Archive for Church
One of the blogs I’ve recently been following is Her.meneutics, a blog by Christian women hosted by Christianity Today. This recent post by Amy Simpson suggests some practical lessons that churches can take from the US Postal Service Crisis. Its a worthwhile read.
In a conversation with a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law of Moses, Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If we were to summarize the great commands of our Lord we could simplify it by saying, “Love God and love others.” In fact, one of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for God is to love others.
1 Corinthians 13:13 affirms that love is the eternal quality that will last forever. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV). 1 Corinthians 13 is nestled between chapters 12 and 14 where Paul gave instructions concerning how Christians are to worship and conduct ministry. Chapter 13 was not arbitrarily placed there to expound upon marriage. Marriage is not the context of 1 Corinthians 13. The context deals with how we are to relate to one another in the context of ministry. Love has several characteristic behaviors that help us know how we are to conduct our relationships. How should Christians express love to one another?
1. Love is accepting (“love is patient, kind”)
The Bible acknowledges our diversity. We are unique and quirky. We all have our points of weirdness. Love does not demand or force you to be like me. It allows room for me to be me and for you to be you!
2. Love encourages and affirms the success of others (“love does not envy”)
We should riotously celebrate one another’s wins and successes.
3. Love is humble (“love is not boastful, love is not proud”)
Love requires that we walk with deep humility, to assume responsibility for ourselves and to acknowledge our own flaws.
4. Love serves (“love is not rude, love is not self seeking”)
In John 13:1-7, the disciples were vying for the best seats. They were playing politics and making plays to obtain rank and power in the Kingdom of God. In response to this, Jesus picked up a towel and washed their feet.
5. Love forgives and reconciles (“love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs”)
It has been said that we are never more like God that when we give and forgive. We should encourage reconciliation when we see relationships become strained or broken.
6. Love is grounded in truth and honesty (“love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth”)
Love is built on trust, and trust cannot be established without truth. If truth is not the foundation of loving relationships, all that remains is sentiment and shallow pretense.
7. Love works for justice (“love always protects”)
We are like the older sibling who takes up for those who cannot take up for themselves. Love doesn’t turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward injustice. Love speaks up and stands beside those who cannot carry their own offense.
8. Love always believes (“love always trusts, hopes”)
Love avoids judging the motives and actions of others. Love is optimistic and believes the best about others and gives others the benefit of the doubt.
9. Love will not quit (“love always preservers, love never fails”)
Love is marked by a resolve that will not give up on others. Love doesn’t write people off.
The New Testament does not articulate the core values of the Church like modern businesses. But there is little doubt in my mind that Jesus would rank love as the supreme core values He desires his churches to possess.
A new report released today by Barna Research ranks America’s Most and Least Bible-minded Cities. Des Moines/Ames, Iowa rests at number 49; right in the middle of the pack. Looking at the list on the infographic provided with the report produced no real surprises. Cities in the deep south rank higher than cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Where does your city rank?
I think the report is helpful and reminds us to pray for our cities. We live in a day when we are tempted to be super impressed with the emergence of the super mega churches that boast thousands in attendance. Barna research reminds us that we still have a lot of Kingdom work to do. I don’t think we’re in danger of running out of unchurched people!
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”
Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”
And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10, NLT)
In the text cited above, Peter offers three tests to positively identify the Church.
1. Our relationship with Jesus Christ
Peter affirms that we are a chosen people. Peter looked at their status as children of God and immediately observed that they were related to God because of his divine initiative. Using the imagery of the Exodus, he observed they were once not a people but now a people belonging to God…once without mercy but now ones who received mercy. Like Peter’s audience, we too lacked identity and were not even a people. But because of God’s great mercy we are no longer nameless. We belong to God through Jesus Christ.
2. Our relationship to one another
Our personal relationship to Jesus Christ carries with it a corporate responsibility. We belong to Christ AND to one another. All of the language in the passage is plural. Vertically we are a people who belong to God yet at the same time horizontally we belong to one another. We are the people of God, not the persons of God.
Peter calls us living stones. When my family moved from Texas to Arkansas we quickly noticed the Ozark Native Stone used in much of the architecture. While it may not suit your personal taste it communicates a wonderful picture of the church. Each stone, with its individual distinctive, is placed among the other stones by mortar to be used for a greater good. Each stone is acknowledged and valued yet together become powerful.
