Freedom From Religion and the US Constitution?

Who can show me in the US Constitution where one can find “freedom from religion”.

You won’t be able to. It’s also not found in Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. 

The reason you won’t find it is because 100% of humanity is religious. 

You see- whether someone espouses Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Animism, or any other named religious system, or claim to be an Atheist or simply  “non-religious”, you are still practicing a religion. 

Yes, Atheism is a religion. You just elevate yourself as your own personal god in the place of the Creator.  The god of Atheists – is themselves, but make no mistake – it is still a religion.  This religion even has a name – Secular Humanism, a subject that is taught in schools.

Religion is best defined as a system of beliefs that direct or influence your life. Those who claim to be Atheists, simply (think they) direct their own lives by their own personal values and desires. But self-worship is still a religion. 

1st Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Of course, when one actually studies the context of the writing of said Amendment, reads Jefferson’s above-mentioned letter as well much of the remaining bulk of the writings and statements of the authors of the Constitution, we find that there was an expectation of some kind of religious affection, not only in our government but that a moral society, based on the values espoused by the “Christian religion” was the foundation the unique document was built on.

Where all the “founding fathers” Christain?  Not even if you. were to stretch the label even beyond modern over-use. But almost all recognized a God (many were indeed Deists), and almost all were educated in what would be considered bible schools or seminaries today.

The first government-funded school textbooks in the Americas?  They used Bible texts for reading and study. Every session of the US Congress began for well over a century with a Christian sermon delivered by a Christian preacher and included Christian prayer. All of this raised no opposition, even from the Deists among the delegates.

The real “wall of separation” that Thomas Jefferson eluded to in his letter was one that was to prevent the totalitarian single church-states that the early settlers had often fled from. It was not viewed, when the Constitution was penned, as freedom FROM religion, but explicitly was to prevent a single, national religion (such as Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglican, etc.), and the often oppressive Theocracies those represented. And it is in the full set of letters exchanged between Jefferson and those Danbury Baptists that actually help us to understand this. You see, the Baptists in Connecticut were being oppressed and shut out of having any voice in the state government. The government of Connecticut was completely dominated by Congregationalists. Even Jefferson, as President, didn’t seek to remove Christianity (much less all religions) from the public square, or even from the influence of Christianity ON the government.

Indeed, the removal and avoidance of all religious connections and influence on our government is a relatively recent movement, that is more often than not, exercised almost exclusively on Christianity. In fact, there is a growth in teaching many world religions and even training public school students to memorize and recite Islamic prayers and to practice other religious rituals as a form of teaching “diversity”.

Armed In Church? Yes, please.

The local media posted a story this morning with their usual Left-slant, claiming they had talked to local pastors (though an actual investigation finds that they actually quote exactly ONE). Their agenda is pretty clear in attacking armed churchgoers. So I crafted the following reply to post on social media, but thought it justified its own post here as well:

shooter1Interestingly – no-one tried to contact me, a local pastor. But I will share my thoughts here:

Arkansas law leaves the decision of whether or not firearms are welcome on a church property up to the local church (where it always should have been).
Show me one example of where a sign or statute has prevented someone from taking a firearm someplace and doing great harm – The infamous church shooting in Texas a couple of years ago is an example – the law in that state at the time made it unlawful to have a firearm in that church.

The reality is – if someone means to do harm with a gun, no policy, law, or signage is going to prevent them from bringing that firearm.

On the flip-side, as was demonstrated in the shooting Sunday – it was law-abiding citizens who stepped up to prevent far worse from happening. While I grieve ALL the loss of life (even the “bad guy”). I mourn what kind of wickedness must be rooted in anyone’s heart to want to go into a church service and kill people. The depravity is just unfathomable. But praise God that there were people willing to step up and stop the threat. Also – notice this entire event began and ended in less than 1 minute. Police are not magical angels who can appear in 2 seconds to end a threat. And even churches with hired/appointed security teams – can’t be everywhere at once.

