful as it was!  But that was life back then, and you didn’t question it.

We had just made the move to the rural countryside in a new state, North Carolina, all the way from Ohio–the “north,” which made us Yankees. My mom and dad’s priority had been to find a house, then a church. The church was small, organized not long after Abraham Lincoln was shot, as twenty-five families in the countryside needed a place to worship. These people raised tobacco or had cattle farms, and had become, for the most part, upper middle class–whatever it looked like in the mid-to late 1800’s. They also didn’t take to strangers.

Momma didn’t know that. She had never met a stranger. Mother would never have imagined that our presence in that small church might upset someone. We might come in with different beliefs, different ideas, or not recognize that The Broadman Hymnal and the King James Bible were both ordained by God, and no other hymnbook or Bible was to be part of church. Eventually her sunny ways endeared us to the community, and after some time we ceased to be Yankees, and settled in. It helped that, at only thirteen, I could play the hymns in the Broadman Hymnal, and they needed a piano player. I was exceedingly blessed that my mom, who got a part time job in the community grocery store where she made many friends, never noticed color: you could have been green or blue, and she would still have been the same, loving, friendly person. She raised me the same way, and it didn’t occur to me that color mattered to most people. We called that community “home” for a long time.

It wasn’t very long before we realized this church was small and picturesque because it looked as it had in the 1800’s. They weren’t about The Great Commission, they were about listening to the preaching, singing, praying, and then returning the next Sunday. The church gradually, over the next several years, grew enough to need a small fellowship hall and a few extra classrooms added, just because people were finding the rural community to their liking. For the most part, though, it remained for the next twenty years exactly as it had when we first saw it. The balcony had been divided into three classrooms, no longer needed for another race. As I said, that was the way life was back then, and you didn’t question it.

Sometime in the late ’60’s a pastor came in who wanted to do that radical God-thing: evangelize! Scandalous! He actually wanted to invite people to church who didn’t know some of the songs, had used another hymnbook, read from another version of the Bible, (horror of horrors), and get them saved! God smiled on him, and the pastor dug his heels in and stayed, instead of letting them kick him out. He loved them, loved on them, preached God’s word to them, and the church began to grow! It wasn’t too many years before they had to build a big, new church, and the little country church began to be a part of history. It is still there, sitting as it was in the mid-1900’s, a monument to life in the last century.

The pastor who came in probably realized the church was comfortable, happy, and well-fed because they had no desire to get out and interrupt their lives with other people they didn’t know. He changed that, gave the community a new start, and served over thirty years as pastor. Today that church has many pastors on its staff, and is running over 3,000 in attendance. God was extending grace, bringing His love to a people who were descendants of those who wanted to do no more than sit and listen.

This past Sunday, January 8, 2017, Pastor Jonathan Falwell challenged Thomas Road Baptist Church to become a church whose desire is to carry out the commission of loving God with all our hearts, and loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. That can begin a new year of change for the community, and perhaps challenge others to start their church year in the same way! Get your notebook, something hot to drink on this cold morning, and watch the service at http://www.trbc.org/sermons and click on the play button for the Sunday morning service. If you have time, sing along with Charles Billingsley and the praise team. Take notes, and let God’s word sink deep into your heart, examining it for hindrances that would steal your joy! Sit back and enjoy your time alone with God!

A New Heart For A New Church                                                                                                                                         Pastor Jonathan Falwell

Open:

Retirement: the very word will conjure up many different expectations, depending on your age and experience. Yet when it arrives–if it hasn’t already,–some people thrive on such a busy schedule they wonder how they had time to work. Others sit in their recliner and do nothing, comfortable and without ambition! How do you think you will handle those special years when they arrive (if they haven’t already!)?

Last week we began the new year by examining our individual lives as Christians, to be certain we are walking as Christ would have us to. This week we are going to focus on the church we attend to see that it is adhering to the standards which Christ set forth for His church. We will look at two of those listed in Revelation to see the progression from “losing one’s first love,” to one where the members have become comfortable and complacent within the church.

Focal Passages: Revelation 2:1-7, 3:14-22.

Think About or Discuss:

Doing the good things doesn’t always equal doing the right things.

  1. Read Rev. 2:2,3. What were some of the good things the church in Ephesus was doing? Do you see these things being done in churches today? If you are by yourself, you can write down notes; if someone is studying with you, you can discuss the answers.
  2. What was wrong with the busyness of this church? If you don’t have a lot of experience with churches, think about busyness in general: what does it do to one’s focus? When the Ephesian church was originally organized, what do you think was its heartbeat?

The right things always spring from the heart.

  1. Read Rev. 2:4. What was the main problem Jesus had with this church? Now read Matt. 28:19-20 and Mark 12:29-31. What are the final words Christ gave to the Christians (who make up the church)?
  2. Whose duty is it to evangelize? Was this listed as happening in the church at Ephesus?
  3. Read Rev. 2:5. What were they told to do?

Lacking the right thing will always turn your heart the wrong way.

  1. Read Rev. 3:15, 17. What was the mindset of the members of the church in verse 17? How is that like many people in today’s churches? Again, if you have limited experience with churches, think about the same application to students or one’s work ethic—it can be a “barometer” of what their Christian walk is like.
  2. What value to Christ is a church like this? You possibly have seen churches that don’t want to bring in new people who will disrupt the routine. They are still the same size they were when they were built. How is this an example of a lukewarm church?
  3. What happens to the hearts of these comfortable Christians? Does this sound like those in retirement who decide to get settled in with no goal in their life?

Make the right thing the main thing.

  1. Read vs. 20. What is God giving this church at Laodicea? How many times has He given you a second chance?
  2. What is our priority as Christians (back to question 3)? Why did God create us? (Isaiah 43:7).

Close:

Were any of the issues dealt with in these two churches something that you are familiar with, in your life or a previous (or current) church, or perhaps with another area of your life? We must look at the Gospel as a whole to realize our first priority in our walk with Jesus Christ is to bring those to Him who do not know Him. We are not fulfilling the commandment to love Him and love our neighbor if we are not concerned about their eternal life. If we love them as much as we love ourselves, we won’t want to see them go to hell. Many of our neighbors have never heard the gospel. Pray for opportunities to share your story this year. That’s all you have to do: just tell someone what God has done for you, and what He did for them when He came to this earth. It could be the most wonderful thing they’ve ever been told!

Memory Verse: Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Focal Passages: Revelation 2:1-7, 3:14-22.

Think On: Rev. 2:5:    Reflect (on your life); Repent (of any wrong doings); Restart (this can be a new year!)

© Debra Millet | Dreamstime.com

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