Posts tagged ‘church’

The Light of the World

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:14, 16

The church was the center of our lives in my family. It was rare for us to do anything with people who were not part of our church unless it was with Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren. The crazy thing is that Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren were the coolest people I knew, but I was taught to feel sorry for them because even though they were Christians, they went to the “wrong” church. When I asked my mother why we didn’t hang out with anyone other than people who went to our church, she told me that we are the light of the world. This is when I became acquainted with Matthew 5:14-16. 

The thinking went something like this: Come to church, stick together, and let your light shine from within the walls of the church and somehow everyone in the community will see your light and realize they need it. That’s when they will decide to come to your church. Even as a kid I didn’t quite understand how that would happen. After all, when we are IN church, how can people OUTSIDE the church see or feel the light?

Through the years I have found this “we” versus “them” mentality to be arrogant and counterproductive. When I think I have it all together and you don’t then I have already lost the love God wants me to share with you. The truth is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I accept Jesus as Lord of my life, I also accept His mission. He came to this earth to be WITH us. Jesus took it the extreme by incubating in Mary’s womb for nine months and then worked as a carpenter until he was nearly 30 years old before beginning His mission. Talk about mingling with the world! It is when I live as Jesus did that I experience His love. When I walk with others, He walks with me.

And so I believe we have missed the point of the light in this passage. Jesus tells us that the light affects those around us only when we are WITH people, no matter where there happen to be. I can only shine my light on the path I happen to be traveling upon. If I want the light of Jesus to help others, I need to be walking on the same path they are walking on. In actuality, there is no difference between the light and the salt metaphor Jesus gives us to illustrate how we are to share His love in the world. They both require proximity to be effective. The “good works” in this passage can only be done as I mingle with those around me. If you want to know what Jesus considered to be good works, read Matthew 25 where He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

I believe the church is the hope of the world. But it can only be hope as we are led by God into the back allies and the out of the way places to share His light with His people in His world. Where will you shine the light God has given you this week?

Are You Honoring God?

But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Malachi 1:11

I grew up in Indiana thinking my state was not only the best in the U.S., it was the best place in the world. I would hear of fellow Hoosiers like the legendary John Wooden who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team for many years and wonder why he didn’t coach at Indiana University or Purdue. I mean, how could someone from Indiana live anywhere else on earth? But I didn’t just feel this way about my state, I also felt this way about my church. We had the “truth” in contrast to every other church or belief system that was somehow deluded into believing lies.

It is easy to think and behave as if the world revolves around me and the “us” I choose. It’s easy to look at anyone who is different from me as someone who does not have favor with God. And yet God loves all people. We read in Romans 2:11 that “God shows no partiality.” God told Malachi that the Israelites were defiling His altar by bringing offerings to God that were blind and lame. In other words, they gave God what they didn’t want themselves. They were hoarding their wealth and giving from their abundance rather than sacrificially from their heart. God looked around the earth and saw people from other nations other than Israel who were honoring His name far beyond what His “chosen” ones were doing. But they were smug in their assurance of being better than anyone else simply because they were from Israel.

It is my experience that the Christian Church is too often like Israel of old. When I rode my bicycle across the country to raise awareness and money for diapers in 2012, I often found the Church of Jesus uninterested in helping the disadvantaged while those outside the Church were donating their time, money, and talents to relieve suffering all around them. I was humbled to see people giving to others rather than taking a vacation or buying another car. In Malachi we read that God’s name is honored when we sacrificially give our best talents and our most treasured gifts for those we would otherwise judge and condemn. I often imagine how God must hang His head in distress when He sees those of us who profess His name refusing to honor His name. We have opportunities every day to honor Jesus. He told us in Matthew 25:41, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 

What would it look like in your life to truly honor God? How are you treating Jesus? 

The Wall

Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate.   Nehemiah 3:1

Every summer my family would go to Riviera Beach, Florida for two weeks. One of my favorite pastimes was building a sand castle on the beach. The first time I tried to build one, I would just begin to see it take form when a large wave would come to destroy the whole thing. I tried building further from the shore, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the sand to hold its shape. So I finally learned to build a large wall and a moat before I even started to build the sand castle. This then prevented the waves from destroying my precious, but vulnerable, work of art. 

The Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed some 70 years earlier. Nehemiah tells us that the process of rebuilding the temple began first with rebuilding the Jerusalem wall for the same reasons I learned to build a wall and a moat around my sand castle. Israel had many enemies who would love to destroy the temple at the first opportunity. The same is true today. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes the “…we are the temple of the living God.” And just like in Nehemiah’s day, we are to build a wall of protection around our temple. But what does that look like? Does that mean I need to withdraw from the world and build a physical wall of protection between me and people who do not believe in God?  That doesn’t make any sense when we remember that Jesus tells us to the salt of the world which requires contact with those who do not have God’s amazing flavor in their lives. The answer lies within Nehemiah’s decryption of how the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt.

