Wednesday, May 1, 2013

One Year Later...'s been a whole year.

Things are a little different since I wrote "The Birthday Post".  Not for my hair, mind you.  My son still stands up during church and pokes my bald spot for everyone to see.  "Still there, Dad."  Hmmm....maybe it's time to move out of the third row.   I've gained a few pounds.  OK, I've gained a lot of weight.  And my daughter can still race circles around me with her skateboard.  In spite of all that, I would have thought that the days leading up to my birthday would have been a little more light and fun.  The children are doing well in school.  My wife is finding substitute teaching jobs.  We started having a family devotional during dinnertime.  God is providing.  However, I find myself a little emotional.  My anger is flaring up too easily.  I get depressed over ever little thing.  It took me a while to put my finger on what was wrong.

If you read my post "My Search for God", you know that I've been going to church pretty much my whole life.  I grew up going to the Episcopal Church as a child (God save the Queen!).  I enjoyed church.  We were taught early on to put money into the donation plate weekly.  Sunday School was fun.  I became an acolyte and assisted the priest with the services at the alter.  It was great to be part of the annual Christmas Pageant.  I was into events and service for the church.  When I gave my life to Jesus in college, things really changed. Church was no longer made up of events and religious duties.  Now I was immersed in fellowship and found joy in prayer groups and bible studies.  Annie and I dove into church when we were married, getting involved with ministry, bible study, and our friends lives.

A few days ago, when I stepped back to evaluate my situation, I was surprised to find something missing.  I'm still going to church and attending Wednesday night Community Group.  But I'm not connecting with other Christian men from church as I used to.  I'm not involved in any accountability group at the present time.  Obviously, I'm missing something big.  All of this caused me to start looking at the importance of church and what it's all about.

When people look at a church and compare it to the church described in the New Testament of the bible, they may see some differences.  Church members in the first century were meeting every day.  They gave and shared all they had with one another.  There were people giving their lives to Jesus by the thousands.  It seems like the church was alive back then.  And some people today make the decision on whether or not to attend church based on those differences.  I think people get discouraged when they see church members acting selfishly or not in accordance with what the bible promotes: selfless living, servanthood, lifting others up according to their needs.

"Churches are built on human efforts, not on God's word."

"I was hurt or abused by the controlling nature of the leadership."

"Churches don't reflect an Acts 2 description."

Martin Bell comments on the condition of churches in his book, The Way of the Wolf:

"Or how about that other group over there?  They're all holding hands as they march.  The only trouble with this is the men on each end of the line.  Pretty soon they realize that one of their hands isn't holding onto anything - one hand is reaching, empty, alone.  And so they hold hands with each other, and everybody marches around in circles...And, of course, a bigger circle is deceptive because as we march along it looks like we're going someplace, but we're not."

Some churches don't have a vision for where they're going.  Others seem like they're built around the pastor or people who are climbing the ladder of popularity.

But when one looks at all the descriptions of the early church within the New Testament, a glaring fact keeps peeking out of scripture: God is the one in charge.  There are a couple of passages that a pastor will most times reference when considering how a church should "work".   Philippians chapter 2 and the passage on servanthood comes to mind.  Certainly Ephesians 4.  To learn more about the guiding hand of God within the church, we can get a picture of His involvement in 1Corinthians 12.  In fact, several phrases stick out.

"There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons." (v. 6)

"But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each
one individually just as He wills." (v. 11)

"But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body,
 just as He desired." (v. 18)

"But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which 
lacked,so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have
the same care for one another." (v. 24)

Those passages show that God is deeply involved within the church.  He arranges the Christian community for His purpose.  God is the one who gives each person the gifts needed to build up the body.  He's the one who appoints individuals for certain responsibilities.  He composes the body to honor those who seem small.  Everything is done by God according to His will.

It's interesting.  Of all the churches one could hold up as a good example of the "ideal" church, Corinth doesn't come to mind.  It seems like the Corinthians needed a lot of hand holding.  How to eat, how to deal with sin, the whole spiritual gifts thing.  It could even be that some people today, who are disillusioned about church, may have visited a church that looked a lot like the one in Corinth.  The "perfect" church may or may not be out there.  But the apostles took time to write about the structure of the church in their epistles for a reason.  Christ has continued to use the church for His purpose throughout the ages, beginning with the first century A.D. through to today.

In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states "Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  There  is no Christian community that is more than this, and none that is less than this.  Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily community of many years, Christian community is solely this.  We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ."  Bonhoeffer goes on to say that only in this community can we fully:

Understand and experience God's word together;

Strengthen our hearts with certainty;

Encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation;

Live together in Christ on earth and will one day live in eternal community with Christ in heaven;

Learn to love one another as Christ loved us.

There's no doubt that some churches get it wrong.  But you can't grow as a Christian very well apart from the Body of Christ.  It's within a church that one learns how to serve, how to admonish, and how to give.  It's where the glory of God is revealed.  Yes, God's invisible attributes are seen throughout creation (Acts 17:6), but His glory and work is revealed when a bunch of sinners, who have been justified by the blood of Jesus, get together to glorify His name in unity.  That same band of forgiven sinners are a light to the world as members of one body - having the same love, the same purpose, and the same Spirit.

I keep thinking back to the phrase, "having the same love".  Love is the key.  When Jesus was having his last discourse with his disciples, he stated "This is how they will know you are my disciples, that you love one another."  That's how others will be pointed towards Jesus.  The early church met daily.  Not just on Sundays.  Today that means getting involved in one anothers' lives.  Rubbing against each other.  Letting others peer into your daily living and looking into your brothers and sisters' lives, too.

I'm going camping this weekend.  James and I are headed to the Nevada wilderness to fellowship, work and have fun with 40 other men from our church.  There are a lot of guys going who are a "man's man".  Tough guys. Guys who like physical work and physical play.  I'm not like that.  I'm the "give me a corner and a book" guy.  But they're my brothers in Christ, and I need to connect with them.  To be vulnerable.  To get involved in an accountability group.  To grow in Christ.  To love others as Christ loved me.

I need to take a step of faith.

Maybe you're thinking about it and realize you need to get connected, too.  Here are some steps to consider taking.:

1. It starts with faith.  Trust that God has gathered members into a church for a purpose.

2. Take a step of faith: go to church.  If you believe in Jesus, you're a forgiven sinner.  You're going to find a lot of broken individuals and other forgiven sinners in churches.  For those who have been burned by hypocritical leadership, healing actually takes place within the community of believers.  Believers who will love and humbly serve you.

3. Don't be so picky about what church to go to.  If it's a Christian church, and they're providing opportunities to learn and love each other, go for it!  Don't keep looking for that 15 child choir-4 bible studies during the week-donut hole snack after church-15x4 foot baptismal tank-10 minute long sermon-comfortable cushion backed chair all in one church because it's probably not out there.

4. Get involved in the bible studies and accountability groups.  If there isn't one...start one!

5. Get grounded and stay for a while.  Even consider staying for a lifetime.  God brought you there for a reason, and love continues to grow over time.

Will you join me in that step of faith?

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