Category: Church (page 2 of 51)

Body of Christ: Part Two

It’s not just a metaphor. It’s very real. As the Body of Christ, the Church is the physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus in this world. Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; Christ lives in me!” Jesus Christ lives with and in and through his Church. Jesus and the Church are the same. You can’t have Jesus without his body. You can’t know Jesus without recognizing his body. You can’t be in relationship with Jesus and have nothing to do with his body.

That’s the way Jesus sees it. That’s how he talks about it. That’s how he’s always viewed it. Jesus is the Church; the Church is Jesus.

Saul’s on the road to Damascus when Jesus appears and blinds him with his light. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s thinking, “I’m not persecuting you. I’m beating up these lousy Christians who are blaspheming Scripture.” No, in the eyes of Jesus, you mess with the Church, you’re messing with Jesus himself.

It was always this way.

“He who listens to you, listens to me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who receives you, receives me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Jesus authorizes the Church as his body on earth to do all the things he did.

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near!'” (Luke 10:9)

On that last night he tells his gathered followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12)

And we do, right? We heal the sick and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. And we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Jesus says so you can be like me. So you can become sons and daughters of your Father in heaven. So you can reveal me.

When we forgive the ones who sin against us, people see Jesus. When we’d rather be wronged than to fight for our rights, people see Jesus. When we sacrifice and serve, when we consider the needs of others more important than our own, people will meet the Lord Jesus in us.

And the world will treat us just like it treated Jesus. Paul says he carries in his own body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be revealed, so that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our (plural) mortal body (singular).

So, as the Body of Christ, we always side with the oppressed, never the oppressors. We always stand with the minorities, we always take care of the refugees, we always look out for the weak. We never discriminate, never judge, and never use force. We always give, always forgive, and always show love.

Jesus is the Church and the Church is Jesus. We must do the things Jesus did in the ways Jesus did them. If anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: First Part

In the beginning, in the dark and the chaos, God spoke powerful words and created the heavens and the earth. From the top of a smoking and shaking mountain in the desert, God spoke powerful words and raised up a holy nation. Through his mighty prophets in Israel and Judah, our God spoke powerful words of forgiveness and mercy, commitment and comfort, truth and grace. But God’s words were not enough. Words are never enough. So God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word became a body.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

The holy Son of God has a body. We know Jesus has a body — a real, physical body. Jesus ate and drank, he wept and slept, walked and talked, worked and played. He bled real blood. He suffered excruciating pain. And he died an agonizing death. He was dead. His body was killed.

And when God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, he raised him to life in a resurrection body — a real, physical body. Our risen Lord in his real, resurrection body was recognized by everyone who knew him. He ate and drank with his followers whether he was invited to or not. He walked and talked with them, taught them, and argued with them. It was Jesus’ real, physical, flesh-and-blood, resurrection body that proved he was really risen. It was remarkable.

Now, here’s something even more remarkable: our ascended Lord who is reigning right now and forever at the right hand of the Father in heaven continues to have a body here on this earth. Jesus still insists on being flesh-and-blood present in this world. He keeps showing up as a recognizable personality. But now he in an even stranger bodily form than his resurrected post-Easter body.

It’s the Church. It’s us. We are the Body of Christ.

Through us, together, by his Church, our Lord Jesus wraps his real, tangible, physical, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence around the whole world. Today the Body of Christ lives and breathes and moves and acts in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, even to the panhandle of Texas! That’s us. The Church.

And some well-meaning people say Jesus never intended to establish the Church. They say Jesus was a holy man, they even say he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But he never wanted to start a church. Baloney! That was the plan all along, from the very beginning of the story of Jesus. Jesus started the Church when he called together that first group, that body of twelve disciples. The Jesus movement was always a corporate, social movement; it was never just a collection of religious individuals. The Church was always meant to be the Body of Jesus.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12

The Bible is not saying that the Church has lots of different members and we’re all supposed to work together. It says Christ has different parts of his body and we’re it! We are his body, not because we all agree with each other about everything, not even because we all like one another. We are his body because we have one Lord and that one Lord is totally committed to always being physically present and flesh-and-blood active in his world.

