Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

Jesus loves His church more than you do.

church

Are you excited about life?  Your church?  Your community and the things God is doing all around you?  Do you ever get frustrated?  Tired?  Worn out from pouring into people, ministries and efforts that seem to just fizzle and die?

I love change.  Even though I am an introvert by disposition and need to have some quiet time to recharge, I love meeting new people, I love going new places, trying new things and experiencing life.  I love to move.  Just like most who share my disposition, I see the best in people up front and am excited to engage in new communities.  However I find it difficult to see potential and I often resign myself to consider situations to be how they will be forever, thus once things are broken it feels impossible to make them right.

In my Spiritual immaturity and involvement in a vastly superficial youth group, this disposition led me to a level of disdain for the Church.  God radically changed my life and disposition through the tragic loss of a non-believing friend and a year at a Christian university twenty miles from any outside influence.  He simply ingrained the truth in my heart that He loves His Church, and if I want to be His follower I must love the Church as well.

In my adulthood, this disposition has led me to despair when I see the gross failures of our leadership and members:  those people we love and respect abandoning the faith, giving in to unthinkable moral failures and leading the body into Spiritual inactivity and uselessness.  But walking through these trials God has simply affirmed me that nothing is outside of His control and He loves His Church more than I ever could.  He is not surprised by our circumstances, in fact He ordains them for the growth and maturity of His Church.

In short, God loves the Church and will work everything out for her best and her holiness.  He love the Church more than you or I ever could, and He has a perfect plan for her, even when things look grim.  God will work all things together such that He can present the Church – the bride of Christ – to Jesus on that final day as perfect.  She (we) will be spotless and without wrinkle in our wedding dress, holy and blameless, and that because He died for us to wash away our sins and is continually washing us and purifying us through the Word:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.25-27

In Scripture the Church is often called Christ’s body.  We are taught clearly that Jesus Himself is the head of that body and we all have roles to fill in the local body where we meet.  No one is the head of the local or universal church, not the pope, not a pastor, not a team of elders, no one.  Only Jesus is the head.  He is in charge, He makes the final decisions, and He has a sovereign plan over all of our endeavors and will sanctify us and make us holy.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

Jesus loves His own body, just as we love our own bodies.

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”

– Eph 5.29-30

It is important to function as a part of the body.  We have been commanded to and if we do not serve the body with our gifting and skills that God has given us, the body will suffer.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

“For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.14-20

“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.”

– Rom 12.4-5

Jesus died for His body.  He gave Himself up for her (us) so that she might be saved and made holy.  He knows what is best for her (us) and He will work all things out together for His glory, for her good and for or the best of the Church (Rom 8.28).  If you are struggling with frustration towards the Church, remember that this is God’s chosen instrument of bringing His love and the Gospel to the world.  He loves her, and therefore you must too.  If you are discouraged by tensions within the church, by failures of leadership, by the type of music or  color of the carpet, remember that God loves the Church infinitely more than you ever will, and He is working these situations out both for your maturity and sanctification as well as for hers.  It is His Church, not ours.

Yes, there are times that churches die.  This happens because sin creeps in and goes unchecked.  Thankfully Jesus has commanded us clearly how to handle sin and push one another on to holiness and maturity.  There are times that a church becomes so inward focused and neglects the commands of Scripture that God removes His hand from that congregation and they dwindle.  Take note of these trends as you work through your feelings towards and about a Church, and always pray.  Ask God if He is at work in this place.  Ask God if this is your body where you should serve.  As God if this is a branch that is alive and bearing fruit or one that has withered and will be cut off.  And let’s get busy loving that which Jesus loves, pushing through the hard times and rejoicing in the sweet times.  And let us commit to invest as long as God continues to lead, not giving up when the going gets rough.

Does mentorship have to be from an elder?

mentor

The natural process of life is that children are born into the world helpless and completely dependent.  They learn and grow quickly, always asking parents, teachers and other “grown ups” the meaning of a word or how to accomplish some goal.  As a child, you assume that grown-ups know everything, and you trust what they tell you to be the truth.  As a child, and even as a youth, I believed that all adults were very wise, mature in relationship skills and decision making, and Spiritually mature.  One day, however, my dad did tell me that sometimes obnoxious children grow up to be obnoxious adults.  My eyes began to slowly open.

