A little while back we felt to quietly and unannounced visit for the first time a church claimed by many to be great, growing and full of life and love. Filled with anticipation and expectation we slipped in, sitting only three rows from the platform some 15 minutes prior to the service starting.
Admittedly we had been welcomed, although rather shyly by a young person in the foyer, but not one of the several people chatting nearby or were in the front aisle or even passed us by came over to welcome these two strangers. Nor did any those who finally seated themselves around us as the service started.
After a spunky and hard to join-in-with opening chorus, the breezy emcee enthusiastically raved on about how great, how friendly, how loving the church was. The visiting preacher likewise spoke so highly, praising the church. Her accompanying friend did the same and added a prediction of great growth ahead.
Finally at a belated invitation to say ‘hello’ to someone around, we received a hasty but notably uninterested ‘Hi’ from a couple in front of us.
The service ended with an encouragement to fellowship in the church café, and to invite someone along. We deliberately hung around that third row back from the platform for some 15 minutes – no one came near us. Several, even the couple who’d offered that weak ‘Hi’ earlier, rushed by to the café.
Now we didn’t really need coffees but we wondered about the so-called love and friendliness pitch – where was it? These local church Christians were so obviously interested in their own friends and so oblivious to the kingdom needs…growth by reaching out to strangers!
It’s been the in-word in churches for a few years now…weekly Connect Groups, sometimes called Life Groups or Connect Life Groups (previously called Bible Study Groups or Home Fellowship Group).
Yet, as Solomon observed, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) … we remember 40 years ago when we pioneered our first church we immediately had eight lively Connect groups going!
The word itself is an action one, whether used as a verb or noun. Basically it means to join, link, fasten together, unite, bind, establish communication between, have an accompanying or associated feature.
It’s an ancient life action…you could say it began in the Garden of Eden with our first parents. Bound together as husband and wife Adam and Eve connected with creator God and each other – no gender identity crises here(!) on home ground not just weekly but every day discovering and communicating on all sorts of associated and accompanying matters.
Meaningful interpersonal connecting was meant to be between a married couple, their children and indeed with people in general – and especially with Father God for all time. Unfortunately sin crept in and broke what had been a natural daily flow! The relationship was broken initially with God and consequently between the human race.
In Colossians 2, Paul spoke of the absence of real connection, a meaningful link with God. Verse 19 (NIV) talks about having ‘lost connection with the head.’ He clearly states that being dead spiritually leads to secular sidetracks and even religious rites and rules.
His good news is that a reminder that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to reconnect us with himself and forgiveness of sins are found in him (verse 2). Christians are alive in Christ! The Greek work translated ‘connect’ means ‘to lay hold of by strength.’
Then in chapter 3, Paul instructs us, ‘So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective’ (v1-2 Message).
Being serious about our living out Christianity, our ‘acting like it’ – involves a commitment about being:
• Genuine in every way … what we say, the promises we make, the work we do
• Concerned about brothers and sisters in Christ
• Knowledgeable of the Holy Spirit and available to be used supernaturally by him
• Aware of the kingdom of God – that is bigger than merely the local church (Matt. 6:33)
• Desirous for God to intervene in world affairs and to lead many to salvation
• Prioritising God’s word – the Bible and fully trusting in it!
• Hungry for sound Bible teaching, not hyped-up so-called worship and ear tingling sermons.
In this connection (that word again!) it’s sad to read reports (and from our own experience ministering around different churches and counselling) that many Christians (even pastors!) …
• Degrade Christianity by not keeping their word, talking loosely and doing shoddy work.
• Think only of themselves and their own problems: don’t make an effort to bless others.
• Rely heavily on the pastor or group leader: are not personally led by the Spirit and actively involved.
• Are so pushy regarding ‘their’ church and its finances: not open to God’s activities in other churches.
• Don’t consider local witnessing vital: not missions-minded, especially in troubled Middle East nations.
• Neglect reading their Bible: do not fully trust God and his word in every aspect of life.
• Glibly accept every ‘new, latest teaching’ without confirming it with scripture or experienced ministers.
Time to wake up
Not just a few feel we’re living in or about to be living in end times! Admittedly there is so much going down that it would seem if Jesus doesn’t return soon the church itself, never mind the world, is in more trouble than ever before!
• The push of Islamic terrorists in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences across the world resulting in many lives lost (including children, converts to Christianity, even honourable Muslims themselves aware that ISIS and the like are wrong).
• Disasters in several nations…including airline crashes and life-taking diseases.
• Governments wasting so much money on matters not deeply thought through.
• Misguided church leaders building their own kingdoms, teaching strange doctrines.
• Troubled Christian marriages even pastoral.
• Renewed acceptance of satanic supernatural in books, TV and movies (even teenage literacy).
• Likewise with deviant issues that will have an ongoing effect on not only this generation but on our kid’s kids – same sex marriages, acceptance of gender identity and ‘50 Shades’ books and films, presently banned drug taking being made legal and a general disregard for decency and honour.
Surely we’re in the age that Jesus warned about in scriptures such as Mark 13:33 (Message), ‘So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable.’ In verse 37 he instructed, ‘I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch’ (Emphasis ours).
The NIV reads ‘Be on guard! Be alert!’ (v13) and ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’ (v37, emphasis ours).
China has shot high in the world’s commercialism (even latest medicines and tablets are made there!) – it could possibly become dangerous if it enters the political arena. At the same time it’s been predicted that in about 15 years’ time Communist China will be the leading Christian nation with more converts – faithful and open to God’s word and law – more so than any western so-called Christian nation will have!
It’s possible that an unnamed component in this conundrum is a desire to be alert. We invite you to watch the 90 seconds YouTube Clay Christensen on Religious …about a Freedom Harvard Professor and a Marxist Chinese – https://www.youtube.com/embed/YjntXYDPw44. It’s very timely as it reveals the importance of desiring to do right and genuine connecting – and being accountable to God and his laws.
Yes…it’s time to wake up. Enough said!
This month’s top features: Biblical Perspectives – Jim McClure’s Homosexuality – A Biblical Perspective / Generational – Becky Fischer’s Gender Identity Issues Need Addressing / Missional -George Forbes’ Dreams and Visions Lead Muslims to Christ / Opinion – Andrew Corbett’s Connubial Discombobulation / Leadership – Mark Ellis’ Christian Minister With Religious Zeal Shocked