All posts by Brett

Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor

Don’t Feel Guilty for Not “Going to Church” on Christmas Day!

Christmas day lands on a Sunday this year. I have noticed that fact has stirred up some debates online among Christians about whether or not it is acceptable for a church to not schedule a “worship service” on Christmas Day.

One of the pastors in our region took to social media in a rather aggressive fashion, basically accusing any churches of not holding a full-fledged worship service (or services) at their routine time(s) as compromising their faith and being disobedient to the Lord, and any church members not attending of being the same: compromising and disobedient. At first I started to respond to his public social media but then I noticed plenty of Scripturally-informed believers had already done so. Unfortunately, the pastor just dug himself in even stronger and would dismiss them without any reasoned response.

Another pastor in our region took a much less aggressive approach, addressing his congregation rather than the public at large, but still telling them that going to church on Christmas Sunday morning was something that Christians needed to do.

In a day and age in which there is far too much compromise in the churches and among Christians it is easy to fall prey to this line of thinking (regardless of the degree of intensity of the messenger).

But in an effort to be faithful to the Lord and not compromise or be disobedient, we must also be careful to make sure we are being SCRIPTURAL, something the afore-mentioned pastors failed to do.

Is it wrong for a Christian to choose to spend Christmas day with their family rather than “go to church” that morning? Is it wrong for a church to not offer a worship service on Christmas Sunday morning, but have it on Christmas Eve instead?

Answers? No, and no.

And here’s why: nowhere in the Bible are Christians commanded to gather together on Sunday.

Yes, the Scripture commands us to meet together regularly (see Hebrews 10.25, for example). But no where does Scripture say it has to be on Sunday. In fact, the Scripture commands us not to let other judge us on this topic (see Colossians 2.16).

It’s true that Bible gives examples of the early Christians gathering on the first day of the week (Sunday). But that’s description, not prescription. Another way of saying it is that is an example not a command. It’s also true that throughout Christian history, Christians have overwhelmingly chosen Sunday as their primary day for gathering together to worship the Lord. But that’s simply tradition, not a command from the Bible.

And yet there are some Christians who consider it compromise if a Christian spends all of Christmas morning with their family or if a church doesn’t offer a Sunday morning gathering opportunity but only offers a Christmas Eve service this year (like our church is doing).

This is a classic example of confusing an example in the Bible or a tradition through church history with a biblical command. To say that Christians MUST go to church on the specific day of Sunday or to say that it is wrong for a church to choose to gather on Christmas Eve this year instead of Christmas Day is a form of legalism.

So, if your church chooses to have a “worship service” on Christmas morning, wonderful. Nothing wrong with that. And if you choose to go to a worship gathering on Christmas day, at your church or elsewhere, good for you. Just please don’t judge other Christians for not doing so. You have no Scriptural basis.

Here is a podcast episode from this past summer where I talk about not confusing description in Scripture with prescription, with some special emphasis to the topic of what day of the week in which churches should gather…

https://podbay.fm/p/sound-of-truth-podcast/e/1658370080

Almost Every September I Cannot Help But Think of What I Wrote Years Ago

Thirteen years ago I wrote a sports column titled “Of Preseason Polls and Prejudicial Christians.” The column was published nationally through BP Sports (a division of Baptist Press) and was featured in several newspapers across the country. While it remained archived online for several years, Baptist Press eventually closed BP Sports. As a result, that column, along with several others of mine that they had published, is no longer available online.

As a sports fan who loves college football, one of my pet peeves is preseason polls. Each year it seems that as the season progresses we are reminded that ranking teams before the season even starts is an exercise in both arrogance (to think they are smart enough to know how good a team is before they have even played a game) and futility (every year we see how badly the “experts” judge teams before the season begins.

So, in light of the so-called “stunning” upsets across the college football landscape this past weekend, I thought I would dig up the column and republish it here on my blog. While some of the examples are dated, and the BCS Bowl system is no longer a reality (replaced by the playoff system) I think you will find that the basic thesis remains as relevant as ever….

“Of Preseason Polls and Prejudicial Christians” by Brett Maragni (originally published by BP Sports in October of 2009)

I strongly dislike preseason polls. They are meaningless and end up causing more damage than they are worth. Early season polls are not worth much either. Until a team has played four or five games, it is arrogant to assume where a team deserves to be ranked.

Early this season top five teams are losing at a record pace. Last year, the preseason favorite, Georgia, ended up #13 in the final AP poll while the Utah Utes went from unranked to #2. In 2007, twelve top five teams had lost to unranked opponents by the end of November. In 2006…well, three words: Boise State Broncos. 

