The Church as Christ’s Body

Growing up, my family always taught me their understanding of the church, often best explained through the old rhyme one would say while interlocking their fingers; “To have a church, stick up your fingers for the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people!” While this was a clever use of one’s fingers and a great way to introduce the very basic idea of going to church to a youngster, it is severely lacking and does not explain or educate as to the true nature of the church as the body of Christ.

There are many examples I could use from my evangelical Christian upbringing that helped give me a skewed version of the definition of the church, such as some classics like; “Make sure to put on your Sunday best!”, or, “Stop! We don’t play in church!” These are all things I heard growing up in a God-fearing Christian family, and they were said to help me grow in reverence and respect towards God, yet they did not provide me with an accurate starting point for my burgeoning faith and ultimately became things I had to overcome as I grew to fully understand my journey of faith and place in the church, the body of Christ.

The Foundational Mission of Church

As I learned more and more about the true purpose and nature of the church, I found myself focusing on the church’s starting point. To completely grasp the reason the church exists, we must understand when and how it started. We see God lay out his plan in the Old Testament. The original intention behind the nation of Israel was to fulfill the blessing God originally gave to Abraham for the benefit of the whole world. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed'” (Genesis 12:1-3). There are a few basic fundamentals that we see in this passage:

  1. God has a plan for bringing His blessing to the world
  2. God intends to use humans to be the messenger of that blessing

While the physical nation of Israel did not live up to this mission, it is clear through God’s use of the “remnant” that a spiritual nation of Israel was rising up inside the physical. This became clear through Jesus’ life and teachings. “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches'” (Matthew 13:31-32). This movement of Jesus was the catalyst of God’s eternal plan of bringing his love and grace to everyone on earth.

Jesus started by calling this movement the “kingdom of God” and explaining his plan for it all throughout his time on earth; that it would grow and be a source of life for all around it. His intention and plan was always that “all around it” would refer to the whole world and would come from the few gathered in front of him that day.

As it then was, even as it was on the day of Pentecost, it was smaller than any sect or party in Palestine or Greece or Italy. It was sown in God’s field of the world, but it was to grow till it became greater than any sect or school, a tree among the trees of the forest, a kingdom among other kingdoms (comp. the imagery of Ezekiel 31:3; Daniel 4:10), a great organised society; and the “birds of the air” (no longer, as before, the emblems of evil)—i.e., the systems of thought, institutions, and the like, of other races—were to find refuge under its protection.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers for Matthew 13:31

From this, the church’s directive and promise of fulfillment is here in Matthew 24:14: “The kingdom of Heaven shall be preached to all nations and then the end shall come.” At the time Jesus said this, the disciples were still trying to figure out the mystery of what Jesus exactly means by this, but it fit exactly in line going all the way back to God’s calling of Abraham in Genesis 12. The point of blessing the Israelites was to bless the rest of the world with God’s love. It makes perfect sense that Jesus wouldn’t return until everyone alive has had the chance to receive that love and grace.

Jesus is the Head of the Church

From the start of Jesus’ ministry all through until he charged the disciples to carry on the mission, the charge was always spreading the gospel. The good news of salvation must be preached to everyone; every human must know the truth of their own lostness and inability to regain their own standing in front of God. Only by trusting in the atoning act of Jesus can a person be justified in the sight of God and reunited into His family.

We know from Paul that all a person has to do is “Believe with your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The plan of God—the mission of the church—is eternal salvation through Jesus Christ for the rest of the world. But why does humanity need that blessing from God?

Simply put, the world is without hope. You only need to watch the news for one day to see reports on mass murders, natural disasters, horrific acts of terror; the results of which can deflate joy and happiness faster than a pin can pop a balloon. “This generation thinks that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping light bulb” (Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 342). The evil of Satan and the power of sin have robbed humankind of its connection to life and love. The hope we have does not come from this world, but from the God who smuggled himself into this world through the virgin birth and carried our sins on the cross. “There is hope, and it comes to fulfillment when we believe and obey the gospel. Because the gospel has been, is, and will always be the way of salvation, the only way, the church must preserve it at all costs” (Erickson, 342).

The church is the embodiment of the calling and blessing God gave to Abraham all those years ago. Just as the physical nation of Israel was to be the light of the world and bring others to God, the church is now the spiritual remnant of Israel and is charged with the same task: to reach the lost of this world with the message and hope of Jesus Christ. The church started with the first Christians to meet and hear the words of Jesus.

Jesus started the church by bringing salvation. He is the ignition, the catalyst, the message of the church. And though it did start as small of a mustard seed, 2000 years later it has grown into an intricate network that spans every continent and countless languages. Though the church has not reached the whole world, it is world-wide and fully cross-cultural. The Church, universally, is the collective group that includes every Christian that has ever lived. “The Church (Universal) is the Body of all saved people everywhere. It includes all those who have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood, have received forgiveness of their sins, and have been born spiritually into His family. This is the sense in which the word church is used in Matthew 16:18, which Jesus promised to build” (GospelWay.com).

