Gotta Have Goals

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Cross country running is no joke. This is particularly true here in Tennessee where summer has dug in her heels, refusing to give way to autumn. Because of this, I have tremendous admiration for my youngest daughter and her friends (many of whom I’ve unofficially adopted) on our school’s cross country team.

I’ll admit today is a breezy 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s small comfort when even the trees are calling it quits and dropping their leaves under the relentless sun.

But my cross country kids don’t quit. They persevere.

At the last race, I darted from place to place yelling my atta-boys to the kids as they pushed through temperatures in excess of 96 degrees Fahrenheit/35 degrees Celsius.

Several of the kids have their own health conditions to deal with, making running harder, but they ran it anyway. Occasionally, there’s vomiting along the way, but the kids keep going. Some are faster, others not so fast, yet we scream just as loudly no matter where our runners fall in the pack.

Those who are finished or waiting to run stand alongside the parents, yelling encouragement or handing out water in the chute after the finish line.

These kids are fighters. They stick to it even when it’s tough and they take care of each other. They’ll run beside a struggling teammate. Sometimes, they sacrifice their own race time to stick by the side of a friend in distress.

Suddenly, it hit me why I love these kids so fiercely. They are a microcosm of Christian community done well.

Brothers and sisters, we who are in Christ are not in opposition to one another. We are a team.

We’re running this race together, and we’re running it for the glory of our King. Not for our own prestige. For Christ’s.

When one of our brothers or sisters stumble, we ought to lend our presence and support. When their strength falters, we can run alongside them, offering encouragement.

No matter where they are in the race – way ahead or far behind – we should be there on the sidelines, cheering as madly as if they were in first place.

After all, sometimes just the running is grueling. Even if our runner finishes dead last, at least he ran. At least she finished.

When our own run is a battle through difficult circumstances, we run anyway. We press on to the finish.

We should know each other well enough to know the secret battles we fight, the burdens others carry that make even putting one foot in front of the other a struggle. We ought to shout our support all the louder for it.

In fact, as long as our fellows are running towards the finish line and not away from it, we should be their most fervent supporters!

And if they become disoriented and turn the wrong way, we need to have the guts to step in and point them in the right direction, running right by their side to show them the way.

Did I say we’re a team? It’s more. We are a family. Different parts of one Body.

Our job isn’t to critique each other’s form or ability. Instead, we ought to be sharing in the effort it takes to pursue holiness in a broken and sick world. In broken and sick bodies.

The race is hard. Some days are worse than others. We need each other. We need to take care of each other. The world surely won’t.

So what do you say? Let’s make it our goal to finish strong and not grow weary; to enter the chute on both feet. And let’s help our brothers and sisters any way we can, every step of the way. Even if it costs us personally.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2

The Heartbeat of Worship

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-12

My apologies for being out of touch once again. When it comes to running places, this is the most hectic season of my life to date. My older daughter is on the homecoming court for her school, and this is HOCO week. Such events are brand-new to this recovering introvert who never so much as attended a high school dance.

And let me tell you, when you live 30 minutes from the school and 30 minutes in the opposite direction from a collection of stores with the appropriate semi-formal gear, it is no joke getting this craziness wrapped up. Especially when one of your kiddos is so small that only 1 in 100 dresses fit her, and only about a third of those meet dress code…

But you’re not here to read about the crazy. Let’s talk about the Word, shall we?

Our pastor once made mention of the weekly worship services as a sort of pulse of Christianity, and the idea has resonated with me since. It’s a beautiful picture, really – the gathering together of believers to worship and encourage one another followed by the sending out into the various arteries of the world until we are once more drawn together again and the cycle repeats.

It all came together in a profound way for me this past Sunday as the pastor spoke about our identity in Christ (an excellent message, by the way, for anyone who’s struggling with identity issues of any kind. You can access it here.)

Just as there’s a purpose to our physical heartbeat, there’s a Divine purpose for this rhythmic flux of gathering in and sending out.

The gathering of the Church is meant as a time of worship; of refreshment, equipping, burden sharing, repentance – you name it. All that “churchy” stuff is supposed to go on during our meetings.

But primarily, the worship services are for just that – worship.

It’s where the Body of Christ comes together to worship the Lord who set them free. We sing. We serve each other. We hear the Word and exposition on the Word and we internalize it. We share one another’s burdens. We confess our sin to each other and pray for each other. Or that’s how it should look, anyway.

All of these things – song, teaching, confessing, praying – serve a purpose. This is where we are equipped to do the work God sends us out into the world to do. We learn and grow in Him. We cast our burdens on him.

We leave behind our junk – confessed sin, burdens for others, sorrow, shame. We pick up a fresh insight from the Word of God, a new sense of purpose or direction, or some encouragement to strengthen us. This we take out into the world around us to share.