The problem is that a team that starts the season unranked has a lot more to overcome to get into a BCS bowl game than a team that was ranked in the top five in the preseason. If polls were not taken until five, or even better, six weeks into the season, the bowl assignments would be more fair because the polls would be based more upon performance on the field than preseason prognostications. Even the BCS rankings, which do not begin until later in the season, are impacted because they utilize the polls that started in the preseason, thus making them skewed by the prejudgment of the polls.

But before I get too sanctimonious in my denunciation of the current ranking system, the reality is that we Christians can be even worse about prejudging people. We sometimes prejudge new people coming into our churches by the version of the Bible that they use or the kind of church they came from. If someone is not in our theological “camp” we assume that they are either naïve or close-minded to the truth.   

Sometimes our prejudice works the other way as well. Sometimes we are too quick to favor those who dress the way we do and look the way we look. Leaders say to one another, “They seem like a sharp couple,” meaning, “They look like us.” So sharp-looking couple starts the season off in our church ranked higher than the single lady who is currently without a job.  The reality is that Miss Unemployed might be more spiritually mature and ready to lead a ministry than Mr. or Mrs. Sharp. 

God’s Word addresses our tendency toward prejudicial favoritism: 

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

Bottom line for sports: wait until later in the season to start up the polls. Bottom line for us: get to know a person for who they are instead of making early assumptions.

Special Summer Series on Sound of Truth Podcast

For the summer of 2022, we’ve taken a short break from our normal routine of publishing Bible Chats and Weekly Interviews. Instead we are releasing weekly episodes on the topic of the church.

#1… Ep. 157 – Why Churches Must Change

#2… Ep 158 – Reading Into the Bible How We Do Church (Anachronistic Bible Reading)

#3… Ep 159 – Mistaking a Description  in Scripture as a Command for Everyone

#4… Ep 160 – Churches Should Always Be Reforming

#5… Ep 161 – The Three Most Important Types of Church Gatherings

#6… Ep 162 – The MICRO Church

#7… Ep 163 – The ATOMIC Church

#8… Ep 164 – Attractional Church vs. Missional Church

If you have never accessed our podcast, it is available on all major podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, and others. Simply search for “Sound of Truth Podcast with Brett Maragni” and ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’.

Sound of Truth Podcast Keeps Growing

When we launched Sound of Truth Podcast in 2021 we combined our collective podcast production ignorance with a strong desire to creatively expand the engagement of people with God’s Word beyond the Sunday morning sermon.

That creative effort resulted in a podcast that employs a two-fold approach:

1- One or two short “Bible Chat episodes” (usually about 7-10 minutes) each week which correspond to our congregation’s Bible reading plan (currently a three year schedule through the entire Bible).

2- One “Weekly interview” episode each week that highlight a person’s testimony, oftentimes followed up a second week with another interview with that person on a select topic (area of interest, book they have written, area of expertise, etc.).

We weren’t sure if people would listen, but we were committed to try it for three years, seeking to improve along the way.

As we approach the halfway point of our original three year commitment, we have been surprised by a couple of things: (a) the amount of people who have personally told us that the have listened to, or are currently following, the podcast; and (b) the way our podcast has been picked up by multiple podcast platforms… ones which we didn’t even seek out.

As far as we can tell, here are the platforms which are currently offering Sound of Truth…

Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, AmazonMusic, Listen Notes, Player FM, Audible, and Podbay.

We are thankful for our wonderful guests and listeners.

NAMING our Facility (Where We Meet on Sundays for Our Congregational Gathering)

If I have said it once I’ve said it a thousand times…

THE CHURCH ISN’T A BUILDING.

And yet what are we stuck in the habit of calling the facility we lease at 11570 San Jose Blvd?

You guessed it… a church.

Examples of how we mis-use this word abound. Here are a few examples:

“I’ve got to run by the church to pick up something.”

“How about we meet up at the church?”

“It’s near our church.”

And on and on it goes.

Our words are not matching our beliefs. We are believing one thing in our minds and saying something different with our mouths.

I’ve been asked more than once, “Why are you making such a big deal about this?”

Because words matter. Everywhere you look words matter. Right now in the United States of America there are certain words that will absolutely bring about the ruin of you life if you say them. People get fired from their jobs every day in America for uttering the wrong word or words. People get canceled because they slipped up and committed the culturally unforgivable sin of saying a politically incorrect word.

Every time I refer to our facility as “our church” I am, even if unintentionally, reinforcing an unbiblical view of Christ’s church that is prevalent in our culture.

