Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Put Out the Food and They Will Come

     Each morning, I look out my window to see what birds have stopped by the feeder I hung on my oak tree.  It delights me to see such variety and beauty.  There are cardinals, female cardinals, mourning doves, black birds, red winged black birds, blue jays and an occasional woodpecker who come to gather their fill.  Such diversity and color are a feast for the eyes.  Every now and then, a small fight breaks out between birds wanting to hoard the food for themselves, but over all, the birds all seem to gather in peace.  Until recently, the squirrels came for a visit to pick up what their fine feathered friends dropped on the ground.  However, the nuts are ripening on a few trees so they are more content to hunt for bigger grub.
     As I reflected on the gathering of God's creatures at my bird feeder, I couldn't help but think of the church.  It is, after all, God's storehouse where we come to be fed the Word of God.  Consider the varieties of people who come each week with one accord to worship the Lord.  We come in all shapes, sizes, colors and age representing many different backgrounds, but all seeking spiritual food.  Our hearts are hungry after time in this world, and our souls need refreshment if we are to continue our journey through life.  In light of this, we need to consider several ideas about our fellowship gatherings.
     Of most importance in any church is the preaching of the Word.  This is the food for which the soul longs.  Unfortunately, there are a number of fellowships today that major in the minors in order to draw large crowds.  On a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn Podcast (Doctrine or Life July 3, 2011), Dr. Michael Horton and his co-hosts discussed interviews of various pastors and teachers at an evangelical gathering.  A question was asked, "Which is more important - understanding biblical doctrine or following Jesus in the way we live?"  An astounding 60% of those questioned felt that following Jesus in the way we live was more important than understanding biblical doctrine.  I say astounding because without the foundation of God's Word how do we even know who Jesus is?  Just following Jesus in the way we live can mean many things.  We may think He is merely a good example or a great teacher without knowing His role in salvation and His identity as God in the flesh.  Understanding biblical doctrine comes from the preaching of God's Word on a consistent basis.  In my mind, it is the difference between eating a healthy meal every day or filling up on junk food.  Both fill you up, but one clogs your arteries and the other nourishes your cells.
     Over the past year, I have read and heard about churches that use all kinds of interesting approaches to drawing people into their fellowship.  One church in Texas advertised that they were giving away a car during their service.  It drew a large crowd, but we have to ask why they came.  Some would argue that at least people came in the door and heard the preaching.  However, it is not by man's efforts that salvation takes place.  Only God can regenerate a heart so that a person can hear and respond to the message of salvation in Christ.  Paul points this out in his letter to the Thessalonians chapter 2:3-6:  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ."  The key in the passage is the phrase, "not to please man, but to please God".  This is what should be at the heart of all preaching and teaching.  We do not need extravagant musical shows, car give-aways, or gimmicks.  We need the Word of God preached in honesty and truth.  This is what feeds the soul with sound doctrine and causes men to grow.  When this is done faithfully, people who are called by God will come.  The goal is not to build a mega-church, but to build the kingdom of God with sound doctrine so that when the winds of adversity come it will stand.
     Secondly, church fellowships need to be welcoming.  When visitors do come for the first time, do they feel at home?  Do we reach out to them and ask them to return?  I have been in churches out of town or on a trip where not a single person said hello or went out of their way to talk with me.  Now that is sad!  I went to church to join in community worship of God.  However, I felt all alone in the middle of a crowd.  This should never be the case in our home churches.  If a variety of birds can all commune together peacefully around a bird feeder, don't you think that a group of people gathering in the house of the Lord could also be welcoming and loving?  James writes about this at length in his letter (chapter 2:1-9).  We are not to show partiality in our assemblies.  We are to demonstrate love for our neighbor who comes to join us in fellowship.  Why should anyone want to return to our church if the love of Christ is not abundantly displayed each and every time the doors are opened?  We must remember that we are Christ's ambassadors to this world.  When people see us, they should see Christ in us!
     When both the preaching of the Word and a welcoming atmosphere are present in a church, people who are drawn by the Spirit of God will come.  This does not mean we should not invite any and all to come with us on a day of worship.  However, we don't need gimmicks to get them there.  God's Word is the power to salvation (Romans 1:16-17) not worldly programs.  God's plan is simple, and it works.  I pray that each one of us can be an instrument used of God to share the Good News with others, invite them to attend our church and be welcoming ambassadors for Christ wherever we go.  Remember the simple example of the bird feeder.  When I fill it with food, the birds come.  If we feed people the truth as found in the Gospel, they will come as well.  Sound doctrine is the bedrock of our faith.  Selah!

P.S.  I would be remiss if I did not say how grateful I am that the Word of God is preached each week in my home church.  I am thankful for our godly pastors.

I welcome your thoughts and insights here as well as words of encouragement.  Please leave your comments.


Penned Pebbles said...

I say let God build the church and the food will be life-giving, and His sheep will come and be fed. And the good shepherd will go after the lost sheep; He always does! Blessings!

Barbara Thayer said...

Amen Petra. God draws and Jesus is the Ultimate Shepherd. Prayfully...all our churches will offer good food each and every week to feed the sheep.