Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's Not That Complicated

We tend to make church too complicated. When I write "we," I'm referring to the entire church, myself included.

On the flip side, I've recently seen a number of church signs and websites say things such as, "Loving God. Loving People." I have to admit that they've got it right.

Living to honor Jesus Christ can be summed up in "Loving God. Loving People." This is not some cliche, but is purely scriptural. In a familiar passage we read this:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

What, then, does this look like? We show our love for God by loving other people. This does not mean that loving others is a means to an end, but rather that it is evidence, or fruit, of our love for the Lord.

This leads to another question: what does it mean to love other people? This is where we must be careful to avoid modern cultural definitions for love. In today's USA, love tends to be defined as warm feelings toward another. These may be familial, romantic, or platonic, but they boil down to affection based on our personal preferences.

When we look at the life of Christ, we see something different. Jesus certainly cared for other people, but we don't primarily see this through his expressing his affections in word. Rather, we see Jesus serving others again, again, and again. We read of Jesus going out of his way to help those in need. He was constantly sacrificing his own comfort, walking around in desolate and dirty places, hanging around with the "sinners" of society, and essentially living a homeless existence in order to show the love of God through service to others.

Jesus' teachings for his followers are not particularly complicated. They are very profound and revolutionary, but not complex or difficult to comprehend. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is very understandable, even to new Christians. It's the living-it-out part that is tough.

In discussing the church we can at times get distracted from what is both most important and simplest. That's loving God and loving people. We show this through acts of loving, self-sacrificing service.

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." I John 3:18

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Add to My Blogroll Please

I was looking through my blogroll today when I realized that I need to read a wider variety of Christian bloggers. Simply put, I agree with too many bloggers on my blogroll about almost everything. That's not healthy. I need to be challenged.

Therefore, today I added 15-20 new blogs to my blogroll. However, I'm certain that I am missing other good ones. This is where I need your assistance.

Please comment by telling me good Christian bloggers that you think I should be reading. It doesn't matter whether or not you think I'll agree with them on various issues. As long as they have some original thoughts and write well, I'll be happy.

Thanks for the help!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking to be Great in the Kingdom?

Jesus made it clear that greatness in his kingdom equals servanthood:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

This flies in the face of everything the world tells us. That shouldn't surprise us since our Lord's Kingdom is not of this world. The challenge to us as the church is to avoid the world's definition of greatness and instead to strive after that of Christ.

What does this look like in day-to-day living? I believe it means that we take opportunity to do for others and set examples for others. Instead of being concerned about status or authority, we simply try to help other people as they have need.

As I think back on my life, the greatest people I have known have been servants. Some of these folks have held positions of leadership in the church while others have not. Regardless, it was the service that I recall fondly. That's what made them great.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Reason for the Season?

He Gave His Only Son

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." John 3:16-18

Monday, December 24, 2012

"O Holy Night"

Weirdness and the Gospel

Today our family was walking around the historic district here in Savannah. We were having a great time until we saw a man strolling around holding up a sign on a stick. I didn't get to read exactly what the sign said, but the gist of it was that Jesus is the abundant life and Satan is the abundant death. This, of course, is true. The problem was not the man's message per se, but rather his method of presenting it.

The man was walking around yelling "Jesus is Lord!" He may have said some other things, but I couldn't understand him. He didn't approach anybody but instead just wandered around with his sign yelling out about Jesus. It was just plain weird. The result was sadly predictable. Everyone who saw him moved away from him, laughing at his bizarre behavior.

I write about this because we must make sure that our presentations of the gospel are not socially weird. We want to ensure that if people reject Christ, they do it because of Christ's claims and not because we are social misfits. The gospel is full of radical truths. For example, Jesus demands each individual's full allegiance. He claims to have risen from the dead. He says that Hell is a real place. These claims fly in the face of modern thought. If people are going to reject these truths, there is nothing we can do about that. However, let's strive to present these truths in a manner in which being weird does not get in the way.

I don't doubt that this man had good intentions. However, the end result was that his efforts did more damage than good. What could he have done differently? Instead of holding up a sign, he might have done much better to simply try to engage folks in basic conversations. For example, Savannah has many tourists. If he is a local, which he probably is, he could have helped people with directions. This might have led to opportunities to share the gospel.

To sum up, if unbelievers are going to reject Jesus, let's be sure it is him they are rejecting and not our own weirdness.

"Feliz Navidad"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

From "The Gathering" to Simply "Gathering"

As we talk about church life, much of the focus often falls on what we refer to as "the gathering." I use this type of language as much as anybody else does. The problem I've come to see with this is that "the gathering" almost takes on a life of its own. It begins to draw much of our focus. We place much energy into it. It is where church life occurs.

There may be a better way. It can begin with simply how we think about getting together with Christian brothers and sisters. Instead of "the gathering," we may be much better off just thinking and speaking in terms of "gathering." When just gather, the focus is less upon what we do than upon who is there. We can shift our attention away from the types of events and activities (whatever they may be) toward the needs of the people present. The move is from action-driven to relationship-driven.

