The Church in Action

church in actionAnd they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42-47

The passage above gives us a prime example of what the church in action looks like. What can we learn from this model church?

• They were devoted. They were committed to learning more, to being together, to taking communion, to praying. The church was a priority for them.

• They studied the apostles’ teaching, not some other teaching. They wanted to know what the witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had to say. It was focused learning.

• They had a sense of reverence for what they were learning and it opened their eyes to the amazing things of God that were happening all around them. The words of the apostles came to life among them.

• They saw the need to serve those in their community and not cling to their earthly possessions, but give them to those who were in greater need of them than they were.

• They regularly got together with fellow believers (every day!), they welcomed people into their homes, and they were enthusiastic about what they were doing together and why they were doing it.

• Their group was growing and more and more people were coming to the knowledge of salvation in Christ through the witness of the group.

Applying even one of these attributes to our congregations today can do a world of difference. To me, the remarkable aspect of all these traits is the underlying attitude of genuine gratitude and excitement and joy in the Lord, which can so often dwindle away when we get too busy or too preoccupied with ourselves. Think of ways to recapture the joy of being a part of the church this week and see what God does with that joy.

 

 

6 Guidelines for Loving Each Other

loving each otherWe are well aware that Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34), but that sometimes does not come as easily as it could or should even (and often especially) in the church. Because of this reality, Pastor and author John Piper gives us six guidelines for loving each other, which I find extremely helpful:

  1. Let’s avoid gossiping.
  2. Let’s identify evidence of grace in each other and speak them to each other and about each other.
  3. Let’s speak criticism directly to each other if we feel the need to speak to others about it.
  4. Let’s look for, and assume, the best motive in the other’s viewpoint, especially when we disagree.
  5. Let’s think often of the magnificent things we hold in common.
  6. Let’s be more amazed that we are forgiven than that we are right. And in that way, let’s shape our relationships by the gospel. (from the Desiring God website: www.desiringgod.org, August 4, 2009)

I do feel indicted by several of these, and what they say we should do helps me to approach any future difficult encounter with someone in the church from a more loving, uniting perspective. We are all in this together after all, this journey of faith. Why not make this journey working together, not separately or in opposition to one another?

All of these guidelines do not come from a vacuum, of course. There is biblical grounding for them, most clearly in Romans 12:9-10, 14, 16-18:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Live in harmony with one another. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

The last verse strikes me most. It acknowledges that we can only do what is in our power to do to live peaceably (As far as it depends on you … ). What others may or may not do is out of our control. The other thing that resonates with me are the two words: with all. We are to live peaceably with all, not just some people, but all people. This is a one-size-fits-all proposition. Be peaceable with everyone! That will go a long way toward greater unity.

 

The 7 Visible Marks

churchWhat is the church? It is a question that comes up more frequently these days amid technological and cultural shifts. Amazingly, Martin Luther actually wrestled with that same question 500 years ago. And thankfully for us, Martin Luther expressed what a church is by writing down what he called the seven visible marks of the church:

  1. The Word of God
  2. Baptism
  3. Holy Communion
  4. The Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution)
  5. Called ministers
  6. Prayer, public praise and thanksgiving to God
  7. Bearing suffering patiently

Luther called these the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification or the seven holy possessions of the church.

I like that concept of all of these being “holy possessions.” We can so often take for granted the fact that we pray and read Scripture and have the opportunity to confess our sins with other people of God in church. But these are privileges and blessings and sacred activities that God has graciously put into our possession.

We need to treat these seven visible marks with care and reverence. They are the outward manifestations of what God has done for us in Christ and they are the window to all the world of the nature of our God.

Through these marks, we as the church tell the world that God wants to talk to us and listen to us. God wants to make us his children. God wants to forgive us. God wants to shepherd us through life through his under shepherds. God wants to celebrate and sorrow with us.

When we look at church in this light, we have a better grasp of what God had in mind for the energy and vitality of his people on earth behind the brick-and-mortar steepled structures.

 

Worldviews

worldviewIn his book Gospel in Life, Timothy Keller puts the concept of worldviews into a language that we can understand. In short, a worldview is a way of looking at the world in which there is a purpose, a problem and a solution.

Worldviews are organized in several categories, Keller says, based on what people see as the purpose, the problem and the solution to our human condition in life.

The traditional religious cluster of worldviews includes Platoism and many traditional religions. The purpose in this worldview is to know and live in accord with the perfect realm of ideals. The problem is that the soul is good but the body is bad. The solution is to make ourselves good and virtuous people.

The naturalism cluster of worldviews includes Scientific Naturalism and Psychodynamism. The purpose in this worldview is to survive. The problem is that there are winners and losers in this world and we must fight to win. The solution is to investigate scientific and empirical data and implement that knowledge to eliminate threats to human survival and to get ahead.