The Growth of the Church

And it is an intricate network. After spending years in the business world, it is easy to see the genius way Jesus developed and built the church. It is a network that any business would love to perfect and many businesses try to model, albeit without giving the proper credit where it is due. Take for example, Coca-Cola. In the early days, during their major expansion efforts outside of the Atlanta region to national and global levels, Coca-Cola used one specific strategy for developing interest in its brand.

As Coke would work its way into a new town, it would take a small network of trucks and salesmen, enter a new city and immediately give away a certain amount of Coke to the local populace. They knew that if people got a taste of Coca-Cola, they would want more. The company initially dispatched these small networks throughout many smaller, local communities so that as people traveled back and forth, this new sensation would be ready and available for them quickly and easily. As Coke took hold in a particular town, the company would immediately establish carrier routes and help tout the local places that sold it. All of a sudden there was a dense network of Coke channels that lead all the way back to Atlanta (Pendergrast, For God Country and Coca-Cola).

Jesus initially developed this pattern of “market saturation” when he sent out the 72. He created small teams of disciples (2 by 2) and sent them out into the neighboring towns to share the message of the gospel. What this ultimately began and was formalized during the time of the Book of Acts was a local pocket of believers that could travel and connect to other pockets that had the same teaching as they were all connected to the hub.

Leadership and Structure of the Church

As the church grew and grew, many “hubs” popped up over the Mediterranean region, the headquarters moved locations and they all found themselves at different points questioning certain tenants of faith and their own existence. “The apostle Paul set the pattern for evangelism in the early centuries of Christianity by settling for a time in one of the great cities of the empire and, through his younger helpers, thrusting out from this center to smaller towns of the region” (Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 29).

Thankfully, instead of focusing their trust on what the hubs had to say, the church stayed together by a focus on God through prayer and stern rules on what was good teaching and what was not. A lot of the overarching theology was solidified through the early church councils where topics such as heretical teaching, the Scriptural canon and individual issues were discussed and decided upon. For example, the Council of Nicaea was formed so “a general council of the church would solve the problem created in the Eastern church by Arianism, a heresy first proposed by Arius of Alexandria and affirmed that Christ is not divine but a created being” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Council of Nicaea).

The local churches (or city churches at that time) would take the information they had from the overall church leaders and the councils and would prayerfully use those tools to follow God. Centuries before the World Wide Web and complex business structures, the church strategically built an infrastructure that would survive controversies, politicians, popes, wars and many other attacks (yet the heart of the church held together In those small units); through times like the Renaissance and the Reformation and still survives to this day. The sharing of the Gospel is the beginning of the calling for the church to be a blessing to the world, accomplished through local networks of churches.

Today, ecumenical councils have been replaced by denominational organizations that are as numerous and varied as the sands of the sea. Each of these are constructed based on their theology, philosophy of leadership and organizational style (among other differences). Denominations are then broken down into districts and local churches. While many agree on at least the main salvation-related issues, it has become more and more vital for each person to study the Scriptures on their own and choose a church that can logically, thoughtfully and clearly define and teach the theological truths of the Bible.

Leadership and authority of the church is dependent on its larger governing body, but Christ is the Head. This was modeled back in the early church with the 12 apostles taking leadership roles to ensure the continuity and correctness of the teaching – as they were the ones that had a direct, first person relationship to Christ. Paul then lays out in 1 Timothy 3 the qualifications for leadership in the church as it continued to grow. Protection of Christ’s message and the mission were (and are) vital, so Paul explained the type of individuals that should be trusted with certain positions of leadership. Proper teaching and doctrinal stability has helped ensure that Christ and Him crucified is what is preached. This is not the end of the mission, though. Jesus is not just our Savior, but also our Sanctifier and he uses the church as a vehicle of blessing in this way as well.

Sanctification through the Church

Matthew 28:19-20 and Romans 12:1-2 (among many other verses) make it clear that the job of the believer is to live a lifestyle of worship, through which a ministry-minded outreach should be a significant part. In other words, we are called, as we are living our life, to share the Gospel and invite other people into relationship with Christ. The Christian life, however, does not start and stop at the point of conversion. In order for a new believer in Jesus to reach the point of spiritual maturity and the faith/ability to go out and share Jesus themselves, they need to learn and grow.

“The first decisive step in sanctification is an act of will by which we renounce evil in every form in which it is made manifest to our consciences and brought into the light. We deny further not only evil in its manifestations but also the whole evil self and sinful nature from which each separate act has sprung. We also separate ourselves from the world and its embodiment of the old natural condition of things and the kingdom of the prince of evil. We recognize ourselves as not of the world even as He was not of the world. We put off, not merely that which is sinful, but that which is natural and human that it may die on the Cross of Jesus and rise into a supernatural and divine life” (Wholly Sanctified, A.B. Simpson, 10).

