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Digital Church | Rebooting Christianity
by Steve Higginbotham
Between the years of 1933 and 1945, President Franklin, Delano Roosevelt begin to do speak to the nation through a series of fireside chats, as they were called, he didn't call them that. But the tone and the tenor of those discussions on the radio were such that it caused a commentator to say it kind of reminds me of just a fireside chat. And that caught on. And so they were called that. And in those lessons, or in those messages, the President addressed the American people in a very informal way. And it was just a very familiar kind of a thing. And I say that to say this, this morning's lesson is intended as almost a fireside chat, if you will. It's informal. It's it's friend to friend, it's personal. And, but that doesn't mean that it isn't waiting. I think the things that we have to say, need to be examined by those who are listening here presently. And those who are listening online as well. The tenor of this is not to rant or to express anger or disappointment with anybody but simply to ask us to examine ourselves and make decisions that are right. And that's the the end of this lesson. During the height of the pandemic, in 2020, when this first hit, and churches were making arrangements because of the the the virus and churches were going online, and for a little bit, while we didn't know what we were dealing with, churches weren't even assembling. We were meeting online and virtually. And I remember at the time, I heard people arguing that, you know, if the church goes online, that'll change Christianity. It'll never be the same. Because there won't any there won't be a recovery from that Christianity as we knew it. As we come together and worship together. It'll never we'll never get back to that. And I heard some of those people say that I heard people say that going to church after the pandemic, after we've gone virtual, he said, that's, that's like trying to do church or Christianity in a world of, you know, like a mall in the time of Amazon. You remember shopping malls? Yeah, those are those empty buildings that you see here and there. They couldn't survive in the world of Amazon, when you can get everything online and have it just piped right to your house and brought to your house. Why would you go to a mall. And they were saying that that would be the case with Christianity as well. Because why go to church, when we can just sit in our living room turn on our television. I'm not that cynical, but that's what some have said. And I'll actually tell you this, this, just this week, I watched an online church service that is done in avatars. And for those of you who don't know what avatars are, they're just like, characters cartoon characters of yourself. And, and everybody's at this church, you know, there and there's your cartoon character along with everybody else's cartoon character. And they were doing baptisms, virtual baptisms. you baptize my avatar. And and so, you know, a person was wanting to be baptized that morning. And so they went down into water, their little cartoon person, and they were baptized in this virtual way, and came up and they called her a new sister in Christ. And this is how it works. Virtual all the way, you know, even a baptized in a virtual sense. I I think that when we first went online, I remember saying that I knew there would come a time when we would have our work cut out for us, that we would have to do some work to get people back because of the convenience of that manner.
And maybe that time is now I know that there's a lot of people with COVID right now and it's spreading and, you know, I understand the safety that some people need to take. And I want to make this really clear. I'm not talking about people who are compromised and I'm not talking about people who are sick and staying in because of their, their health condition. I'm talking about people that do it just for church. They just they don't, or they go anywhere they want to whenever they want to. But when it comes time for worship, they've chosen to just do it at home. And I want to address that, because I hear people say, well, listen, if it's good enough, in the pandemic, then why isn't good enough after the pandemic? You know, if it was right to do it once, then why isn't it right to do it now? And I intend to show you why that is the case this morning from the Scriptures. And so let's, let's answer that question of if it was right for us to have canceled, our services not canceled, but we don't come to the building. And we had services virtually, if that if that was right, you know, back when we had to do that, then why why would we be telling people to come back and sit down in this building right now, where's your rationale for that? Well, I encourage you to follow along with me this morning, because I intend to do just that. And let's begin if you have your Bible, open it to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29. And let's talk about what was taking place in Jeremiah chapter 29. The first point of this lesson is crisis conduct. Sometimes in moments of crisis, our conduct is not the same as it would normally be. And I think that's borne out in this book in Jeremiah chapter 29. You remember the children of God's people, Judah had become unfaithful. And God said, well, because of that, I'm going to send the nation the Babylonians upon you, and they're going to discipline you, they're going to punish you. And I hope that teaches you a lesson. And so he was using this this oppression as a lesson to them to get them to straighten up. And so there's a letter that God gives to Jeremiah, Jeremiah has the word of the Lord in him. And he writes this, and here's what the letter says, verse four. Now, these are two people who have been taken from their homeland from Jerusalem. And they've been exiled to Babylon, and to other places in the world. And so you're imagine that today, you're living in your homes, you love United States, and you love the freedoms that you have. And we become oppressed by a foreign nation, and they take us from our homes and everything that we know. And the people we know, are jobs that we know. And they just ship us off to some settlement somewhere. That's what's happened to these people. And so now they're going to hear a word from the Lord. They're already in this settlement. And now God is going to talk to them. And this has to be a moment of hope, and anticipation to hear what the Lord will say for them. And here's what he says, that says, the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon, see, if this wasn't just an accident, this was God's discipline. You've been carried away, and I caused it. I wanted to teach you a lesson. Now, here's what I'm going to have to say to you. build houses and dwelling them, plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to your husbands so that they may bear sons and daughters, that you may be increased there and not diminished and seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it. For in its peace, you will have peace.
