Are We There Yet?
In August 1964, my family set off on a life-changing journey. There were nine of us then, and we piled ourselves into the back of a beat up old station wagon the particular flavor of which I don’t remember, and off we went. Mom and Dad in the front seat, two or three of us in the middle row, and the rest of us in the back, or as we of we future Star Trek fans like to think of it, the cargo bay. I was the eldest of seven children back then at the ripe old age of 11, and the youngest of us was still in diapers. With all our worldly goods stuffed into the backend of a U-Haul trailer we had rented and precariously attached to a temporary tow hitch on the back of our station wagon, we set we set off southerly bound to a world of unlimited enchantment or so we thought as we headed to Miami, Florida: a place of sunshine, beaches, and a never-ending vacation playground. And of course the never another ending chorus of “Are we there yet?” It was not the adventure we had anticipated.
The 1,264 mile journey was long, hot, tiresome, and boring. We were six children and a baby crammed into the back of the station wagon meant to carry six children and a baby for short distances, but certainly not 1,264 miles from north-central New Jersey to Miami; driveway to driveway. It was just as hard on our parents to be sure. We weren’t particularly wealthy but as we passed through certain areas of the southern states in the early 60s I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such vestiges of abject poverty in my life nor since. Even then I had a sense that we were wealthy by comparison to what I’d seen. And yet for that entire drive crammed into the back of that tight little space cramped and uncomfortable bickering sweating sleeping by the side of the road because we couldn’t afford motel accommodations and always the incessant are we there yet, somehow, Spanish moss and half a gazillion South of the Border signs later, by the grace of God we arrived, my Father’s left arm several shades darker than the rest of him.
We did eventually arrive in Miami. I don’t think the trip took as long as it seemed like it took at the time. And to be honest Miami was a letdown. It turns out Miami is not wall-to-wall acre to acre beaches and sand, pretty girls in bikinis sunup to sundown beach parties. Well, let me rephrase that. MY Miami wasn’t any of that. There were beaches and sand and girls with bikinis and parties and all of that to be sure – with some small caveats. It was 10 miles to the beach as the crow flies from the first place we lived, and I was the twelve-year-old new kid on-the-block with few to no friends and no money. And did I mention that I was twelve? From Joisey? With that Joisey accent that announced my hoodlum arrival six blocks before my arrival? And, I was twelve in this huge teeming metropolis that could have hiccupped and swallowed the New Jersey I knew?
Our first real house in Carol-Locka wasn’t much better. I was still twelve, but the ocean, sand, beaches and bikini-clad girls my now beginning to rage hormones were really starting to appreciate was still eight miles away, and Carol-Locka or Opa-City in those days was about six bus transfers , half a day and about a buck away. And I still sounded Joisey and still hadn’t exactly made anyone’s all-star friend roster, but this is still back to the future and I’m still asking Are We There Yet?
I initially really experienced very little of Miami. I’m backtracking here to say that for all of sixth grade and probably the first six weeks of seventh grade, we rented an apartment belonging to my step-grandfather in Miami proper. About six weeks into seventh grade we moved into our own home which was up in northwest Dade County in a suburb called Opa-Locka. They call it Carol City now but back then it was Opa-Locka, or Opa-City or Carol-Locka or whatever, and it was there that I would finish junior high school, high school, and my first two years of college. The home in Carol-Locka, would also be where the last of my seven brothers and sisters would be born, rounding us out at five boys and three girls ranging from newborn to 17. Oh yeah – it was six blocks from where the eventual perfect season Miami Dolphins had their training camp, and Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula would let kids watch the practice sessions.
Now this is a study I’m calling the World the Flesh and the Church and this particular portion of it is called, as you have already seen Are We There Yet. I have no doubt you’re wondering what this small rehashing of my personal history has to do with the world, the flesh, the church or the Bible or any of that. Let me bring it into perspective for you shall we?
