Category: Church (page 1 of 52)

Get the Order Straight

March Madness begins today and there’s a scramble in the church offices as a few folks are making last-minute changes to their brackets. Vickie has scratched Syracuse because of their point guard’s suspension and Mary is still undecided on Kansas State. I’m going with Duke, Kentucky, Purdue, and Gonzaga in the Final Four with Duke beating Kentucky for the championship. Speaking of Kentucky, ACU’s coach, Joe Golding, is making headlines because of his pants. When ACU tips off tonight against John Calipari’s second-seeded squad, Golding will be wearing britches with a hole in the seat. You can get most of this aw-shucks-feel-good-underdog story by clicking here. How is it that Golding only gets a thousand dollar bonus for winning the Southland Conference title and making the NCAA dance? How is it that he won’t see that money until June? And why in the world does he only own one suit? I know it’s Abilene and I know it’s Church of Christ, but come on! Somebody plan a bake sale or something!

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“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” ~Philippians 2:3-4

This is what it looks like to prioritize the realities. This is how we live the Gospel together the way our God intends. You get the order straight. You always place others ahead of yourself. I always place others ahead of myself.

Not really. I’m not very good at this at all. For some really beautiful people I know, it seems natural. It seems really easy for them. But for me and, I would guess, most of us, this is not natural. We have to work at it. It’s difficult for us because we’ve all grown up being taught to assert our rights. That’s how we’re raised. Our culture has told us that our Creator has given all of us absolute rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And somehow we’ve bought into that. We come into church — all of us — believing that we deserve to be made happy, even at the expense of others. Where does that come from?

Not from our Lord.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:43-45

The apostle Paul didn’t make this up. This is not Pauline theology in Philippians 2. He got this from Jesus.

So, thinking the same thing and having the same love and being united in spirit and purpose is not an intellectual thing. This isn’t something you accomplish in your brain or up in your feels. This is something you do. This is about concrete expressions and physical actions. You don’t just see everybody else at your church as more important than you, you treat them that way. You don’t just understand that everybody’s needs at your church are more important than your needs, you go out of your way to meet those needs.

Paul is not saying that all Christians in the church have to come to the same beliefs and opinions on everything. That’s impossible. He’s saying, for the sake of relationships and the mission, put the beliefs and opinions of others ahead of your own.

Peace,

Allan

Prioritize the Realities

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” ~Philippians 2:1-2

The four realities Paul describes in verse one lead us as a church family to pursue the four goals in verse two or, better said, to prioritize the blessings we all have in Christ. Place great emphasis, he says, on being like-minded, on having the same love, on being one in spirit, and one in purpose. This sounds like unity, and it is. But it’s so much more than that, it’s a lot bigger than just unity. Just unity is not the goal.

You can have unity in a group of thieves or murderers or in a group of Red Sox fans. Or in a church where nothing’s happening. A stagnant church that takes no risks, that never tries new things, that doesn’t reach beyond its own walls or outside its Sunday morning worship.

Yeah, but we’re united! We’re so together!

So, what? To what end?

This whole thing — all of it — is about relationships and mission. Some of you have been at your current church for more than 30 or 40 years. I’m guessing you’re there because of relationships and the church’s mission. Some of you have only been at your current church for a month or so. But I’m guessing you’re there for the same two reasons.

That doesn’t mean we all have to agree on every single thing. That’s impossible. I’ve said before that if we all had to agree on every single thing in order to belong to the same church, Carrie-Anne would be at a different church. And then she reminds me, “No, Allan, you would be at a different church!”

The Bible calls for unity in spirit, not unity in beliefs or practices or opinions. Unity is about your attitude, your motivation. What drives you? What are you thinking about? Unity doesn’t do anybody any good if our thinking is out of line with the Gospel. So, does our thinking serve the Gospel? Does our love reflect the Gospel? Does our unity declare the Gospel? When Scripture says I want you to think the same thing, that thing is Christ Jesus and his mission to save.

