consIDered: What is the purpose of the Church?

chapelThese consIDered questions come from an open forum conducted at Main Street. These questions were not addressed at that forum due to the constraints of time. I pray that these answers are helpful as we seek to walk rightly in this world.

First, allow me to define ‘Church’ as the gathering of those who are God’s family by adoption through Jesus’ work on the cross and His resurrection. It is the family of the redeemed. The Church is not a building, or a particular time, or a set of programs. Most people confuse what the so-called Church does with who the Church is. The two should be closely aligned, but they are not the same. It is my belief that if the Church is who it is supposed to be then what the Church does will reflect the mission or purpose given to it by Jesus.

There is a lot of Scripture to draw from, but I will limit myself to Romans 12 as a sufficient summary of Jesus’ teaching and the Apostle’s obedient response. These are the traits of being that should describe the purpose of the ‘Church’ applied to everyday life. Although every word is vitally important, key terms are in bold.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.(Romans 12, NLT)

The purpose of the Church is to be the people who both reflect and teach what is contained in this passage toward the end of acting out that character both within the gathering AND outside the gathering. If the Church made these things priority in the content of its teaching and the expectation of its programming the transformation of the communities outside the space of its gatherings (by this I mean buildings) would have difficulty ignoring Jesus the way they do at the present time. If Jesus is not ignored, then He is drawing people to himself and adding them to his ever growing ‘Church’ family.

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consIDered: How far can we go in defending ourselves?

defenseThese consIDered questions come from an open forum conducted at Main Street. These questions were not addressed at that forum due to the constraints of time. I pray that these answers are helpful as we seek to walk rightly in this world.

Question: I have children, what should I be teaching them about protection, defending themselves in a broken society?

A few short months ago I received an email from my son in Uganda. He was on his way home from University and a gang attacked him and began to beat him severely in order to rob him. My son had his computer and a few other items taken from him. He was bloodied, his eyeglasses broken. The situation most likely would have been worse had he not come across a rock on the ground and used it to beat the aggressors back.  Was my son ‘right or wrong’ to strike out and stop the beating? This is not a ‘theoretical question’ for me. As his dad, I was first concerned for his welfare, then I wanted to hop a plane to Kampala and ‘put a whoopin’ on the cowards who hurt him.

Here is a link to an article regarding what is going on in Nigeria and the response of the Catholic church.

Here is an affirmation from John Piper regarding the latest threat from ISIS, ISIL or ‘the Islamic State.’ 

“You will not have safety even in your dreams, until you accept Islam.” Perhaps. I choose Christ now, safety later.

The issue of the ‘if, when, how, and where’ of even self-defense has been hotly debated from the inception of the Church. I cannot even adequately summarize the different convictions faithful brothers and sisters in Christ fiercely hold. I will, however, offer some Biblical principles for consideration so that the wise follower of Jesus can form an informed conviction.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2–3, NASB95)

I never have to ‘protect my life,’ I am dead to this world’s power and in Christ, God holds my life in His hand. This empowers the Christian to act with authority from reason and not to respond in fear. It is this truth we see Jesus illustrate when threatened his own murder.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:17–18, NASB95)

As far as I able, I am to create and maintain an environment of peace and to refrain from retaliation.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38–48, NASB95)

When it is in the power of a Christian to receive insult (turn the other cheek); to offer extravagant servitude (go with him two); to exercise extraordinary generosity (let him have your coat…do not turn away from him who wants to borrow); to extend grace (love your enemy); we must do so for the sake of reflecting God’s character. Much of the daily ‘self-defense’ we are tempted to engage would be answered by one of those categories.  

‘You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord. ‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:16–18, NASB95)

If I truly love my neighbor as myself and I value the life of my neighbor as my own, I will not act against my neighbor, but I would willingly and quickly defend my neighbor. The power of true community is strength in mutual devotion. The non-violent, civil disobedience movement succeeds when there are those who are willing to suffer harm for the sake of ‘their neighbor.’ Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12). 