It is not the responsibility of the church to sanctify its members, as that is the work of Christ Himself. However, God did establish the church as a way for believers to live and grow with each other, learn the proper teaching and achieve, in a matter of speaking, a separation from the world through the community of believers. The Book of Acts speaks of this purpose of the church beautifully.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).

The Church is One Body, Many Parts

Whether we are looking at the local church down the street or the world-wide community of believers, God has brilliantly constructed a living body of Christ that has all the right pieces in all the right places at all the right times. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks of the roles of the body of church down to the individual members through the explanation of spiritual gifts. God has gifted every believer to fulfill a role in His plan and laid people out accordingly so that the whole of the work can be accomplished. It’s just like any business would dream to be able to fabricate: having a team of different talents and giftings that complement each other so that the commission may be fulfilled.

A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, saw the mission of the church in a fully realized way as he developed a movement of teams with specific abilities to accomplish specific purposes for the Gospel world-wide. That can be seen even in the name of the denomination, as the missionary agency and sending churches in the states eventually grouped under one organizational hierarchy. Just as he saw the mission from Jesus and formation plan of the early church over 100 years ago, we are all called to work together in that early church mindset that Acts describes so that, as we come together, the fullness of the body of Jesus is realized both for internal sanctification and external impact. This is the key to experiencing the blessing offered in Acts 2:47; seeing the multitudes come to Jesus.

God does the work in both the acts of salvation and sanctification, yet He offers us the opportunity to “go along for the ride” and be a part of His workings in the world. The church, being made up of people is certainly imperfect, but it is the way He chose to work: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). This is so there is no question that it is His work; His power. We are weak, but God has united us through his power to each other and to Him and is using us to accomplish great things locally, nationally and internationally. We are not a scattered group of people or a nursery rhyme, but through the power of God we are one body, one church; His vessel to bring the blessings of His love and His grace to the rest of the world.

Bibliography

Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992.

Pendergrast, Mark. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Shelley, Bruce. Church History in Plain Language. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1982.

Simpson, A.B. Wholly Sanctified. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1991.

Ellicott’s Commentary on Matthew 13. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/matthew/13.htm

A Study of the Nature and Meaning of Jesus’ Church. http://www.gospelway.com/church/church_nature.php

The Council of Nicea. www.britannica.com/edchecked/topic/413817/council-of-nicea

Refilling an Empty Spiritual Tank

bird flying

Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot like Peter Gibbons. Living in the rat race is a continual track of non-stop motion, distraction and usually frustration. Every so often I feel like asking myself why I keep running along, or what’s the point of all this? When I start asking myself questions like this, it becomes obvious that tank is on empty. As much fun as it would be to destroy an office machine, I’m not talking about dealing with a problem or fixing a negative. I’m talking about what happens when the positive-ness runs low.

This isn’t about being hungry, or depressed, sad or even upset; but just like our bodies can only go so long without nourishment and a car can only go so many miles without a stop for gas, our souls have a tank as well. What I am talking about here is exactly with Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:18 when he says to be filled with the Spirit. When a person accepts the offer of eternal salvation from God through Jesus, we join His family and God Himself (through the Holy Spirit) takes residence inside our souls, as Jeremiah 31:33 suggests. While God does “move in”, that does not mean we give up ourselves, our free will or our mind. It does mean God becomes the Lord of all we are, but He does not reprogram us; He frees us.

What this means is that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior can still get frustrated, can still go through hard times and can still fall into times of sin. Even though sin’s hold on us is broken, we can still pick it up. God intends for us to continue living in this world; it is our calling, our mission – we are His workmanship, created in advance to do His good works on earth (Ephesians 2:10). Since we are here and have a job to do, we must still deal with and live in the world around us. And this world can get very annoying at times.

So, in league with all my other “empty tank” friends, here is a (short) list of things really annoying about this world.

  1. The Bill Lumbergh factorbill lumbergh office space
  2. The sounds my dogs make when they are scratching or licking themselves
  3. Lack of objectivity in the media
  4. Anything that has to do with Glee or High School Musical
  5. Florida drivers
  6. Reality TV
  7. Uneducated opinions
  8. And so on…

Life is an Endurance Race

I list these out to commiserate with everyone else on the planet. No human is immune to pet peeves, getting frustrated or having an empty tank at times. The Bible knows and understand this, which is why there are numerous references to life being an endurance race; one that takes training, refreshment, rest and strenuous effort. Take Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Hebrews 12:1-3 shares similar advice:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Both of these passages are written to Christians; people who have already placed their faith in God! It is clear and natural to accept that sometimes Christians get run down, haggard, worn out and burned up. I believe those serving in churches (both professional and lay) are even more susceptible to empty tanks, though they can be the most difficult to help. Just like Martha in Luke 10, it is normal that people allow themselves to get overworked without recharging, and many Biblical passages exist to help us through such times.

