What Is the Church?

I’m currently reading a book on Christian leadership written by Paul Tripp, and I’ll be reviewing it later this month.  However, I came across this quote about the church that I would like to share:

“What is the church?  It’s a chosen gathering of unfinished people, still grappling with the selfishness of sin and the seduction of temptation, living in a fallen world, where there is deception and dysfunction all around.  There is nothing comfortable or easy in this plan.  The church is intended to be messy and chaotic, because this mess is intended to yank us out of our self-sufficiency and self-obsession to become people who really do love God and our neighbors.  God puts broken people next to broken people (including leaders), not so they would be comfortable with one another but so they would function as agents of transformation in the lives on one another.    You simply won’t have joy in being part of this plan unless you find joy in living a lifestyle of self-denial and willing servanthood.”

This makes me realize how often we all have inflated expectations of what church and our fellow members should be like.  But think about the first disciples — James and John were prideful, wanting to sit on the right and left hand of Christ;  Judas betrayed Him;  Peter denied Him;  Thomas doubted.  They were far from perfect.  We’re no different.  It’s easier to criticize than encourage;  to grumble rather than pitch in;  to desire recognition instead of serving humbly.  There is only one solution, only one way a church full of sinners can survive –Grace.  Just like the hymn by Julia Johnston:

“Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!”

Be willing to give it, because you have received it.

” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”  Ephesians 2:8

For more about the church see these posts:

We (the Laity) Are the Church

The Church Needs You!

The Church: The Bride of Christ

 

The Perfect Church?

Recently I remembered a little poem I read once about the perfect church.  I went searching for it on the internet, and found a number of versions attributed to different people.  Here’s my compilation.  You’ll probably get a chuckle out of it, as I did.

THE PERFECT CHURCH

If you could find the perfect church, without one spot or smear,

For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere!

I think that I will never see, a church that’s all it ought to be,

A church that has no empty pews, whose pastor never has the blues,

A church whose deacons always “deak,” and none are proud and all are meek.

Where gossips never peddle lies, or make complaints or criticize.

Where all are always sweet and kind, and all to others faults are blind.

Such perfect churches there may be, but none of them are known to me.

So since no perfect church exists, where people never sin,

Stop looking for the perfect church and love the one you’re in!

For more on the church see these posts:

We (the Laity) Are the Church

The Church Family

Do I help or hurt the Church?

 

 

 

The Snare is Broken part 4

We’ve all no doubt heard Franklin Roosevelt’s famous statement that we have nothing to fear except fear itself.  Have you ever thought about what he meant by that in the midst of the worst financial crisis of the 20th century?  It’s worth pondering today.  Because what President Roosevelt meant was that people who cannot overcome their fears will be people who will not be able to prevail against those things which have made them afraid.  Sometimes fear paralyzes us and makes us unable to do anything at all.  Sometimes fear causes us to strike out rashly and leads to unnecessary problems.  Sometimes fear leads us to embrace that fowlers’ net which will entrap us forever.

We are now living in a frightened world, a world dealing with something it doesn’t know how to resolve.  What the world needs most right now, right today, right this minute–what a frightened world needs now is a fearless Church.  Scientists will probably develop a functioning vaccine or treatment for this virus.  But that is no longer the real issue.  The real issue is, how do we go forward, how do we live our lives?  Do we surrender our freedom in order to be safe, or do with go forward with the sense of assurance that Someone is in control of things–that God is in control of things?  If the Church has anything to teach this frightened world it is our sense of confidence that God is Sovereign, He is in control of the universe, including this virus.  Do we hide away, fearful of something we can’t control?  Or do we trust God, the God who has promised us eternal life in His glorious presence?

If the Church of Jesus Christ will not stand forth today, gathered under His holy banner, if we act as frightened about what is going on as everyone else does, we are failing in our great mission to make disciples of all nations.  This friends, is a time of testing for the Church.  Do we believe what we say we believe?  Do we live without fear?  Do we stand as followers of the Sovereign God who has promised good to us?

Going back to the image of the fowlers’ net–the birds will only be freed if they actually fly out of the net after the cords have been cut.  We too, people freed from all manner of evil by the blood of Christ, we too, must embrace our freedom.  As Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

In closing, I’ll quote Johan Arndt, a 17th century Lutheran pastor whose book, True Christianity is considered one of the great works of faith since the Reformation.

“One little word in the Scriptures can comfort us more than the devil and the whole world can distress us.”

For previous sections of this sermon see:

The Snare is Broken part 1

The Snare is Broken part 2

The Snare is Broken part 3

 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I implore you– Part 2

Part 2 (first and final measure)

What does the Bible say?

