Monday, January 25, 2016

Church 101

Growing up, church was always a place. We went to church. It was a cute church (see picture here). Little in size and small in number. It was always the same (or so it seemed to me at the time). Liturgical. Rote. Comfortable. I knew what to expect, and who to expect to be there. However, as I’ve gotten older, I definitely know that church is NOT a place; and, I wish I’d known this truth a lot sooner. For whatever reason, children (who are great observers, but terrible interpreters) tend not to understand this, and because they don’t (this is an opinion), we are losing them by the time they are able to make a decision for themselves.

If church isn’t a place, then what is it? You may want to skip this blog, because it is Church 101. Yet sometimes, the most elementary of principles are the ones for which we need a refresher course. Simply put, church is you. Church is me. I can’t go to church, because I am the church. 

Let’s be a little more technical.  In the Old Testament, The Lord came and dwelt among the people in a Tabernacle. Now, He tabernacles in us as individuals. His Spirit lives in His believers. The minute we saw our need for a Savior, called out to Him in our distress, God rescued us, planted our feet on a ROCK, and placed His Spirit inside of us for the purpose of empowerment. He calls us His ekklesia (church), though, in the New Testament, and not His miskan (tabernacle | dwelling). 

Here’s what that means. The Greek word for church, transliterated ekklesia, is comprised of two compound words: Out + Called (usually, by name) = Called out. I have been personally called out. You, as well. That just does something to me. Something quite special. It reminds me of standing in line during those early P.E. years, waiting for my name to be called to be a part of a team…and waiting…and waiting…and waiting… I wasn’t much of an athlete. I wasn’t wanted as much as the real athletes. However, with the Lord, it doesn’t matter how athletic I am, or even how bright, or good looking, or rich…He just wants me, for myself to be a part of something BIG. Yes, it’s a team of sorts.

There’s still more. Attached to the second compound word is this definition: to be called to bear a name or a title among men. I have been called by name to bear a name. Of course, that name is Jesus, the Christ. In the little town of Antioch, the people attached a title to the name: Christian, meaning a little Christ. When I am the church, it is obvious to others in my community. Whether I tell people or not, they see Jesus, and just know I am ekklesia. There is something different about someone who bears the Spirit of God-the-Son inside. When we hang around an ekklesia, we take notice, and (snap!) - it’s Jesus we see, we hear, we sense - living, loving, and leading.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be called by name to bear the NAME. It can get weary. We can easily get discouraged. We still battle the sin nature. There’s this little thing called “persecution.” There exists this daily struggle with various trials and afflictions of all sizes, shapes, and shades of color. So, we gather together. All the individual churches of like mind and heart come together for a purpose. You might think it’s to worship the one whose NAME we bear. I don’t believe that’s what Scripture teaches. We’ll look at more evidences of why I believe this in future blogs. Right now, let this sink into your soul: we gather together to encourage one another. Worshipping the one whose NAME we bear is a part of that, because we are reminding ourselves of the ONE worthy of worship. Hearing a message is a part, because truths, admonitions, commandments, warnings, and even having a few tables turned over in our souls is important. The main purpose of gathering the church together in one place is this: encouragement to endure. After all the little churches gather together, we leave one another ready to keep on churching…

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

(Hebrews 10:23-25)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Supply and Demand

A couple walked into a local Hobby Lobby just after Christmas. They figured this was a great time to pick up supplies they might have wanted before the holiday began, but because the seller wasn’t sure that the supply would meet the demand, the price was a bit higher than they wanted to pay. Now, the supply is great, and demand is low, and they could get things at an incredible steal. Well, an incredible steal, if the low demand meant that what they wanted was still available. That’s called consumerism.

No matter what, things go on sale, as we know, when the demand for certain items is now at an all time low. The lower price restores interest….supposedly. However, it speaks to what is left. What is left wasn’t as desirable as the retailer had hoped when said person placed their original order. 

So, the couple began picking up items that were appealing, in the hopes that it would add to their holiday cheer the following year. Imagine the woman’s surprise when she turned around and found the man holding this sign with this look of shock. Of course, she had to snap a picture. This worship pastor’s response to the photo and the item in his hand? “I thought of all places, Hobby Lobby understood the inestimable value of the Savior, but alas, even they have succumbed to placing Jesus on sale.” 

A few years back, as I was studying for my master’s degree, I read a book, the title and author of which I can’t remember. However, this declaration from that book, I still recall.  “Christians have become consumers of the church, and no longer, committed partners.”  That has made me think…a lot. For when we become consumers, we have a supply and demand theology. 

Here’s how it plays out (I’ve heard it from the mouths of actual members):
What is the church doing for me?
How is the church supplying for my needs?
Does the church create an environment that is “safe”?
Does the church talk about that which makes me feel more comfortable?
Am I entertained by my church?
Are the messages encouraging, building me up, spurring me on, but not “in my face” with admonitions and commands?
Is there a good and positive energy in my church?

Believe me, this is reality.

When what the church supplies becomes a demand, somehow Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. The demand for more of Jesus is lower, He is less desirable, and, yes, even in the church He goes “on sale.” At least in our minds. He’s reduced in priority to that which will recreate interest, population growth, and financial contribution. 

