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)

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