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

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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

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

 

I’m Done Wasting My Life; Time to Lose It

Yesterday I finished reading John Piper’s Risk is Right. It’s not a huge book, but I took my time with it, as due to the circumstances in which I received it, I felt it worth savoring slowly. I received it about a week prior, the afternoon after I quit my job. It was sent in the mail to me as a gift from two very close friends back in Omaha. For the three weeks leading up to leaving my job I battled constantly the idea of risk vs. wisdom. I have been feeling the call of God to start inching my way towards ministry again (He may or may not want me to be inching along, but currently that is my pace).

I left full time ministry 10 years ago and until last January never looked back. Based on prodding from my mentor in Seattle, the thought and opportunity to come back into church service has begun to bud. Even though I came very close to a job offer at our church in Seattle, it was not to be, and God led Nita and I down to south Florida. It was there he brought me to Cape Alliance. On our first day of visiting, they announced that was the last day of their Associate Pastor whom would not be replaced by paid staff. One of his main duties was the youth group. God spoke and here we are leading an entire youth group.

Upon our arrival to Fort Myers, both Nita and I graciously landed jobs quickly so that we could get our feet set. It is now seven months later and I am back in the job hunting mode again. At least this time we have no intention of moving. This is not a story about what happened at the job, and though it had a lot to do with circumstances surrounding working there, my battles over the last month have been about taking the next step in my faith. Maybe that meant moving a few inches at once, maybe just one, but it has certainly been a battle.

Conventional wisdom taught me to never quit a job without another one lined up. That has only been magnified under the current economic stress. But I felt a continuing nod to end my career in sales and open myself back to the world of giving, whether in church or at least non-profit service. With building pressure on every side, I became forced to make a decision: either stay where I am and close my heart to God’s pull or step out in faith. I have always desired control, even more so over myself. God kept tugging on me to let Him supply our needs and live on faith. One easy way to try that would be to give up an income…

Thus, last week I either did the stupidest thing ever or made one of my biggest leaps of faith. That said, I am being responsible and job hunting with fervor, but I have noticed that my faith and desire to trust in God’s leading for the next step is growing. There is where the book comes in. Arriving at the perfect time from friends that I trust with my life and who know on infinite levels more than me what it means to live on faith, I opened the pages and was impacted with the nature and power of risk immediately. The story of Joab and Abishai in 2 Samuel 10 was particularly convicting.

“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. Joab said, ‘If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.'” (2 Samuel 10:9-12)

We are called to do our absolute best with the talents, knowledge and strength given to us, but the lesson here is that God controls the outcome. The LORD will do what is good in His sight. I do not know what will happen, but I know that Nita and I have placed our lives in the center of His hands and am confident He has a good plan for us…granted, that plan may not be on this side of heaven. We’ll just have to travel on this journey and see where it goes.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In case anyone is curious, though I am fully confident in God, do not be misled. The only times my knees are not shaking is when I am on them praying. Which, at this point, is often. Lastly, let me send a shout out to my friends Lee and Chelsea, the ones who sent me this book. They live on risk daily as they are paid by faith support through their college ministry, Cru. Follow the link to learn more about them and consider supporting them. Their first child is only a few months old and they are adopting 3 more children this summer. I’m afraid Nita and I still have a lot to learn…

riskisright

The Incredible Dork-i-ness of Being

I admit to being a dork, and truthfully, I don’t exactly mind it. There is a lot of fun allowed in this world to the dorks, nerds (smarter versions of dorks) and generally unappreciated members of society. Bart Simpson himself is a dork – he gets bullied at school, hangs out with Milhouse (and, at times, Martin) and is a failure at being a rebel because he cares too much. Coincidentally, that would be the first piece of evidence of my dorkiness; my ability and desire to discuss deeper philosophical issues from the Simpsons. But part of what makes life so much fun is relating most everything to the krazy karacters headlining Fox’s Sunday night animation domination (Peter Griffin, is still second to Homer).

The topics of deep discussion move forward from there, but not necessarily upward. One of my favorite debates is the swallow’s ability to transport coconuts. Before you ask me whether I am talking about African or European swallows, let’s make sure we stay on track. And was it really that hard for Lois Lane to not catch Superman hiding behind Clark Kent’s glasses? I will always side with Aragorn’s story over Frodo’s and am honestly glad that the movies did not include the 27 more endings for Return of the King that the book did. I enjoy having my opinions and arguing their basis for insight on human nature; after all, how would we know not to skip immediately to ludicrous speed if not for Dark Helmet’s mistake?

As I’ve aged, the naysayers that laughed at me during puberty have all fallen into silence. It’s incredible to note that more people seem to discuss Glee in public circles today than the Philadelphia Eagles’ plummet from the ranks of the NFL elite. By the way, I do not in any way endorse Glee – I have never seen an episode and do not intend to – I would still rather watch an Eagles’ game (despite me NOT being a fan and their dismal play of late). Being a dork isn’t really made fun of anymore – it’s glorified, respected; even admired. This is unlike one of the other labels I have been living under.

In media, culture and even some individual chatter, being a Christian is becoming more and more a joke. Not a Peter vs. the Giant Chicken kind of joke, but a serious offense against the rest of the world. As humans, we are all in this together, and though we each have our own opinions and beliefs on what is best and how to move forward, we still occupy the same space with each other. Whether or not there is room enough on this planet for all the differing opinions does not matter; we are all stuck here on this planet and all life (thus all opinions) have a right to exist.