We are the mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet of Jesus. We are his body on earth. And if anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

The Only Thing That Counts

“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” ~Galatians 5:6

There’s only one thing that matters; don’t mess it up. There’s only one thing that’s important; don’t miss it. Our forgiveness, formation, and eternal life, our righteous relationships with God and with all people hang on just one thing; pay attention to it. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Circumcision? Doesn’t count! Uncircumcision? Who cares? In Christ, none of that stuff has any force. It doesn’t exercise any power. It’s got nothing. Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, has all power and all authority. He alone saves. So our faith, focus, and attention is only and always on him.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” ~Romans 8:1-4

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purpose on our behalf. Not individual commands — not circumcision, not the Ten Commandments, not purity rituals, not feast schedules — the singular requirement, the whole point of the law is fulfilled for us by Jesus. That’s the whole point of Jesus.

Do we trust that or not?

The perfect Son of God, the only one who’s never broken the law, became sin for us. He became your sin. He took on your sin. He took your transgressions with him to the cross. And when your sin is condemned in him, you become in God’s eyes as if you’ve never sinned. Jesus intervened to do what you can’t do. Christ became what you are so you can become what he is. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and he has taken care of absolutely everything to set you totally free from sin and death. Now, is your faith in that, or is it in something else? The only thing that counts if faith. That’s the only thing we need to be concerned with. That’s the freedom for which Christ sets us free.

But for some reason, we feel more comfortable in the chains. We have a very difficult time with the only thing that counts. We’ve got a whole list of things that count! We’ve got dozens and dozens of things that count!

It’s not circumcision; it’s acappella. It’s not food laws; it’s weekly Lord’s Supper. It’s not feast days; it’s Wednesday nights. It’s not you must become a Jew; it’s “Is he a member of ‘The Church?'” And it’s baptism by immersion and women’s roles and bishops and kitchens and KJV and crosses in the sanctuary, um, I mean, “auditorium.”

We judge people and we draw lines and label others and decide who we’re calling brothers and sisters and who we’re not when there’s only one thing that counts! We’re paying too much attention and spending too much energy on the things that don’t count!

We are freed from all that. We don’t have to worry about those things. Having the same worship styles and the same church structures and the same name on the building is not how we’re united. Or saved. That’s not what makes us brothers and sisters. We are united in Christ alone! We are made one in Christ alone!

The Bible says there is one body, not just one expression of that body. There is one faith, but not just one expression of that faith. There is one baptism, yes, but not just one expression of that baptism. These are the very things they’re discussing in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and the decision is “We should not make it difficult for the people who are turning to God.”

We spend valuable energy debating worship styles and doctrinal positions and denominational differences, but there’s only one thing that matters. We fuss and divide over methods and traditions and structures and rules, but there’s only one thing that’s important. We get worked up over interpretations and translations and obligations, but only one thing counts: faith expressing itself through love.

That’s true freedom. When we give ourselves completely to the fact that our salvation has already been secured, that there’s nothing left to do, it’s all been done, when we embrace that in faith, then we’re living in freedom. We’re free from our sins and anything that’s ever happened in our pasts. We’re free to stop worrying about ourselves and our rights and our honor to serve other people so that walls are torn down and wounds are healed. You’re not anxiously fretting about your standing with God. You’re not looking for physical signs or proof of who’s in and who’s out. You are free to become what God created you to be, what you always wanted to be — you just didn’t know what it was!

And whatever rules there are, whatever obligations remain, we’re free to live above them and through them. We don’t worry about any of that because our faith in Christ has us loving others.

The Gospel truth that you are righteous because Jesus Christ has become for you your righteousness, holiness, and peace compels you to love God and others. It moves you to defend the weak and stand with the accused and speak up for the oppressed. It motivates you to give and forgive. It empowers you to let go and live the way God lives, erring on the side of grace and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t mess it up. It’s the only thing that counts.

Peace,

Allan

Out of Line with the Gospel

When I was in elementary school, I remember several conversations I had with my friend Terry. Terry lived around the corner from me, we played together almost every day. And I remember several times telling Terry he was not going to heaven because he didn’t go to church. I also remember telling Sherry across the street she wasn’t going to heaven, either. Sherry did go to church. She just didn’t go the right church.