That’s why we think together and love each other and unite as one in spirit and purpose: to advance the Gospel. To tear down the walls. To make the paths straight. To speak and show love and mercy and forgiveness and grace and life! We live the Gospel. That’s always the goal.

Peace,

Allan

Prayer for Faithful Teaching

O God, you are the fountain of all truth;
we ask you to protect the Church from all false teaching.

Protect the Church
from all teaching and preaching which would destroy men’s faith;
from all that removes the old foundations without putting anything in their place;
from all that confuses the simple, that perplexes the simple, that bewilders the way-faring man.

And, yet at the same time, protect the Church
from the failure to face new truth;
from devotion to words and ideas which the passing of the years have rendered unintelligible;
from all intellectual cowardice and from all mental lethargy and sloth.

O God, send to your Church teachers
whose minds are wise with wisdom;
whose hearts are warm with love;
whose lips are eloquent with truth.

Send to your Church teachers
whose desire is to build and not destroy;
who are adventurous with the wise, and yet gentle with the simple;
who strenuously exercise the intellect, yet remember that the heart has reasons of its own.

Give to your Church preachers and teachers who can make known the Lord Christ to others because they know themselves;
and give to your Church hearers who, being freed from prejudice, will follow truth as blind men long for light.

This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

~William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year

Koinonia

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede. Then, clearly and purely, will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ. But through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 1938

Kingdom > Church (Part Three)

Jesus is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is Jesus. He brings it, he embodies it, he reveals it and shows us what it is. Jesus is the time and the place, he is the where and when God rules graciously in people’s lives. And as subjects in his Kingdom, we are called to be transformed into people who live completely under his lordship. We share his values, his vision, his mission.

But our view of Jesus’ agenda is sometimes obstructed by our own ideas. Centuries of church development and rule-making and decision-making cloud our vision. When we see the Kingdom as Church, we tend to focus only on the features and characteristics of the Church.

Jesus tells the religious leaders they are looking for the Kingdom in the wrong places:

“The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” ~Luke 17:20

The Kingdom of God is an elusive, dynamic, spiritual thing that cannot be confined to any institution. It’s much bigger and much more powerful than that. The Kingdom of God is the person, the activity, the ministry, the power, and the eternal reign of the Lord!

Our challenge in our churches is to flex our autonomy enough to insure that our identifying characteristics genuinely correspond to those of the Kingdom Jesus is preaching and practicing. Maintaining our institutional status quo is not necessarily the same as being faithful to Jesus and his mission. Being a member in good standing or being a good middle-of-the-road church isn’t necessarily the same as living under the reign of God.

The true marks of the Kingdom have very little to do with what happens in between prayers and announcements in your worship center.  The Kingdom of God is firmly grounded in and expressed through the weightier matters — those are Jesus’ terms — of justice and mercy and faithfulness. The requirements for us subjects of the King are not keeping the rules as much as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.

The church in Rome was arguing and dividing, complaining and drawing lines in the sand over all kinds of issues: sacred food and sacred days, worship styles and traditions, praise teams and women’s roles, divorce and remarriage, alcohol and dancing, creeds and translations, politics and preachers, song leaders and small groups — they were splitting the church over these things. And Paul says plainly, “Knock it off! Cut it out! The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people” (Romans 14:17-18).

But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?”

Yeah, I can hear it now. We have to be clear on the “salvation issues.” We have to make sure we’re right on the “salvation issues.”

What is a “salvation issue?” Will somebody please tell me what a “salvation issue” is? We get into discussions about salvation issues and we start ranking things in order of importance to God. We argue in terms of what’s going to save us or condemn us. And we’ll vigorously debate baptism and church and the authority of Scripture and worship styles, we’ll argue about church services and church structures and church policies, but we never talk about feeding the poor or loving our enemies. We don’t mention love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. Scripture says those are the weightier matters, those are the salvation issues! Those are the things we’ve got to get straight! That is the Kingdom of God!

