Monday, December 30, 2013

Reconsider Grace

In this gift-giving season, something we rarely consciously think about is that nearly all gifts are given or received with expectations.

You give someone a sweater for Christmas... you have expectations. You expect them to wear the sweater. You don't expect them to hate it. You don't expect for them to use the thing as the new liner for their cat's bed.

Even when we give to a charity, we expect that the money we send will be used for good things. We would be upset to hear that our charity was mismanaged. We would be outraged if we heard that all the top people at the Make-a-wish foundation were getting Ferrari's for Christmas bonuses. We would be astounded if we heard that UNICEF spent a million dollars on Barbie Dolls and beach balls.

Ironically, all of us who are in Christ are managers of a charity. The word grace and the word charity come from the same word in Greek. God has given us all grace. It is a gift from God and like most gifts, it comes with expectations. God has been charitable to you and I. He has blessed us with the gift of life and then continues to heap up our lives with blessings.

What does God expect from us?
When He sees how you and I are managing this charity, what response might He have?
Will He be pleased or will He be beside Himself?

Watch the sermon: Everyday Grace

Friday, December 27, 2013

Belong (part 4)

When people are looking for a place to call their church home, a huge factor is feeling like they fit in. Ultimately, they want to feel like they belong.
We can all relate to this.

Unfortunately as I have conversations with my peers and read the content of their posts and blogs on the internet I get the sense that there are more and more people who do not want to belong at all.

There are obscene amounts of people who have been hurt by their churches. They have been ignored, insulted, bullied, shamed and in various other ways, abused.

That is a problem.

Maybe the bigger problem is that people don't belong to the church any longer.
I'm not trying to throw these hurt people under the bus. The violators are the ones who should take responsibility and seek reconciliation... right?

To catch up and get some context I would encourage you to read parts 1 and 2. Basically these posts are working from and ideal point of view that the relationship between the individual and the church is a loving one and so the "belonging" is desirable and can be trusted.

In part 3 I conclude that to truly belong, one must take ownership.

Let me illustrate in a couple of ways.

I subscribe to Netflix. A couple of years ago they shifted their focus from movies to TV shows. There was an uproar. If I am merely a subscriber of a service I could get frustrated and cancel my subscription. Others (like me) liked some of the television shows that were being featured and continued to subscribe.
This is the nature of the relationship. We evaluate the services we receive and decide to be members or not based on what we get for the fee we pay.
How would all of this change if I was one of the owners of Netflix. I am still concerned with the product, but my focus is less on if I am being served by it, and more on if others are being served. As the owner I am committed and always want things to get better.
As the customer I am finicky and when I don't get what I want I will leave.

Church membership has two paths. You can take ownership or you can become a customer.

I knew of a man who left the church because his mother was very sick. For years she prayed for healing. For years the church prayed for her healing. She was never healed. Someone from the church said something to this old, sick woman, they suggested that maybe she hadn't been healed because she didn't have enough faith.
The woman was hurt and her whole family was hurt.
They left the church.

What should they have done?

I will just write this... if they had a keen sense of ownership they could still say "Ouch!" They could still be hurt and upset, but the ultimate reaction would not be to hightail and leave. It would be to seek out the brother or sister who hurt them and seek reconciliation.

I think that people assume that if they leave, people will change. That is far from the truth. If you leave, people will assume that you don't really love Jesus (not saying that's a right or fair judgement, but it is the most likely). If you love the church and are involved with a church where there may be some problems, don't walk away, help the church change for the good. If you are the only one seeing it, maybe God is calling you to be a prophet to His people.

The least we can do is belong to the church and that means that we are members of Christ's body and belong to each other. The least we can do is identify with the church. I belong to you and you belong to me, we are the church. God is calling us to be joint heirs with Christ and share in the ownership of the church. The least we can do is stop being customers and consumers and start being owners.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Belong (part 3)

So what is the least that I can do to belong to the church of Christ? (Yes, I'm still asking the question)

In the first part of this series we discussed what it means to belong to another and that the least we can do is belong to the church.
In part 2, we looked at what belonging is not.
So now we finally get to our answer...


In my opinion the least we can do to belong to the church is to identify with this group of people.