So you look at your life, you look at your church, you ask ARE WE THERE YET?
It’s far too broad a question, don’t you think? There are way too many ‘journeys to there’ to honestly answer yes or no to the question of arrival without narrowing the field a bit, wouldn’t you say? There’s an old seminary joke that says put ten Baptist (I’ll pick on them because that’s my background) in a room and ask them one doctrinal question, and you get at least eleven answers. Even if you’re not a Baptist, if you’re honest with yourself, at one time or another you have dealt with questions like:
How big a church do we want to be?
What kind of services will we have – modern or contemporary?
Who is our target demographic?
Are we Evangelistic or Discipleship oriented?
What version of the Bible are we going to use?
What is our stand on membership?
What is our stand on choosing leaders?
How do we feel about women in leadership?
What about Missions?
What about tithing?
You see what I’m saying? Any one of those topics can be discussed ad nauseum before you ever file a church charter, and then spend the rest of your church life until Jesus returns re-examining any or all of them and asking yourself, “Are We There Yet?”
This is the place where as a church, I think you are Scripturally obligated to go to the source, because really – even though that isn’t on your list up there, if your church isn’t based more on the Bible than the bi-laws of a denominational institution, you’re doomed to both succeed and fail before you even start! I’m here to tell you, if you are starting out as a new denominational church plant or you’re just a handful of believers fed up with what you were seeing going on around you and feeling lead of the Holy Spirit to begin a new work in your community: the minute old traditions begin to supplant the Word of God as the basis for your worship practices, you might as well fold up the tent and go home! I’m telling you on the Authority of the Word of God, if it’s not in the Book – don’t do it! God’s Word is our ONLY and FINAL source of authority. Justify traditions all you want, but if you can’t support them with Scripture in context that is supported by other scripture in context, DON’T DO IT!
I began this study with the premise that the Church – the BIBLICAL Church is not a building, a denomination, or any kind of man-made creation or organization. Our premise is that the Biblical church is the Bride of Christ – every Christ follower since the first century church began in Acts. It’s the PEOPLE. The redeemed, blood bought, washed in the blood of the Lamb, whose sins are paid for once and for eternity by the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God, the second person of the triune Godhead who took on flesh, lived a sinless life, gave His life as the only perfect sacrifice for sin at Calvary, that those who responded to the call of the Holy Spirit, came to the Cross, confessed their sin, repented of their sinful life and accepted God’s mercy and grace in His gift of salvation – this is the Church universal. That this church must obey the very first things God called us to do. Things in the Book. Not a book of how, but a book of what. You know what that command was. We humans are addicted to giving things names and acronyms. We called this The Great Commission. Now I have friends who sincerely believe Paul preached from the King James Bible of 1611 – tricky given that most scholars accept that Paul was martyred in about AD 65-70. That wee jewel notwithstanding, I personally prefer the New KJV of 1975 or thereabouts and have learned that when most KJV Only apologists speak of the 3,500 ‘errors’ in the NKJV or 1984 NIV what they are really saying is differences from the 1768 KJV which is what the 1611 KJV actually is, but that faithful reader, is another argument for another day. As this is my sandbox, we’ll use my sand, then, shall we?
In Matthew, Chapter 28, verses 18-20 of the New King James Version flavor, Matthew the former tax collector records:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
In these verses Jesus gives three commands to the eleven Apostles who would become the leaders of the first century church. A much shorter list than I gave you earlier. He is going to refine it in Acts before He ascends into Heaven and the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost, but for now, here is the ‘GO’ list for your first set of “Are We There Yet?” questions:
1. Evangelize (πορευθεντες - poreuomai μαθητευσατε - mathēteuō) Take a walk and teach whoever you meet to become as you are
2. Baptize (βαπτίζω - baptizō) fully immerse
3. Teach (διδάσκω - didaskō) pass on by word of mouth as I taught you
Pentecost adds the following:
4. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
So there you have it. Evangelize, baptize, disciple, your home town, your state, your country, the whole world. You have your list. You know what to do, where to do it, and as a bonus for those of you playing the Are We There Yet Home version of the game, Jesus even includes at no extra charge, HOW to do it! Did you catch that in the instructions? No matter what translation you read, it still comes out something like this: JUST LIKE I SHOWED YOU WHILE I WAS WITH YOU! I HOPE YOU BOYS TOOK GOOD NOTES!