I was in high school and college during the initial thrust of peer-led small groups and Bible study.  In school they were developing “Peer Mediation” teams, where I was trained over a few months to help other students work out their problems without having to go to an authority.  At Church, as a fourteen year old Freshman, I was coached to teach and lead a small group Bible study, with students that were even older than me!

I drew strength from verses like 1 Tim 4:12,

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

I read a lot of books, and learned much from regular and deep conversations with my parents.  But then in college, our campus ministry emphasized a discipleship program where peers mentored peers.  The upper classmen, by virtue of being one or two years older, had great wisdom and responsibility to perpetuate the cycle of Bible studies, community, and discipleship – all outside of a local church.

There developed a very real void and lack of understanding or respect for inter-generational mentorship and discipleship.  We already section off our kids by age for school, sports, events and Sunday School, and we train them to only know and interact with their peers.  Thus that is where they are comfortable.  Their worldview becomes very small and limited to whatever fad is big for their current life-stage.

This is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  Throughout history and around the world, it has been common place that elders receive the greatest honor and respect.  They were often given the seat of honor at the table, they had the final say, and most cultures had a system of the eldest child living at home with the parents, thus having multiple generations under one roof.

“A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.”

– Prov 16.31

There is a fundamental and essential discipleship that must happen inter-generationally.  Struggles we are facing and questions we have have been experienced and answered successfully before us.  Sometimes we are discouraged in a phase of life, and we just need an experienced voice to let us know that it will not last forever.  And sometimes we actually need instruction for how to navigate new waters.

Paul taught us that older women must teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children!

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Love seems to be natural for a wife and mother, but sometimes we act foolishly believing it is best and loving.  Sometimes we spoil out of love and create a monster.  Those who have gone before us can offer us insight into those decisions.

But there will also come times when younger people need to speak truth into older people’s lives.  Like Timothy.  He was a young pastor, and found himself in a situation where he had to teach older men the truths about God and Jesus.

Consider the mission field, for example.  A missionary couple in their twenties or thirties is by very definition entering a foreign culture to teach a truth which is new and different from anything this host culture has ever heard.  They will have to teach people of all ages, and answer those extremely difficult questions about their long-standing beliefs and loved ones who have already passed away.

But here at home, too.  Any person of faith – at any age – can lead another person to faith – of any age.  A high school student can adequately know and communicate the Gospel to a senior citizen.  He can also teach basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Scripture memory, daily quiet times, tithing and church involvement.  He will not be able to communicate experiential knowledge of raising a family by faith, or making career choices by faith, but it can and should happen that we recognize spiritual wisdom and truth from people of any age.

We should also not let our age be a hindrance to us, no matter where we find ourselves in life.  If God is calling you, you are neither too old nor too young:

But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.

– Jer 1.7-9

In short, we all have something to learn from one another.  Truth can be communicated from any age, and sometimes a fresh perspective from another age will speak a truth to us in the way we need to hear it.  There is always a level of experience that can help teach through a situation, but age and experience does not always mean wisdom.  Thus we must function as a body.  We must know, interact with, and learn from people of all ages.  We must recognize truth and wisdom when we hear it and learn discernment for things that are not truth.

So let’s get out there and start breaking down some of our age-barriers.  Let God bring people of all walks of life into your world, and we will all benefit and grow.

The Lone Ranger Christian

lone ragner

There are two types of Christians out there:  leaders and followers.  Some people come to faith and are overwhelmed at the size and depth of the Bible, and they are content to let others teach and direct them.  There are so many truths contained within Scripture that they can be fearful to take a stand because they do not have the entire canon memorized and do not want to be disproven or made to look foolish.  These are followers.  We are all followers to an extent – we will all continue to learn and grow throughout our Christian life, none of us will ever have all of the answers and will find our belief system developing – sometimes in large measure, sometimes only minutely.

There are also leaders.  Leaders are those who find pleasure in learning everything that they can about the Scripture and are excited to share it with others.  Leaders see doctrine, theology and ecclesiology as a matter of discipline and discipleship and want to grow on their own and help others along the way.  Leaders can be tempted to rely on their own strength, however, and can find it difficult to rely on others and follow the leadership of others.  All believers will find themselves as leaders at some point in our Spiritual development and life.