As a pastor, I am glad to know that there are solid folks who are carrying a firearm every time the doors are open (and even when they are closed if I am on campus!). If we were to attempt to ban firearms – that means ONLY those who mean harm would have guns. That isn’t a positive position. As a pastor, I have the biblical responsibility to “protect the sheep”. I will do whatever it takes – whether that means I am armed, or I am confident there are good people in the congregation who are armed (or both).

If a local church’s leadership decides they want to try to ban firearms – that is their right. They can post their signs, they can make all the policies in the world. But if, God forbid, someone with nefarious designs comes in – woe is them who then are defenseless. But again – that is the church’s right.

And one last comment – I have read several posts and seen statements given complaining that church people shouldn’t feel the need to be armed. They should “be willing to be a martyr”. I’m sorry – but it is not loving to sit idly by while your neighbor is shot dead. It is not Christ-like to watch as those who very well may not be spiritually ready to meet Jesus have their lives snuffed out. And it is most definitely not the Christian thing to let children be slaughtered. Just because I believe I am prepared for my last breath – doesn’t’ mean those around me are.

guns_in_churchWhat it all comes down to is that we pastors are tasked with the protection of the flock entrusted to us. While most think of such protection as primarily spiritual protection, we are also tasked with trying to promote the safest environment possible for worship, learning, teaching, discipleship, and service that we can. If that is gained by knowing that there are solid, God-fearing people who are armed at any given time, then so be it.

What it comes down to is this: Pastors are responsible for the flock entrusted to them. While we primarily think of that care as spiritual care, we are also tasked with doing all that we can to provide an atmosphere for worship, learning, discipleship, and service that is as safe as possible. I take that

 

What Does It Mean to Be Faithful?

We in the Christian/Church realm use the term “faithful” a lot.  Why not? It is an extremely important term used across the Bible. Sadly, I believe our contemporary (especially American version) gospel realm has adopted the secular, wordly meaning instead of the Biblical definition and example.

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Merriam-Webster.com, screen shot 11/19/2019

As the image shows, the Webster’s definition of “faithful” is divided into a definition of the term as an adjective and as a noun. Both are used in Christian terms, but again – let us compare the secular term vs. the biblical use.

Merriam-Webster defines the adjective faithful as steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence or observance of duty, or the meaning most closely connected to the biblical definition: true to the facts, to a standard, or to an original. Sadly, it is this last (but most applicable in our context) meaning that is most forgotten.

I regularly hear the term mentioned in conjunction with funerals and memorial services, or connected to teachers, preachers, and writers. But I don’t believe the way it is used is always accurate.

Faithful does not imply (from a biblical perspective) perfection. Lets begin from the perfect example of “Faithful”.

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Deuteronomy 7:9-10

God is described in His own Word as the “faithful” God, with identifying fruits of that faithfulness as evidence: He keeps His covenants, His lovingkindness to the generations of those who love Him and keep His commands. But God’s faithfulness is also pictured as Him repaying those who hate Him – destroying them. God’s faithfulness here also (necessarily) includes His justice.

Jerusalem is referred to in Isaiah 1:21 as formerly faithful, but now a harlot. Why? Because they formerly were just (and from the larger context, had been a center of the worship and service to God).

Paul used the term often. One example is in the greeting of his epistle to the Ephesian church:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Ephesians 1:1

Paul’s use of the term πιστός (pistos) implies yielding, believing, true, credible, trustworthy in their faith. The sense is that Paul had confidence that the believers to which he was penning this letter were solid believers who were sticking true to “the faith once delivered to them” (paralleled in Jude 1:3).

While the label “faithful” can mean a lot of things – when we use the term in relation to a professed Christian, the implication is more than them being reliable (they attend church regularly), but also presupposes that they cling to truth (the Word), that they stick to their faith and live it – it assumes fruits of said faithfulness.

Sadly, the term has so lost meaning that it is readily applied to those who are wildly popular and active in the “Christian” realm, yet are anything but faithful to the Word of God. Can we rightly apply the term “faithful” to a Christian speaker or writer who puts out good quotes, but holds to a blatantly heretical gospel?  Can we accurately call a professed Christian “faithful” if they deny the inerrancy of God’s Word? Does a person earn the faithful title because their name appears on a church roll and “faithfully” gave to the church?

