Everybody Has an Opinion

Church Life, Thoughts
Ah yes, the beauty of diverse opinions in the body of Christ.  It seems everyone, these days, is an expert on what is wrong with the church, or more specifically in my milieu, the American church.  I have joined the chorus myself with several entries in this blog about my concerns.  Sometimes it is hard to separate legitimate concerns where we play the proper role of the prophet calling the church back to its purpose, and personal preferences where we are calling the church to be more to our liking.  Of course, I consider myself totally in the prophet category.  How about you? A recent rash of articles and responses in this regard highlights millenials leaving the church and what is behind their dissatisfaction.  And as usual, everyone has an opinion. …
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We Are What We Love

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
As I was working on our last series regarding what motivates us to righteous living, I came across an interview with Professor Jamie Smith in the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine.  Since I am a curious person and like to think, the title of the interview, "You Can't Think Your Way to God" caught my eye.  Read along as Dr. Smith himself articulates his thesis in the interview: "Human beings are at their core defined by what they worship rather than primarily by what they think, know, or believe.  Starting with the idea that we are what we love, I tried to come up with a model of the human person that appreciates the centrality of love.  That propelled me to see that we are ritual, liturgical creatures whose…
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Letting the River Flow in Ministry

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
"Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor 3:5-6).  As ministers of the new covenant, we recognize the flowing river inside each believer and we serve in ways that encourage its flow to come to the surface in our friends and family. Let me give you an example of how this works in ministry.  Several years ago, Rhonda and I were asked to lead an adult Sunday School class at our church for young married couples who were just starting their families.  We were at the other end…
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Is Everyone Included?

Church Life, Thoughts
Last post we focused on the corporate church situation.  Now let's bring this idea of celebrating diversity in the church down to a personal application.  If you are like me, certain personalities rub you the wrong way.  Certain individuals strike you as difficult people.  In my former selfish approach, I usually avoided these people, hiding behind my introvert nature.  But by God's grace, I have opened up to the diverse variety of personalities that are the body of Christ.  I have discovered that it is so easy to be blind to our own personality quirks but quick to notice something amiss in others. Two things have happened as I have moved out of my comfort zone.  First, my life has been enriched by this interaction.  My church experience has a new fullness…
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Embracing All the Gifts

Church Life, Thoughts
In I Corinthians chapter 12, Paul compares the church and its members to the physical body.  Paul starts his discussion with this simple comparison.  Just as the physical body is one body with many parts, so too the church is one body (of Christ) with many members.  And just as with the physical body, each member of Christ's body is different and gifted for a unique function and contribution to the church.  The beauty of it all is that "God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (vs 18).  God Himself has placed you in the body for a purpose. To summarize the main points of Paul's analogy, no part of the body should consider itself inferior to another.  Conversely, we should…
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Unity, Diversity, and the Body of Christ

Church Life, Thoughts
One of the beautiful aspects of being connected with believers as members in the body of Christ is the celebration of our diversity.  When we love well, our differences become causes for celebration, not barriers to inclusion.  This is one of the unique features of the church.  The church is not a social club where membership depends on a shared trait or interest.  We are not an affinity group.  We are a body.  Listen to Paul's description of the church in I Corinthians chapter 12. "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks,…
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A Good Name

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Prosperity teachers, name-it-claim-it theology, and the word of faith movement have all combined to give the power of words a bad name.  But words do carry power.  We believe the written Word of God carries supernatural power.  And we empower our believing community when we properly use the words of Scripture to describe ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am a firm believer that kids and adults live into the expectation we set before them.  And that expectation often takes its form in the words and labels we use.  If we practice a ministry of condemnation (II Cor 3:9); labeling believers as sinners, telling them how poorly they are doing, and not holding out much hope for improvement, can we be surprised when our parishioners live into…
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Love is the Unifier

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).  Love is the unifier in the bond of peace. Pastor Ray Stedman summarized theses verses well in his book, Body Life.  "The church is never told to create unity.  There is a unity that exists in the church by virtue of the simple fact that the church exists.  It can only be produced by the Spirit of God.  But once produced, Christians are responsible to maintain it.  And maintain this unity through Christlike love." All the…
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We are the Body

Analogies, Church Life, Thoughts
The United States of America has a long history of embracing personal liberty and self-determination.  From its pioneer spirit to its entrepreneurial energy to its capitalistic economy, America has been an immigrant magnet to those seeking an independent life.  There appears to be a spirit here, even beyond our materialism and consumerism, of freedom and independence. Fast forward two hundred thirty-six years from its founding and nearly every political debate in the USA today is essentially about the balance between our libertarian ideas of personal freedom and the role of central government in promoting the common good (or not so good).  Where the balance lies in a democracy like ours, I will leave to the political types.  My interest is what happens when the individualism so celebrated in our country enters…
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Crucifying the Flesh in Community