With the continual development of our mindset that we have autonomy to define our own truth, and our distrust for authority and claims on absolute truth, we are seeing a new phenomenon within our churches, at an alarming rate, and that is – what I like to call – the “Lone Ranger Christian”.  John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into English in the late 1300’s, and after the Reformation began when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the Wittenburg Castle Church in 1517, he translated the Scriptures into German so that everyone could read the Bible on their own and have a personal interaction with God.  John Wesley and others also translated the Bible into common languages.  Post-Reformation Spirituality became personal, and with that came a variety of denominations – based on these predominant leaders:  Lutheran, Wesleyan, etc.

Throughout the years, congregations and factions would form within these larger denominations – and churches would split and smaller denominations would be formed.  Thus we have 1st Baptist Church and 2nd Baptist Church, 1st United Methodist and 2nd United Methodist within many towns.  Sometimes these splits were over doctrine or belief, and sometimes they were over interpersonal issues.

But the current generation and culture is marked by self-definition and autonomy.  Some (the unhappy leaders) dress it up as missional and call it “Church Planting” while others (the unhappy followers) just give up on everyone else and call their faith “personal”, and alienate themselves from a Church Body.  “We want to have a first-century Church”, they say, “We want to look like the early church”.  And since we cannot walk into an established body and reform it quickly to the principles we see taught in Scripture, we stomp out the door and seek to start our own or give up on everyone else completely.

It is true, our Christian traditions have been developing for nearly 2000 years.  A gathering in Jerusalem in 60 AD would look dramatically different than a gathering in Dallas Texas today.  There are a few things that we must remember, however, when observing that reality.

Firstly, the early Church did not do everything right.  After Jesus returned to Heaven and the apostles began the work of Church planting, the early church had a multitude of problems.  They were immediately plagued by legalism and Judaizers seeking to impose the Old Covenant Law on top of the Gospel.  They also suffered intense persecution which scattered many of them across the known world, and some verbally denied Jesus while others affirmed Him – and many who stood firm under persecution called those who denied Him in a moment of weakness non-believers and heretics.  There were some who taught that Jesus was not a man, He was only God; there were others who taught that He as only god and not a man.  The heresies and false teachings were countless, and the entire New Testament was written to counter these false teachings and develop right doctrine.

Secondly, we must understand that our Church and worship gatherings are almost completely cultural.  Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, how to live daily lives and how to make disciples, but He never said, “When you have a Church service, do this.”  Paul gave very loose instructions about the gathering of believers:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

– Eph 5.18-21

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

-Col 3.16

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

– 1 Cor 14.26

We understand that God us given us one another as a body, He has gifted each of us differently to serve the body and push one another on to maturity – some as teachers, some as hands and feet, and when we gather together we are taught to encourage one another with music and teaching and worship God.  We also are taught to remember Christ through the Lord’s Supper by eating together and feeding one another.

That’s it.

Scripture does not teach us to gather for an hour.  There is no outline for Sunday School.  Yes, we are instructed to sing hymns, psalms and Spiritual songs – that means we should sing those truths of old and continue to write new songs of praise to our Lord.  But the Bible never says which instruments we are to use (or not use), it never instructs us on how many songs, or how many preachers!  We are to be marked by prayer, singing and admonishing/teaching.  We all, throughout the ages, have adapted these principles to our fellowships through tradition and through our culture.

And quite frankly, the Early Church suffered much more than we do for lack of accessibility to Scripture and teachings.  We, today, have the completed Scripture at our fingertips and in our language, with 2000 years of scholarly study and theological refinement all collected on google.

So what does all of this mean?  Our culture values independent thought and critical thinking.  This is good, healthy and valuable – because we all must confess our faith personally.  Our parent’s faith, our community’s faith, our pastor’s faith will not save us.  It is also detrimental, however, because we are hesitant to submit to one another, to put each other’s desires before our own, and if our personal fancies are not tickled then we would prefer to just walk away.  This ought not be.  God created us for community and gave us to one another to push each other on to righteousness and obedience.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

If you are a Christian, you must be a part of a local body.  It is not an option.  God did not call us to be lone-ranger Christians, He called us to serve one another, to love one another, to encourage one another, and to go out and make disciples together!