Is a Christian “faithful” if their viewpoints are more easily shifted by cultural preferences than the black and white text of Scripture?

And are we being “faithful” when we jump to to the defense of those who teach and push false gospels and unbiblical teaching – hitching ourselves to these false teachers with the name badge of “faithful”?

And lest we forget, those individuals that God directly labeled as faithful were not simply mechanically reliable (in fact, some had reliability issues), but were counted “faithful” because they stuck to the foundation of truth God revealed and unwaveringly trusted in His Word, not man’s opinions and preferences.

The Bible vs Women In The Pulpit – Division

We Baptists, particularly conservative Associational Baptists, lay claim to the Bible as our sole foundation for belief and practice. Of course, we have stretched some aspects into tradition, but the foundation we try to keep is Scripture.

Yet one denomination of Baptists is about to pull itself apart (and I fear others that have historically held to an even more conservative reputation) over Scripture – including 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6, et all…

And at the epicenter of this division today is a woman named Beth Moore.  Mrs. Moore is arguably the most successful woman writer of Bible literature, books, etc.  Indeed, at one time, I would not have had serious concerns about her or her materials beyond its general shallowness (theoretically in an effort to make it uplifting and encouraging).  But if one pays attention to both her writing and her public speaking (as well as her social media), one can see a dramatic shift.  From moving away from and ultimately rejecting the biblical view of homosexuality, to working with and endorsing some of the biggest names and figures in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), prosperity gospel, charismatics (particularly Joyce Meyer)moorelead11102018a1. I believe this shift has been fueled by financial success, popularity, and a hyper-inflated ego that has driven her right off the tracks of biblical orthodoxy. Her current positions span the map of currently-trending false gospels and doctrines.  She promotes direct, ongoing, verbal revelation (prophecy given to her), all caged in language that sounds more like a boyfriend that the almighty God, to having her materials  edited to specifically remove homosexuality from the references to the need to repent. Further, in her rush into the Social Justice Movement, she basically launched the #ChurchToo hashtag – the church version of the #metoo movement to claim sexual abuse (even if via being “Oppressed”). Yes, Beth Moore has also joined the ranks of Feminism – which brings us to her position currently in the shakeup of the SBC (and to other Baptist denominations). Beth Moore is now promoting and encouraging women to not only preach in church (in direct contradiction on the matter found in the Scripture passages listed above). And when many addressed her bragging on social media, she again played the victim and stirred up her cult-like following.

Fast-forward to a recent conference where Dr. John MacArthur, a many who has spent more of his life studying, preaching, and doing theology than many of us have been alive, who has dedicated his life, his ministry, and his efforts at proclaiming and standing on the Bible, was being questioned in a somewhat light way. From this came a now infamous quote “go home”. EHHdZsHXkAAb0q_This quote was associated with the questioner’s throwing out the name “Beth Moore”.  You see, Dr. MacArthur is among hundreds of pastors and preachers who have been calling Beth back to the Bible, praying for her to find her way back to Scripture and out of her derailment – and most recently – to quit promoting a radical form of egalitarianism that promotes women preachers in violation of Scripture. She has repeatedly mocked Dr. MacArthur as well as many who have attempted to address her errors. MacArthur’s response, in-context, refers back to the entirety of her departure from Scripture, but with a focus on her claims to being a preacher (and her efforts to promote other women to do the same, and to even bill themselves as pastors). Beth Moore – go home.  Drop these unbiblical aspirations. Drop the efforts to usurp authority that is not yours (something you formerly use to actually respect – but have since thrown under the bus). Beth go back home to the truth – where you don’t partner with and endorse radical heretics. Beth Moore… go home.

