The Corporate Life

Christ & Culture, Church 1 Comment »

Regular readers here are aware of my deep conviction that salvation is a corporate event. No one is saved alone, no one is a Christian by herself, no one worships or serves in isolation. God draws us to him in community, we are baptized into a community, we are transformed by the Spirit in the context of community. But in an increasingly individualistic society such as ours in the U. S., those ideas are more and more marginalized and rendered almost antiquated. In our culture, an individual’s rights and freedoms now trump those of the community. Almost any community.

Nobody watches broadcast TV anymore; we watch Netflix and DVDs and DVR’ed programs by ourselves where and when we please. Nobody listens to the radio anymore; we program our own playlists and listen with our own ear buds any where and any time we like. And if the civic club or the social group I belong to acts in any way that infringes on my own personal choices, I leave and join a new club. Or I start my own club, even if that club is just a chat-site or a Facebook group. And if any organization is seen by the society as encroaching on anyone’s individual desires, that group faces pressure from the society to relax its standards. Community must bow to the individual.

That means the members of our churches today are more prone to bristle when congregational leadership wants to hold them to high standards of discipleship. They are more likely to take offense and leave when they’re expected to behave in certain orthodox ways. At the very least, they’re bent towards ignoring it when the church calls for disciplined living in a particular community of faith.

That’s not the only reason that church numbers are going down across this country. But it’s a factor.

In an essay for Christianity Today, Andy Crouch calls this the “erosion of corporate identity.” He observes that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent in the recent Hobby Lobby case, wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.” Now, you and I both know that’s wrong. We know that Israel was saved and called by God to exist for the sake of the nations. We know that the Church is saved and called to sacrifice and live for the sake of others. But our culture doesn’t behave this way. So communities that try to behave this way are attacked or, at the very least undermined and marginalized by society:

“An individualistic world is scandalized by any community whose boundaries threaten the freedom of the individuals within it. Such a world promotes transactional relationships, overseen by the only form of community that remains: a centralized and powerful nation-state. Rather than existing to protect small- and medium-sized communities, the state views them with suspicion. Or that state redefines them, as did Justice Ginsburg, by reducing them to the most venal of motives.”

Corporate life in the U. S. is withering. Corporate life is what gave our forefathers their sense of belonging and identity and their platform through which to work for the greater good. But it’s fading fast. Small- and medium-sized businesses, civic organizations, and churches are on a rapid decline. Fewer and fewer of us have deep connections to the small communities that used to mediate life. Forty-one percent of children in the United States are born out of wedlock, so even the most fundamental and committed of  communities — the family — is  in trouble.

So, how are we to respond?

I believe we commit ourselves even more to the countercultural, subversive, corporate reality known as the local church. In all of its imperfections and sins, its many problems and issues — we throw ourselves into it with everything we’ve got. God’s Church should make a stronger claim on us than the state. According to our Lord, it makes a deeper claim on us even than our families. And by being stronger and deeper than the family and the state, your church provides a loving and loyal family for those who don’t have one and an eternal identity and community for us all. Yes, the church is going to demand a great deal from you. The church will ask that you humbly sacrifice and serve, that you eagerly give and work, that you commit and defer for the sake of others. But it also gives us the corporate life that we were created to enjoy, the only life that resembles the mutual love and relationship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed forever and brought us into existence to share.

Peace,

Allan

Sermons on Suffering

Faith No Comments »

Whew! I’m at the tail end now of a five week sermon series at Central exploring the ways our faithful God sustains us during times of suffering. And I’m drained. Exhausted. Sweat-soaked and burned-out. Whoa. I’m looking forward to preaching something a little easier now like the mystery of the Incarnation.

I’ve been preaching here that the eternal nature of our God — the way he thinks, the way he acts, what drives him, his essence — is what we hold on to during the storms of life. We know that God loves us eternally; that everything he causes to happen and everything he allows to happen is motivated by his great love for us and his desire to live in holy relationship with him forever. We know God listens to us tenderly; that he wants us to lay our burdens at his feet and cry out to him in open and honest lament. We know that God understands totally what we’re going through; that through Christ Jesus our God experiences all of our pains and hurts; there’s nothing we go through that our Father hasn’t already gone through himself. And we know that God is sovereign over our sufferings; that he is completely in control of what’s happening to us and that he uses the really awful things in our lives to shape us into better reflections of his glory. Yeah, we know all that. And, yeah, those things are helpful to recall during terrible times.

But do they really fix anything?

See, that’s what’s been so tough during this series.

The last thing I ever want to do is to give the impression that I believe we should all just adopt the biblical perspective and then everything’s going to be fine. Because it’s not. Everything’s not fine. I want to honor both the pain of the sufferer and the words of our God that are intended to strengthen and sustain. I want to do both. I want to acknowledge the reality of the pain of living in this broken world and encourage our people by reminding them of the eternal realities of our God and his Kingdom. I want to do both.