I wish I could say I didn’t fall prey to consumerism. Truth is I do, in my own way. It’s this awareness that has me on the journey I’m now on to understand doing church more biblically. It begins with giving Jesus his rightful place - HE IS THE FOUNDATION! It begins when I, in my heart, elevate Him to that place of inestimable value that my friend, the worship pastor, mentioned. It begins when I confess that church isn’t about me, but about worship. It begins when I dive in and serve the one who is worthy of that worship. It begins with confession, repentance, and starting over. This is where I find myself this morning. In the place of beginning again, taking Jesus off the sale rack, and putting Him in His rightful place.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Preventing Stress Fractures

My quest: What it means to "church"...
!!!! Warning !!! (just in case you are joining me on this new journey): The next few weeks may be somewhat random, jumping all over the place. If I were really thorough, I'd study, dig into Scripture, read books, and create a blog that was orderly, thoughtful, and followed some sort of sequence. Sorry, that won't be what you'll get. What you'll get are "thoughts" on the church as I go. So, with that in mind, we take a leap.

I've already downloaded a few books that have been recommended. I've looked at a few passages of Scripture. However, this week, every time I sit with these things, the words to the following old hymn keep popping into my head. Honestly, I can't think of a better place to begin. Here are the words to the melody I've been humming:

The church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is His new creation
By water and the Word
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
And with His blood He bought her
And for her life He died
(lyrics: Samuel Stone, melody: Samuel Wesley, circa 1866)

Last week's introductory thoughts on the church discussed one of the goals; the pinnacle to the answer of "why" the church: Passing the Baton of AWE.
This week, we lay a foundation for the church.

I'm no builder. But I know a little bit about foundations. A good foundation does more than just hold a house above ground. I know this from experience. My house is built on an experiment. At the time, this type of foundation was a newly formed theory: a floating foundation. The thought was that as the ground shifted, the ability to float would help the house shift along, causing less problems. That hasn't proved itself out in the long term. Because it isn't a SOLID foundation, we often have to repair sheet-rocked walls. They get stress fractures. The more extensive the foundation problems the more costly the fix. Ultimately, though, as one builder has said, "Without a good foundation, well, you're sunk!"

Jesus Christ is the foundation. The church is built on this one premise and this one premise only. It is SOLID. It does not float. It does not shift or change. The truth is that no other theory will do. If the church forgets her foundation, or leaves it out of the equation, when building...look out! There will be stress fractures, or worse!!!  It is best we remember these words that should be written on the doorposts of every church:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b]shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16 - emphasis mine)

"YOU are the Christ, the Son of the living God." There is the foundation. On that rock, that solid rock, the church of God has to be built. The church is so much more than a business, buildings, budgets, and my needs. Jesus Christ left heaven to seek a bride, a bride that would reflect the love of her husband. A bride who would live without fear, who would speak often of the price He graciously paid for her, a bride who would faithfully wait for her man to return and take her to her heavenly home.

Got any stress fractures? Is your church sinking? Maybe the foundation needs a little "shoring up." When Jesus is the foundation, the church lives on enduringly...
When Jesus is the foundation, stress fractures can be prevented...
More importantly...
When Jesus is the foundation, the church works...

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Exploration

I just spent a weekend away in personal retreat. I had an amazing time meeting with my Lord. I prayed, journaled, read slowly, being filled with conviction, through a book with the title of "Awe: Why it Matters for Everything We Think, Say, & Do." Such teaching! It wasn't deep. It wasn't even filled with really new thoughts. It was, however, thought provoking. No one has challenged me so greatly in a long time. Sprinkled throughout different chapters were questions to evaluate. I could have just read through them, nodded my head, agreed that these were questions I ought to ponder at some point down the road, but instead, wrote every question at the top of a new page in my journal and explored my relationship (or lack thereof) to them. As I said - deeply convicting! Here are just a few truths that were hammered into my head and started moving into my heart.
  • I was created, hard-wired, for AWE.
  • There is a battle raging within me for where to focus my AWE.
  • Only AWE of God will satisfy, but I tend to replace vertical AWE with a horizontal addiction. (Most often, I replace AWE of God with awe of self.) 
  • When my AWE goes wrong, I will develop AWE amnesia. 
  • My emotional life is always a window into what has captured my AWE. (As Yoda might say, "Educators they are...")

Here's the thing. We (meaning Christians, the Bride of Christ, the Church) don't do a very good job of reminding one another about the AWE of God. We have (for various reasons) stopped intentionally "commending [God's] works to one another" (Ps. 145:4). The generations which follow are definitely in need of AWE-reminders. We need to pass the baton of AWE. In fact, "every moment of ministry should inspire our AWE of God." "When our children are blown away by the glory of God, they will be pre-disposed to reach for His grace and submit to His will!" 

This got me thinking about this thing called Church. Does the Lord's Bride really know why she's been chosen, married, and, now, waiting for her bridegroom to come and get her? Do Christians really know how-to-church biblically? Not only are we failing to pass the baton-of-AWE, I fear we're losing our understanding of why we're here, and not "there" with our Savior-God. Maybe what has me thinking so much is an article I read recently on the "Dones."  The Dones are comprised of former church leaders, the "best and the brightest." These are the 20% who used to do 80% of the work. They are just done with church, and more than likely, will not be returning. Their reasons for leaving are varied and personal. Overall, they've just become disillusioned.

However, we desperately need the church being the Church. If we keep seeing church leaders walking out the back doors, who will be left to pass on the baton? Who, then, do the younger generations have to set an example and tell about the wondrous deeds of the glory of the Lord, the God who has been the hero in the midst of their stories? We've got to have story tellers to pass on a heritage of hope, and raise up steadfast faith in the next generation.

So that's my new quest as I begin 2016: A Look at The Church. What does it mean to biblically church? 

First lesson on the church: The church is meant to pass a baton of AWE from one generation to the next.