Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why Church?

In the last week I've seen both mountain goats and mountain sheep. If you know anything about either one, you'll know how unusual that is. The goats were on an actual mountain top (we fed marmots and chipmunks, and trout--except what we took home!). The sheep were in a zoo.

The thing that struck me as the mountain sheep climbed a 20-foot ledge in four steps was that, in those couple of seconds, the mountain sheep did nothing outstanding or unusual. It simply did what it was designed to do. When dogs run the Iditarod, they do what they were made to do. They whine, cry, howl and pull at the harness until the driver gives them permission. Then they strain and run. And run. And run--across uncharted tundra, ice and snow, through blizzards and sleet, in inhumanly cold temperature. They run. And they prevail.

In the same way, each of us is designed for a purpose. From the moment man was created his and her purpose was to be a reflection of God: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27) Why did God forbid man to make an image of Himself? He already had. When we look at another human being--especially a husband and wife--we are seeing a tainted reflection of God Himself. That image remains tainted until we reach heaven. Truthfully, between here and there, we will never live out our true purpose without the life-changing work of Jesus (see sidebar).

Jesus is the perfect image of God: He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.... (Hebrews 1:3). And through faith in Christ, God is making His children more and more like Him (Romans 8:28-29).

The same afternoon we went to the zoo, we were blessed to attend a symphony rehearsal. Combining gifts and abilities (much like the dogs that pull a sled), the artists accomplished what no one of them could do on his/her own. Each one brought his or her skill, experience and natural ability. Each one submitted his or her will and talent to the direction of the master. And together they created an amazing product.

That's the way God has designed the church. Each of us brings natural abilities, experiences, skills, and personality. But it's more than that. It's so much bigger than we'll ever realize. Each of us--as a result of accepting Jesus' finished work on the cross--has been given a supernatural gift to build up and minister to the Body of Christ. As we submit to the will and direction of our Master, He does a magnificent work. We find what we were made for. We live out our design and purpose, bringing glory and honor the One who made us, redeemed us, loves us and transforms us.

Did I forget to mention that the Church is ultimately important because Jesus died for her? Jesus died. He died for the Church. His life bought hers. His death gave her life. There is no Church apart from Jesus' sacrifice. It is life rising from ashes--His ashes, His suffering, His bloody tears of anguish, His humiliation, His pain. His excruciating death. His inexplicable separation from the Father. And we would say it's not enough? We complain that don't like the people. We don't like the songs. We don't like the length of the sermons. We don't "like".... Really? Are we that blind to the death of our Savior? To the debt He willingly paid? Are we truly that calloused? Proud? Deceived?

If you are living life without Jesus Christ, you are not fulfilling your purpose. You will never truly find it. If you are living life apart from a local church that is resting on Jesus Christ, and Him alone, you are failing to live out your God-given design. It is only as a changed, living, active part of a local church that we find the fulfillment and sense of belonging God created us for. Don't go to church. Be the church.

(Here's a challenge: read New Testament passages with a plural "you" unless it's specifically written to an individual: i.e. my local church, not just me, personally. I know that changes my understanding and application...and my prayers.)

To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

(Ephesians 3:8-20; 4:1-8, 11-16)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What's Life Got to Do With It?

We stood in the garden, our precious 4-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and myself, looking down on the newly dug grave of a limp, lifeless lamb.

"It's a chickie...feel how soft!"
"Sweethearts, this is something to remember the rest of your lives...what death is like. It looks like this and there's nothing we can do to change it. Anyone can take a life. No one can give it. Except God. Only God can make things alive. So never, ever kill something you don't need to. Killing is easy. Giving life is impossible. You can't bring it back. You can't change it. You can't fix it."

That was one of our first graveside services on the farm--puppies, cats, sheep, cows, rabbits. It happened over and over. We loved animals, cared for them, stayed up at night, worked around the clock. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they died. Always, we cared, striving to be responsible, to treasure life regardless of its "value," expected outcome or the length of breath: kittens, birds, bunnies. And in my mind were pictures of my own father sitting at the kitchen table, eye-dropper in one hand, hairless baby raccoon in the other. The belief and act isn't simply pro-people--although we realize biblically, that's the priority--the belief and act are pro-life. Because life is a gift.