I have no complaints about my life at all, but despite how enjoyable the individual aspects of it can be, adding them all together makes for quite a full existence. Think about it: I am a husband, father, son and brother. I am a friend, a teacher, a leader and a servant. Nita and I both work full time, are foster parents (currently to two gorgeous little girls), have two dogs, serve in multiple capacities at church, work hard to exercise and stay healthy and do what we can to spend time with each other. These are all great things! However, it can be quite overwhelming when everything happens at the same time. I certainly have been feeling lately a bit strung out and tired. The truth is, I am writing about this because this is exactly how I currently feel! Thus, as a lesson to myself and hopefully some good advice for any readers, I am here to discuss Biblical ways to refill.

Get in the Game

A full gas tank sitting in a car that never gets used is a waste. Sitting on the bench and not getting involved is not healthy, it is not God’s intention and does not do anything to fill us with His Spirit. Only if we are actively using the gifts and opportunities that God gives will we experience opportunities to be filled. If we are watching from the seats and being armchair quarterbacks, God has no need to fill us with anything; we’ll just get bloated.

The first step to getting filled by God is to get your feet moving. Start serving – start pouring out what you may or may not currently have and let God turn on the faucet. As someone who spent some extended time on the sidelines, I can say with confidence that you won’t get a refill until you are using what you have.

Nourish the Spirit like we Nourish the Body

It is perfectly natural to eat when we are hungry, right? But what about making sure we get spiritually filled? I know people right now who are constantly serving across this country in nurseries and Sunday schools that completely block their opportunities to join with others in the main worship service. How is that possible? How can we, as Christians, let other people serve non-stop and not even notice that it’s been years since they’ve joined together with the church body on a Sunday morning?

We need to grow; to learn. Congregating together to offer praise to God and learn from His Word is a vital piece of nourishment that is so easily set aside (much like eating fruits and vegetables). Whether you are a volunteer or a leader of volunteers, make sure that opportunities to learn, grow and “take in” happen often and consistently.

Other than sitting in a church service, make sure that you are also regularly spending time in the Word and in prayer. Jesus many times compared Himself to food – for a good reason! He is our spiritual food and the more time we spend with Him in communion, prayer, service, singing, study and corporate worship (there are many other options as well), the healthier we will be. How can anyone ever go thirsty if they are always connected to a source of clean water? Though we may forget to drink every now and then, we’ll never die of thirst.

Rest

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

couch nap rest time

Despite the Pharisees trying their hardest to turn every breath into a list of complicated rules, not every aspect of life is about giving or doing. Receiving is ok. The Sabbath is a gift from God to turn away from the rat race of life and catch your breath. There are times when we need things, whether it be a day off, a particular tool to do the job better, or an opportunity to blow off steam and enjoy a few moments. All of these are acceptable and things that God wants to give you! There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break. Stopping to rest, stopping to remember. These are the reason that God instituted the Sabbath as well as holidays. As humans, we need to STOP sometimes. We are not the Energizer bunny.

Ask for Help

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)! God knows what we need and when we need it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask. He wants us to come to Him. In Philippians, Paul tells us “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Jabez asked God and received (1 Chronicles 4), there is no reason that, if you truly need something from God that He won’t supply it.

God’s sole purpose for our existence is to lavish His love and affection on us. Jesus’ existence was the ultimate proof of that love. While He often times gives it without being asked; for Him, to have us come to His feet and ask Him for what we need, it is pure joy to be asked. What do you need?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

My Own, Personal Scapegoat

IMG_1507

There is a story of two young boys, Ralph and Mario. Mario lived near some woods and brought Ralph over one day to play. Both of them aspiring handymen, they chose to spend their time in the garage, building things out of the available spare wood scraps. Mario was very careful to explain to Ralph that there was one major garage rule, a declaration not to touch daddy’s hammer. It was daddy’s special hammer. Any other (non-power) tool that was within reach of the boys could be used for their creative aspirations, and there was even another hammer if they needed. Both boys were careful to avoid the special hammer and continued enjoying their afternoon.

As time went on, they wanted to go take their inventions out into the trees and see if they could find other scraps whit which to build. Ralph packed up a bag of tools to take with them and thought it would be fun to bring along the special hammer. Mario had no idea until they got to their building station among the trees. Seeing no point in harping on Ralph’s blunder, Mario reminded him of the rule, but figured he’d keep an eye on it and everything would be ok.

