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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN



Guilt can be a "faith test." ' Some Christians become championship-caliber blame game players and end up with hearts as eaten up with guilt as a smoker's cancer-ravaged lungs are with disease. She may keep going back to the dark sins of her youth or he to the many failings of his checkered past. Doubt builds where there should be confidence; despair homesteads in joy's quarters; hopelessness takes over for faithfulness and ... he quits...she just doesn't have the heart to go on. They cannot forgive themselves, although the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), mislead, or even exaggerate has promised complete forgiveness. When they bring up old sins in prayer, Jehovah must say to Himself: "What are they talking about?" He promised to forget our sins (Hebrews 8:11), to cast them behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), and to throw them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18, 19). John reminds us: "...if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John 3:20, 21). Even in the unenlightened Old Testament, Job was able to say, "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" (Job 27:6). Paul said, "...he that justifieth me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

Of course, quitting church does not remove the "guilt"—only the constant reminders of it. More importantly, it gives a legitimate reason for it, and, at the same time removes the only help for ever overcoming it (Philippians 4:13).

An extended illness (or absence) can be a "faith test." Some are unable to attend worship services and church activities for months while recovering from an accident, receiving treatment for disease, after an emotional breakdown, or when health fails due to age. Others have jobs that require them to miss more than they attend. Some have extended military deployments. Many have found that it is difficult to stay near God when not around His people. Perhaps this part of the reason behind the Spirit's demand: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25). The true test comes when one is finally able to attend again. Will he start back as soon as he is able—or will he wait awhile? Probably no one would know the difference.  The church will assume that he is still too sick to come, or she is still out-of-town.

One wonderful older Christian once confided that he comes to church services even when he does not feel well, and could probably stay home with God's approval. He explained, "I'm afraid there will come a day when I won't be able to come and I'll wish so badly to be able to go just one more time. Then I'll be glad to be able to remember these times." Interestingly, Jacob worshipped up until the time of death, "leaning upon the top of his staff' (Hebrews 11:21).

"Burn out can be a "faith test." Exhaustion often leads to burnout in both business and sports. Occasionally in the church a brother or sister works very hard and receives little appreciation. They may begin to feel tired, unappreciated, used - even abused. The slightest criticism of this person can set off a disproportionate response—he may quit his pet project, even become slack in attendance and ultimately lose interest in the church entirely. Those who lead need to be sensitive to hard-working volunteers, as Jesus was (Mark 6:31). They need to feed them with Bible teaching (Acts 20:8-32), water them with appreciation (cf. Philippians 1:3), and bolster them with prayer (Luke 22:32). No one can go long with only manipulation and guilt-trips. Those who feel they cannot live up to expectations or cannot please every-one eventually quit trying.

On the other hand, we should stop for self-examination if we begin to feel sorry for ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Kings 19:4). Most of us probably are doing too little, instead of too much. When we compare ourselves to Paul and his hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), and to the early Christian martyrs who faced ridicule, loss of property, torture, and sometimes death (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; Hebrews 10:34; 12:1-4), it makes our "sacrifices" seem puny. We are commanded to be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58), and forbidden to be "weary in well-doing" (Galatians 6:9). When we give our all—even to the point of martyrdom (Revelation 2:10)—we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). When we consider all that God has done for us, and all Jesus suffered on our behalf, and all that is in store for us, it makes us want to do more, even when we are tired (cf. John 4: 6).

A feeling of isolation can be a "faith test." Sometimes a person will slack off in participation when her 'best friend at church' gets married or his golfing buddy gets transferred to a different city. Some new converts, and those who transfer in, never really feel like they belong. They long to have someone who smiles when they see them, greets them warmly, comes over to talk to them, sits near them during services, and goes out to eat with them after services. Those who study church growth explain that the failure to establish close, warm relationships with other members is usually a primary reason people drop out. Such experts suggest that if people can make five or six close friends in the church, they will probably never drop out. While we do not go to church services to "fit in," it makes it easier to worship and work for God if we do.

Sensitivity to this problem and efforts to incorporate new members, timid members, and misfit members can help save souls and retain members. There is much emphasis in the New Testament on greeting one another warmly (Acts 20:27; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). The Lord requires us to "condescend to men of low estate" (Romans 12:16) and to "...lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12). The New Testament church is often called the body of Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; The Book of Ephesians), a metaphor that implies closeness, acceptance, nourishing, and cooperation. Is it worth it? Paul re-minds us: "Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary" (1 Corinthians 12:22; cf. Matthew 16:26).