Category Archives: Body of Christ

generous

Persecuted though they were, Christians in the early church were noticed by emperors, some of whom even wrote that Christians put others to shame by serving the poor, aiding the sick, and caring for the dead and dying.  In other words, those inside the church took care of people better than those outside!

These Christians were not simply known for their beliefs, but by the actions those beliefs inspired.  Isaiah writes of this progression: “Feed the hungry and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10).  For Isaiah, “light” would shine as a result of good actions.  And as bearers of the Light of the World, they are truly our actions that will prove to our communities who Jesus really is.

What would our community, our city, look like if followers of Jesus became known for this again: caring for God’s creation, for fighting for all of human life – unborn and born – for peacemaking, for forgiving those who wrong us, for extending God’s love to all?

Let us be generous. Let us live life beside each other, united in God’s Spirit and serving the world God has made.  Let’s join together to live the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

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in god we trust?

MSNBC.com recently ran an article and online vote inquiring whether or not to keep the motto, “In God We Trust” on our national currency.  Michael Newdow, an athiest, has embroiled himself in a lawsuit to remove this motto because it carries overt religious overtones – because it prefers religion to non-religion.

You can imagine the stir this provokes in the “Christian” community.

Fury.  Outrage.  Disbelief.

Fear.

It is as if removing “In God We Trust” implies that our country, the United States of America, has abandoned its Christian and religious roots.  No wonder this provokes fear.

On the other hand, it seems to me that placing “God” on “Money” can too easily blur the distinction between the two.  It can lead us to delude ourselves, believing that God approves of our religious nationalism, that God somehow feels better about Himself because His name is splashed across Benjamin Franklin’s bust.  Rather than reminding us that we should put our trust in God (and not in financial security), the motto on the money slyly implies that God is quite okay with our reliance on something other than Him.

He stamps His approval on our consumerism.

His name validates our ambition.

Worse, it gives the false impression that ours is a “Christian” nation (as if writing something about God on money proves that we really seek to follow Jesus).

I have a better idea.  Instead of indignantly asserting that “this is one more step towards secularism”, let’s acknowledge that we Christians have often done a poor job of revealing who Jesus is in a way such that all can be drawn to Him (John 12:32).  Let’s decide to show our friends, community – even our nation – that we trust in God by what we do more than what words on paper read.

big church and the spirit

The Coming of the Holy Spirit, St. Francis CathedralI have to admit, I’ve often been critical of ‘big church‘. You know, the mega-churches, those gathering places with thousands and thousands of people, pastored by well-known ministers, often well-known for things other than being Christlike.

I’ve been critical because I don’t like big churches. I get lost. I think that a church’s responsibility is to create new communities – new church plants – when they are large enough. I hear of building “expansion” to have larger Sunday services and think, “If we’re/you’re big enough to spend all that money expanding, we’re/you’re big enough to plant.

I’ve probably unfairly evaluated a lot of big church. It’s easy to rail from the outside. It’s easy to point fingers. It’s easy to look at my church and think worse thoughts of others. And it’s plain arrogant.

So, I’m beginning to be more gracious in my thoughts and words about big church. I find it easy to extend grace to individuals; why not to organizations? So, I’ve decided that – big or small – churches should be evaluated on this basis: what they offer to the community.

Now, I don’t mean what services, assistance, or events do they offer, nor do I mean community simply as those in close proximity to the church building.

What I mean is, “Does the church serve its own ends for its own people or does it seek the welfare of the community?” Does it seek to transform society by empowering its members – the body of Christ – to influence their own little worlds? And I don’t mean teaching adherents how to guide someone in “the sinner’s prayer”, as good as that might be. I mean, do we encourage Christ’s Body to act compassionately, the see with Jesus’ eyes the world around them, to give of one’s self and family to those in need, to aid in community development, to give a “cup of cool water” to someone thirsty?

I’m convicted by this blog by Rick Whitter. I count myself of the Pentecostal cloth, but what does that mean? Does it mean exuberant worship services? Speaking in tongues? Giving a “word of wisdom”? Barking like dogs? I think Rick has it right: the real evidence of the Spirit’s infilling was “these people gave.