Revelation 21:

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

A long-awaited day. A day awe and joy so full you cry with relief. A day that reinforces all the promises, validates all the heartache, and ends the unnecessary. In this season of Lent as we look toward the day our King died for His people, His loves . . . this vision comforts. His love is so great; that like a hen covering her chicks, He took the disgusted spit in the face that we deserved. He took the slap that was for our shame, the angry clenched fist bruised and broke His skin instead of ours. The lashes meant for the criminal he willingly accepted. So much so that His countenance no longer resembled the Lord and Teacher His disciples came to know.

This Christ, the same Christ we put to death and who defeated it Is the Christ I follow. This Christ who says to me truly, truly; is the Christ Lord Jesus that is not just a swear word to me. He is my teacher, my confidant and loving Abba, Father. This is what the title Christian means and represents. I bring shame if I carry it carelessly. Therefore, I expect any church I attend to take this title and responsibility with the same seriousness. I expect any church that claims the title of Christ to believe in EVERY, SINGLE, TRUTH, written down and handed down to us in the Holy Bible. The true word of God. Anyone that selects as they wish, or adds a meaning without context, or intentionally disregards anything; should take a good long look at Revelation 22: 18 & 19.

Churches, Pastors, remember please. Remember your duty. Your sacred job to tell the truth. Your job is not to pander, it is not to spare feelings. (Re-read the new testament if you think Jesus did.) Your job is to unburden the burdened. To free the trapped. Your job is to warn those who blindly go. To warn the ignorant and hope they return to God and away from worldly temptations. And your job is the most important job on the planet.

John 14:

 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 ` Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

 

 

For this reason, God’s word must be the Christians first and final measure.  The rule by which we test all things. The standard for all templates of worship must follow the instruction, the guidebook and sacred history that is the Bible. It proves itself true time and time again. It shows us truths of heaven that are but shadows on this earth. Just as Jesus said.

 

John 14:

“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

 

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian* Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Christian: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.

We (the Laity) Are the Church

This is a second section from a Via de Cristo talk I gave on Laity in 1998.  When I mention my church, I am speaking of the church I belonged to at that time, not St. Paul’s.

Now God is all powerful and he could have chosen any number of ways to work out His purposes on earth.  Isn’t it amazing that He chose the church, and He chose us to do that.  To fully understand our role in God’s plan, we first need to think about the church– what it is, and what it is not.

The church is not a building.  My congregation, Peace In Christ Lutheran, meets in a little red brick church which is over one hundred years old.  With its’ iron fence and the cemetery out back, it looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell scene.  This building is very dear to my heart.  The men of Peace In Christ spent many, many hours renovating it for our use.  My younger daughter, Kate, was the first Peace In Christ baby baptized there.  Both of my daughters were confirmed there.  When our president called a while back to say we might be selling our building, I cried.  But I know that Peace In Christ is not made up of brick and mortar, it is a people, the living stones that form the body of Christ.  We were the church twenty years ago when we began meeting in a Civic Association with an altar on wheels;  and we will still be the church several years from now when we move to the new, modern, more functional building we have grown to need.

The church is not a kind of religious club.  If you’ve ever served on the church council, as I have, you know how easy it is to start thinking this way.  After all, we have a budget to balance and property to maintain.  Our members pay their dues (which we call pledges or tithes) and in return feel entitled to certain benefits, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage;  also free admission to all educational and social events.  But the church goes beyond the physical and temporal world of daily life.  When we say we are praising God along with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we’re not kidding!  The church is not just the visible, it includes the spiritual and invisible.

My church does all kinds of good works.  Some members serve breakfast at the local mission regularly.  Our AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) branch delivers food baskets at Christmas.  The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School students collect money for mission projects.  But the church is not a Social Services Agency created to dispense charity to the less fortunate.  In the church we are all equal in our need for God’s grace, we are all seated at His table together, sharing the life He alone offers.  I’ve heard the church described as “one group of beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.”

In reality the church was created to be the living body of Christ in the world.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  And we are His witnesses.  Called forth by the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the disciples 2000 years ago to make His presence living, vibrant and real today.

Imagine yourself taking the hand of the person who first told you about Jesus.  Maybe it was your mother or father, a neighbor or a friend.  And then imagine that person taking hold of the person who told them and so on.  The chain would eventually go all the way back to someone who walked with Christ during His earthly life.  The church is this community of believers.  It is the people of God, the people chosen to be light and salt and leaven to a dark, hurting and hungry world.  We can’t let the chain stop with us.

I am the church, You are the church, We are the Church.  We are the body of our Lord, the restored children of God.

