How should I approach God?
The demand for political correctness is ever-increasing. It is expected of us to continuously adapt to the changing sensitivities of our culture. One of the topics under discussion is how to approach God. People today believe that all paths and methods are valid, because they all lead to God.
This is not only a theoretical issue, it has eternal implications! None of us want to stand before God one day and hear: I’ve never known you (Matthew 7:23). In a parable, Jesus says there are two ways in which to approach Him – the one leads to acceptance and the other to rejection. The parable tells of two people who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14).
1. Those who trust in themselves and their own righteousness.
The first man was a Pharisee, a religious sect focused on following the law. They were respected in the community for their righteousness and their obedience to the law and the traditions.
The Pharisee approached God with pride. Jesus puts it this way: “He stood by himself and prayed.” Although he went to God’s temple to pray, he actually prayed to himself. This is the trademark of a proud man – self-centeredness. He sees no need for mercy. Instead of humbly putting requests to God, he lists the sins he avoided and the good deeds he did. He says: “I am thankful that I am not like others: thieves, evildoers, adulterers, and also not like the tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of my entire income.”
He came to pray, not because he needed God’s help, but to ask for God’s approval. Therefore he is full of self-confidence as he looks up to heaven. Jesus condemned this type of behaviour in the mountain sermon: And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)
We don’t see that many public performances these days, but there are still many people who believe they have no need of God. They see themselves as essentially good compared to criminals and see no reason why God wouldn’t welcome them into heaven. Such independence makes the cross of Jesus Christ useless. Why would He send His Sons to die for sinful people if they were able to win His favour? Such pride and self-worship will never be acceptable for God. His standard is complete freedom from sin – something no human being will ever be capable of. This is why all of us need a Saviour.
2. Those who approach God with remorse
The other man was a tax collector who worked for the Roman government. The Jews believed the tax collectors were traitors – dishonest cheaters. They exploited people to enrich themselves. They were regarded as equal to sinners and prostitutes. As a result of their career choice, they were regarded as unclean.
The tax collector stood to one side – away from the public eye. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ His humble prayer was all that was needed for salvation. Jesus’ reaction was: ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.’
Proud people don’t realise that they need mercy, because they believe they haven’t done anything that requires mercy. They won’t come to Christ before their pride is cast down and they see how hopeless their situation is. No-one is saved unless he is first convinced of his sins. A self-righteous person doesn’t see himself as a sinner, and therefore he thinks he doesn’t need God’s salvation.
In many churches today, people are told that Jesus will forgive them if they ask Him to. But you can’t simply treat Jesus as an add-on to your old life without turning away from that life. You need a new life and it begins with the Spirit convincing you of your sin. Only then can you feel the weight of you guilt and your need for God’s grace.
Have you come to Christ in this way yet? Everything needed for your salvation has already been given by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. He suffered the punishment for our sins so that God could have mercy on us. If you know your need, call to Him. He accepts anyone who humbly asks for His mercy through His Son.
[This extract comes from a blog by Dr Chales Stanley.]
How should I read the Bible?
We look at an ancient yet growing practice in worship – lectio divina. It included four phases: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. Charles Stone coined his own acronym for these four concepts: RIPE – Read, Immerse, Pray and Execute. It helps to record you fresh insights in a journal.
Find a piece of scripture of reasonable length (12 to 20 verses) and read it four times. You will apply one of the RIPE phases each time.
R = Read. Read the passage slowly.
Softly, but also aloud. Firstly, read it from the perspective of a child who knows nothing of the cultural and theological background of the passage. Then add your own cultural and theological knowledge. This exercise should take between 2 – 3 minutes to complete.
I = Immerse (meditation)
Reflect on the passage. Imagine you are one for the first people to hear this passage – you were physically present when this passage was told or read for the first time. Try to re-invent the concept. Enter the world of the listener. This exercise should take 2 – 3 minutes.
P = Pray.
Make the passage your own. Let the Lord see into your heart while you think about it. Ask the Lord what he wants you to stop, start, change, develop or grow. This exercise should take 2 – 3 minutes.
E = Execution.
When you read the passage for the fourth and last time, ask yourself what you’ve learned about the passage while studying it. What, do you think, does God want you to do? Promise the Lord that you will start doing what He expects of you today. Write down what you will do. Be specific. This exercise should take about 2 – 3 minutes to complete.
Membership to the church – landmines
Many churches have members on their registers who never attend a service. People become very upset when management tries to “clean up” these registers. Before you try to change aspects of membership, you should learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the following landmines:
People in churches often don’t understand what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Many believe that their salvation is a result of their membership to a church. This is why you should begin by leading the congregation to understand the privileges and responsibilities of being a member of the body of Christ. You should build a theological foundation first before taking any practical steps.
The desire to change membership to a congregation is one thing; the ability to change it is something completely different. People who have positional authority may not always have practical authority. Influential members may undermine church leaders. You should therefore first rally the formal and informal leadership before moving on to implement any changes.
Develop a process that helps you to determine who your active members are and what happens to names that are removed from the register. How will you encourage participation in future? Think about all possible opposition that you may face and think about how you will respond.
Inactive members may be family of active members. This discussion is about more than just theology. For some it may be about a connection to someone they love.
Your congregation may be the place where they were adopted into the church or met their spouses. For one or more reasons the church may hold a sentimental place in their hearts. Remind them that they may still visit the church, but that they should be actively involved if they want to be members.
If you decide to inform inactive members that their names will no longer appear in the registers, you should be very careful about your wording. Let many people read it, reflect on it and pray about it before you make a decision. Some will feel insulted and may criticise the decision. Any section that is badly worded, will affect them. They will say the church is greedy, “law-ish” and without compassion.
7. Social Media
The entire matter can become a media circus if you aren’t careful. If at all possible, you should meet each person face-to-face. Letters or emails won’t work.
Congregations should follow God’s leadership with regards to membership. It should never appear that your actions are self-generated. Churches should prioritise active membership. Sometimes this includes removing names from the register. It will never be a popular decision. You need to avoid all the landmines during your preparations.