I couldn’t say it better than this:

The DNA of the Spirit at work in the people of Acts is identified in their helping, their giving, their sharing, their feeding of the hungry, their clothing of the poor, their getting involved in correcting social injustices. As one with a Pentecostal heritage, I think I can offer a healthy criticism of our current operation. We have made Pentecostalism a style of worship. The Bible never does that. Pentecostalism is first and foremost a set of convictions that demands compassion by those who wear the label. A truly Spirit-filled person will get involved in efforts to address the needs of the less fortunate. A Spirit filled church really can’t be one unless they speak out and act on behalf of those who need help. Agreed, being Spirit filled it is about the manifestation of the gifts, no problem with that. It is about the unprecedented unity that they enjoyed, no doubt. But it is also about making a difference in the lives of hurting people. Not just praying for a miracle for those who are hungry, but creating a miracle by feeding the hungry. That is the work of the Spirit. That is what will make a difference in our world.

That’s enough for us to spend the rest of our lives perfecting.

That’s evidence of the Spirit.

gated christian communities

You’ve seen them – from outside the key-coded gate. Maybe you’ve even tried to slip behind a resident and get under the gate before it closed on you. You know who you are…

Gated communities.

They keep people out: undesirables, less-affluent, more-affluent, those not-on-the-approved-list. They just do. They are safe-havens, isolated and intentional communities, a pick-your-own-neighbor life.

But this isn’t about the merits or downfalls of gated communities. No matter where on that continuum it falls, it is nowhere as insidious as the gated Christian communities.

You know what they are. You’ve seen them. You might not be aware if you are in one, but you sure as anything know if you aren’t. And these communities are sometimes harder to break into than physical gates. These gates communities have multiple gates.

You’ve attended church services and felt out of place. Or you have neighbors who claim to be Christians. Whether a Christ-follower or not, you know when you feel on the out of something in. And sometimes, no matter how how many gates you get through, there always seems to be one more. Here’s a few I am thinking of.

Gate #1 The Language Barrier: We Christians have our own lingo. We go to a church service; during that time we like to praise and worship; some of our favorite words in praise and worship are hallelujah or hosanna. After church we fellowship in the foyer (or lobby or vestibule – or the worst, the narthex); on Sunday nights we go to small groups (or life groups or home groups); in Bible studies we talk about spiritual warfare and principalities and powers…any of this sounding a little familiar? Then we talk about salvation and justification and getting saved or being born again. Learning this language can take years!

Gate #2 The Christian Smile: This is what you meet when you walk into the church and are handed a bulletin (this language thing is going to get messy, I can tell). It’s also what you see when you drop your kids off at kid’s church. Then you see it on faces when you finally locate a seat in the santuary (does anyone else hear Quasimodo bellowing in the recesses of your mind?). You’re first thought is, “dang, these people are happy.” Everyone you greet with a, “How are you?” returns a, “Great, thanks! How are you?”, which naturally begs you to return the same response. That’s when the smiles start to seem like plaster. Sure, there are a lot of genuinely happy people in church, but as my pastor’s wife says, “these people are bleeding all over the pews and no one knows it.” Then you try the experiment: when someone asks you how you are, you decide to respond, “Terrible, thanks. How are you?” And you answer this at least 4 times before someone realizes you said, “terrible”. Good luck getting the passcode for this gate.

Gate #3 The Christian Inside Jokes: This hit me in a brief service planning meeting that I had with our senior pastor and associate pastor. After talking about a few things, I said something christianese like, “the Bible companion guide to the pseudopigrypha.” We all laughed, and then I realized that no one outside our elite group would have got that joke. Did it make me feel good and superior? You bet! Did it make me feel woefully inadequate to interact in normal, non-churchy conversation? Nope. Should it have? Maybe. But come on, admit it: pseudopigrypha is funny!

I’m going to stop with those three gates. Heck, one is too much, and I’m mildly depressed having written all that about barriers to Christian community. There’s got to be a different and better way. Sure, we’re goign to stick out and seem a bit exclusive – every group does. Perhaps we need to understand the way we as the Church, as Christians, look and work hard to counteract that.