This was the way I was raised.

We were focused on our Church of Christ distinctives. We were obsessed with what makes Churches of Christ different from everybody else. We took pride in it.

It’s “gospel meeting,” not “revival,” because “revival is not a biblical word. Although, it is.

It’s “preacher,” not “pastor,” because the biblical word “pastor” is really for elders. But we don’t call our elders “pastors” either because that’s what the denominations say.

Oh, the denominations! We are NOT a denomination! We’re different from everybody else!

We baptize by immersion. We do it the right way. And, yeah, we know there are some denominations that immerse the right way. But they do it for the wrong reasons. So we’re still more right.

We eat the Lord’s Supper every week and we only sing with the instruments God gave us in our throats. We call it an “offering,” not a “tithe.” It’s an “invitation song,” not an “altar call.”

Some critics have said, “If we’re so obsessed with seeing just how different we can be from everybody else, why don’t we put bars on all the church doors and go in and out through the windows?”

Well, no, that would be silly. But we call it an “auditorium,” not a “sanctuary.”

Our focus on our distinctives, our obsession with what separates us from the rest of the Christian world, has resulted in several generations of us referring to the CofCs as “The Church.” You know what I’m talking about. “She was raised in the Church.” “They’re members of The Church.” “Does he belong to The Church?” We say “The Church” and we’re only talking about us!

We’ll admit that folks in other churches are Christians, we’ll admit they’re saved. But we’re not so sure we should be calling them brothers and sisters in Christ. The way we talk and the way we behave, we’re claiming to be more saved. We’re claiming to be better, more correct, and closer to God’s will because of our Church of Christ culture.

If you want me to call you a brother or sister in Christ, you have to belong to MY group. You have to conform to OUR rules and adopt OUR customs and embrace OUR traditions. We’re saying that salvation and the unity of God’s people is based on methods and interpretations and not grace and faith.

When that’s the case, we are clearly in the wrong. In Paul’s words, we are not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.

“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a person is not justified by works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of the Law, because no one will be justified by works of the Law.” ~Galatians 2:15-16

We are not justified by perfectly obeying God’s Law or by being in the right group, we’re not saved by our own merits or works; we are justified by the faith of Jesus. That was true when Peter was differentiating between Jewish and Gentile Christians back then and it’s just as true today when we’re differentiating between Church of Christ Christians and Methodist Christians and Presbyterian Christians.  We are all saved by the exact thing in the exact same way: by Christ’s death and resurrection through faith. Period.

If we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ, then all Christians are included in the Christian community on no different level and by no different terms. That means we accept Christians with a different history, a different tradition, a different story to tell.

And, yeah, it’s not easy. It’s almost offensive. God’s matchless grace totally disregards human merit, his mercy and love totally break down barriers that are socially acceptable. And that kind of unity is hard to swallow.

Jonah got ticked off at God’s grace because the Lord showed favor to the Ninevites. The older son refused to join the family feast when the Father invited the runaway little brother. The Pharisee stands in the temple and thanks God he’s not like this other guy. But this is God’s way: He unites us as he saves us; he saves us as he unites us.

It is wrong to say your kind of church is God’s true church and demand that others come to your kind of church to find the truth and criticize other kinds of churches because they do things differently. That’s denominationalism and it’s a perversion of the Gospel. We can’t ever try to make people join a specific group in order to be acceptable to God.

Peace,

Allan

Ushers, Not Bouncers

We’re going to get criticized no matter what we do. Our Lord Jesus didn’t do anything non-controversial. The people he touched, the places he went — there were always people talking and griping, somebody always got offended, somebody always fussed.

Jesus starts a spiritual conversation with a Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink and she says, “You’re not even supposed to be talking to me.” Peter knocks on Cornelius’ door and, when the Gentile soldier answers, Peter tells him, “You know, it’s against the law for me to even be here.”

If we’re going to get criticized anyway, let’s get criticized for doing the things Jesus did. Let’s love people. Let’s accept people. Let’s show mercy and grace to all people.

I think Billy Graham said something like: “It is God’s job to judge, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, it’s our job to love and accept.” But sometimes I think we want to do God’s job. We’re trying to do what only God does.