One of our objectives at Harvest is to change the way people think about Christ, Christians, and the Church. This is one of the ways we can help advance that cause.

The Word CHURCH in the New Testament

We KNOW in our minds the truth about how the word church is used in the New Testament…

A – The church is the people of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

The vast majority of the uses of the word church in the New Testament fit this definition. This use of the word church is used to refer to both a local group of Christians or the “universal” church of all Christians of all times in history.

B – The church is an assembly (a gathering) of God’s redeemed people (even if it is only 2-3 people).

Wrong Ways to Use the Word CHURCH

But here are some ways the word church is used today that are biblically indefensible: the church is a non-profit organization, the church is the clergy, the church is a denomination, and, most common, the church is a physical building or campus of buildings.

It is never used in the Bible to refer to a non-profit organization.

It is never used in the Bible to refer to the clergy (Merriam-Webster: “the clergy or officialdom of a religious body”).

It is never used in the Bible to refer to a denomination.

And…

It is never used in the Bible to refer to a building (Merriam-Webster: “a building for public and especially Christian worship”).

MINDING OUR LANGUAGE

So we would be wise to stop using the church to refer to a building, a denomination, a non-profit organization, or the clergy of a religious body.

Let’s be biblical with our language about the church. It really does matter.

In order to overcome a bad habit, it’s good to replace it with a good habit. Fill the void with something more appropriate. That is why Harvest Jacksonville is looking to come up with a name for our facility.

Next week we will be revealing a long list of all the suggested name possibilities for our facility. Pray that God gives wisdom to our elders as we select a name. Thanks for your interest!

Easter Outreach Ideas

Pray about doing one, or more, of the four EASTER weekend outreach ideas:
(a) Host an Easter Egg Hunt for the children of your neighborhood. Share the Resurrection Eggs story.
(b) Deliver Easter Gift Bags to your neighbors (available this Sunday at our gathering place).
(c) Launch a neighborhood prayer ministry to your neighbors.
(d) Invite people to our Good Friday “Beach Reach” Gathering at Jacksonville Beach (6:45 p.m. near the Seawalk Pavilion).
ALSO!!… Check out these ideas Gina Spong found via Dandelion Resourcing (no longer available on their website)…

Repetitive Bible Reading (RBR) for February ’22

After reading the book of 1st John thirty times in the month of January, I am aiming to read the books of 2nd John, 3rd John, and Jude thirty times in the month of February. That means I will need to read these books once a day for all 28 days, and then double up a couple of those days.

Would you consider joining me?

If you are on Facebook, you are invited to join our RBR group. Request membership at this link HERE.

Also, I’ve mapped out my RBR plan for the following three months as well…

March – Matthew 5-7

April – John 12-14

May – John 15-17

Finally, I have designed a simple bookmark to help mark progress. You may download it below.

Does the Bible really say “FEAR NOT” 365 times?

Does the Bible really say “FEAR NOT” 365 times… one for each day of the year?
No, it does not. The two word combo “FEAR NOT” appears only 71 times in the King James Version of the Bible, a far cry from 365.
But what if we include variations of the phrase, such as “do not be afraid” or even “be courageous,” which is the positive way of telling us to not be afraid? It still gets us no where near 365 times. In fact, it won’t even get us to 200.
No matter how you try to count the word fear, or it’s synonyms, and associate it with a command not to do it, you cannot come up with anywhere close to 365 references in the Bible. And it doesn’t matter what Bible translation you use.
But there is one way to get there and that is to eliminate the “command” aspect of the equation and count all the time the word “FEAR” is used in the Bible. The only problem with this approach is that by using this method we overshoot the target of 365 because the word “FEAR” is found a whopping 501 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Other translations have far less uses of the word. For example, the word appears in the ESV only 437 times and in the NIV only 336 times. You may wonder, “Why the great discrepancy between English translations?” Because these modern translations use synonyms like “terrified” more frequently.
So now that the 365x myth is busted, does this mean that we now have reason to fear? 
Not at all.
I am not going to take the time to research every command in the Bible and how often it is repeated, but I have a suspicion that if “FEAR NOT” is not the most frequently found command in the Bible, then it is certainly near the top of the list. Also, how many times does God have to say something for us to take it seriously? ONCE should be enough.
So, I hate to bust the bubble of all the people who love posting on social media how awesome it is that there is exactly one “FEAR NOT” command for every day of the year, but at least now they won’t have to worry about what to do on the final day of a leap year. 🙂