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"