Arriving home in just enough time to unpack, Mario was mortified to learn that his dad’s special hammer was not in the bag of tools and was nowhere to be found among their other supplies. Boys will be boys, and completely due to the fact that they were two ten-year-olds, they forgot the special hammer when running back home to the sound of the dinner bell. There was no time to go and find it and Mario could see his father’s car heading up the street towards their house. This would not be good.

When Mario’s father got home, Mario fessed up and admitted to losing the special hammer in the forest. His father, visibly upset, kept his composure but was very unhappy at Mario’s carelessness. He led Mario down to the basement and gave his son a stern lecture that ended in a particularly painful spanking. Ralph could do nothing but watch his friend take a whipping for a crime that both he and Mario knew was his fault. Yet Mario stayed quiet and took the punishment for his friend.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53: 5-7).

 The Price of Sin

While this is certainly not a perfect analogy, the story is a particularly powerful example of the act of our Savior on the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life, fully God and fully man, and chose to take our punishment, so that, as Paul stated, “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christ had to come and save us, because we couldn’t save ourselves.

Genesis 3:8 shows that God regularly walked and communed with the first couple, enjoying a deep fellowship. That was lost after the incident at the tree and has been the reigning affliction for mankind since. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God and eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the catalyst that broke humanity’s intimate relationship with God.

 Separation from God

One simple bite of fruit and the essence of humanity’s relationship with God became one of opposition instead of inclusion. God never broke the relationship with man; He just remained consistent to His nature. It was man who changed the situation; who chose to trust himself instead of God. “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 109-110). All of a sudden, mankind thought they belonged in the inner circle; they wanted to determine the outcomes. Unfortunately, none of the possible outcomes led to profit.

In 1 Corinthians 15, while Paul is making the argument about the importance of believing in the resurrection, he makes this statement about the nature of mankind since Adam. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Without Christ, mankind is stuck in their sins and separated from God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is an unstoppable plague to which not one person (save Jesus, due to him being full God as well) can avoid. Every human is a sinner and in need of salvation in order to be reunited with God.

With the entrance of sin, the very nature of the world was changed; altered. Enduring fell to decay; permanent became temporary. The consequences of the original sin were far more reaching than banishment from the Garden; it was the birth of pain, suffering, death and judgment. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Man had been fully separated from God, and although physical death did not arrive immediately, that separation from God did bring an immediate spiritual death. Because of our sin; because our pride fooled us into believing that we could be like God, we immediately became slaves to sin and death. “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness” (Romans 6:20).

 The Nature of God

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13a). God’s nature is perfect and holy and evil literally cannot exist in His presence. He is above it, outside it, completely unconnected from the ordinary and from our understanding. “We cannot grasp the true meaning of divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 104). To be holy, in Hebrew, means to be completely marked off or separated from common use (Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 89). This is simply something outside ourselves; and understanding too infinite to grasp. And not only is God holy (or separated/pure from the common), but He is righteous. “The righteousness of God means, first of all, that the law of God, being a true expression of His nature, is as perfect as He is” (Erickson, 89). Because God is perfect and holy, He can only be in the presence of purity and right-ness.

Therefore, because mankind is inherently sinful, we cannot exist in the presence of God. What was the point? By merely reading the account of creation in Genesis, the experiment of God and the destiny of man are both complete failures. By the end of the third chapter everything was ruined; that is, without an understanding of the reason God created humans in the first place. As shown above, God desires relationship with us. He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27) and placed us above the animals. He took care in designing us and gave us the ability to commune with Him as He communes with us. The reason for creation is relationship; the reason is Love. He simply wants to be with us and for us to be with Him. Though through sin we broke the relationship, God knew this to be the beginning of the story; not the end. Before laying out the consequences to Adam and Eve, God started the conversation by punishing the serpent (and ultimately Satan) which is both a foreshadowing of the full victory of God and the initial promise of a return of the relationship. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of an offspring of the woman who, though Satan would seemingly win victory, would crush evil forever.

 A Plan for Restoration

Ever since then man has had a longing to return to the original place of relationship with God. Although many have tried to create their own pathways, the actions all speak for themselves; in the heart of every person is a longing to return to that original relationship. God has not let us go; he continues to work in the very depths of our souls a desire for something deeper—a desire for Him. “Philosophers call this Romance, this heart yearning set within us, the longing for transcendence; the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of something out of the ordinary that is good” (Eldridge, The Sacred Romance, 19).

Yet, because our nature is utterly sinful, we cannot find our own way back to God. We are lost; depraved. The chasm between us and God is impassible by any man, because every man is trapped in their sins. Like an infant stuck in its dirty diaper, it has no hope of cleansing in itself; it can only hope that something outside itself can intervene and come to the rescue. This is the power of that Romance. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not leave us to ourselves, but from the very moment of the fall showed us a pathway to salvation. He acted first; He created, developed and executed the plan of salvation completely on His own. His plan; His ultimate display of Romance is the person of Jesus.