The anti-realism cluster of worldviews includes existentialism and post-modernism. The purpose of this worldview is to create our own reality and be free from any absolute or objective values. The problem is that we do have to define and decide what truth-claim to follow. The solution is to create meaning for ourselves and undermine and discount any other truth claims in order to gain power.

Finally, we come to the Christian worldview, whose purpose is to know and serve a loving God who created us and all things and, then, to love and serve one another. The problem is that we cannot always live in the way that pleases God and pleases others because of sin. The solution is that God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die in our place to remove sin from our lives and rise again that we might live with him in perfect harmony in heaven.

It is helpful for me to make these distinctions of worldviews and to be able to categorize the viewpoints of others who speak to us about how they look at life. When we understand the differences, we have a better ability to explain what ultimately drives us in our Christian worldview—not anything we have done, not anything science has told us, not anything from our own human insight, but simply Christ alone and what he has done for us.

So when we view the world, we see it only through the eyes of Christ. He is the sole Solution to our sinful predicament.

Honesty

honestyAt a recent Lent seminar I attended, one of those present said, “Lent is about honesty.” That is a good message for us to remember on this Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

First and foremost in Lent, we must be honest with God about our sins. We should not sugar-coat it or make excuses or trivialize it. We have sinned. We are at fault. We have not obeyed the will of our God. There is no denying it anymore. We must confess sincerely what we have done.

And we must be honest with ourselves and say that we would not be here at all were it not for God. He is the one who created us. He is the one who gave us breath. He is the one who guides and protects us. Everything about who we are is a miracle from him and he deserves all the credit for that.

God is honest with us during Lent as well when he says,

“Your sins are forgiven.”

“I love you with an everlasting love.”

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

As we contemplate the life, suffering and death of our Savior Jesus, we need to hold fast to the honesty of our God and continue to trust with all our heart and soul that God does what he says he will do, and Jesus is the answer to all our problems and the source of our salvation from sin, death and hell eternally.

Jesus was honest too when he said the the thief on the cross beside him, “Today I will be with you in Paradise” and he was honest with his disciples when he said, “I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, I would not have told you.”

What he says is so. And so what we say and do should be just as certain and sure in what what we confess, in what we pray, in what we reveal to others about our faith.

Let this Lent be the beginning of a season of honest living for us inside and out.

 

 

 

Table Talk

table talk

Take time to talk at the table.

In this year when we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is good to us to remember some of the practical, everyday components of Martin Luther’s life that we can apply to our lives today.

One of those is the idea of Table Talk. Luther would regularly gather around the dinner table with friends, family and students of his for dinner and for conversation. The topics of these conversations would range from religious doctrine and history to instructions regarding government, church, and the academic university. Many who were there took notes on what Luther and others said at these Table Talks, which were eventually compiled into a book called Table Talk

The idea of gathering together for a daily meal and talking around the dinner table for hours has been gradually falling out of practice in our homes over the years, unfortunately. It is time for us to reclaim and prioritize that practice.

Make an effort as much as you can to eat together as a family. And then use that time to discuss important matters of faith. There are few other times when we are in a comfortable enough environment to talk about such things with those we love around us. It is important to give everyone a chance to share their insights on their faith in Christ and their experiences with him in their lives. And it is important that people’s words are valued.

So much can happen in a given day that we all need time to process what occurred and reflect on things with others. Sometimes it is those very conversations around the dinner table that give us the perspective we need and the vision to see that God is doing in our lives.

For many years now I have been a part of what we call “lunch bunch,” when I gather at a table at a nearby coffee shop after church with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to talk about our week. It is an uplifting and encouraging time to reconnect with each other and remind each other of our faith and Christ’s central role in our lives through all the ups and downs that we encounter.

Christ recommended gathering together, of course, when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Christ is a guest at every table we gather around. Let him always be a part of the conversation!

Lectio Divina

praying handsIn the last few years there has been a resurgence in the concept of Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) in religious literature. It is a structure of meditative prayer that has four parts: read, meditate, pray, contemplate. It is a way for people to focus on a word, phrase or verse from Scripture and then let Christ speak to them through that Word. Lectio Divina has been likened to “feasting on the Word”: first, the taking of a bite (lectio); then chewing on it (meditatio); savoring its essence (oratio) and, finally, “digesting” it and making it a part of the body (contemplatio).

The practice was first established by St. Benedict for monks in the 6th century, and was even a recommendation to the general public as part of the Vatican II reforms in the Catholic church.

Why this new appreciation for this ritual? I think it has something to do with how busy and cluttered our minds can be in this technological age. People are craving a moment of quiet, a time of pure reflection and holy revelation. In Lectio Divina, the participant is forced to become peaceful, uncluttered with other thoughts and focused on Christ and his Word.

We all need to be open to listening more to what Christ is saying to us, and Lectio Divina is a way for us to do that. It makes it possible for us to let the Word come to us and not put any of our own parameters or preconceived notions about the Word onto it. We are like an open vessel or cupped hands when we practice Lectio Divina, ready simply to receive divine comfort.