A Quote by Eugene Peterson

For those who have not heard of him, Eugene Peterson is a Presbyterian pastor and author of more than thirty books. I have read quite of few of them, and would recommend him as a Christian author.  He is best know for his contemporary rendering of the Bible, The Message.  This quote comes from his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and I think it addresses well the reality of living together as a Christian community.

“But, of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people.  They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ.  They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations.  Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken), a drag.  But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith.  If God is my Father, then this is my family.

So the question is not, ‘Am I going to be part of a community of faith?’ but ‘How am I going to live in this community of faith?’  God’s children do different things.  Some run away and pretend the family doesn’t exist.  Some move out and get an apartment of their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard.  And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them.  And some, determined to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.”

 

Beginning the Work of Christmas

Many people are now experiencing an after Christmas let-down.  The gifts are opened, the parties are over, family and friends have gone home.  Hopefully, as Christians, we see Christmas as a beginning, not an end.  Advent is only the start of the liturgical year, and when Christmas Day is over, the Christ candle remains and is lit during our services to symbolize the presence of Jesus with us and His ministry on earth.  That ministry now belongs to us, His body, the church.  Below is a poem composed by Howard Thurman, and African-American theologian, educator and civil rights leader.  It expresses my thoughts well:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

How are you planning to carry Christmas forward into the New Year?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

A Prayer for Unity

I discovered this prayer for the unity of the church on a website for the Church of England. I hope you like it as much as I do.

These prayers may take place around a unity candle, the font or some other symbol of the Church.

Jesus prayed that his followers may all be one.
In the power of the Spirit, we join our prayers with his.

The following may be used

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace:
give us grace seriously to lay to heart
the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Take away all hatred and prejudice,
and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord;
that, as there is but one body and one Spirit,
one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
so we may henceforth be all of one heart and of one soul,
united in one holy bond of peace, of faith and charity,
and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

I am the vine and you are the branches.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

You are my friends if you do what I command you;
love one another as I have loved you.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

Intercessions are offered for the unity of the Church.

This response may be used

Lord of the Church
All: hear your people’s prayer.

Silence may be kept.

This Collect is said.

Lord Jesus Christ,
who said to your apostles,
‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you’:
look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church
and grant it the peace and unity of your kingdom;
where you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
All: Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer is said.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
All: and also with you.

These words may be added

Let us offer one another a sign of peace,
God’s seal on our prayers for the Unity of the Church

In the Perfect Place

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12: 4-5

I think that the analogy of the body is the best way to describe our oneness with Christ and each other.  I have to admit it’s a difficult concept to explain, and the writers of the New Testament were certainly inspired by God to present it in a way that we can understand and appreciate.

The parts of our body, each with a unique purpose, work together to comprise one living organism.  When one part of the body stops working, or is injured, the whole body suffers.  Some parts are less visible, some are not so pretty ( to illustrate this, my husband would cite the quote “God takes no delight in the legs of a man”) but all are needed.  In the same way, the body of Christ needs all of us.  We need preachers and teachers, cooks and cleaners, carpenters and prayer warriors.  Not only that, but God has placed each of us in the perfect position to use our abilities:

“But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.”  1 Corinthians 3:18

Isn’t it amazing?  God chose you and me for a particular purpose, in the time and place where we are needed most.  You and I are called to our congregation, just as much as the Pastor!

Of course, the body will not work if each part goes its’ own way.  Every body needs a way to be organized and perform well.  In our physical body, if our brain is damaged all kinds of systems break down.  The same is true of our spiritual body.  Christ is the head, and must direct our actions and our goal.

“…and in him (Christ) all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church.”  Colossians 1:17-18

You are called, gifted and positioned perfectly for peak performance.  God and His people need you just where you are.  Are you doing your part as a member of the body?

 

Fruitful Gifts

“Love is patient and kind;  love does not envy or boast;  it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on it’s own way;  it is not irritable or resentful;   it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

You’ve probably heard these verses many times before.  1 Corinthians is known as the “love chapter” (my Bible titles it The Way of Love) and it is often read at weddings.  However, placed in its context, Paul is speaking these words to the Christian community and it follows a description of spiritual gifts.

It is certainly good advice about how to behave towards our spouse, but it is much more than that.  These verses tell us how we should behave as part of the church.  Love is the “greatest” gift and the one that will remain when all our works have ceased. Love is not just what we do, it is who we are.  Notice that love also encompasses the fruit of the spirit:  patience, kindness, self-control, joy.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians at the end of chapter 13 and in chapter 14 that love is an indication of spiritual maturity.  He advises us to put away childish things (13:11) and be mature in our thinking (14: 20).

So “pursue love” (14:1) and “strive to excel in building up the church.”(14:12).  The fruit of the spirit will follow and will be a blessing to you and to others.

God loves you and so do I!