And now we have a wide gambit within the SBC and other Baptist groups (mind you, Dr. MacArthur is not a Southern Baptist) casting Dr. MacArthur under that same bus – dismissing everything he has done for many decades for the cause of Christ, the thousands of pastors and preachers he has had a hand in nurturing and educating, and his unwavering stand on the Word of God.  And I suspect it is this latter that has caused the real stir. You see, John MacArthur has been a champion against the growing cancer of the Social Justice movement (a false gospel by any definition). He has stood on many a hill for the sake of truth and in the face of dramatic opposition. And more recently, has apparently lost some long-time friends who themselves have become infected by the insidious tentacles of false Social Justice gospel and the #wokechurch it creates.

And sadly, the most outspoken against Dr. MacArthur and his “go home” comment, remained completely silent as Beth degenerated from the Bible, as she drifted into full derailment. Indeed, they helped her along by their unwavering support and endless promotion.  They bought her books and reviewed them as near-Scripture jewels. And even has her doctrinal fallout began to directly contradict their own doctrinal positions – they simply promoted her more aggressively.

About 50 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention nearly self-destructed. The radically liberal faction had overrun the denomination, questioning then completely rejecting the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture. But before the denomination fell the way of so many others, faithful men set aside their theological differences on Soteriology (Traditionalists vs. Calvinists), and joined together into what became known as the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC. Through carefully planned maneuvers and strategic actions, those who still held to the fundamental truth of the Bible’s inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority “won the day”. That historic battle resulted in an SBC that cruised along in a relatively biblical course for decades. the “loss” was the spinoff of a group known as the Cooperative Baptists. This group were the holdout congregations that had rejected the full authority of Scripture, that had been proudly jumping into the far extremes of liberalism and doctrinal error.

Sadly, the SBC is again venturing into the dark place of liberalism but with a new name: the Social Justice Movement. Yet the root of this drift is the same as the previous – a low view of Scripture that places man’s thoughts and feelings above what God said, what God preserved, what God directly inspired.  It is the same old “I know what the Bible says, BUT…” mentality.

I know some women who can teach circles around about any man. Who have biblical maturity and wisdom beyond many pastors and preachers I have known. But they remain biblically disqualified from having authority over men (especially in the church), from “preaching”, and from holding the office of pastor, elder, bishop, etc. (or deacon, but that is another discussion). A godly woman who truly holds the Word of God in the highest of esteem recognizes her extremely important role – and that it is not, nor ever should it be, to usurp the authority over men and the offices God ordained for them.

And lest we forget, there was a time when Beth Moore spoke at conferences and events specifically for women, where men would sometimes attend – and she would clearly open with a thank-you to the men present, and strongly would say she had ZERO authority over them, and that she was speaking to and for the women’s audience.

This is the same Beth Moore who earlier this year, at a conference, commanded a man come down to the floor where she was, to get on his knees, and apologize for all harms men had inflicted on women:

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There is no biblical case for women to serve as “preachers” or pastors. Does this in any way diminish their importance, their worth, or OUR need of women in the church? Absolutely not! Quite the contrary, it ought to reinforce their value and importance that God has ordained purposes for all of His people – rightly fitted together in the local body. But Beth Moore now rejects biblical gender roles and recently made no bones about it at a conference put on by the ERLC.

Let us not reject what God has said in His Word for the sake of a politically-correct pursuit of the false gospel of the Social Justice Movement. Seek the truth. Pray for those who hold a low view of Scripture.  Pray for Beth Moore- particularly that she would “go home” – go home to the Word of God, and to repent of her prideful and radical feminism that attacks the Bible.

Pray for the Southern Baptist Convention, the BMA, and any other denomination (or independent) that needs desperately to refocus on what God has already said and laid out clearly in HIs Word.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Why Your Pastor Should Say “No Moore” to Beth Moore
Testimonies of People who have broken free of Beth Moore
Beth Moore Relentlessly Attacks Straight White Men on Social Media

 

Is Your Church or Denomination Going #WOKE?

Do you think your church is biblically-solid and that it could never succumb to modernistic adulteration of God’s Word? You might want to think again.