 The Action of Jesus

Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied himself and became obedient to the point of death; even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8). That means he left the riches and glory of Heaven, giving up his divine attributes in the ultimate riches to rags situation. Living a life of chosen poverty and humility, he was born in a stable, raised the son of a woodworker and associated with the dregs of society. His mission was not to show us a good example or scare us into living right; He came to make things right between man and God. “God’s violated honor can be put right again either by his punishing us humans or by accepting satisfaction made in our behalf. To be effective, the satisfaction rendered and to be greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is required of them” (Erickson, 244-245). Yet, even though God was the only one who could make satisfaction, humans are the guilty party. Reparation to God had to be made by a human. The only possible outcome for this dilemma was Emmanuel, God with us.

“Christ, being both God and sinless human, did not deserve death. Therefore, his offering his life to God in behalf of the human race of which he was a part of went beyond what was required of him. Thus, it could serve as a genuine satisfaction to God for human sins” (Erickson, 245). Jesus did not ransom us back from Satan, but satisfied the justice of God by taking the punishment on our behalf as the only one who could possibly qualify. Faith in Christ and his salvific act satisfies our debt to God. We are therefore declared righteous through that faith and welcomed back into the intimate relationship with God.

While his death satisfied God’s righteousness, it was Christ’s resurrection that won the fullness of victory over all things evil. To reiterate Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15, since Jesus defeated death by rising again on the third day, we are able to be raised again and granted eternal life in the presence of God. The Romance, the relationship, is restored in us through the person of Jesus. All we have to do is trust in this plan of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

 New Life and a Restored Relationship

Once, “by the grace of God we are saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), we can begin to fully experience the wonder and majesty of our Creator through personal relationship. The Romance is fulfilled; the bride presented to her groom. As the Westminster Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (www.reformed.org). We are finally able to experience ourselves the original reason for creation—intimate closeness to God.

Through Jesus we have been declared righteous and are restored to that wonderful Romance. Yet this is not the end of the story either. To be justified is not to be automatically made perfect; our growth in trust and obedience is the work of Jesus which he is faithful to complete, as we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Upon our restoration to God, He immediately embarks with us on the journey of renewal and cleansing in ourselves. This is the process of sanctification. The work is not final until the day we see Jesus face to face (Philippians 1:6).

 The Calling of Faith

And that is where I stand. When my eyes were opened to the reality of my sin and separation from God and the sacrifice of Jesus, my seven-year-old heart broke. I, like Ralph, watched as someone else paid for my crimes. It was clear that my savior, however, was not guilty. In his perfect love, he loved me before I knew him and was still trapped in my sins, and he loves me now as I seek to grow closer to the one who gave it all just to be with me.

Through the loving faith of my parents and the explanation of my mother, Jesus gave me new life and I can do nothing better with this life but give it back to him. Since the age of fourteen God has made it clear there is a calling on my life for ministry that I cannot deny. As Paul continues in Romans 10, the message of this Romance needs to be spread and God is giving us the opportunity to be the ones to spread the Good News of Jesus. I have traded the chains of sin for the yolk of Jesus and I have never been freer, as Jesus is my light; my life. I am on a journey of love as one freed from sin and have a passion to share that opportunity with those who haven’t yet grasped that wonderful, romantic, restorative message. “For I have been crucified with Christ and it is I who no longer live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

 Bibliography

Curtis, Brent and Eldredge, John. The Sacred Romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943.

Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1961.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism. http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html

 

Trust and Obey | A Workout Guide

bike-riding-cape-coral

I hate working out. Never a friend; it sits and stares at me while I try to build of the drive and the energy to wear myself out. People kept telling me it would get easier, I’d get addicted and start liking yet. That has yet to happen. I have become more disciplined, however, it is still discipline that drives my workout routine. Though I have held to a fairly regular exercise routine since 2006 (24 Hour Fitness in Omaha did serve me well for a while), it was January of 2013 that saw me take the next step in my workouts: cycling…in Florida…during the hottest part of the day.

Physical Training and the Swim-Cycle

Swim-cycling—I call it that due to the Florida humidity—has without question helped me take a significant jump in my aggressiveness of workouts and, to be honest, it has made a difference physically. Though, due to the arrival of the kids (whom I blame completely for my lack of time and energy), I have seen a slight drop in days per week I can work out, I am still pushing hard and seeing gains and physical improvement in myself. While it does not get easier every day (it’s a mix of good days and bad days), I am getting stronger and healthier. This is why, as much as I hate it, physical training is vital to my life.

I could site articles and stats that show the value of aggressive exercise and how it can add years to a person’s life, but I won’t do that (except for this). There is no researched of logical argument that can negate the positive physical benefits of vigorous exercise. That’s not the point of this post. The point is the value of training – whether it be physical training, mental training, spiritual training or so on.