Now hear me, I am not advocating blind submission.  If you are in a body and it is infiltrated by false prophets or the leadership begins teaching heresies – it is our responsibility to seek to right that false teaching, and if the body as a whole will not submit to Scripture and truth, then we should find another body.  False prophets are dangerous, and one of Satan’s tactics is to infiltrate the Church and lead people astray.  We all must be on guard against that danger.  But we must love Christ’s bride as He loves His bride and fight for her.  We should not walk away from a body quickly, but we should plead with her, pray for her, and fight for her.

And Church planting is a necessary and beautiful form of growth!  We see it often on the micro-level in small groups.  When you have a gathering of believers that meets regularly, and new believers are brought in consistently – as they should be – there will quickly come a time that the group is too big for intimate discipleship and accountability.  Those baby Christians will mature and get to a point where they are capable and ready to lead a group on their own!  This is good, right and healthy.  The same is true on the bigger scale.  Churches cannot and should not grow indefinitely.  Pastors should be raised up and trained, Churches should be planted and our footprint broadened.  We ought not be in competition with one another but partners to reach our community, the lost and the world.

This is healthy growth.  Splintering and segregating because of personalities or insubordination is unhealthy and wrong.

So let us check our hearts today.  Are you a part of a local body?  Are you sacrificing your time, energy, finances and autonomy for the sake of other believers?  Are you serving the body, utilizing the gifts and talents that God has given you for the sake of the local Church?  Or are you sitting back and just getting fed?  Do you listen to podcasts instead of attending church?  Are you frustrated about this or that and therefore pray and worship on your own and have written off the local body?

Jesus has created you for community.  You need the body, and the body needs you.  Without the body we will not have fellowship, accountability, encouragement, or an effective witness.  And perhaps most importantly, we are being disobedient if we are not actively serving and participating in Church.  So know the Lord.  Learn the Scriptures.  Find a body and test its doctrine against the Word.  But lay aside your preferences and remember that our gatherings are cultural by in large.  If Scripture does not forbid what your body practices as worship, then embrace it – as it is facilitating worship for others.  If Scripture does forbid what your body is practicing as worship, then address it and identify the sin or false teaching.  And if you must leave out of conviction, then find another body.  There ought not be any lone-ranger Christians.

Are you a pursuer, or a pursuee?

Separation

The idea of community has changed dramatically in the US in the last generation.  Cars, garages, cell phones and the internet have made us very independent and an over saturation of entertainment has isolated us into our little boxes we call homes.  Many of us long for deep and real relationship, but grow exhausted just thinking about the effort it would require to build it, and when time rolls around to go out after a long day or work, or with a list of chores to do around the house, many of us prefer to just stay in.

But one of the major problems that we have as a society nowadays in building relationships is our cultural narcissism.  We want to be pursued.  We do not want to make the effort to reach out to those around us, we want them to reach out to us.  We dress it up in all sorts of ways.  The insecure say, “I do not want to bother them or be a nuisance”.  The arrogant say, “I reached out last time, if he wants to hang out with me he needs to reach out”.  And the oblivious say, “Why doesn’t anyone call me?”  Me.  Me.  Me.  Poor little ol’ me, no body likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.

People who make us feel good about ourselves are the popular people because when we think about community, we are really only thinking about having something to do and having someone love me.  Not loving someone else.

We were created for community.  But not just for hanging out and having fun.  We, as Christians, were made to work together to make a cohesive whole, the Church:  the body of Christ.

“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.”

– Rom 12.4-5

In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we need each other.  In order to be held accountable in our Spiritual growth, we need each other.  In order to obey God, we need each other.  But not only that, we have been given dynamic instructions in how we think about and relate to one another:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,and being made in the likeness of men.”

– Phil 2.3-7

Consider one another as more important than yourself.  And what did Jesus say?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39

We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to look at for their interests before and above our own.  You love yourself enough to eat good food, get the clothes that you like, fix up your house just right, get pets, entertain yourself, set up retirement…when was the last time you sought those things out for your neighbor?  Made sure that someone in your church was settled in all of those creature comforts and needs?

But on a simpler level, when was the last time you reached out?  Jesus essentially commanded us to be pursuers.  How will we know if someone is hurting, if someone is in need, if someone is lonely, if we do not pick up the phone and give him a call, or shoot a text, or write an email?  How can we make disciples if we sit around and wait for people to pursue us?  In case you haven’t noticed folks, people aren’t drawn to Christianity.