Why not try setting aside some time for Lectio Divina in your own life and schedule?

Guidelines for how to practice Lectio Divina are found here:

 

 

http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/catholic/2000/08/how-to-practice-lectio-divina.aspx

As the Bible says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Colossians 3:15). 

If Lectio Divina is not for you, then simply take time to draw closer to Christ in some specific way this week. It will do a world of difference when you return from a time of quiet with the Lord to the clamor of life.

Legacy Narratives

legacy narrativeThere is a big trend happening now in what is currently being called legacy narratives.

Legacy narratives are the stories you tell of the events of your lifetime that you wish to pass on to future generations.

Many people are using their later years to write their legacy narratives often with the help of self-publishers who can print their writings in a professional format as a beautiful keepsake for children and grandchildren.

I know that my grandmother was ahead of the curve on this one, and wrote Gramma Speaks Her Piece more than 30 years ago, and we in our family still often refer to something that she mentioned in that book.

Why is this so popular now? My feeling is that people are sensing that younger generations are not as aware of their pasts as they used to be, and there is a driving urge to leave something of meaningful value to others that can help them in their lives.

We as Christians can jump on the legacy narratives bandwagon in a special way by relating stories of how Christ has brought us through struggles and difficulties in our lives and how Christ has shown us God’s will and way for us when we often were not even looking in that direction.

I am reminded that the Gospels themselves are a kind of legacy narrative. They tell the story of how Christ came into the lives of four different people: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And they tell what each of them wanted future generations to know about the Lord and Savior of their lives.

I always love these verses from John 20:30-31:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

We don’t need to tell everything in our own legacy narratives, but we do need to tell the things that are most important in life so that all may believe in Christ and see him as the center of their own life stories.

Consider starting work on your legacy narrative today.

 

Boundaries

personal boundariesToday marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me on the journey this past year, and I look forward to the holy journey yet to come.

For today’s post I would like to focus on another new reality of communications from Pastor Matt Peeples that we need to be aware of in the church:

Personalized Boundaries

Even though we have more ways to interact with each other than ever before, we also all have an abundance of options to control at what level we wish to interact with one another. We can set up controls to limit the amount of information shared on any given platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and we can choose to block people or hide posts.

In general, we have much more control over the timing of our communication as well. We can delay our response or choose not to respond. That is seen as our right and an acceptable personal preference. We don’t want to be pressured or bothered to get back to people immediately.

All of this comes into play in the church in the ways in which we interact with our members and the ways in which we reach out to prospective members or anyone who communicates with us on our various sites and platforms.

An awareness of people’s personalized communication boundaries is key to understanding how to approach members to serve in various capacities in the church. The old ways of phone trees and mass emails to elicit responses are almost gone. Instead, it is reaching out in simple noninvasive ways to individuals in the ways that they prefer that will bring a more positive reaction toward your call to action and your congregation in general.

Jesus knew about personal boundaries as well, and was sensitive to them when he encountered them. Think about Zacchaeus. Jesus spoke to him while he was still sitting in a tree. Think about Nicodemus. Jesus made himself available to speak to him at night. And he spoke to the woman at the well at what were essentially the “off hours” of gathering water.

But Jesus was also not afraid to cross boundaries either. He ate in plain sight with “tax collectors and sinners” when no one else would. He touched the eyes of a blind man to heal him. He put his hands on unclean lepers to cleanse their disease.

Jesus, therefore, gives us a good model of when and how to address boundaries. Abide by them when it behooves you to build a positive personal relationship with others. But be willing to walk across boundaries when necessary to bring hope and healing and love to people who are being bound by their boundaries.

Now and Not Yet

open tomb

Jesus celebrated on E-Day.

Living in this time between Christ’s resurrection and his return can be difficult for us as Christians. This period is often called the “now and not yet.” It is hard to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel when you are dealing with problems and trials in your present situation.

Ed Stetzer, in his book, Sent: Living the Missional Nature of the Church, helps us to visualize what is going on here. “Think of it like this,” he says. “At the end of World War II, there were two historical dates. The first date is remembered as D-Day—June 6, 1944. The Allied Powers stormed the beach at Normandy and secured the victory, and it was just a matter of time until the war was over. However, the official war continued on until May 7-8, 1945, when the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional and full surrender of Germany. Then the fighting stopped completely” (p. 36).

Christ won the war with sin, death and the devil when he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. (E-Day, if you will). But battles and skirmishes continue until Judgment Day (J-Day, let’s call it), when Christ will return to declare victory over sin, death and the devil, and all battles with them will cease.

So we wait in this time between E-Day and J-Day, knowing the war is over, but the battles continue. But we know the outcome is certain. Christ won and we are winners because of it forevermore. Praise the Lord!