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
"Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.  Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (II Tim 2:21-22).  Another way we "crucify the flesh" in practical terms is by pursuing righteousness in the company of our fellow believers. Paul makes clear in II Timothy 2 that to become a useful tool in the hands of the Master, or to extend the thought, to crucify the flesh and thus be prepared for every good work, we must flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness.  This flee and pursue pattern is very similar to Paul's put off the old nature…
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Righteous Expectations

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
The New Testament writers often use the word picture of "walking" to describe living the Christian life.  Paul exhorts us to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4), "walk according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4), "walk in good works" (Eph 2:10), "walk in a manner worthy of our calling" (Eph 4:1), "walk in love" (Eph 5:2), "walk as children of Light" (Eph 5:8), "walk as wise men and women" (Eph 5:15), "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord" (Col 1:10), and finally, "walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (I Thess 2:12).  The Apostle John adds, "walk in the same manner as Christ walked" (I Jn 2:6) and "walk according to His commandments" (II Jn 1:6).  The Christian walk…
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Love and the Message of First Corinthians

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
The apostle Paul often commended churches for the strength their faith and love.  The church in Corinth, however, was not worthy of such a compliment.  In fact, following Paul's introduction in his first letter to them, he starts through a laundry list of problems the church faced, offering specific instruction in church discipline (chapter 5), lawsuits (chapter 6a), immorality (chapter 6b), marriage (chapter 7), gray areas (chapters 8-10), roles in the church (chapter 11a), the Lord's Supper (chapter 11b), and the exercise of spiritual gifts (chapter 12). Then we come to I Corinthians chapter 13.  It is as if Paul is writing along saying, "Do this, don't do that, act this way" in very specific instructions.  Then he puts his pen down, closes his eyes, and says to himself, "You…
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Humility and the Message of First Corinthians

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
While we are on the topic of love and humility, let's take a quick look at the book of I Corinthians.  This letter gives us a fascinating look at healthy body life in the church by examining the negative.  That is, the church in Corinth was marked by division, selfishness, and worldliness.  "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?"…
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Love and Humility

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Love in the body of Christ starts with humility.  "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).  These qualities; humility, gentleness, and patient forgiveness are exactly how Jesus Christ demonstrated His love to us.  "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Mt 11:29). Look at the following passage of admonitions for healthy body life in the church.  Notice the thread of love and humility that flows through it.  "Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor…
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Love and the Body of Christ

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Last post we introduced the idea that "love one another" is part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13:34).  The "new" of this commandment not only signals a radical departure from the consequence model of the Old Testament, but its practice also involves a new community; the church.  Following Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, His disciples became part of something totally new; the church, the literal expression of the body of Christ on earth.  And love is the foundation from which everything springs forth in how this body life is to be lived. "But speaking the truth in love, we are to…
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The Greatest Commandment

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
"And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us" (I Jn 3:23).  This, in my opinion, is the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  Believe in Jesus and love one another.  Accept Christ and love one another.  Embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ and love one another.  Or said another way, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).  Faith and love summarize the two part aspect of the greatest commandment in the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for faith to enter His kingdom, to join His family.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him…
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God is Love

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Any discussion about love in the body of Christ, the church, must begin with God Himself, the author of love.  Love is not only the invention of God, but it is the very essence of God.  Love isn't something God does; it is who He is.  "God is love" is a prevalent theme (I Jn 4:7 e.g.) throughout His revelation.  And this love, at the center of who God is, is the driver in His relationship with us. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).  "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).  "Greater love has no…
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The Measure of a Healthy Church

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
One of the significant measures of a healthy church in the New Testament is love for one another.  Many times the apostle Paul commends churches for their love.  To the church at Thessalonica, he writes, "We give thanks to God always for you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess 1:2-3) and, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows even greater" (II Thess 1:3). To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith…
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Where is the Love?

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
In her book, Walking Away from Faith, professor Ruth Tucker identifies five broad categories of reasons for people losing faith.  They are: Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism. Biblical perplexities and higher criticism. Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering. Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church. Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism. We have slowly been working our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges.  On point one, we emphasized the unnecessary box we place our students in regarding the creation/evolution debate.  God is the author of all science and is not surprised or taken out of the picture by new discoveries, even in the field of old earth geology.  Does that mean God has…
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