And as I see the weight of choosing life, the burden is heavy. It's not simply pro-birth. It's pro-adoption, pro-marriage, pro-foster care, pro-life. Because anyone can kill something. Anyone take a life. But only God can give it. Grace and peace to those of you who have made the choice to take a human life and lived to regret it. May you seek the answer of Christ. In Him is hope...and forgiveness. May God grant a heart of repentance to those who made that choice and have no regrets. For in the end, life was never really ours. It is a gift.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

"He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Discarded Torch

Maybe you've seen the video clip of three generations and how they spent/spend their free time as children. Maybe you, like me, are reminded of playing outdoors in lingering sunlight or with frost-laden breath. And maybe you, like me, want the same for every child who ever has or ever will walk the face of the planet.

The reality is that we are letting our kids down--not in access to fresh air, freedom and fantasy--as much as in our role as disciplers of Jesus. Kids who play video games and spend hours lost in la-la land have very little to offer the world. They will enter crippled, weak and anemic both spiritually and practically. We know that. But the truth is, it's not the kids' decision. It's ours. We are failing. We are so self- and comfort-centered that we've dropped the torch and taken a detour instead of running the race.

Here are some ways to pass the torch to the next generation:

- Stop! Look at yourself. What kind of example are you? Monkey-see, monkey-do. What do your children see? What does the Lord see? Examine your life, your motives, your thoughts. What consumes you? What drives you? How is that evident in your choices? Sadly, the things that drive you drive your children. They're probably the same things that make you angry and frustrated. Your g/God has become their g/God. Repent or rejoice. If this part of your life isn't on track, nothing else will be. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6, emphasis added).

- Observe. Watch your kids. Ask questions. Get to know them. What do they enjoy? What do they do well? What don't they do well? What's important to them? What do they want to do with their lives? How are they doing that now? What do they need to improve? How can you help them?

- Provide opportunities. Involve your child in what you do. A disciple is a follower. But if no one leads, they can't follow. Be the leader. Teach your child new skills. Take your child to new places. Introduce them to the needs of others. Put them to work. Do it with them. Do something new, something you've never done before either.

- Be vulnerable. Allow your child to ask hard questions (they will--you don't have to prep them!). Answer honestly. Say, "I don't know. Let's find out." Let them see you struggle, fail, and figure out how to get back on your feet. When Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep," it wasn't because he had it all together. It's because He knew where and how to find the Good Shepherd. Take your children to Jesus. He will use your needs and weakness to show them how it's done.

- Speak truth. When your child is wrong, tell him. Present truth from the Word of God. Address the issue. When your child does something well, tell her. Praise her effort and encourage her in using her gifts. Words are powerful! Use them. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7).

- Do life together. When your child fails, don't write him off, send him to the corner or take away his cell phone. Help him! Come up with a plan for change. Yes, you will be inconvenienced. More than that, you will have to look your priorities square in the eye. And if we're honest, American parents, our choices communicate that our children are less important than our jobs, our friends, our ministries, our leisure and our comforts. That's why we write them off, send them to the corner and ground them from privileges. We do it for no other reason than our sin has blinded us to discipling and loving our children as God has loved and provided for us: sacrificially, unconditionally, over and above His comfort and reputation.

- Be the adult. You are not a child. God intends us to grow. All of us. The word "grow" is used 124 times in the Bible. That's God's goal for you--with the purpose that you are changing, different today than a year ago, applying the knowledge and experience He provides. Change requires exercise, training and practice (1 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 5:13-14). It's slow, difficult, and demanding but the results are oh, so worth it! Be the adult. Be responsible. Be accountable. Be an example. Be the leader.  "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut. 6:8-9).

Be the kind of person who can say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1)

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight....

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 11:32-34, 39-40; 12:1-14)