The church is not about uniformity. A brick home illustrates uniformity. The church is about unity in the midst of diversity. Each one of us has come to Christ and his body with our own size, shape, and color. Set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ we are carefully placed within the wall. Our uniqueness can be honored and celebrated as we cherish the individual contributions to the whole.
Peter then leaves the metaphor from architecture and moves to a metaphor from the field of government. Using the language of citizenship he calls us a holy nation. As good citizens of God’s Kingdom we remain rightly related to the king and to our fellow countrymen.
3. Our relationship to the world
Peter affirms that each of us serves in the role of priest. Individually we have direct access to God. There is no mediator that we need apart from our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Corporately we engage in worship and praise, inviting others to join us in worship of the living God.
We are to be renown for our relationship to God. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As his special possession, we come to the realization that any blessing we possess does not come for our personal consumption. We are blessed so that we might be a blessing to the world.
I spent my elementary years living in a small, county seat town in Northeast Missouri. One of the features of this typical hamlet was the town square. In the center of the town square stood the county court house. Then surrounding the courthouse were the four streets that boasted the best commerce and retail that our county had to offer. I can remember summer Saturday nights when our family would take a walk uptown and casually walk around the square. I can remember the big, plate glass windows of the merchants where they would place on display the very best merchandise they had to offer. They reason, of course, for the display window was to draw the customer off the streets and into the store. Our relationship to the world is not unlike those display windows. We are to display the glory of Christ and make our appeals based on his greatness, not our own.
What is our identity? We are the people of God.
Our Christian practice involves expressing love within the community of faith. The remainder of Romans 12 tells us that we must also extend love beyond the community of faith…to those outside the walls of our facilities.
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good (Romans 12:14-21, NLT).
When I read these verses, part of me wishes they weren’t in the Bible! The content seems difficult, unreasonable, nonsensical, and unexpected. Do our enemies really deserve our love and concern? Part of the issue is that when we read the word “enemies” we think of those who oppose us and seek to do harm to us. But in the first century, everyone outside the community was a potential enemy. For the first century church, loving enemies was their evangelism strategy.
Jesus said one of the marks of authentic faith is not our ability to love the lovely and the lovable. The true mark of faith is our willingness and ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. (cf. Matthew 5:43-47) So before we cast a critical eye of evaluation toward those who don’t deserve our love and concern, remember that God is asking us to love others (especially the difficult ones) as he has loved us. Who among us deserves God’s love? Who among us is worthy? In God’s eyes we’re all difficult to love.
Last weekend I finished my three week series from Romans chapter 12 titled, Training Camp. Together we learned that the foundational elements of church are worship and equipping for service. The final piece puts it all together in the practice of our faith. The final verses of Romans 12 deal with our Christian practice in two dimensions, the first of which is living our faith within the believing community.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:9-13, NLT).
As you can see, the remainder of Romans 12 contains the practical applications that flow out of our worship and living. If you were to sum it all up with one word, it would be the word love. Love is the foundation of our salvation, and continues to be the platform by which we live out our salvation. The verses I shared above should be viewed as normative behavior for Christians. Paul’s words are simple and sensible. You might even say that they are somewhat expected. Believers should naturally exhibit this level of compassion and concern for one another. While we may fail from time to time to live these verses to their full intent, we couldn’t argue with Paul’s point. And we couldn’t improve on his suggestions. But what about those outside the believing body? Well, that’s the content of the remaining verses. Check in tomorrow for the other side of the coin.
Few books have impacted my thinking about ministry any more than George Barna’s book titled, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. I recently pulled this book off the shelf to see if it would still make the same impression, and of course, it did. Check out some of the demographical information cited:
One out of every eight children under age 13 is overweight.
One out of every ten children has had sexual intercourse before their 13th birthday.
One out of every ten eighth graders smoke daily, and one out of five in that grade has tried drugs.
During a typical school year, one out of every fourteen elementary school students is threatened or injured at school with a weapon.
In a given year in America, one million children will miss at least one day of school for fear of physical violence.
One out of every eight children under age 13 has no health insurance.
Approximately 7% of children in America between the ages of 6 and 11 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
As many as 17% of children live at or below the poverty line.
One out of every three children born each year in America is born to an unwed mother.
One out of every four children lives with a single parent.