Just a few months ago, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to recognize and implement “Critical Race Theory” and “Intersectionality” as valid measures and procedures for measuring the denomination’s “progress”.  For more detailed definitions and explanation of these two terms, click the links above, but in short – Critical Race Theory basically defines racism as solely committed by white people towards other races, that it is always systemic and always about power. Critical Race Theory when applied to churches is an assumption that churches are equally systematically racist if they are “white”. It is a parallel to the ancient cult of Gnosticism that assumed that everything physical is, by nature, evil and everything spirit is good, but in this case – if it is white, it is systematically evil and racist.

Intersectionality deals with gender and gender roles. Those who follow intersectionality despise complimentarianism and reject biblical gender roles.

These two ideologies are a part of the bigger cancer of the Social Justice Movement, one that is at its foundation, a false gospel. The Social Justice movement can take many forms, but nearly all reject biblical absolutes, diminish or even redefine sin. From “Christians” who are “pro-choice” regarding abortion, to those who support homosexual “marriage” on one end, to those who simply inject race and gender into every discussion, promoting “Justice” as the real purpose of the gospel. Many large, modern “churches” promote easy-believism for the sake of numbers, while rejecting the call to abhor sin. You generally will not hear Social Justice preachers call listeners to meaningful repentance, nor will you hear them condemn those who proclaim heresies. And the sad reality is – Social Justice #WOKE theology is rooted in Marxism, and is actually quite UNjust.

The reality is – all of these concepts and views fall under the trendy #WOKE mantra. If your pastor refuses to call sin, sin – if you have a woman who preaches or is the “pastor”, your church might be #WOKE. If your denomination is constantly apologizing for the past sins of previous generations – it might be #WOKE. If your church’s leadership refuses to call out those who are promoting and teaching heresies – they may be #WOKE. If the same people in leadership speak more of being “gentle” or the need to “tone it down” when others are addressing these falsehoods and heresies – they might be #WOKE.  If your leadership is calling for reparations for past injustices of a nation, they might be @WOKE. If your preacher constantly refers to the Gospel Coalition as a trustworthy source of biblical teaching – yep: #WOKE. If your church, pastor, or leadership consider Beth Moore to be a solid biblical teacher worthy of praise – they might be #woke.

And it is this last example that brings me to the latest Social Justice blow-up. At a recent biblical conference, Dr. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church was ask (in the context of the above Social Justice issues – particularly intersectionality and Beth Moore’s promotion of women preachers – including bragging on her own pulpit-envy), Dr. MacArthur said that “Beth Moore needs to go home”. This has caused a giant uproar among those who hold to these Social Justice/#WOKE views. These purveyors of false gospels are attacking Dr. MacArthur as “unqualified”, and some even are calling him a heretic. Dr. MacArthur is among the most sound biblical expositors of our time who has dedicated a very long career teaching, discipling, and proclaiming the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a biblical responsibility of Christians, especially leaders, to protect the sheep by identifying and calling out false teachers. Indeed, Paul wrote to the Roman church specifically on this matter:

“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them”. (Romans 16:17)

Simply put, we are to exercise discernment and stand for truth and abhor evil. Those in the Social Justice #WOKE vein are more concerned with numbers (and usually money). I rejoice when churches grow rapidly because of the Holy Spirit’s movement to create transformed, repentant people who love the LORD with all their heart, soul, and mind! But when growth is measured simply by bodies in the chairs (worship attendance), and sacrifices genuine heart change – there is a problem.

Christianity of today, particularly in the United States, has presented a rather weak gospel for decades, but the current #WOKE trends under the guise of Social Justice are throwing the sin-hating, repentance-bringing, heart changing gospel completely under the bus. The Southern Baptist Convention is teetering on the brink of a massive meltdown because of it – but don’t for a moment think your “conservative little denomination” is immune. I sadly have witnessed the tumors of the Social Justice movement beginning to grow in my own denomination, the Baptist Missionary Association. When respected leaders and church planters begin promoting the very tenants of #WOKE theology, and calling out genuine men of God for speaking truth – we have a very serious problem.