In a practical way this means that when referring to the church we will use the term "WE" and not "THEY" or "YOU GUYS"

In nearly 10 years of full time ministry I have had way too many conversations with members of Christ's body who amazingly did not identify themselves with His church!?

It's like they are not a part of the body. They are some kind of fashion accessory.
You and I are the arm and the leg and they are the necklace, knee brace or iPod armband. If the body gets too sweaty or smelly or just doesn't pay enough attention to them they may leave. It is more likely that they will stick around to cause a rash or some other kind of allergic reaction. Oddly, most of these people attend church meetings regularly, are often involved in ministry and are sometimes even a part of the church's leadership.

The least we can do is be like Moses (Hebrews 11:24-26)
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

So where are we going wrong?
Are we too selfish to let "die to self and live for Christ" include being joined to the church?
Is the church so far off from where it should be that people should not identify with her?
If it is, how can her course be corrected except if faithful and righteous people do identify with her and right the ship?

To identify oneself with the church means that we take ownership.
This, actually fits in perfectly with what the scripture is saying in Romans 12:5, all the parts belong to each other. In order for me to correctly belong to the church I have to understand that everyone else belongs to me. In order to identify with the church I have to take ownership of the church.

Part 1: The Least We Can Do to Belong to the Church
Part 2: The "what" vs the "who" of belonging.

Part 4: What is the least I can do to belong to the church? Ownership

Monday, December 16, 2013

Belong (part 2) The "what" vs the "who" of belonging

What's the least I can do to belong to the church?

In part 1 we explored the idea of belonging to someone: it can be scary, but it can also be beautiful. In our relationship with God, being His means being loved, safe and secure.

When it comes to the church the same should hold true.

Before I say what I think the least we can do is, I want to discuss one thing that is a major road block to rightful belonging.

Just a week or so ago I blogged about the term "worship" and how it is quickly supplanting the term "church" as the place that we go on Sunday mornings (You can read more about that here). The problem is that neither worship nor church are places we go...
unfortunately "church" had become synonymous to the building in some contexts and in others it is used as an institution. Both are incorrect and can be harmful.

Saying that the church is an institution hurts us because then it becomes another organization that we are a part of. In most situations this means that there are a select few who run everything and make all the decisions and everyone else becomes a consumer of goods & services. People become members of such institutions because of the benefits or perks that are associated with membership.

OK, I say all of this to establish that many who "join a church" are not joining themselves to a group of people who are set apart by God, but they are joining a non-profit organization that they feel they can get some kind of benefit from.

This is important to point out because if we are going to talk about the least we can do to belong, we must first take "false-belonging" out of the equation.

The Romans 12 verse (5) that says that we each belong to one another is in the midst of comparing the church to being like a body that, though it is made up of many parts, comes together to form one unit.

So the idea that must guide our sense of belonging is not "what do I belong to?" but, "who do I belong to?"

Belonging to the church means I am in submission to the head (Christ) and I belong to all the other members.'

That means that you belong all the other Christians in the world and more directly you belong to the people who make up your local congregation.

so... what's the least I can do to belong to these people?

Part 1 can be read here.
Part 3: What is the least I can do to belong to the church? Identify
Part 4: What is the least I can do to belong to the church? Ownership

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Belong (part 1)

Some of the tension of belonging first came to my mind through a wedding sermon I had used a couple of times. In it I compare the love of the newlyweds to the love that God has for His people in Isaiah 43. What God says at the end of verse 1 is "you are mine."

In human relationships belonging to someone else can be a very scary prospect. Many would first think of slavery. Others may think of an abusive relationship in which one partner views the other as a possession rather than a person.

There is another side to belonging to someone else though.

Every February 14th a common term of endearment thrown around is, "Be Mine." We are not saying, "I want to own you, I want you to be my possession." The language, although similar, has very different meaning.

The Bible uses the analogy for the church that we are the Body of Christ. One of the discourses on the body and it's parts says, "and each member belongs to all the others." The context suggests that God has given each member something to contribute to the larger group and, because together we are one body, we should use those gifts for the good of the church. There is nothing oppressive about that (at least there shouldn't be).

Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. His sheep will not follow the voice of the stranger because they know that their shepherd is good and will care for them, protect them and well do everything else that Psalm 23 talks about. Belonging to God is a beautiful and peaceful thing. Belonging to His church should be an extension of that.

If I am a part of the Body of Christ, then the least I can do is belong. But what does that mean?

Part 2: The "what" vs the "who" of belonging.
Part 3: What is the least I can do to belong to the church? Identify
Part 4: What is the least I can do to belong to the church? Ownership

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Redefine Worship

Over the years I have heard a lot of different ideas come from the lips of men concerning "worship."
Worship has taken center stage in the Christian church world. Sometimes churches divide over it. In fact this happened so often the the term "worship wars" was coined. Other peaceful resolutions have been made to create additional service times to accommodate different worship styles and preferences.
Lots of questions get asked about worship...
When should worship begin?
What can we or can't we do in the worship service?

This branding of worship has hurt the church and it hurts Christians.

Every Word Counts
As a bit of a word-nerd I can appreciate some of what has happened in the church world over the past several years. We figured out that you cannot really say that you are "going to church" because the church is not a place, it is the people of God. Many have begun restating in attempts to fix this. It is important because we believe what we say and if 90% of your congregation starts saying they are going to church, then where are they when they are not at your church's building? Who are they at home and work and school?
They are still the church, but our false labeling supports the concept and consequent behaviors that imply that when my Sunday, spiritual activities are done, I have done what is required of me.

The Wrong Answer
Too many of us (yes, I have been guilty of the crime I am writing about today) have dropped the term "church" for the Sunday gathering of the saints and have latched on to "worship" or "worship service." It is now my opinion that using these terms muddies the waters even more and should be avoided and replaced.

What is worship? There is a bit of mystery already surrounding worship. The dictionary is pretty simple in its definition. It says that worship is a feeling or expression of reverence or adoration for a deity. My Vine's Dictionary tells me that the Greek word for worship is Proskuneo, and comes from the words that mean "towards" and "to kiss."

So what happens on Sunday when the church meets? Is everything we do a kiss or act of reverence toward God? Probably not. Do I stop expressing my adoration toward God when I hop in my car to head home? I certainly hope not!

Two Paths
Many, not all, but many Christians unconsciously believe that "worship" is a special thing that happens on Sunday. They need the church to be able to worship. In other words, if you asked people how they worship through the week, you'd get a lot of confused looks.

Other people have come to be disappointed with the worship of the church. It is too drab, not sincere, "it doesn't move me," is their attitude. And that has led to them ceasing their participation. That's right. Many have chosen to stay home to have a meaningful worship experience on their own rather than to be bogged down by the apathetic church.

The Right Answer?
Will redefining worship fix everything? I'll leave people's hearts and mending them to Jesus. But if we use the right words for the right things, that could help, right?
If you say of a teenager regarding someone they idolize, "She worships the ground they walk on." What do you mean? Do you mean that on Sunday mornings she gets her friends together and in an orderly and specific manner they pay tribute to their idol? Probably not, you probably mean that in many ways and on many occasions they show their hero reverence and love and adoration.

That is how we need to be thinking about what it means to worship God.

Worship God all the time.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Worship God Everywhere! John 4:21-24
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The Word-Nerd Conclusion
Perhaps I am being finicky. Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But why don't you join me in this new quest? Stop going to church. Stop going to worship. 
Why don't you start meeting with the church or go to the church's building? Maybe you can go to the assembly? or the meeting? Just make sure what you say you are doing is what you will be doing. Mislabeling our Christian activities has stunted the growth and understanding of too many and for what reason?

check out the sermon on "Everday Worship"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fear God

Fearing God is a difficult concept for us to understand. We know that God is loving and compassionate and merciful so fearing a God like that sounds backwards. 1 John 4:18 even says that "perfect love casts out fear" and that there is "no fear in love."

How can we reconcile these things?

I think the key (at least for me) is to think of these concepts relationally rather than characteristically.

In other words, instead of interpreting the idea of "fearing God" as a desciption of God (i.e. God is scary), I need to see it in the context of who God is and how I relate to Him.