Three out of every five mothers of infants are in the American labor force.
Children between the ages of 2 and 7 consume nearly 25 hours of mass media/technology per week.
Children between the ages of 8 and 13 consume almost 48 hours of mass media/technology per week.
44% of preteens admit to not having any role models in life. For those who do, only one in three name their father or mother as their role model.
Looking at those numbers brings to mind a couple of thoughts. For one, life is extremely messy. Gone are the days when children were sheltered from “adult” problems and issues. Kids today understand the difficult realities of life and are painfully aware of life’s challenges. Second, it is harder today to be a kid today than it was for most of us yesterday. There are more problems, more complexities, and more readily available temptations. There is less structure, less supervision, and less consistency.
But while those statistics are certainly troubling, they aren’t the ones that give cause for alarm. When the same age groups were surveyed and studied, it was discovered that children under the age of 13 were statistically no different that adults regarding spirituality. In short, Barna Research concluded that by the age of 13, a child’s spiritual worldview is largely set in place.
Let me put that into a context that my generation can understand. When I was young, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (and others, for that matter) recognized the value of investing in the spiritual development of teenagers, citing that the likelihood of a person coming to faith in Christ significantly diminished after a person’s 18th birthday. Churches of all denominations responded to that information by investing their programming dollars and resources in youth programs. Youth ministers were trained and hired and provided the financial resources to perform ministry to junior and senior high students. That was then, this is now. In today’s spiritual economy, 13 is the new 18. Youth ministry is still viable and important in our congregations, but wisdom would indicate that today’s church must invest as much if not more in children’s ministry if we’re going to make a difference in future generations.
I’m turning 50 in four months. Two of my children are in college now, and the third will graduate in 2015. I must confess, however, that I have a greater sense of urgency about children’s ministry than at any time in my (nearly) 30 year career. Children’s ministry must be a priority for our churches. It can’t be just another good thing we do among the host of other good things we do. As the adage goes, “When everything is important, nothing is important.” With passion and intent we must rise to the challenge and see it as the greatest Kingdom opportunity that we have before us.
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:4-5, NLT).
Right on the heels of his statement about humility, Paul provided two epic sentences about the body of Christ which would serve as the foundation for what he would write next regarding spiritual gifts. Paul was fond of using the body as a metaphor for the corporate life of the church. He did so very purposefully, as it perfectly illustrated his points about congregational life. First, Paul pointed out the diversity within the body of Christ. We are many parts with many functions. No one part has greater worth or value, for each plays a purposeful and important role. Every part is needed and necessary in order for the whole to operate efficiently and effectively.
Second, Paul emphasized the unity of the body. Even though we are many parts with many functions, we are one, unified body. Our goal as a church is unity, not uniformity. On Sunday I illustrated this difference by pointing to the block walls of our sanctuary and comparing those blocks to the stained glass window. The blocks are symbolic of uniformity, with each being the exact same size, weight, color, and shape. The stained glass is symbolic of unity. Different shapes and colors of individual panes brought together to make a beautiful whole. The stained glass is a great example of unity without enforced uniformity.
The final observation is mutuality. We belong to one another. We need one another. We are not independent, but are interdependent in our relationships in the body of Christ.
Diversity, unity, and mutuality are fundamental if we’re going to be church as Christ intended. It takes humility to behave accordingly. When those come together, we can then have an honest conversation about spiritual gifts and how they empower us to accomplish our mission beyond our walls.
My son left for fall football camp a couple of weeks ago. This is a big season for him, given it is his final year of college eligibility. As we talked I asked him what he would be doing in fall camp. His simple response? “Go to meetings, check out equipment, and practice.” This conversation led me to think that our church needed our own training camp to get ready for the fall. I have developed a three week sermon series titled, Training Camp, based on Romans chapter 12. Here’s my preaching itinerary:
August 26 “Go to Meeting” (Romans 12:1-2)
September 2 “Check Out Your Equipment” (Romans 12:3-8)
September 9 “Put it into Practice” (Romans 12:9-16)
The picture that is part of this post will be the bulletin graphic that we will use for worship each week. Each week I’ll post on those topics. Thanks for checking in from time to time and to those of you who have recommended this site to your friends. God Bless!
The Barna Report just issued the first of four articles from research conducted regarding women and their roles in the life of the local church. You can read the full article by CLICKING HERE.