“There is none righteous, not even one;
there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
all have turned aside, together they have become useless;
there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

No one is out there seeking after God.  We have to take God to them.  And we have to be the humble ones who reach out first, who take the offense, who forgive the grudge, who make the effort.  Why?  Because Jesus humbled Himself and came to Earth to save and forgive us, and we are supposed to be like Jesus.  He reached out to us.  We must reach out to one another.

Do you want to be pursued?  We all do.  None of us likes feeling un-liked.  No one likes feeling like they always have to make the effort.  But if that is the most uncomfortable aspect of our Christian walks, we have it pretty easy.  So get out there.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Start looking around and seeing the needs around you, and start reaching out to others.  Find the new people.  Find the lonely.  Be the body.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Dear Christian, You Are Not The Church.

Church-People1

There is a new phenomenon these days where people are trying to justify and prove themselves as Christians while living whatever lifestyle they so choose, and they are using the phrase, “I am the Church” and usually add on a tag something like, “just like you”.  For nearly a decade we have wrestled, as a sub culture, with the question of how literally we need to interpret and apply the Bible.  And in justifying our contra-Biblical decisions, we cry out, “I am a Christian and Jesus loves me!  I can come just as I am, it doesn’t matter what I do!”

I have written extensively on the topic of righteousness and sanctification – our dying to our flesh and sin when we come to faith – but the argument has shifted.  We no longer are trying to prove ourselves by simply stating, “I am a Christian”, but now it is said, “I am the church”.

The reason this is so disconcerting and dangerous is because it encourages the lie and error of individualism.  The Western culture of today is uniquely individualistic, and we struggle to understand the context and depths of Scripture because our little worlds only revolve around us.  The lie, “You can be whatever you want to be” leads us to fight to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and fight for financial, social, and personal success.  We do not consider our friends or family in decision making, but make “the best decision for me and my future” when promotions, moves, and future planning come up.  We send our babies to day care for someone else to raise and we lock up our parents in retirement homes for someone else to care for.  It’s all about me.

And this worldview is carelessly applied to our faith.  We thrive on lies like, “If I were the only person on Earth, Jesus would still have come to die for me” and “Your faith is personal and between you and God”.  We then believe that Church is about me, we church hop to find the place where they do worship the way we like and we get fed.  As soon as someone looks at us funny or tries to hold us accountable, or Heaven forbid they change the style of music, we are out.  There’s always another Church.

But this worldview and concept is wrong.  Jesus came to die for all who would believe (Rom 3.21-22).  Before the beginning, redemption’s story was written.  Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the Earth (Rev 13.8).  And He chose, knew and set aside believers before He ever said, “Let there be light” (Eph 1).  God’s big picture plan is not about us individually.  And while we must make our choice to repent and follow Christ individually (my parents’ faith will not save me), our individualism does not fit in the context or teaching of Scripture.

“For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.

– 1 Cor 12.14-20

The body is not one member.  Period. You are not the Church.  You are a part of the Church.  Scripture teaches two levels of Church:  the local church and the church universal.  You cannot function as a one man show.  You were not made to, and God does not want you to.  When you are born again, you are born immediately into a family of faith, and at the time you are a baby.  You need mature people to teach and feed you, and as you grow you understand your strengths, weaknesses and roles.  You might be a hand, a foot or a mouth!  We need each other to function as a healthy unit.  We need Jesus as our head to guide us, and to help us die to ourselves and to sin.

And in that we come full circle.  You cannot be a part of the body and rebel against what the head says.  The head says, “Go and sin no more” (John 8.11).  The head also gave us a long and inclusive book that outlines what He defines as sin.  He is the Head and He gets to make those calls.  Just because we say we are the Church or more accurately, part of the Church, that does not make it so.  If we have not been born again, if we have not been fundamentally changed, if we are not killing our sin and living by the power of the Holy Spirit unto righteousness, we are not part of the Church.  We may go to Church, and we might even affirm the Gospel as truth, but we are just hypocrites who love our sin more than we love Jesus.

Is there anything you love more than Jesus?  You must kill that to be a part of the Church.  Surrender today.  Let Him be the head.  Be a part of the Church, and know your role.  Let’s fight our sin, kill our flesh, study what God has to say about sin, righteousness and holiness and let the Spirit work it out in us.  And let us humble ourselves.  It is not all about me and it is not all about you.  It is all about Jesus, and His corporate Church.