Let’s start a movement: NMGCC – No More Gated Christian Communities.

shhh…don’t tell

forgive.jpgOur church is currently working its way through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, I spoke from Chapter 6:1-18. It communicates something vital to us about “spiritual transformation”, something that Diogenes Allen writes of in Spiritual Theology. Allen believes that the aim of spiritual transformation is to become more and more like God’s character and that, in order to get there (though it is not really an arrival) is to travel the road built of spiritual disciplines. Traveling this road culminates in what Allen calls, “love of neighbor”, the hallmark of following Jesus.

Matthew’s first 18 verses are divided into three passages, each dealing with a spiritual discipline contrasted against hypocrisy: Good deeds/giving (vs.1-6); prayer (vs.7-15); fasting (vs.16-18).

In brief, Jesus teaches his disciples (and the crowd that continues massing to listen) what it means to be a continual part of the kingdom of God (which is to be found within us, here on earth). When teaching these three disciplines, I find it interesting that Jesus uses the phrase, “When you give…pray…fast…” instead of “If you…” He implies that these are already, or should be, active in His followers’ lives as the way of developing a relationship with the Father.

After teaching on these disciplines, Jesus ends each with a secrecy clause – do it in secret, in humility. The kicker in each teaching is not the doing of the thing itself (for both Jesus’ disciples and the hypocrites participate in such), but the motivation behind the action: is it done for the Father or for personal recognition? Is it for a deeper relationship with God or for the admiration of others?

Perhaps the “reward” Jesus speaks of is personal/spiritual transformation. This transformation into His likeness continues to occur in disciples to the extent that the motivation is toward the Father.
Does following these disciplines with right motives enhance our relationship with God? Does it endear us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? What is one of the most powerful indicator of this inward change? Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 6, verse 12: to forgive others the sins committed against one’s own self. This is “love of neighbor”.

communion

After a brief discussion regarding communion (the Eucharist) with some of the staff at our church, the subject of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26-30. Paul says that since communion/Eucharist is about proclaiming the Lord’s death and recognizing His body, participating in this sacrament lightly is the reason that many are weak, sick, or dead.

So, we talked about what it means to be weak, sick or dead. Whether or not Paul’s words implied physical sickness or death may be important, but it begs the question, “Why don’t we see this today?” Maybe we do – or would, but we ourselves are sick or dead.

Communion, the Eucharist, is about not only Christ, but about His body, the Church. Since we experience Christ in the community of fellow believers, how we regard others in celebrating the Eucharist must be important. Paul says that we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves if we do not recognize Jesus’ body. I think this must to some degree imply not only remembering Jesus physical death, but acknowledging and celebrating His metaphorical body – the Church.

To the extent that we attempt to make communion singularly about “me and Jesus” and exclude the very root of communion (community), we are in danger of refusing Christ’s body, though we may even receive the elements. We are in danger of becoming weak, sick or dead. Whether or not physically or literally, by refusing Christ’s community, we experience the saddest state that humans can encounter on earth:  weak in offering mercy; dead to compassion.

christmas is coming

We’re down to the final 12 days before Christmas and I’m thinking of Christmas carols. I’ve got my favorites – “O Holy Night” tops the list – but to me, the most beautifully crafted phrase comes from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.

Be born in us today.” There is no more fitting nor needed experience today than this: to let God who became incarnate in human flesh in Jesus Christ to become incarnate once again in us. Be born in us today. The Beyond-All-This, the More, the Inexpressible yet seemingly impossibly experiential becoming life to others through us. Be born in us today. The God who desired relationships with humans in the most intimate of ways became one; let us let Him come to us again through our flesh, through our lives, our love, our actions.

Be born in us today. If the Church truly is the Body of Christ in some mystical authentic way, let us – the Church, Christ’s body and witness here in His world – be Him in our communities, Him in our neighborhoods, Him in our families. Let His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Let us be those instruments of peace through which the world can know and be loved by God.

Let us be Christmas today for someone.