I'm sure they hated to hear that message. I'm sure they're thinking any day now. God is going to let us come back home. We've repented you know, as we're being exiled, how many prayers must have the children of Israel prayed to God saying, We've been foolish Please, Lord, forgive us. We've been a mess. And and so here they are. They're settled in the settlement. And I'm sure they're wondering, will he not come back and save us? Is he going to, is he going to do something miraculously let us go home and here's the message of God, build houses. You're going to be there for a while. You're not coming home right now. You go ahead and marry that let life go on. And then he says and even let your children marry and their children. You're going to be there for a while. This isn't going to be resolved real quickly. This is an exile and you Know what that meant to the people, especially with reference to worship. What it meant to them and regardless of worship is their worship is turned up on head on its head. They can't go to Jerusalem. They can't worship like they've always done in the past, they can't go to the temple, and go in and have the high priest enter into the temple and and offer the sacrifice for the sins of the people. All of that is gone, their temple has been destroyed back in Jerusalem, and they can't go back and rebuild it. What are they going to do for worship, they can't worship like God had commanded them in the past to worship. But God said, This is my doing. I'm telling you, I want you to go there. And I don't want you to come back. You're don't try to come back, build houses, go through life, married, be married, marry your kids off. And he says, For thus says, the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, do not let your profits or your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to their dreams which you cause to be dreamed, which, for they prophesy falsely to you, in my name, I have not sent them says the Lord. For thus says the Lord, after 70 years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you and cause you to return to this place. 70 years.
That's a lifetime. There are people that for 70 years were not able to worship in the way that God had prescribed. So they did their best, they couldn't go back to Jerusalem. They were told not to. They couldn't sneak off. It wasn't right for them to sneak off and try to escape and try to No, he told them You stay put, this is my discipline for you. And you pray for the city in which you live because their peace means your peace, you're going to be there. So they couldn't keep the feast days that the children of Israel were commanded to keep. They couldn't do it anymore. They had no access to the temple that they were commanded to go to. They could not offer their offerings like they once did. As they did in in the temple. There was no more Day of Atonement, their whole religious system has been turned upside down. But God understood, because this was his discipline. And he didn't expect them. So what they did is that they, they tried to make the best of things. It was during, you know, as we read our New Testament, we read about synagogues left and right, you know, in the book of Acts, and in the life of Jesus, they were always going to the synagogue. And and but synagogues didn't always exist. Those came into being during this period of exile. The children of Israel were off in this foreign land, they couldn't go back home and worship like God commanded them to. So they did the next best thing. They created these places of worship, where they would gather together, and they would read the scriptures aloud with each other. And so that's what they had been doing. That's the best they could do. They've been built synagogues. They weren't a replacement for the temple. But they were an effort to keep the people involved and in touch with God and in a knowledge of what his word actually said. Okay, so that goes on for 70 years. They're not doing what God had normally instructed his people to do. Let's fast forward. 70 years are up. And the children are delivered just as God had prophesied and promised, and the children of Israel were able to come back home, and they're back in Judea, and they're fulfilling the promises that God made to them. But Turn in your Bible, and we'll see a picture here from the book of Haggai. Hey, yeah, Zachariah Malikai as the end so go to the end. I know we don't go to Haggai very often, but in Hey guy, chapter one. They have been back in Judea for about 18 years. Okay. So they have been exiled for 70 years and then they came home and it's 18 years later. And here's what the Lord said, verse three, hey guy, chapter one. Then the word of the Lord came by Hey guy, the Prophets saying it is too Time for you, yourselves to dwell in Your he asked the question, is it time for you yourselves to dwell in Your paneled houses, and his temple to lie in ruins.