If a thief is caught in the act of breaking into a house and is struck and killed in the process, the person who killed the thief is not guilty of murder. But if it happens in daylight, the one who killed the thief is guilty of murder…” (Exodus 22:2–3, NLT)

The difference between ‘night and day’ apparently the difference between innocence or guilt when violently defending oneself (and by extension one’s family). The ‘daylight’ is presumed to offer some less lethal means of defense and the follower of the LORD is required to prefer that means.

The LORD is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.” (Psalm 27:1–3, NLT)

David had both the means and ability to respond to threats against himself, but he confesses dependence on the LORD rather than the weapons of this world. David shed much blood in his days, but he still confessed the above as applied to his own life. I believe we would do well to remember the LORD is our fortress. 

Personally, I believe God put that rock where right it was located and I thank Him for providing it and thus preserving my son from further harm.

 

 

 

 

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Day 21 of 140, Personal Devotion Tweets

walterscottHas such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it…

I watched a man die this week. I have seen men and women die before in my presence. This time was different. This time the ‘witness’ was via video and this time it didn’t seem real.

Why did a passer-by begin to video what would become the final moments of a human’s life? Why did the videographer not even flinch as a handgun discharged over and over again? Why did an officer ‘of the law’ calmly and repeatedly fire into the back of a fleeing suspect? Where were the obvious signs of the man being struck by bullets until just before he fell? Why was the man subsequently handcuffed as he lay unresponsive and on his face? Why did the officer walk away from the man to the point of the first recorded confrontation? Why did a second officer search the man but give no effort to examine the man’s injuries or render aid?

There will be a lot of effort to determine the answers to these questions and many more not mentioned here. It appears to me, however, that in seeking answers to the questions we may miss the depths of the problem we all face.

Our problem is not ‘racism,’ racism is a symptom of the problem. Our problem is not ‘poverty,’ poverty is a result of the problem. Our problem is not ‘lack of education,’ education may effect change to our exterior, but it does not revolutionize the intent of the interior.

I am reading Joel with a friend of mine. Since it is a short work, we will read it repeatedly before we discuss it together next week. The first chapter is a call to lament over what is lost. The cry of the prophet is to ‘wake up!’ Joel describes a culture so blinded that even the ‘drunks’ are unaware that the alcohol is ‘no more.’ Even though the text is most likely 25 centuries old, it is not difficult to envision a man overcome with passion and grief for his country.

Joel’s sorrow does not dampen his shout, however. The problem, Joel contends, is that the Nation cries not for the Lord.

This is our problem. We exchanged submission to God for enforcement by ‘law.’ We abandoned the fear of God and exchanged it for the power of legislation. Where there is ‘Rule of Law’ there will also follow the abuse of power. When we have only ourselves as Authority, we consistently produce all manner of evil. We blow up spectators at sporting events and then buy milk. We cheat our employer and steal from the tax payer simultaneously and then we ‘entertain’ our neighbor’s spouses.

There is only one remedy, but I fear the remedy grows more distant by the moment. If we refuse to return to the One who commands us to love each other the same way He loves us, we will continue to run away from the only means for our escape from the ‘worse yet to come.’

I am passionately grieving for my country.

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Day 20 of 140, Personal Devotion Tweets

tattoo-designs-for-earLet me hear what God the Lord will speak, 4 he will speak peace to his people, to his saints Noisy lives need

The magnificence of the God of justice is that he deliberately intermingles that which we would naturally keep apart.

The genesis of this song is the celebration of the removal of wrath from God’s people. Yes, they endured His right judgment but they were also awash in his steadfast love.

The view of God’s interaction with humans throughout Christian history seems to vacillate between the extremes of God’s punishment and God’s grace. Currently it appears we are in the full extreme of the ‘grace’ swing. The doctrine that God could ever really be angry with His people and that he would ever discipline us in a manner which may actually hurt is an unfamiliar thought at best.

We lost the ability to understand peace in the recent past. We exchanged the genuine and powerful quiet of the Whisper for the low and constantly drumming buzz. We must find the quiet of the Whisper and we must find it in haste. Without the Whisper, we most certainly will miss the pleasure of the Kiss to come.

Kiss?