Why We Train Physically and Spiritually

We currently have a two-year-old foster child who has been living in our home long term. “A” (to protect her identity) is, for the most part, a very well behaved little girl who really wants to please Nita and I, make her little foster sister laugh and is conscious enough to automatically pick up after herself and treat the animals gently. For those reasons and many more, she has been an absolutely wonderful child to have in our home. She certainly does have her issues and can be very stubborn (let’s not forget that she’s two), and though she does have our trust in certain small things, she does not have a long leash.

For example, early on we had to help her wash her hands after using the restroom. She needed us to lift her up to the sink and help with the faucet and soap. A few weeks ago, I caught her coming out of the bathroom without us helping her wash up. Surprised that she didn’t call for help, I figured she forgot and got up to remind her of what she needs to do. Yet, when I grabbed her hand, I noticed it was damp. Curious, I asked her if she washed her hands, to which she said “Yes”. Though hopeful, the story didn’t add up and I did not believe her. After walking her back to the bathroom, I asked her to show me how she washed her own hands. To my astonishment, she climbed right up the vanity, turned on the faucet, grabbed the soap and washed her hands totally on her own. She had just earned a little bit of trust. Because I knew I could trust her in that, I was open to allowing her an appropriate level of freedom in that area, plus opportunities to increase that trust level even more.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.

Matthew 25:14-28, NIV

Training to Trust and Obey

Jesus used this very example to describe the nature of trust. It starts small and then is given opportunities to grow as the student learns to obey and be faithful. “A” is nowhere near ready to handle all of the hygienic responsibilities adults take care of while half-asleep, because it’s too early in the morning and the coffee isn’t done percolating yet. Her version of brushing her teeth is a huge, toothy grin while holding the toothbrush up her nose. She’s not there yet. So, while she can handle the hand washing duties on her own, she still has a lot of progress to go.

This, obviously, is normal and an expected part of growing up. My point exactly. She’s only been alive a little over two years, it would be crazy to expect her to playing Mozart flawlessly, let alone actually brushing the food off of her teeth. The lesson here, the one I am learning how much I still have to learn is one of spiritual obedience.

“A” does not understand why she needs to wash her hands. The complexities of germs and bacteria are still years away in her cognitive development. What she does understand is that her job, as our foster daughter, is to obey. We are the authorities in her life and the only thing she needs to worry about is obeying Mummy and Daddy. This is a perfect analogy of our growth and sanctification in Christ. This side of heaven we will never know what the plan is; Proverbs 3 makes it clear that God is the one who lights our steps and makes our paths straight. Yet that lighting generally only shows us the next step. And that’s the key.

The Goal of Spiritual Training

We are not responsible for the plan. We are not responsible for our lives. We are purely responsible to stand. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” This is the first verse in Philippians 4, directly after Paul wrote about following the example of Jesus and living life as a long distance journey. We cannot control where the path leads, nor can we control what obstacles fly in our way. All we can control, and all we are ultimately asked to do is to obey. Obey Christ and stand. Stand firm in our faith, following where the lighted path leads and trust that He has everything under control. That is faith and obedience. That is our calling, our job description as Christians.

So, while I must admit that I have not been very obedient to God this week, (and I only fit in two workouts) I get up each morning, get back on the bike, open back up the prayer lines and keep training. Some days are better than others, but as I look back through my life, my days are far better than they were years ago. I am a different person than I was and am continually being made new as I grow closer to God through trust and obedience. Maybe in a few years I’ll be trusted to brush my teeth on my own as well!

Your Job Is… from Cape Alliance Church on Vimeo.

Memes of New York

someecards meme creation for facebook

I have always been a big fan of the late, great Dave Barry. I say late because, as of the writing of this post, he is fifteen years late responding to my fan mail. Seriously though, his writing style has been truly inspirational to me. Every word so carefully crafted, it’s as if his filter was not a six pack of Budweiser, but a chain mail of brilliance. A lot of what made his writing so ingenious was his ability to pull together the most random of objects or discussion points, find a hidden link and tie them together to a wonderfully resounding denouement.

In the hopes of following in his steps, I want to talk about the memes that have recently been littering my Facebook news feed (I am referring to the images with a clever quote overlaid ..or something like that). Where did this phenomenon originate? Who came up with this crazy thing? To find out, I decided to use some investigative journalism. [Note to the IRS: Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve done any investigative journalism, but if you take a look at my previous articles, you will see I definitely do it for business reasons.] This time, my professional journalistic nature took me to the grand city of New York.

For those of you who have not yet been to New York City, let me tell you a bit about this wonderfully stuffed berg. It houses two of the most hated baseball teams in the Major Leagues and is the only logical city for Spiderman to sling around in. Let’s be honest – imagine if Spiderman lived in Omaha, NE. All he could do would be to spin a huge net between the Woodmen Tower and the First National Bank Building. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think he’d be very effective that way unless criminals were sling shooting themselves through the air.