Building schools in Kenya and training preachers in Brazil and housing teenagers in Ukraine — that’s the Kingdom of God. Reading to a 3rd grader at Bivins Elementary and having dinner with a woman from Gratitude House — that’s the Kingdom of God. Serving food at The PARC and praying at Heal the City — that’s the Kingdom of God. Paying water bills for government workers and taking groceries to your grouchy neighbor and talking to the teenager who feels like she doesn’t belong and forgiving you dad and doing all these kinds of things for others in the name and manner of Jesus with the heart of Jesus who fulfills and embodies in every way the eternal blessings and promises of our eternal Father — that’s the Kingdom of God! Where these things prevail, where these things are obvious, that is where and when the Kingdom of God has come and is coming!

I long for the day when those are the only things God’s Church is passionate about. Don’t you?

Our King came into this world in order to serve and save. That’s the business of his subjects, too. May our Lord bless us as we love and serve, rescue and save, in his name and for the sake of his Kingdom.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church

“Kingdom” is not a word we typically use in our everyday American English. When we say the word, it has an other-culture, if not a counter-culture, kind of feel. But “Kingdom” is a very important word for Christians. We use it all the time, mainly in church and church settings.

We’re citizens of the Kingdom. We do Kingdom work. We’re all about Kingdom business. We seek first the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we think the preacher’s going to preach ’til Kingdom come.

We use the word “Kingdom” to talk about things that are Christian as opposed to things of the world. But a lot of people use it to talk about church. Growing up, it seemed the words “Kingdom” and “church” were interchangeable, they were synonyms. Both the “Kingdom” and the “church” — same thing — were established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I remember hearing several preachers in my youth declare that the Kingdom of God was the church! Some of us were told we should not pray the Lord’s Prayer because the Kingdom had already come — the church! And I remember looking around at my church and the people in it and thinking, “This is it?” No offense, but if this is all there is to the Kingdom of God, then I’d rather not.

Here’s my definition: The Kingdom of God is the time and place of God’s gracious rule in people’s lives. The Kingdom of God is where and when our God reigns. It’s when and where Christ is Lord and everything wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and the people around you is fixed. And it is right here and right now.

It has come; praise God. And it is still coming; Lord, come on.

God reigns on his throne in all power over all things right now; Amen. But someday… oh, man… every knee, every tongue, to the glory of God the Father.

The Kingdom of God — all its complexities and fullness, all of its here and now and there and later — is best expressed and experienced and revealed in Jesus. He brought it. He shows us what it is.

Jesus grieved over the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching reality of a world taken over by evil. “Woe to the world,” he says, “because of the things that cause people to sin” (Matthew 18:7). It pained him. He felt strong compassion for this broken world. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not willing” (Luke 13:34). It tore at him. It killed him.

Jesus witnesses this broken condition of men and women and he jumps right into the middle of it. God intends to redeem and restore what’s broken. The Father is bent on reconciling all of creation back to himself and he does it through Jesus. Everything Jesus came to do — his birth, life, teachings, ministry, healings, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection — is about fixing our shattered lives, mending ruined relationships, and repairing this broken world.

Jesus, the Son of God, began to work with broken people and he saw the Kingdom of God. He started to sacrifice and serve people and he saw the Kingdom. He saw the major changes that were taking place. He says at the beginning of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is near!” He saw it. He knew it. That’s what he preached: The Kingdom of God.

In Luke 4, Jesus is healing crowds of people. Laying his hands “on each one, he healed them,” it says. He was driving out demons by the dozens. And then Jesus says, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).

In Luke 9, Jesus sends his apostles to cast out demons and cure diseases, to “preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). The Bible says they “went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:6). When they came back to report to Jesus all they had done, “He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9:11).

The Kingdom of God is about healing people. Healing people and the Kingdom of God are joined at the hip. They are inseparable. Eternally connected. The Kingdom of God is healing and fixing and making things right; making things right and fixing and healing people is the Kingdom of God! And it’s happening right here and right now. And it’s a whole lot bigger than church.

Peace,

Allan

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