So what is the answer? The same that spawned Martin Luther to pen his 95 Theses: seeking what Scripture really says and taking a stand on that, not on people’s feelings. Gospel ministry is not about popularity or making friends, it is about seeking lives changed by the transforming power of the gospel! Don’t be afraid to call out those who teach another gospel (Paul said they should be accursed! (Galatians 1:9). But above all – do not let it go unaddressed! Speak up. Call them to repentance. Point them to Scripture.

Where are Your Denominational Dollars Going @SBC?

Many don’t know how most Baptist denominations work – questions such as “what is the difference between the Southern Baptists and __________________ Baptists?”
 
One major difference between the SBC and the association that the church I pastor is a part of, is how giving to the cooperative work operates. In the Southern Baptist Convention, the primary pathway to giving to the bigger work is through the state organization. The state takes a chunk of that money received and sends it on to the SBC (national) which then divides it out as the umbrella for their entire denominational machine. The local church has very little say in where their cooperative funds go, other than the two big offering events each year.
 
The Baptist Missionary Association (BMAA), of which FBC Cave Springs is a part of, views the various departments and ministries of the larger work as all basically autonomous – and each is funded separately via direct offerings. We as a church direct offerings specifically to BMAA Missions, or to our BMA Seminary, to our state missions, to our local missions, to our media ministry (Lifeword), to our state college (Central Baptist College), and even to specific missionaries and works in specific locations – as well as a variety of other ministries at the national, state, and local level. If at any time any of those ministries go “off the rails” or acts in a way that doesn’t represent our doctrines or otherwise goes out of line, we simply stop funding them (and also have the opportunity at our annual meetings to approve or dissolve any of them or their leadership, if appropriate). It is a safeguard that has served our organizations well.
 
We see unfolding the dangers of the large cooperative work of the Southern Baptist Convention unfolding daily. The cancer of the “Social Justice” false gospel movement is one that many of us have been warning about for a long time – a warning that is consistently answered with vitriol and hate. Among the various entities supported by the SBC cooperative giving program (with zero control of the local churches) is the ERLC, led by Dr. Russell Moore. He has become rabidly political, endorsed and promoted that members of the denomination and Christians in general vote for abortion-providing, traditional marriage-destroying, Bible-hating candidates. Their false gospel of Social Justice is one that cries that Jesus Love You – and so He doesn’t’ care if you continue in your sin – for His grace is abundant and more. (What happened to Romans 6:1-2?). Russell Moore’s gate is the wide gate to perdition – and along with him, hand-in-hand with other extremely popular “leaders” within the denomination, the charge to wink at sin for the sake of a politically-correct “social gospel” is literally rotting the SBC from the inside-out.
This department within the SBC umbrella, the ERLC (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) has buried itself in sin, and the below linked article shines a light on this horrible darkness.  I implore you – if you attend and/or are a member of a church who gives to the Southern Baptist Convention – that you take this very seriously consider if this is the stand you and your local church take on this matter.  But don’t stop there! Keep digging in to the “values” Dr. Moore and his ERLC now stand for (including women pastors and leadership), and a variety of other issues that the ERLC has taken directly contradictory positions on to the Baptist Faith and Message they are supposedly charged with keeping.
Click on the image below to open the full article. Pray for the Southern Baptist Convention. Pray for eyes to be opened to the rot growing within. And pray for your church that you would refuse to support this heretical dung heap.

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Priorities On Display

Scripture is filled with references to what can be boiled down to the term “priorities” – whether it be prayer, faith, obedience, service, faithfulness, etc. Jesus made reference to priorities in His responses to young men who came asking about becoming followers. In Matthew 19 we can read of the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus’ reply was, in essence, to “keep the law” – but the heart of the matter, after the young ruler said he kept all those things – Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor… Christ’s point was to rely on HIM, not all the wealth and property he had.

In Luke 9, we read (vs. 57-60) of two who would follow Jesus – the first is warned that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To the second, at the call to follow, had the excuse that he had to go and bury his father (nowhere does it say his father was actually dead). Jesus’ response: “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

And we certainly cannot leave out the words of Jesus in Luke 14:25-26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” While we know the LORD wasn’t espousing actual “hate” – He was putting an almost shocking (the term is “hyperbole”) illustrative point on His call to priorities – the love for Christ, the passion for following Him, should be such a high priority, that all else should fall well behind that.