The Prophet says, what what is going on here? You've been back for 18 years, you have your own homes built. But the temple still lies in ruins. You know what that means? That means they weren't worshiping like they once did prior to their exile. It means they were still doing this temporary thing like they were doing in in Babylon. They were meeting in synagogues and so forth. But they hadn't rebuilt the temple and reinstituted worship like it was originally intended. And so here's what the Lord says, Now, therefore, Thus says the Lord of hosts, consider your ways. Consider what you're doing. You have sown much, and bring in little, you eat, but you don't have enough you drink. But you're not filled with drink, you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm, and he learns wages, earned wages, to be put into a bag with holes, it's futile, everything they're doing is futile. They don't have enough to eat, they don't have enough to keep themselves warm. They don't have enough to drink the money. It's just like, you have a hole in the bag, that nothing's going well for them. And then he says this, Thus says the Lord of hosts Consider your ways. A second time he said that. And he told them get busy on the temple. Do you suspect God's hand was in this? They were neglecting what they should have been taking care of. And so God refused to bless them during that period and eventually comes and says it's time to rebuild the temple and get back to the way it's supposed to be. And that's what they went through. Can you not see the allegory, if you will, the parallel here, there was a time when it became necessary for the children of Israel to be carried away into captivity, and they could no longer worship as God had commanded for years and years. But God understood, he was the author of that. But then they came back when times got better. And when they came back, they left the temple neglected. They were maybe doing their own thing like they had for 70 years, many of these people had never even known what temple worship was, they hadn't even seen it. And so they were just doing what they were comfortable with. And God said, no, no, that's not the way it's going to be. You need to rebuild the temple, and we need to get back to normal. Now, I say all that. And I think you get the parallel. There was a time when we needed to make some changes. For safety sake, there are a lot of compromised people, and we didn't know the reach and the effect of the virus. And so we did the best we could during that period of time. And I'm not saying you know, again, I want you to understand there are people that are watching that cannot get out there, there's they're compromised. And this is the this is the best they can do. I know people in Alabama are online every week. I know people in Pennsylvania that are online every week, and I know people well I have family in Moundsville, West Virginia that are watching this morning. And you know, there are people who are in this congregation at home watching because of their health condition. I'm not talking about that. What I'm talking about are those who can do anything and everything they want. Except for when it comes to church, to assembling together with the saints. And so here are my observations. God understood number one God understood and had patience with their crisis conduct if we can call it that. When they went off and they couldn't come back and it was impossible for them to come back into worship as they once did. The temple was not not even there anymore. God understood that and he had patience with that.
