Monday, November 17, 2008

Community - Be the Church

Don't go to church - be the church. Because the church is not a meeting, nor a place, but a family. A community of people with diverse gifts and abilities but a unified purpose and mission. And the gifts God has given are not for me, but for someone else. And that is because, by God's design, each member of the body of Christ functions to serve the body.

"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:4-5, NASB95)

Paul reminds us that each member functions to serve the body, not the body to serve the members. The difference may be subtle but vastly important. Here is an important reason to consider.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that the church is "Christ's body and (we) individually members of it." (1Cor 12:27) Therefore, the supreme value of the church is to "image" Christ to the world. Individually, we give a distorted and incomplete view of this image, but corporately, as the church, when each member functions to serve the body, the image of the body, that of Christ, becomes clear. Therefore, the church is not a place for personal opinion and individualism. Instead, the church is the place where unity transcends all differences for the name of Christ to be magnified.

That is the reason why we live in community - in order to "image" Christ to the world. How we do it is a limitless conversation but let me give you 3 ways to consider

  1. Share a Meal: Throughout the New Testament, the early church is often seen gathering for a meal. Many times this meal was the Lord's Supper and was intended to be a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and the new life, the new community (i.e. church), made possible by His death and resurrection. But what we may not realize is that most often, this meal was at some one's house and it lasted all day. This was not just a simple tradition, it was a family affair. And the Lord's Supper was not the only time a meal was shared and yet the importance of this activity seems to carry great significance. For example, Paul addresses the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. He does so because sharing a meal within the community of faith is a regular occurrence and of great importance. So important, that Paul took time to teach the church about how to eat with one another. More specifically, how to avoid letting food be a stumbling block to a weaker brother. You remember the story. The conclusion of which is very simple. If eating meat sacrificed to idols causes your brother to stumble, don't do it. Technically, there is nothing wrong with eating this type of meat but the offense it may cause must be avoided at all costs. Why? Because Paul says "when we wound our brother, we sin against Christ". (1Cor 8:12) In other words, since the church is the image of Christ, offending our brother or sister is ultimately an offense to the image of God. So here is the point - sharing a meal is a practical application to living out community within the body of Christ. And when we do, let's be sensitive to consider how to encourage each other to love and good deeds. Let's be careful not to cause anyone to stumble. Let's give the world an image of Christ that draws them to Himself. Are you too busy to have someone over to spend time sharing a meal? If so, you are too busy! It is not an event you plan, it is a privilege you share. Make a point to share a meal with someone in the church very soon.
  2. Share Your Possessions: The early church describes an environment where "the one who gathered much had nothing over and the one who gathered little, had no lack". (2Cor 8:15) In other words, no one had too much and no one had too little. Now this does not mean that everyone had joint ownership of all things in the absence of private property. Yet, at the same time, it does not suggest (nor will you find it any where else in the New Testament) that any person in the body of Christ has any "right" to have such possessions. In fact, the idea of "rights" is a foreign concept in scripture. The gospel is not about claiming a right. It is about accepting a gift. All that we own should be in view of the cross and for the service of others. It is no different than the discussion of spiritual gifts. Similarly, material gifts are not simply for me but more often are for someone else. Paul did not form communes but he was very clear about common attitudes to property. Those who entered into the community of faith could never again look upon what they owned with the same eyes. Nor should we! May we be reminded to "give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver". (2Cor 9:7) Why? Because He is a cheerful giver and when we share our possessions, we image forth the most important attribute of the gospel - an unmerited sacrificial gift.

  3. Sharing Emotions: It is not possible to present a complete image of Christ without community because no one person (outside of Jesus himself) possesses all the attributes of His divinity. Even further, it is not possible to live in community without meaningful relationships. And finally, it is not possible to have a meaningful relationship without authenticity. This seems to be the point of Romans 12:9 when Paul instructs the church to demonstrate love without hypocrisy. (Rom 12:9) The word for hypocrisy literally means "to pretend or act". Therefore, love without hypocrisy, is love without pretending. That means when someone within your church family asks you how you are doing and you are struggling in your marriage, you do not answer by saying, "Fine. Everything is fine." That is pretending and pretending is hypocrisy. As a church, we are called to love without hypocrisy. Make a point to peel back the layers of your life and invite someone in to those places you have previously hidden. Why? So they can fix you? So we can roll in the mud of our sinful lives? No and no! It is all about the image of Christ. We cannot present a complete image of Christ outside of community. Community cannot exists outside of relationships. And relationships are not as God intends when they are not authentic. Don't be an actor, remove your mask and for the sake of Christ, live in the community He purchased with His blood in the depth of relationship He demonstrated and has called us to: "Love one another as I have love you, that you also love one another." (Jn. 13:34)

Don't go to church - be the church!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Living Missional Lives

How easy it is to live our lives isolated from those who hold a different world view. Maybe its a political world view or an environmental world view or a religious world view. The division lines are often clear in our society and if they are not clear enough, we name them. That's right, we go as far as to magnify the difference by categorizing the view. We have democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals, environmentalists, baptists, catholics, evangelical, reformed, liturgical, seeker friendly and the list goes on.
It seems as if this process of categorizing our differences is an unchangeable pattern of our society. However, as a Christian, we should avoid the inevitable trap of living our lives according to these boundaries. May we be reminded: It is not the goal of the christian church to develop a christian subculture so that we avoid relationships outside of our "category". We are not called to create our own "safe society" where all we do is hang out with other Christians, go to Christian schools, go to church to have our needs met and then meet with other Christians to talk about how bad our world is becoming. Of course it is! And in the absence of a message of life changing hope, the decay of our society will only accelerate.