Do I have to go to church?

church

I’m a Christian.  I have been told all my life that God loves me and wants to have a personal relationship with me.  My spirituality is mine, it is between God and me.  Do I have to go to church?

This topic has come up a few times lately and it has pondering, yet again, if we – Christians as a whole – understand what Church is.  What it is meant to be.

Paul speaks directly to the topic.  We’ve all heard it before,

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

– Heb 10.23-25

Do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.  In layman’s terms, don’t skip church.

But why?  When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He slowly revealed His identity to her.  When she realized that He was a prophet, she tested Him:

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

– John 4.20

The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  When Israel split just after Solomon’s rule, the northern half of the kingdom was taken into captivity and intermarried with other nations.  Thus the Jews from the South considered the Samaritans cross-breeds and lesser of a people.  They were worshiping the same God, but the Samaritans only used the first five books of the Bible and split their traditions of worship to worship on “this mountain”, the mountain Gerizim.

The Samaritan woman wanted to test Jesus, because He was a Jew and because He was a prophet (who had just revealed to her that he knew her life story).  Where is the right place to worship?  Let’s look at0 His answer to her feeble attempt:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

– John 4.21-24

So out of Jesus’ own mouth, we see that location no longer matters.  We do not have to go to the temple or to the mountain.  We can worship God wherever we are.  Therefore, we do not need to go to Church, right?

Wrong.

The very fact that we would ask the question “Do I have to go to church?” reveals two things about us.  Primarily, we do not understand the purpose of church.  Secondly, we do not understand the nature of our faith – if we are saved at all.

The purpose of the church is to worship and glorify God.  To make much of Him.  To praise Him.  To learn about Him.  If you choose your church based on what you get out of it, you fundamentally misunderstand its purpose.  If you choose a church based on whether or not you like the music, whether or not it has a big youth group, whether or not you feel good when you come in, then your heart is in the wrong place.  Because church is not about me and it is not about you.  It is about God.

Does the music honor God?  Does the preaching make great His name and lead you to worship, honor, respect and adore Him more?  Does the youth group, or teaching component for children and families teach them how to know and love God?  Sometimes knowing God is going to hurt.  He calls us to die to our sin, to put to death the deeds of the flesh, and that is hard.  Sometimes it hurts.

Church is also the place where we build community.  In fact, most semi-theologians will be quick to argue that the Church is the group of people, not the building.  Yes, that is correct.  God did not create us as lone rangers.  Our American individualism has distorted the Gospel message.  Two words that the Bible never says are “personal relationship”.  Now, the Bible also does not say the word, “trinity”, but all evangelicals believe in the doctrine.  But the Bible does not teach that Jesus came to die on the cross “just for me“.  No, He died for the sins of the world and all who would believe.

Jesus longs for us to abide in Him as He abides in the Father (John 15).  He offers us direct access to God through prayer by redeeming us (Heb 4.16).  Our salvation is based on our personal repentance and not the faith of another, i.e. our parents (Acts 2.38).  So in that sense we understand that salvation is personal.  And we make our daily decision if we will abide in Christ and become one with Him as He is with the Father (John 17).

But let’s take a closer look at what Jesus says when He says that we become one with Him:

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.”

– John 17.11

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

– John 17.20-23

We are one in Christ with all other believers.  Our unity in Christ is not just me abiding in Christ.  It is me abiding and unifying with you – the church – in the same manner that Jesus abides and is unified with God the Father and the Spirit.  No, my salvation is not based on your faithfulness and I am not in danger of losing it if you abandon the faith.  But God is concerned about us glorifying Him by dying to ourselves, living unto Him, serving the Church (His body!), and reaching the lost.  These are the eternal things.  When we die, nothing else will remain.

So, do we have to go to church?  Is your salvation in limbo if you miss a Sunday here and there for vacation or work or illness?  No, of course not.  But we should examine our hearts on keeping the Sabbath – a day dedicated to God.  But in general, we must be a part of a local body.  God created the Church as His physical body and representation in the world.  We each have a specific role to play to worship Him, make disciples and reach the lost.

Let’s not get caught up in the legalism of it.  Let’s not abuse our freedom in grace.  Let’s give our lives over to the One who gave His life for us, and serve Him by serving the body:  The Church.

“If you love me you will love the Church.”