You and I are not the ones who decide who gets to go to heaven. But sometimes we act like we’re the bouncers at the pearly gates. It’s like we’re standing behind some velvet church rope and checking IDs, letting some people in and kicking others out. We’re not bouncers! We’re ushers! Our God is inviting everybody to his table and we’re ushers, not bouncers. We’re grabbing people by the arm and showing them to their seats that somebody else paid for.

Peace,

Allan

Church Habits

I have no idea why Jerry Seinfeld is playing in Midland, Texas tonight, but I do know Carrie-Anne and I will be on the floor of the Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center in our seats in the middle of Row 12! It’s a Christmas present from my super-cool wife and I’m excited beyond description. I’d drive to Midland to watch Seinfeld read a phone book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once a month our covenant group gets up early and serves breakfast to the folks staying at the League House. We hang out for a couple of hours and pray with people from out of town who have relatives in the hospitals here. A couple of weeks ago we met a guy named Jeff (not his real name) who’s from the Austin area. He and his wife and three kids had come up to be with Jeff’s brother who was in serious condition after suffering a terrible brain aneurysm.  As we’re talking with Jeff and hearing his story, he mentions that his wife is from Vietnam. Then, later in the conversation, Aleisha asked him, “How did you meet your wife?” And he told us a fascinating story.

The company he works for in Austin is headquartered in the D.C./Virginia area and they regularly send a woman from there to train the employees in Austin. This woman’s originally from Vietnam. So Jeff and this woman get to know each other in a friendly, working relationship kind of way. And one day she calls Jeff from Virginia, from completely out of the blue, and says her family is looking for someone to marry her sister so she can come to the states.

“What?”
“Yeah, my sister can come to the U.S. if she has an American husband. So, if you know anybody who might be interested in helping us out…”
“I don’t know anybody who’d actually want to get married.”
“No, they don’t have to stay married. Only for a year or two. Then they can get divorced and she can stay in the U.S.”
“No, sorry, I don’t know anybody.”
“We’d pay him money.”
(short pause)
“Um… How much money?”
“We’d pay him $30,000.”
“Well, I think I might could get interested in that!”

So, Jeff agrees to do it. He’ll marry this lady from Vietnam, pocket the $30K, and they’ll split up later.

Now, here’s the catch. Jeff had to take three or four trips to Vietnam to sell everybody over there that it was legit. The family paid for the trips, but Jeff had to go to Vietnam to spend time with her. They had to go on dates together, eat dinner together, spend time with her family. They had to take a lot of pictures together and post them on social media. And the most important thing: when he’s in Austin, he had to write her letters. He had to call her and facetime her and send her gifts. He had to act like he was in love with her. He had to do things a guy in love would do.

And in the middle of all that, Jeff fell in love with her. For real.

He never would have thought himself into loving this young lady. He never could have studied himself into loving her. But he acted himself into it and he didn’t even know it was happening. He was forced by the circumstances into some habits that actually changed his feelings and his thinking. Doing what people in love do shaped him into a guy in love. They were married 14-years ago, they have three children, and he never took the $30,000.

Why do we go to church? We go to church because it makes us more like Jesus. Church is one of the main habits, one of the critical spiritual practices that shapes us into the people of God.

It’s hard to think yourself into loving others. It’s difficult to study yourself into considering the needs of others more important than your own. Being together around Word and Table puts us in the circumstances and into the habits that will, by God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit, actually change our feelings and thinking. Doing what Jesus does shapes us into the image of Jesus.

So many of us grew up going to church. It’s a habit of our lives that started before we can remember and possibly one that we sometimes see as very ordinary. Maybe even humdrum and boring. We can do church with our eyes closed, and sometimes do.

But what if we understood our church gatherings as sacramental encounters with our Lord? What if we believed God’s Spirit was powerfully at work during our songs and prayers, during the Scriptures and the meals, to transform us into the image of Christ? What if we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the habits of the church as formation practices through which our Lord meets us and moves us into better fitness for eternal life? What if we were filled with awe at the possibilities in front of us? What if we were filled with awe in the face of a vision of how we can be and how the world will be in the future? And what if that awe increases as the power of God’s Spirit heals us and transforms our lives?

Peace,

Allan

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