Jesus made our commission very clear, " the Father sent me, so I also send you." (Jn 20:21) From generation to generation, we must pass the baton of faith as a representative of Jesus Christ. "An ambassador of Christ as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg (others) on behalf of Jesus Christ, to be reconciled to God." (2Cor 5:20) And the message we carry is not relevant in our subculture. The message of salvation is shared at the dinner table with sinners. (Luke 15:1-2)

In consideration of this calling, consider this:

  1. When is the last time you shared a meal with a person in need of the world's most important message of hope? Perhaps it is a co-worker or a neighbor or that guy you always sit next to at the game. Have you taken the time to engage with that person enough to earn the right to be heard? Be honest! Because some of us need to confess that we have become so isolated in our own circle of friends that we do not have this opportunity. In fact, some of us may need to initiate efforts by rebuilding bridges we have previously burned. When we isolate, we send a message of condemnation: "You are not good enough to be in my group." So ask yourself today - Which message am I sending: Hope or condemnation?

  2. For those who are engaging with outsiders, are you living wisely among them? (Col 4:5-6) Remember, we are in the world but not of the world. As someone once said, "Wisdom is the quality that keeps you from getting into situations where you need it." None of us are immune to influence. Therefore, we must march into enemy territory only when our own soul is well fortified. Are your loins guarded with truth? Do you carry the shield of faith? Do you wield the sword of the spirit? The armor of God as described by Paul is a necessity for those "who make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel". (Eph 6:12-20)

  3. Finally, does prayer precede your purpose? John Piper (in his book Let the Nations Be Glad) reminds us that "prayer is the communication with headquarters by which the weapons of warfare are deployed according to the will of God". Yet, all too often, we forget that we are in war. We have no sense of urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. Instead of prayer being a 2 way communication system in the midst of war, we have rigged up an intercom system in heaven so that we can submit our requests for safety, security and luxury - not to call in firepower for conflict but asking for more comforts in the den. Piper reminds us: God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. So ask yourself, is my prayer life more like a walkie talkie in the midst of battle or an intercom system to call in comforts for the den?

Prepared with prayer, girded with truth, engaging with outsiders. The Great Commission for all who trust in Jesus Christ. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." (Mt 28:19)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Everyone is a Theologian

A prestigious biology professor once told his class during the introduction to his discussion of evolution:

“As we enter this hotly debated topic, it is important to understand that both the theory of evolution as well as that of creationism is based on the same premise – faith. As a biologist, I choose to put my faith in the theory of evolution. Others choose to put their faith in a creator. But both of us are people of faith.”

Although I disagreed with his personal conclusion, I had a tremendous amount of respect for his willingness to establish the fact that we are all people of faith. Even the agnostic must exhibit faith to conclude that there is no God.
In a similar way, we are all theologians. Buddhists, agnostics, Muslims and Christians alike. Each person, in his own way has contemplated the things of God and drawn certain conclusions. So the question is not whether you are a theologian or not - that fact is universal. The more important question is what kind of theologian are you?
The most distinctive characteristic of Christian theology, in comparison to other forms of theology, is the source of our understanding of God. In our case, it is the Bible. I love what Chip Ingram says he writes in his book God: As He Longs for You to See Him:

“He (God) has taken several millennia, inspired hundreds of pages of scripture, and gone through a traumatic incarnation to paint an accurate portrait of Himself. He obviously cares what we think about Him. He wants us to see Him clearly, attribute by amazing attribute.”

How have you developed your image of God? Is it based on what the preacher said? Did you read a good book or an article from a magazine? Maybe you have formed your conclusions on a starlit night or a glorious sunrise in the morning. Perhaps you choose to know Him by experiencing Him through quiet thoughts and meditation. All these can be used by God but none of them should ever substitute for His revelation in scripture. All things are subordinate to His word and only serve to support what He has gone to great lengths to reveal to us in scripture.
This brings us to the other distinction of Christian Theology. Our pursuit if knowing God through the truth of His word is not simply an intellectual exercise. It’s not enough to know about Him. Created within us is an innate desire for deep, meaningful fellowship with God. The truth of His word leads us to this relationship. Thus our theology is not only biblical, it is also relational. What we know about God shapes our relationship with Him and not only that, what we learn about how God sees us determines how close we grow toward Him.
And each of these truths, the biblical and relational foundations of our theology, leads us to stability amidst the chaos. Let’s face it…chances are, the times we face in the future will be more difficult than those we have faced in the past. Philosophy, science, politics and the relativism of our modern society have individually and collectively offered solutions to our current plight. What is one to believe? How do we persevere and stand firm against the devil and his schemes? There are many voices we could listen to but only one voice that is trustworthy, reliable and the same yesterday, today and forever. The voice of God in the revelation of His word.

So let’s back in to this. How is the anxiety in your heart? Do you experience fear and concern? Take time to consider what God says about His protection and provision: Ps. 55:22, Jer. 17:7-8, Mt. 6:26-34, Luke 12:22-32.

Since He created us for a relationship with Him - a closeness, love and friendship – are you experiencing that promise? If not, perhaps you should consider: Job 7:17, Ps. 103:13, Jer. 31:3, Jn. 14;21, Rom 5:8, 2 Thess 2:16.

Finally, when is the last time you spent time in his word. Not in order to know about Him but to know Him and be known by Him. Here are a few to get you started: Prov. 30:5, John, 20:31, Rom 15:4, 1Peter 3:15, 2Tim 3:15-17