Back to New York. While there, I ran into the tremendously helpful Jolene Smithers. When asked about her knowledge of the funny card corporation, Someecards, she excitedly responded, “Who?” To help jog her memory, I told her I was talking about those funny cards that get passed around a lot on Facebook. Now clear on what I was asking about, she said, “Oh, I don’t do that Facebook thing. Sorry.” That confirms only 1 of the 18 million people living in New York are not familiar with these memes, proving these are obviously significant no matter where you live.

Why does this matter? It matters because these memes are so completely helpful to our daily life. Thousands of barely surviving business struggle on Facebook trying to provide relevant and informative information to their constituent base, but they’re not doing anything for the gazillion Facebookers out there; nobody cares about helpful information anymore – mindless entertainment is the way to go! I could not agree more, as I am certainly a huge fan of mindless entertainment. I must say though that I am not a fan of the letter games going around; I’ve spent all day trying to figure out how many states do not have any vowels and I’m now way behind on work.

That is why I am so fond of Dave Barry’s work; his mind is as disconnected as mine and he doesn’t use words more complicated than “potato”. I’m pretty sure if they had memes back in the 80s, he would have become a millionaire (but only if he had been the one to invent them). [Note to the IRS: I admit this does not seem like a lot of research for an entire trip to New York, but I can assure you that I have more crackpot investigations to come; such as, what would happen if the Incredible Hulk got trapped in the subway? Or, what exactly does crab juice taste like? Trust me, there is a ton more where that came from.]

someecards meme creation for facebook

The Beauty of a Storm…Passed

It was, at the time, an eerie calm outside. It felt as if the wind had hit the pause button, though somehow you could still feel something moving through the air. My family lived in a single story home, which is rare for the Omaha area, and had very few options when rushing for the safe spot in the house during a tornado. Crushed and clamored in the hallway was certainly not our first choice for family interaction, but on Pease Drive, it was the safest. Reports were coming in with a tornado touching down about two miles west of our home, moving southeast.

This was all more of an annoyance, really. Growing up in tornado alley, this was just part of the summer experience. By the time I was in high school, I slept through and completely missed the tornado sirens for a touchdown that occurred on my school route. At the time, though, this was intense. I was maybe seven or eight then and the electricity in the air was palpable. My father decided he wanted to take a look and see things for himself; I immediately decided I had to as well and opened my eyes to my first live look at nature’s wild beast. I, of course, felt like Indiana Jones jumping over a chasm; my inner manliness wanted out to stare danger in the face. My dad, on the other hand, was frustrated this storm forced him to stop working on his yard project out back.

As a child, our eyes are usually closed even when we think we are staring danger in the face. That tornado did not pose a significant threat against me, even if it had turned more our way. With my parents making the decisions and advanced warning tools gaining momentum, there was only slight worry as to our fate. If things had gotten bad we could have taken the 30 second run over to our friends’ home with a basement; and even if we couldn’t get over there, our home was at the bottom of a hill and we were all tucked inside a hallway. Everything we could have done to protect ourselves was checked. At that point, all there was left to do was wait for the finger of God to move.

Recent posts of mine have referred to a story of a particular storm in my life; one that included years of car trouble, job searching and city jumping. It has certainly presented itself like a storm of storms. I felt much like the Israelites must have while trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. As I was seemingly nearing the end of the storm, my church pastor gave a copy of The Red Sea Rules by Robert Morgan. It was not a big or complicated publication, but it highlighted ten basic rules of faith that was portrayed through the Israelites’ flight from Egypt.

I hope beyond explanation that this storm has passed. I am coming to realize, only now, the real purposes of this storm. Looking back over the last three or so years, there was not one moment where I was not under the protection of God. We never missed one bill payment, lost out on one meal, nor did we even have to significantly sacrifice much in the way of entertainment. We may have been dangling over the ledge, but there is no question there has been a rope tied around our waist. Of course, we could only be in the eye of the storm at this point and the cord could be cut – we could still go broke, lose our home, and go hungry; but God has made this abundantly clear: no matter what happens, He is still in control.

That said, I choose to praise and thank Him for His presence in my life. Things may improve from here leading to a wonderfully prosperous time for Nita and I; they may push us off the cliff. Either way, I have learned that though I may bend, I won’t break. I trust in Him who provides. Here are some words from MercyMe’s song Move, that I feel mirrors our experience up to this point. Enjoy.

“When life won’t play along

And right keeps going wrong

And I can’t seem to find my way

I know where I am found

So I won’t let it drag me down

Oh, I’ll keep dancing anyway

This hurt is getting heavy

But I’m not about to cave

Everything’s about to change

There’s gonna be brighter days”

redsearules