As a Christian, I hold to certain opinions (the content of those opinions is not important here). This is where most people get angry, as they see those opinions as intolerant and aggressive towards other worldviews. Why? Look at this first part of the sentence: “As a Christian…” This means that I have chosen to live under a certain set of principles. My opinions are held for those who choose to live under the same set of standards. If I were to say, “As an American, I believe in taxation with representation”, that would be a belief held by those who choose to live under America’s standard; regardless of how they became a citizen. That may not be the opinion in another country, but I have no right, rhyme or reason to judge the citizen of another country that does not espouse that belief.

People who have chosen to live under another faith, or no faith at all, have ultimately chosen a different set of standards and principles to live under. That is their choice. Do I believe that my faith has something to offer other people? Absolutely, and I’m not afraid to share that. But it is still their choice to follow. If they choose not to, then they are free to live with whatever opinions they see most desirable. Tolerance is allowing them that decision. There are those inside my same faith who believe it is their duty to push their rules onto other people. Those people also exist in every faith, nationality and world view. In the end, each individual is accountable for only themselves.

I cannot nor will not answer for the inquisition, Holy wars, or even Jimmy Swaggert. What other people have done in the name of their country, their faith, or even themselves is a problem for every race and creed. What I can answer for is myself. Are my acts friendly, loving, and full of grace? After all, if you sum up everything in the Bible it comes down to one thing: love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

It’s incredible being a dork.

When Life Sucks…Use a Straw

On a personal level, these past few weeks been quite trying. A few things that really looked as if they were going to turn out positively spoiled at the last second, I was thrown multiple curve balls, and during the brightest spot of the week (yes, I got to go to Universal Studios for a few days and that was AWESOME), I ended up hurting myself which caused a major damper on my softball game Friday night. For whatever reason, my wife and have been at each other’s throats, and I have just generally been annoyed all the time. If you are in anyway unsure of the reason for this particular rant, it is because I am COMPLANING! Yes, I am.

One of the things that I have always found interesting in life is how your life lessons tend to mirror your particular experiences of that time period. It becomes even more noticeable as a teacher; in this case, a youth group leader planning a lesson for Sunday morning youth worship. I suppose I should have known what would happen when I decided to teach on 1 Kings 19, which is a lovely story in which Elijah the prophet wants to kill himself. Don’t let anyone say that the Bible doesn’t cover the hard topics.

Reading through this particular chapter, it is truly amazing to see the difficulty of life through Elijah’s eyes. In the previous chapter, Elijah had won his biggest battle which included insulting Baal and Asherah—this is one of my all-time favorite stories, because Elijah actually mocks the other gods’ prophets by asking where their god is. “Is he sleeping? Or maybe on the toilet?”—along with the killing of each of the 850 prophets after God shows up licking up the entire area with fire. It’s the perfect chapter for movie treatment. Major obstacles, an angry and hateful king, a harlot queen, and a man confident enough in his mission to bring it all down would make an amazing silver screen spectacle. The problem is, though, that you can’t leave the story half-way finished. Coming down from that incredible mountaintop experience, Elijah has to run for his life from Jezebel (the harlot queen), which is a chase that leads him to destitution at that mouth of a distant cave somewhere.

He hasn’t slept, eaten, relaxed, or talked with a friend in who knows how long. He is alone, starving, and frustrated. That’s when he lets it out. “God, let me die!” He screams his pain into the night air. It’s fairly easy to picture. Elijah finally was able to sit down and take care of his feet that had beaten up and down while on the run. Blisters the size of quarters were compounded on each other, the result of broken sandals not able to hold up to the vicious pace of his gait. Standing must have felt like murder. His blood sugar was most likely crashing, as that can happen to anyone who burns too many carbs without replenishment. Shaking, not just from the cold, he had nothing but a jagged rock on which to lay his head. ‘This sucks’ (or the Hebrew equivalent) must have raced through his head a thousand times. It is at this point, the still, small voice of God begins to act.

Funny, though; God doesn’t fix Elijah’s problems. One of the godliest men in history prayed and prayed for an answer, yet God did not accept his request to die, nor did He change Elijah’s situation. What God did was much more intimate. First, he helped Elijah fall into a deep sleep to regain some strength. Then, He fed Elijah with manna from Heaven. After a few rounds of eating and sleeping, God opened Himself to Elijah through an experience of power. He showed Elijah a windstorm, earthquake, and other powerful storms, yet those God was not in (funny, He was in the fire storm on Mt. Carmel). He was in the still small voice that flew on the gentle breeze. God is who you need Him to be every time you connect with Him. Sometimes it’s the mighty power of a fire storm, or a pillar of cloud to follow. Other times it’s a still, small voice. The key is, He is who you need Him to be.

Lastly, he commands Elijah to go connect with other people and give them instructions – in other words, go back to work. The last command, however, is more than just his next assignment. God has Elijah go find Elisha and start preparing him to be the successor. In other words, God gave Elisha to Elijah to keep him company; build his community. Now he has some support to lean on. It was also the light at the end of the tunnel.

You see, God never promises an easy life. He doesn’t even not promise that we won’t face difficult times on occasion. He goes all the way to promise that we WILL have them! “All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet, inside the chaos he offers three things: chicken (NOT literally), connection with Him, and community support. God won’t let us die until our job on earth is over. He will give you the resources you need to accomplish the work he has for you. That doesn’t mean you’ll be rich and happy; it means your needs will be met until He decides to call you home. You may not always be comfortable, but at least you know He will provide. Suck it all in; His water does quench.