This week a friend of mine forwarded a helpful passage from Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic:

“If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given you, it wouldn’t help you, whether they are picture-book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything — and probably the most it can do is help you to endure, or, if you cannot endure, to fail and fold without wholly hating yourself — is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, it’s the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and, if we can, to go on loving. We don’t say that God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world; not deep down. We say: all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us.”

Yeah. That’s what I’ve been trying to say for four weeks.

I think the sermons have resonated with our church. Mainly, I believe that there is pain in every pew; every Sunday we worship our God together in a room full of hurting people. So I feel like we’re all listening, we’re all paying attention. My prayer has been that our God is putting his word into every heart in exactly the way it’s needed to strengthen and encourage. And I do think it’s happening. I think the Spirit is compelling us to apply these truths about God into our own situations. And, while the pain doesn’t go away, we endure it together as a loving community of faith.

Peace,

Allan

All In

Discipleship, Luke No Comments »

What does it mean to be “all in” for Jesus? What does it look like to be totally “sold out” for our Lord? He calls us to surrender all. We sing that we surrender all. So what does that look like?

People declare their desires to follow Jesus all the time. During his earthly ministry, people were always coming up to Jesus, asking to be his disciple. And he continually rejected the ones who were not willing to give up everything for him and his cause.

The rich young ruler who couldn’t let go of his money. The would be disciples in Luke 9 and Luke 14 who wanted to put comfort and family and business before their walks with the Lord. The clear message in the Gospels is that we follow Jesus on his terms, not ours.

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” ~Luke 14:33

Frederic Huntington says:

It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.”

Ouch.

So what does “all in” for Jesus look like for you? What does it mean for you to be “sold out” for our Lord?

Peace,

Allan

Footprints 2.0

Discipleship, Faith, Salvation No Comments »

Totally in Control

Job, Promise, Romans No Comments »

God caused the great tragedies to Job and his family, right? You know that, right? God did it. Scripture is plain that God had been protecting Job from evil and suffering. The devil couldn’t do anything bad to Job because God had put this fence around him. Satan knows if he’s going to inflict disaster on Job, God has to act. God has to remove his protection. And he asks God to do just that.

“Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has!” the devil says to God in Job 1:11. And God agrees to hand the keys over to Satan. “Very well then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (1:12)

God is definitely responsible for what happens to Job. God had to act to allow all the death and destruction to happen. The devil and God and Job himself all acknowledge that God is in control of everything happening to this faithful servant. God gave the devil the power and the permission to torment this righteous man. But God never for a second gave up control. He places strict limits on the devil. Satan doesn’t lay a finger on Job himself because he can’t. God’s not allowing it. Later on, God allowed even some physical suffering for Job but told the tormenter he couldn’t kill him. And he didn’t. Because he couldn’t. God was totally in control.

Please note that suffering for Job began only when God allowed it. And the trouble for Job ended the moment God decided to end it. God was always totally in control of Job’s whole situation.

I think it should be a great comfort to us to know that God is in control of our suffering. God reigns supreme over all of your troubles. He’s totally in charge of what’s happening to you right now. Now, if God were a malicious tyrant, that would be scary. But he’s not. He loves you, remember?

So… if he loves me, why does he allow me to suffer so much?

Well, God has a goal for his people. He has an eternal plan for you. His plan for all of us is communion with him. And our earthly happiness isn’t necessarily a part of that goal. God is much more interested in our faith than our pleasure. He’s committed to sharing holy community with us forever. That’s his intent. That’s what he’s doing. And if God is totally sovereign over everything — if nothing happens without God’s permission — then every single thing that happens serves his goal. And if our temporary pains and struggles serve God’s eternal goals, then he uses it.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” ~Romans 8:28-29

We’re all being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. That’s the purpose, that’s the goal. We’re being changed, we’re being saved. And God uses everything that happens to us — all things — for this goal of holiness, for this purpose of being made into the image of Christ.

Romans 8 doesn’t say, “Yes, you may have lost your job, but you’re going to get an even better one soon because all things work out for good.” It doesn’t say, “Don’t be upset that your girlfriend broke up with you; God must have an even better girl, your future wife, waiting for you just around the corner!” When we interpret “works for the good” that way, it’s very narrow and often materialistic. It’s a worldly application. From God’s perspective, “good” has to be defined spiritually, eternally. The ultimate “good” is your saving relationship with him. So Romans 8 doesn’t say every difficult experience is going to lead to something good in this life. The “good” God may have in mind might involve the next life entirely. God uses suffering to build Christian character to conform us to Christ and to prepare us for that final glory. Knowing our God is in control of our sufferings and that he uses those sufferings should shape our view of those sufferings more into God’s perspective.

“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

Hope tells us that our suffering is not in vain. It’s not pointless. God is in total control of everything happening to you right now and he’s using it to his glory and to his eternal purposes for you and for his world.

Peace,

Allan

Off Ramp

Cowboys No Comments »