We discover in the third chapter of Nehemiah that the high priest began the work on the wall by rebuilding the Sheep Gate. The high priest began the process, not the chief architect or master builder or head deacon or building committee chairperson. No, it was the high priest who started to rebuild at none other than the Sheep Gate. In Luke 23 we see that Jesus, our High Priest and Lamb of God, began rebuilding the wall of  protection around the temple to be built in each one of His followers as He withstood the attacks of the earthly high priest and the Roman governor. Jesus went to the cross and nailed our sins to that cross as He died for you and me. There is no greater protection than rendering our sins powerless in our own lives. Jesus began the wall of protection that would extend to every human being who had ever existed, did exist, and would exist in the future. But the story of protection doesn’t end there.

Nehemiah chronicles the process in chapter 3 by telling us that THEN the son of this person and that person rebuilt the next section, and BESIDE him was…, and THEN there was…, and BEYOND him was…, and the NEXT GATE was….  This goes on until the end of the chapter when we read in verses 31-32, “Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.” And so the wall was repaired all the way back to the beginning point at the Sheep Gate.

Jesus involves us, you and me, in the rebuilding and repairing of the wall of protection around the temple. Could it be that Jesus created the church so that His followers would come together in prayer, unity, fellowship, ministry, and service to others for the purpose of building a wall of protection around His people, His temple on earth? That means you help me build the piece of the wall that I need most while I help you build the piece of the wall you need most.  We all have different vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We all have issues and struggles. We are all involved in a spiritual warfare against principalities and powers not of this earth. When I read Nehemiah 3 with the Church of Jesus Christ in mind, I see a picture of this person next to that person beside another person, and beyond her was yet another person. And though they were all working on the same wall of protection, they each had their own specific part to play in a particular area of expertise.

It makes me realize that perhaps we should be asking questions like: What part of the wall am I working on? Who is next to me? Who is just beyond me? And am I working on the wall Jesus is building, or am I working on my own wall?

First Love

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”   Revelation 2:4

Passion draws two people together. We call it “chemistry.” It’s the kind of chemistry that everyone likes and understands and desires to have.  The problem is that we have come to expect the passion to wane over time. Don’t get me wrong. We desperately want and need to have passion, but it just seems to disappear. We learn to accept life without our “first love” – passion.

But have you ever witnessed a couple who you can tell are completely and totally in love after 60 years of marriage? You can almost feel their passion for one another. I admit that it’s rare, but I’ve seen it. I know it’s possible. When I see a couple like that, I know they have a deep emotional bond formed by actively sharing everything that is in their hearts with one another. I know they are transparent with one another because that is the only way to keep the passion alive. Passion is a fire that must be continuously fed or else it will die out. This is true in our personal relationships, and it is true in our relationship with God.

Think back to when you first committed your life to Jesus. I remember how excited and “on fire” I was for Him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this meant that I was actually in love with Jesus because I had shared my deepest secrets with Him and had felt the freedom of His unconditional love. This was a big deal to me because I had never felt that kind of love before. And somehow my love for God naturally included love for those around me. The entire experience was almost indescribable.

But in time, the passion waned. The people in the church got on my nerves. I went to college. I began feeling the pressures of college life and the need to succeed. I changed my life plans from theology to medicine. The pressures only increased as I went to medical school. And my love for Jesus was a distant memory. Can you relate to this story? According to Revelation 2:4, I am not alone. 

Many, if not most, Christians lose their first love for Jesus. They lose it because of the time pressures at their job and in their home. Most want to get that feeling back, but the sermon wasn’t so good that week and they just didn’t get that warm feeling at church. But they keep attending and serving. But over time, it becomes a duty rather than a passion. 

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. As with the couple who still were passionate for each other after 60 years of marriage, we can be passionate for God and one another after 60 years with Him. All we have to do is spend some one-on-one time with Him. I guarantee that any couple who are still passionate about each other spend lots of one-on-one time with each other sharing their fears, joys, likes, dislikes, dreams, discouragements, and victories. They connect with one another. They have become soulmates.  

Are you ready to reignite your fire with Jesus? Do you want to have that “first love” experience again? Do you want to feel the “chemistry” that only comes when two hearts unite? Then spend some one-on-one time with Jesus today. Share your hopes and fears with Him. Listen to His voice. After all, He is standing at the door of your hear waiting for you to open it. He wants to come in, sit down with you, look into your eyes, tell you how much He loves you and has missed you, and listen to the longings of your heart. 

What is the Focus in Your Church?