So, God is loving and merciful and compassionate. God is also righteous and just, perfect and holy. There is nothing inate about these characteristics that would make me fear God. Yet when I put myself in the picture, fear can easily sneak in. When Peter recognized Jesus' deity he told Christ to get away from him because he was a sinner. God's holiness is scary because it causes us to recognize our imperfection.


For an imperfect analogy consider this: you are going to try out for a singing competition for which there will be only one winner. The first contestant sings and their performace gives you a renewed confidence. Why? Because you listened to them and judged their abilities. You decided that you would do better than they did and that made you feel better about your chances to win. There is another contestant before you. This singer nails it. They hit every note with perfect pitch and inflection. How are you feeling now? Their perfection makes you acknowledge the areas in which you fall short.

Jesus says that evil hates the light because light exposes evil deeds (John 3:19-21).

When prophets of old encountered God they fell flat on their faces and trembled. They were gripped with fear. Meeting God exposes every ounce of imperfection within us and that is scary because He is also the judge of the world. God is almighty.Even complete knowledge of all of God's goodness and mercy cannot curb this reaction.

This is why we try to hide. It is why when my son has done something he knows is bad or wrong he tries to either conceal it or hide himself. It is why Adam and Eve tried to hide from God in the garden.

God is mysterious.There is a mystery about God and we tend to fear what we do not know. Proverbs 9:10 is insightful here: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.


The Bible lets us know that how we begin our journey is not how we will end it. God is transforming us, His Holy Spirit is sanctifying us. As spiritual beings we should always be growing and maturing in Christ. This is true for individuals and whole people groups. Galatians 3:24 tells us that the Law was a tutor that would lead us to Christ. When Christ came, there was no longer a need for the tutor. When the new covenant was established, the old covenant became obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).

So Proverbs tells us on more than one occassion that fearing the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear is not the goal, it is not the finish line, it is where we start.


Let's look at fear and love quickly. Fear is, in this context, very selfish. I should obey they Lord because I fear His wrath. That is not a wrong reason to obey, but it is selfish. I do what is right for my own good. I will do what is right because it saves me and preserves my life.

Love, on the other hand, is unselfish. Love can be sacrificial. I will do what is right, even if there are consequences, because I love God and want to please Him. You see how the target of pleasure has switched from "me, me, me" to God? When I get to know God (Pr 9:10) I will gain understanding of who He is and how He will act. His perfect love is expressed as His Son being sacrificed for my sins. If I can perfectly love Him, I will obey His every command. Now, even sinful me can have confidence in approaching God because the blood of His son covers me and washes away all sin and imperfection. When perfect love is present, there is no room for fear.


I read another proverb today: A servant pampered from youth will turn out to be insolent (29:21)

And how about this famous verse, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."

As a father I know that it is good that my son fears me. When I come home from work he is the first one at the door, welcoming me with a hug or something exciting to tell me about. He does not run and hide and cry when I return. Yet he fears me and I discipline him and these are good things. If he had no fear,he would have no reason to listen to me or obey. No reason except for love. Though I am sure that he loves me, his love is immature. His little mind has a hard time piecing together that obedience is an act of love. As he grows and matures his love will mature and gradually replace fear.

So YES, the least we can do is fear God, but may we all have the goal of a perfect and mature loving relationship with our Maker and Creator!


Fear the Lord - beginning of wisdom (Pr 1:7, 9:10)

Know the Holy One - understanding (Pr 9:10)

Trust the Lord - blessing, prosperity, safety (Pr 16:20; 28:25; 29:25)

Love the Lord - obedience (Deut 11:1; John 14:15)



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reduce - Reuse - Recycle

1 Timothy 6:6-8  
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

The sentiment of the "least we can do" has been to look at the commands and call of Jesus and reduce them to the least common denominator. Jesus to go into the world and make disciples, TLWCD is trying to figure out what the first step looks like.

This post has a different feel to it. 

I don't think the Bible calls us to be raging environmentalists. Having put a considerable amount of study time into the subject the last couple of weeks I do believe that God has given us this earth and all of creation, not to lord our dominion over them but as a gift we are responsible to take care of. It is for us, but it is still His.

Last night the woman who is the director of our county's recycling program came and spoke to our church. 