Absolutely! The kiss of righteousness to peace in the presence of steadfast love and faithfulness. Don’t we yearn for things to be right, for peace, for steadfast love, for faithfulness, even truth in our lives? We do, and yet we don’t possess such things.

Our experience is full of ‘cheating,’ and quarrels, and fickleness, and brokenness. Some pretend they don’t care about the absence of peace; most try anything to cover over the absence of peace. We even went so far as to make our lack of peace the plot of nearly every form of our entertainment business. ‘Who is the baby’s father?’ ‘Who was the murderer?’ ‘Who deceived who in order to get ahead?’ ‘Who did the greater wrong so they may be punished?’ ‘Who turned from being the hero, to the villain, to the turncoat, to the hero again?’

We are always restless. Will we ever learn?

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory. Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps.-Psalm 85:9-13, NLT

 

 

 

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Day 19 of 140, Personal Devotion Tweets

Ryan, Isaac, Gary, Alyssa, Peniniah, Emily, Robert, Lionel, MichelleOur children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord-Ps. 22.30 Promises sealed by 1 who was forsaken

The day this picture was ‘snapped’ now seems to be an eternity ago. We are in Uganda, my father stands with my wife and our six children, all of whom are now adults, most of whom are now married, one who has a child of his own.

How does this happen? How do two people, once disconnected from God’s grace begin a legacy of Christ-followers that now affects two continents and infects the lives of thirteen people? What did my dad and mom ‘get rolling’ when they repeated the mercy which was declared to them?

The answer is found in Psalm 22. Jesus quoted the first line as he suffered the cross. There is a lot of speculation as to exactly what Jesus meant by doing so. Many stop with just the spoken line; I think Jesus intended the whole song.

It seems to me that Jesus’ confession of the crucifixion in Matthew’s account of the Gospel does not pause at the cross, it boldly proclaims the resurrection. While it may be the correct that Jesus cried out that the fellowship with the Father was severed under the weight of sin, I am not convinced that this is indeed the case. I am more inclined to be confident that the same Jesus who set his face to do “not my will but Thine” saw clearly the fulfillment of the promise of His advent and obedience. It is the guarantee of a family the size of the number of stars in the sky or the sand on the sea-shore. A family procured by His own immaculate act of love.

The Psalmist’s lament foreshadows several of the details of Jesus’ death experience:

The mocking: All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head…(22:7, NASB)

The state of his body: I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me…(22:14, NASB)

The manner of his death: A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet…(22:16, NASB)

The behavior of the crowd: They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots…(22:18, NASB)

And, perhaps, the response of the Father: For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard…(22:24, NASB)

If the proper perspective on ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’ is to be drawn into the full text of the song, then the promise held in the final lines is precious and compelling to every generation as they expectantly hope for the generation next.

They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it. (22:31, NASB)

May we never ever, ever, ever, stop singing this song.

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Day 18 of 140, Personal Devotion Tweets

EN_Acts_15_10

There is a human urge to make grace more complicated than it is. The pure Gospel rejects this urge every time.

The demand of the Gospel is enough, according to Jesus: If you want to be a follower of mine you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. If you wish to save your life you will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Matthew 10.38-39; Matthew 16.24-27; Mark 8.34-37; Luke 9.23-26; Luke 14.25-28; John 12.24-26)

No one, and I mean no one, could fulfill the demand of discipleship apart from the grace and power offered us through and because of the cross of Jesus. It is this truth Jesus pounded firm into the ground of eternity when he instructed the apostles, “…repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in [my] name to all the nations…”

That is it. Turning from being my own god, receiving forgiveness of the sin of pretending to be the god of my life, and following the One who Was and Is and Will Always Be, God.

The Gospel of Jesus is too ‘straightforward,’ too ‘easy,’ to ‘simple.’ We can’t help but attempt to add to it. The Apostles argued about whether or not the covenant of circumcision was required, whether or not abstaining from eating meat sacrificed to idols was required. They were upset by the power of a revolution that was apart from the input of human opinion.

And so are we.

It is enough to surrender our lives in repentance and receive forgiveness we could never merit. It is enough to lose in order to gain forever, to follow rather than direct our own steps.

Reject the ‘extra’ receive pure Grace.

 

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