Monthly Archives: January 2017

Signs of the Times .

Blind Faith (No. 4, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for January 26, 2017
Signs of the Times .

Have you ever seen a theologically correct church sign? Many
churches have marquees that display changeable message quips. Some of the
messages get double-takes, or produce wry smiles. An often posted message
says, “Get right, or get left!” One church sign stated, “God wants spiritual
fruits, not religious nuts.” Another reminded passing readers, “Church is a
hospital for sinners . not a museum for saints.” Other messages are more
provocative, such as, “ETERNITY: smoking or non-smoking?” One marquee
advertised, “Soul food served every Sunday.” Some signs convey mnemonic
messages: “ASAP . Always Say A Prayer.” A church sign located near a busy
street was smashed into by a car wreck. The next day the sign read, “Sign
damaged: Come inside for message.”

While such signs might provide a helpful or humorous thought for
the day, they are not as theological as the sign I have in mind. While I was
serving on staff of First Baptist Church, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the church
found itself needing to erect a new church sign. (The Methodist church
across the street built an impressive new one, so – obviously – The Baptist
church needed a new one, too!) Many First Baptist Church members assumed
that the new sign – certainly not a marquee – would simply display the
church name. The pastor, Dr. Nathan Porter – one of my wise mentors in
ministry – had the idea that the sign should make a theologically correct
statement. His notion carried the day. The brick sign with metal letters
proclaimed, “Worship, Ministry, and Training center of the First Baptist
Church.” Well said! The building identified by the sign was not the church,
the people were the church. The building was identified as a facility in
which the functions of the church took place.

The reminder that the building is not the church is worth
continuous display. Of course, the three activities mentioned can be carried
out by any individual. Each person should have times of worship of God.
Prompted by wonders of creation and nature, holding a newborn baby in one’s
arms, reading and gaining new insight from the Bible, and living with myriad
wonders daily, a person can and should express worship and praise to God.
Ministry also ought to be part of every person’s daily life. Each person has
many one-on-one opportunities to use the gifts God has given to meet the
needs of others, to spread God’s grace, even if no one else around is a
follower of Jesus. Training for the practice of ministry can be done alone
by reading a book, studying a Sunday School lesson, practicing music for
worship, spending time in prayer, meditation, and Bible study, and many
other ways. Any of these can be pursued alone, and can be done anywhere, at
any time. The big building with the sign out front is not required for
worship, ministry, training, or other actions of following Jesus.

Some additional information on the sign emphasized its
theological correctness. Times for the church to gather for the listed
purposes, along with an inviting, “Welcome!” completed the message. The
church – the people, not the building – fulfills its purpose best when
people committed to Christ assemble inside the building, keenly focused on
the purposes for them to be there.

Glimpses of God’s intention for the church to come together for
worship, ministry, and training dot the pages of the Bible. The writer
addressing a Hebrew congregation of Christians exhorted, “Let us think about
each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. {25} You
should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you
should meet together and encourage each other.” (Hebrews 10:24-25a NCV) God
intends for believers to help each other and to stimulate one another to
grow and to become the very best followers of Jesus they can be,
individually and together. Paul reminds us that every Christian needs others
and also has something to give to others. He says, ” There are different
ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us
in everything we do. {7} Something from the Spirit can be seen in each
person, for the common good. {8} The Spirit gives one person the ability to
speak with wisdom, and the same Spirit gives another the ability to speak
with knowledge. {9} The same Spirit gives faith to one person. And, to
another, that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. {10} The Spirit gives to
another person the power to do miracles, to another the ability to prophesy.
And he gives to another the ability to know the difference between good and
evil spirits. The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak in different
kinds of languages and to another the ability to interpret those languages.
{11} One Spirit, the same Spirit, does all these things, and the Spirit
decides what to give each person.” (1 Corinthians 12:6-11 NCV) Paul returns
to this thought after a few paragraphs: ” Brothers and sisters…, when you
meet together, one person has a song, and another has a teaching. Another
has a new truth from God. Another speaks in a different language, and
another person interprets that language. The purpose of all these things
should be to help the church grow strong.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NCV) In
another letter, Paul clarifies the metaphor of the building denoted by the
FBC sign: “You are … citizens together with God’s people and members of
God’s family. {20} You are built on the foundation of the apostles and
prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. {21} In him all the parts
of the building fit together and grow into a holy temple in the Lord. {22}
Through him you, also, are being built in the Spirit together with others
into a place where God lives.” (Ephesians 2:19b-22 GWT) Just as the Spirit
of God is active in us, the living church building, to accomplish God’s
tasks and purposes, we come together in the bricks-and-mortar church
building to worship, minister, and train for doing God’s work.

Whether it meets in a Gothic cathedral, a contemporary
structure, or a storefront location, the church is always a gathering of
people engaged in worship, ministry, and training. The gathered community
brings God’s gifts to share with one another and with the world. No one
present can do alone all that God intends as demonstrations of his love and
grace. Everyone present needs something that is likely to be found in
another member of the church in order to realize the full promise God has
for each believer. Every follower of Jesus needs to gather with other
believers at the designated place for worship, ministry, and training.

I would love to know your favorite church sign message. E-mail
it to me, please! What do you think when you read a church sign? I hope you
are stimulated to exercise your faith actively. Do you have images of
routine meetings and merely habitual practices? Do you sense a need for
something more in your relationship with God? The people gathered as the
church are likely to have something to share that will help you to grow
closer to God and to be more effective in living for Christ. You, too, have
something that God has given you to share that is needed by others. Where do
you do your best worship, ministry, and training as a follower of Jesus?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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