What's the least we can do?

In Oneida and Herkimer counties the recycling process has been made so easy. Reducing waste and reusing what we can...
It is a free process
and actually saves you money if you do it.  

Again, I don't think that God burns with anger if someone uses a styrofoam coffee cup. I don't think Jesus is clenching His fists over a battery that makes it into your garbage. 
But if Jesus lived in Utica, NY in 2013... I think He'd recycle. 

I know He would live a simple life with little to be wasted.

and now am I inspired to write a poem that I will call "Carbon Footprints in the Sand"

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wait Upon the Lord

I have been a minister at the church of Christ in Utica, NY for 8 1/2 years now. I have learned many lessons. Perhaps the lesson (that I am still learning) that is both the most frustrating and yet the most reassuring is that God is in control of everything.

It is frustrating because sometimes you work very hard on things and with people but feel as if you have nothing to show for your labor. You invest, you commit, you pray, you plead, you cry out, you study, you spend time and often it is with these people that you get hurt. They tease you with their interest in the gospel and either it was a hoax from the beginning and a way for them to get some money or attention or they are like some of the soils in Jesus' parable about the sower and the seed: they have no root and get scorched or get choked by the worry and deceitfulness of life.

Then God works. People you don't know are pushed into your life and they are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You don't need to poke them or prod them (because the Holy Spirit already has). They are eager to learn and anxious to get involved. It is so refreshing. (John 4:36-38)

Preaching a sermon every week (or most weeks) has the same emotional toll and contribution. You study and study to try to be as true to God's Word as you can be. This means that the flow of the lesson will usually change several times throughout the week or month or however long you are working on it. So then, you finally have the lesson but it is not a sermon - if you were present your current materials to the church it would take on the form of a 3 or 4 hour lecture. As a Bible nerd, you are pleased, but you know your work is not done. Now you must run this material through a filter to try to determine what the most important things to share are. What do people need to hear? Sunday is almost here and if you are like me, sermon prep doesn't really end until the sermon is over - constantly mulling over in my head what to say and how to present it. You get up there on Sunday morning preach your heart out and afterwards you hear, "It was a good sermon BUT,..." and "sorry I fell asleep" and, "you went a little long didn't you?" There are always positive comments too and you cherish those and they keep you going sometimes, but the negative and ignorant comments always seem louder.

Inevitably there comes a week that everything else happens. You end up doing a lot of running around, visits and moves and breakfasts and meetings and it is Friday and you remember you are supposed to preach on Sunday. You give it your best the day you have to work it out, you preach and return to your seat fully expecting that the church will be asking for your resignation soon. But something else happens. Someone approaches you who rarely does and tells you how touched they were by the day's message. Another person is excited, they shake your hand and tell you that might have been the best sermon you've ever preached. God's Word is good. (Isaiah 55:9-11)

If I put my trust in my own ways I will be a fool (Proverbs 28:26) but if I put my hope in the Lord, He will continuously renew my strength (Isa 40:29-31).

It is the least we can do: wait on the Lord.

 "Wait on the Lord" is not an excuse for a Christian to be lazy. Christian waiting requires action (see Matthew 24:45-51). Waiting is planting and watering as we anticipate Him making things grow.

Ephesians 2:8-10
 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

As a people we are called to follow Jesus, to be faithful to the end, to hold firmly to the Word. We are not called to produce certain results but to do what He asks and go where He sends. We hope in Him and wait for Him, trusting that it is part of a bigger and better plan. Abram had this trust when he left his homeland for God. Ezekiel had this trust when God told him to prophecy even though he was speaking to  a rebellious nation who would "listen or fail to listen." God sent him so that, "they will know that a prophet has been among them."

So, if anyone is reading this, I encourage you to abandon any performance-based Christianity that is within you. Cling to the faith that God is calling you to and cling to it until the end.
And if no one is reading this, I have the confidence that everything God has called me to do, every path to walk down, sermon to preach, person to approach or blog to write has some use in His kingdom. For me it cannot be about making some grand achievement but that everyday my grand achievement must be about being faithful to God. I will not try to do His Work for Him, but I will do the work He has planned for me and watch in anticipation as He moves where I often least expect.