So now it’s my turn to ask. Are we there yet? We’ve had the instruction packet with the what, where and how for almost two thousand years. The signs of the times are everywhere. Jesus is coming again soon! Are you ready for His return? ARE WE THERE YET?
No, not yet, but that could all change – in a moment – in the twinkling on an eye! That’s the first thing. What else? You. Personally. Be changed! Paul also wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Pay attention to this, because Paul is saying, at the behest of Jesus Himself Who inspired ALL Scripture, if you haven’t changed, you are not IN CHRIST! If you are completely content with the things of the world, the ways of the world, the behavior of the world, the clothing and music of the world, the entertainment of the world (and no, it isn’t all bad), but if nothing about any of it has changed in you, and you keep asking yourself if we’re there yet! Not only no, but my friend, the clock is running down! This world is running out of time! I think perhaps He would say
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
The other lesson to learn from Jesus in reference to “GO and WWJD? Is best seen by reading the Gospels. I recommend John. Then the Book of Acts to see the Apostles interpretation of GO. You see, you didn’t see Jesus or the Apostles pitching tents, passing out flyers and saying “YA’LL COME”. By example, Jesus and the Apostles went to wherever there were people to be found and preached the Gospel to them there! They reserved “church” as we have previously defined it, namely, the body of Christ; the fellowship of believers; the coming together of believers for worship, edification, meeting the social needs of the fellowship, communion, baptism, teaching, training their own replacement leadership and missionaries. Evangelism was primarily outside the gathered fellowship. Evangelism was GO! As far as I can tell, my friends, That’s What Jesus Would Do.
And another thing Jesus would do – DID DO! Jesus would invite you to become a part of this church He gave His life for! In John 3:16 Jesus said “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life” and in John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way I am the truth, I am the life. No man can come to the father but by me.” And in 1st
John 1:9, John wrote “If we
confess our sin he meaning Jesus he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
In other places the Bible tells us that it is not God’s will that anyone should perish. You see, Jesus came to this earth to live a sinless life, to die on the cross. To be raised from the dead on the third day as proof the Father accepted His sacrifice to be the substitutionary sacrificial of atonement – the final payment for our sins - so we wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell.
If you want to take part in the discussion about the church, doesn’t it make sense to you to be a part of the church? I hope you noticed that I haven’t been singling out denominations in this discussion. They don’t really matter. While the church is made up of members of different religious denominations, the church isn’t any particular religious denomination. In fact Christianity is not even a religion at all!
To be a Christian means to be a Christ follower! Not a member of man-made religion.
We’re going to be talking about the church over the course of the next several blogs. I’d like to invite you to be a part of that discussion, by being a part of His church. You might ask, “How do I do that?” It’s simple. Invite Jesus into your heart. You see the Scripture that I posted a few paragraphs above? You do it by first confessing your sins to Jesus. Then by repenting of your sins. That word repenting means turning completely around and going in the opposite direction from the one you’re headed now. Changing your mind about sin is another way to put it. Then ask Jesus Christ to come and live in your heart and forgive you of your sins and be your Savior and Lord
You can do that by saying a simple prayer like this one. In your own words, say something like this: Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. I confess my sins before you today. I repent of my sins and I ask you to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. Be my Lord and my Savior and I claim your promise that you will forgive my sins; you will live in my life and I will live with you in Heaven forever! In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.
That’s all there is to it. It really is that simple. But it’s life-changing. And It’s What Jesus Wants You To Do! Are We There Yet?