I'm not trying to split hairs. Rather, there is a significant issue at stake. That issue has to do with why we even get together with the body in the first place. When we think in terms of "the gathering," we can fall into a trap of thinking that certain activities are the reason we get together. However, when we simply gather, we can orient ourselves to what truly matters: the who we gather for. We ultimately gather for Christ. We live this out by gathering for the edification of both ourselves and others.

The language we use not only shows how we think but also shapes our thinking. I'm trying to move away from talking about "the gathering" toward just "gathering." My hope is that this moves me more toward thinking of others instead of activities.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Relationship Driven Church

It's fascinating to read how the New Testament authors describe church life. Almost everything they write has to do directly with interpersonal relationships. All of the "one another" exhortations are examples of this. If we studied the application passages of Paul's letters we'd see a comprehensive focus upon relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ.

What we don't see too much of is a focus on events. Although we read a few descriptions of church gatherings (for example Acts 20), these are not many. A significant passage such as Hebrews 10:24-25 focuses much more on the relationships involved than on the specifics of the meetings themselves.

In our culture the focus of the church seems to lean toward events. This can be true whether talking about more institutional churches or simpler ones. Although this is done with good intentions, it indicates priorities that are at least somewhat off target.

We'd all do well to ask whether or not we are more focused on relationships or events. I admit that there is almost always overlap between relationships with friends and events we are all involved in. However, they are not the same thing. Which of the two do we spend more time on? Do we put more work into events or relationships?

When we read the New Testament, we see Christians who had some great relationships and some that weren't so great. The writers dealt much with these issues. That was their concern. The church today (that's all of us Christ-followers) benefits when we take a look both at our relationships and at how much effort we place into those relationships.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Minimalist Approach

I'm going back to a simpler, minimalist approach to this blog's format. It's better for commenting.

What the Priesthood Looks Like

Since we, as Christ's church, are a priesthood, we should know what this looks like. In general, there is a fairly simple answer. We find it in some familiar verses - Romans 12:1-2.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:1-2

Although the answer is simple, it is also profound. Sacrifices by definition are completely given over to someone. They are dead to their own desires and wishes. They in every way exist for someone else. In our case that is Christ.

Basically, we exist to please God. On a daily basis, then, Paul admonishes us to make a practice of presenting ourselves as living sacrifices. This requires action on our part. There is absolutely nothing passive about it.

A significant part of the discipleship process is helping our brothers and sisters in Christ present themselves as sacrifices (as they in turn help us do the same). When we initially turn to Christ, he makes us priests. Our responsibility is to engage in mutual priesthood building as we assist one another in becoming daily what we already are.

What's all this look like day to day? As we relate to the church, we live out the one anothers. As we engage the world, we preach the truth and serve abundantly. To put it simply, priests live to glorify Christ by striving to do what he desires each minute of the day.

As with many other aspects of the Christian life, living as priests is not complicated. What it does require is devotion, obedience, and action.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Getting a Christmas Gift but Not Opening It

God has determined that his people are his priests. All his people are his priests.

"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:5

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

It's not that all believers might be priests. In fact, all are priests. It is not an option; God has decided it. Also, it is no chore, but rather a great privilege.

Despite this, the church is largely ignorant of the implications of the priesthood of all believers. Most local bodies function as if only a few are priests. The majority of the people are passive while the few do most of the work.

This reminds me of receiving a Christmas gift but then not opening it. Now, I've never done that and you probably haven't either. The church however both has and continues to do so. The priesthood of all believers is a stunning and unique gift that God has given to all his followers. God desires that we all live out the reality of what we are. Instead of ignoring this gift, let's vigorously embrace it and encourage our brothers and sisters to do so as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Key Difference

The church is a self-sacrificing. The institution is self-serving.

There can be no reconciliation of the two. The church thrives when it leaves the institution behind. When God's people follow God's plan for church life (instead of man's traditions) God is honored. God in turn honors this by doing amazing things.

I encourage you to depart the institution. Try to do so lovingly and charitably, but by all means do so. Although it may be painful in the short-term, the long terms rewards are worth it.

The institution cannot be reformed. It is bankrupt. Depart my friends. Move from the self-serving organization to the self-sacrificing organism. There will be no regrets.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's Important When Working 60-70 Hours Per Week

For a while now I've been working 60-70 hours each week. It can be a struggle, but I'm grateful to God for the job.

Working this many hours has placed very significant time constraints on both me and my family. We simply don't have time to do much more than what each day requires. This has forced me to prioritize what is most important.

Related to church life, all I really care about any more is getting together with friends. I don't get to do this too often; therefore, whenever it happens it is special. I don't care so much what happens specifically when we get together. I'm just happy to be together. It's a thrill to simply be with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Talking (and usually eating) with Christian friends is what's important in church life. That's, of course, not all that matters, but it does take priority when time is at minimum.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dumb Ways to Die

I'm still on a blogging break, but wanted to share this silly video with you. Don't question. Just enjoy.