Even the Apostle Paul had desires to visit churches and people that the LORD had not allowed him to enjoy because the priorities of God’s mission had to come first.

Priorities in our lives are put on display all the time. Whether it is the activities we engage in, the entertainment the indulge in, or the way we invest and use the time, skills, and resources (including talents) He has blessed us with.

Sadly, there has been a growing trend over the years of compartmentalizing our faith – “doing church” has become ever more a shrinking block on our busy schedules. An hour

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or maybe two each week – or for the truly “faithful” -another hour in the middle of the week.

But then what happens? Life?

I once heard a deacon talk about how he would be in church Sunday morning if the mule didn’t end up in the ditch. He then went on to say – everyone (including God) understands when circumstances beyond our control prevent us from assembling together with the church on Sunday, the problem is when WE PUT THE MULE in the proverbial ditch! When it wasn’t “beyond our control”, but was our own doing that set up the barrier.

A friend who is also a minister at another church got himself in a bit of hot water a few years back. He opined on social media how he had passed a soccer complex on this way to morning services – and recognized quite a few vehicles parked with participants. His post was asking about the priority given to Sunday athletic competition over assembling together with the church.

Likewise, I found myself in similar trouble in my first pastorate when I posted a cartoon that brought an interesting question along the same lines: In the single-pane ‘toon, it depicts a family. In it, the child is asking the parents “why do they cancel church every time we have family to visit?”.

It gets back to priorities. If we as parents don’t demonstrate the priority of God on the day set aside for corporate worship, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children grow up to not have God as a priority in their life at all! If your job requires you to sometimes work on Sunday, that ought to put even more weight to the priority of being with your church family on the days you don’t have work!  Further – not only do our children see our priorities in action, but so do our friends and families. If you have family that come to visit, do they see Sunday as a day to spend with you including corporate worship time at church, or have they learned that you will give up church time for them? What about friends? Do they know you by your dedication to the church and either won’t come to visit during church time on Sundays (or other ministry days), or come with the expectation of attending WITH you?

Absolutely nobody in their right mind begrudges a church member going on vacation, taking care of genuinely pressing/emergency circumstances. But do know that if you are a member of a local church (as all believers are called to be), you will be missed. Just as the Apostle Paul used the language of a physical body and it’s need for every part, so is the local church – indeed a convincing case against huge, numberless churches where people hide among the masses. We are built to come together and to serve and grow together. Our presence when we attend corporate ministry time is designed to edify others. When we miss, we leave a gap that no-one else really fills.

Let us also consider the stumbling block set in the path of our own children, families, and friends by our misplaced priorities when it comes to church attendance and participation, but the picture it paints to both fellow church members and to visitors who see your empty seat or pew.

From a pastoral perspective, I cannot help but be discouraged by those who seem to have a regular case of “mule in the ditch”. Further, when we see the far-reaching impact of being all-too-willing to set aside corporate worship, fellowship, and service for the world, it grieves me – and not just me, but your fellow church members.

Far too often, I have seen a willingness to miss corporate gatherings of the church grow to the false concept that one doesn’t “need” church at all – that they can commune with God, grow, and glorify Him and never step foot in a church building. Being a born-again, repentant, growing child of God involves active discipleship, accountability, corporate worship, and regular fellowship among the “saints” – indeed it implies such.

The writer of Hebrews laid it out as part of the picture of the “New Living Way” of those called from Death to Life:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25

Our priorities in life often speak far louder about our hearts and faith than any quantity of words. Our children see them, our family and friends see them, the local church sees it, and this lost world that is in need of a Greater Hope – sees it.

Where to our priorities come from? They come from our heart. Jesus laid out the most fundamental priority list of all when He spoke of the greatest command:

‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  Matthew 22:37

Be an active participant in your local church. Make assembling together a top priority. Yes, every once in a while, your mule can wind up in the ditch. Just be sure you aren’t the one who put him there!