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. Titus 3:9

As a kid growing up, the church was the center of my family’s life. I can remember helping my mother clean the church every Friday afternoon. As a Seventh-day Adventist, we would go to church every Saturday. We would then go to a church function Saturday night or to the house of a church member to play games and have fun. We always went to Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights. And it wasn’t unusual to have an out of town speaker come for 6 weeks to preach 5 or 6 nights a week. We would attend every meeting. This was all great except for the attitude that somehow permeated through the church that we were better than other Christians. In time, I began to think the same way.

And then one day in high school, I was invited to a gathering of young people who worshipped Jesus. It was the “Jesus Movement” that swept the country in the ’70s. They read the Bible, gave their testimony of what Jesus had done for and with them in the last few days, sang praises to Jesus, and had a wonderful Spirit-filled time. I talked to the elders in my church only to be warned about the dangers of “sentimentalism.” No matter what I was told, I knew what I witnessed was real. It was real because for the first time I saw kids sold out for Jesus. They loved Jesus with all their hearts.

Since that time, I have come to realize the importance of a heart connection with God. Knowledge is important. What God says in the Bible is important. But without a heart connected to God, without falling in love with Jesus, I only have rules to bash people rather than love to touch people. Perhaps this is why the same Bible we can use to argue fine theological points also tells us to live from the heart, embrace God’s love, and to live in a close relationship with Him. Consider what God says in Isaiah 1:11-12, 

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of  bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?”

It’s so easy for us to focus on the wrong thing in our lives. We all get that. We all intuitively know that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus as opposed to money, power, position, or the material trappings of this world. But what about church? Do we focus on the wrong thing even at church? Do we focus on Jesus at church? Or do we spend our time worried about the order of service and what songs are sung? Do we worry more about the church service than we do about Jesus? Are we more concerned with the Bible than with Jesus? What’s so crazy about this is that Jesus describes the church as a gathering of people who will have the Holy Spirit in their midst, love one another, and be His hands and feet to those around them. That’s it!

I don’t know about you, but I want to focus on Jesus this week. I want to be more like Jesus. I want to see people the way Jesus sees people. I want my heart to break for what breaks His. What if that were the only focus of church? What if the only thing the body of Christ cared about was to be like Jesus? What if we were just like Jesus? What questions would we be asking ourselves in church then?

 

 

 

Why Church?

We are busy. We balance work and family, home projects and recreational pursuits, responsibilities to others & ourselves. It’s website graphichard enough to fit everything in, who in the world has time for church? I have found many reasons why I make time for church in my life. But influence is the one I’d like to focus on today. 

It’s easy to forget the impact other people have in our lives. Our parents, friends, teachers, mentors, even acquaintances are part of the environment that serve to shape who we have become. We have not chosen many of the people who have touched our lives. But it’s the ones we choose, the ones we let “in” to our lives that influence us the most. And yet we too often ignore the importance of these choices in favor of the belief that we are fiercely independent and immune from the influence of others. The church becomes unimportant in such a worldview.

However, there is evidence all around us that we are influenced by others more than we care to believe. In 2011, there were 36 companies in the U.S. who spent more than $1 billion on advertising with the express purpose of influencing your decisions. These companies either wasted their money or they know something we want to ignore. Consider a restaurant study as it relates to how we are influenced… The waiter either brings a sweet mint with the bill or doesn’t. If he brought a mint, the tip was 3% greater. If 2 mints were given, the tip was 14% higher. If the waiter gives 1 mint and starts to walk away, but then returns to give another mint, the tip was 23% greater!

Let’s face it, we are influenced by others. This should be no surprise to any student of the Bible. Satan influenced Eve. Eve influenced Adam. And we’ve been influencing each other ever since. We influence for better or for worse those around us everyday. And we are influenced for better or for worse by those around us everyday. That’s because we are social beings. Like it or not, we need each other. We seek connections in life. Just like the wires in your house need to be connected to an outside source to provide the power you need in your home, you need to be connected with others outside of yourself to provide you with the power you need each day. Loneliness and depression have become an epidemic in this country for lack of meaningful sources of outside connection and power.

Church is simply the term we use to describe how God connects people together to influence one another and the communities in which they live. Bill Hybels has said that “the church is the hope of the world.” I have found this to be true in my own life. It was church that touched my life through the age of 18 when I went off to college. I then attended church, but was not part of the church for several years. During this time I took a journey into atheism as I wanted to deny my need for God or those who follow Him (church). It wasn’t until I was able to settle into a church community in Rockford, Illinois that I found my way back to God.

You will be influenced and you will influence. Who will you choose to be your influencers? And who will you choose to help you influence your community? My advice is to choose the church. Better yet, be the church. God uses the church to bring you hope and He wants to use you to bring hope to others. If you really care about your influence, why not try church?

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