But after the crisis was over, hey, yeah, chapter one. He expected them to get back Back to normal. He expected them to resume what he had initially commanded. And I think that that is true as well. And like I said, I'm delivering this at a time when there's a COVID. Spike. And, and I understand I understand the precautions we have to take. I'm one of them. You know, my doctor at MD Anderson said, I, I do not need to get sick during all of this. So I get it, I understand you have to keep yourself safe. And there are a lot of people like that. But I'm talking about if if we're able to do everything else, but this, we need to consider our ways, as Hegyi. I said, twice, consider your ways. The second observation is that failing to return to normal brought God's judgment. You say, Well, they could do it when they were in Babylon. So why couldn't they do it when they came home? Well, they couldn't. God understood that as a temporary thing. And he wanted them back in the normal of worshipping as he had commanded, failing to, to return to the normal brought God's judgment, they couldn't prosper, everything they did was insufficient. And that was because they weren't tending to the worship of God, and he wasn't blessing them. The third observation is that we need to consider our ways and simply ask ourselves this is online worship. Is that about me? Or is it about God? Why do we do it? Because it's the best we can do? And we want to worship God? Or is it the most convenient thing for me? Does it make it easier for me? I don't have to wrestle with children. I don't have to get dressed up early. I don't even sleep in till the last minute. You know, I don't have all the things all the reasons. If you're still worshiping at home, is it because of the present crisis? Or is it because you find it more convenient and preferable? We need to ask ourselves that we need to consider our ways are you doing what you're doing? Because you like it, or because your desire is to be with God as often as you can. You're not able to be here. So you're going to worship God online. And the last observation is this as thankful as I am for technology, and for streaming. And I'm really thankful that we were equipped when all of this hit. We were able to serve people all over the country and all over the world, who came to us and worship with us during this difficult time. So I appreciate everything that's done with reference to technology. But technology can't replace face to face fellowship and encouragement. It cannot replace or repelled the heavy weight of isolation and loneliness. And I can't replicate the touch of a hand. I'm thankful to have had it. And I'm thankful to habits for those who still need it. But it can't do those things like face to face, assembling together, can do. Just because you have a worship service at home. That technology doesn't repel the loneliness that you feel, no one to touch you, no one to talk to you, no one to hear your problems and bear your burdens with. It misses it cannot fulfill what Hebrews 10 And verse 24. And 25 says, it says that we're to consider one another and to provoke one another to love and good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching. The reason we're told not to don't stop coming to church, if you will. That's what what the writer of Hebrews says, don't stop assembling because you need to encourage and exhort one another. There's this one another nature to Christianity where we need each other and and we can't go it alone. And when we try to go it alone, you look you just look look at the people who once were in pews sitting next to you, how are they fair? Irene, I'm talking about people before the pandemic. And before we ever knew anything about a pandemic, look at the people who decided they could be Christians without religion without the church.
When you isolate yourself, you're just like that coal, that red hot coal out of a fireplace, you set it off to the side, and it will grow dim quickly. Because it doesn't have the encouragement and the strength of the others. And that's what happens to people who try to go it alone. It's just not what God intended. And so I asked you to do this morning, as we close this lesson, what the prophet Hey, guy said to those who say, Well, we did it once we can do it again. Well, that's not necessarily true, is it? And we've seen from God's word, that's not my opinion. That's God's word. Yes, there was a period of time when Israel couldn't worship the way they were supposed to worship. And God understood, in fact, he was the author of it on that occasion. 70 years of it, but eventually, when they came back, he expected them to come back into worship. And they had not, and he refused to bless them because of it. And then they got busy, and they built, the temple was God commanded when they understood when they considered their ways. And that's my lesson to us this morning. You know, we have had tremendous growth in the last year. So I've, you know, this, this has been, this church historically, has been a congregation that on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, you have a high return rate of people, because you want to hear the Word of God, you want the fellowship that's involved. And I don't want that to continue because of bragging rights. I want it to continue for the blessings you get, because of it. Don't Don't let this technology that we have become a substitute for what God expected us to do. The norm is to assemble together and to encourage one another and build one another up and be strength for one another. And in strength in numbers, there is strength and take advantage of the technology for those who are sick and those who are compromised. Absolutely take advantage of the the technology and don't feel guilty in doing so. But for those who are using it, to accommodate them, for their preferences, they can get out and build their if you will paneled homes, but they can't rebuild the temple of God. You can go to Walmart, and you can go anywhere you want, or the ball games or whatever. But you can't make your way to services. Consider your ways. That's what I want to leave you with this morning. I'm thankful to be a part of this church that has the ability to bless people that are in compromised situations, but also want those who maybe could, but had been the lane, maybe it's just become convenient, we get into patterns and habits after time. And it's just hard to break. We need you here. You need to be here and we need you here. It's a one another kind of a thing. And we encourage you to come back. If you're here this morning and you're not yet a child of God. I want to encourage you to do what's right, to obey the gospel. If you've never repented of your sins and been baptized into Christ. We'll assist you in that this morning. If you're a child of God already, but you're unfaithful. You haven't been living the kind of life you should live. And you want to get that get right I mean, it's the first of the year we make all kinds of resolutions. And the first year should have nothing to do with with your faith in God. Don't wait until the first of the year. But listen as you begin this new year, your resolutions don't matter if you don't get right with God. Let that be your priority. And if you need to get right with God this morning, we'll pray with you. If you'll come as we stand together and say