It’s the pulse of Christianity. The heartbeat of the Body of Christ.

We are the blood in those vessels, surging outward to bring the message of hope and grace, the insight and encouragement we’ve received from our gathering to a world starving for the Bread of Life.

From them, we acquire burdens and sorrows and are drawn back into a gathering once more, ready to share these burdens and lay them at the feet of our mighty God. Once more, we take our nourishment – the Living Water, the Bread of Life – and we are again sent outwards to those who wouldn’t hear the Gospel otherwise.

This is the rhythm of Christian life as it ought to be. The great pulse of Hope and Love. It’s the purpose of meeting together and growing and loving, working through difficulty and learning together. Our corporate heartbeat.

Let’s not neglect it, brothers and sisters. The world outside the heart of Christ needs to hear the message of hope and forgiveness in Him. Let’s be diligent to bring it to them…

Dismembered

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:26-27

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately, specifically about one Body – the Body of Christ. Forgive me if I ramble, but it’s been a long week of migraine issues and this is the closest to coherency I can get my thoughts to be!

I suppose the topic is on my mind because of some teens I know and love. Though they have been raised in the Word of God and in the church, here at the very cusp of legal adulthood, these things have fallen out of their routines. Despite the fact this lack of Christian connection has leaked into their language, values, and worldview, at least some of them consider themselves to be Christian.

I find this disconcerting, and part of the reason all goes back to Paul’s most excellent analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. As I’ve thought over all the benefits of belonging to this great Body, I’ve realized how even the difficult parts of church are good.

Now when I say, “the difficult parts,” I really mean “the difficult people,” for it’s by having our feelings hurt that we learn to forgive; by being jealous that we learn our own selfish tendencies; by being overlooked or marginalized or mocked that we learn whether we serve God or ourselves, and so on.

If we are never hurt, how can we be healed? In the Body, interconnected as we are with the other parts, we all learn and are strengthened and heal together, just as a living body does.

But should we decide we love Christ, the Head, but don’t have any real use for His body and so we remove ourselves from it, I have to wonder… is it possible to be thus removed and be a healthy part of the body? Unlikely.

Oh I know church can hurt. I get that; truly I do.

I know people – even Christian people – can be mean and hateful and horrible. I’m as guilty as anyone – perhaps more so – but I also experience sorrow, regret, and repentance when I allow this ugly part of me to show. I’m ashamed when I misrepresent my Lord so.

However, if we remove ourselves from the Body of Christ because it isn’t “working” for us, we are really removing ourselves from the chance to grow or to heal (and don’t get me started on the “working” tangent…). 

I guess the way I am imagining the thing is as a sort of surgical excision. If my left arm were to be removed, could it still be considered a healthy part of my body? Would it continue to be nourished by my blood flow, heal when it is wounded, or be affected by my diet and exercise levels as the rest of my body does? Food for thought…

So while Lone Ranger Boulevard may be the place where you feel the most loving towards your fellow man, remember that Jesus loved the ones who flogged Him and the ones who clamored for His crucifixion. The church is His Body and it’s because He loves it that He doesn’t spare it from every little discomfort. Because not all things that feel bad are bad.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Why not? Because it’s in sharing in suffering as a good soldier of Christ that we can learn some of the most Christ-like lessons of our lives. And that, my friends, is how we grow up and become mature.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Lord God, I pray for my son and for all Believers who have chosen to become disconnected from the Body of Christ for whatever reason. Stir hearts to see the need for Christian community, even with all its flaws and failings. Keep us humble no matter where our place in Your Body is, and teach us to fulfill our given role wholeheartedly, not out of a sense of duty nor for what we get out of it, but out of sheer love and devotion to You, amen.

Analog Interaction in a Digital World

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
(Romans 12:4-5)

Because my time is short, today I hope to give you the nickel version of a topic which deserves much more time. Much more. I want to talk about church membership and why it is important to the believer.

I know, I know, I’ve heard it before. Truth be told, I’ve even said it before: I don’t need the church to worship God. I can worship Him in private. Et cetera.

When I was a young Christian, I believed that with all my heart even though I never did actually stop going to church. But as I’ve walked in some dark and frightening places with the Lord, He has shown me otherwise.

Because, friends, those dark and frightening places were not out there in the world but right here, in my own heart and soul.

I’ve walked with His light shining in the darkness, exposing sin and I’ve learned to call it what it is. My sin. My selfishness and self-protectiveness and approval addiction and other ugly features.

But I’ve no wish to focus on those things today. Many have been dredged up and removed, and while I’m sure there will be many more dead and decaying things dredged up in the future, today I want to focus on the Lord. He is the reason to be a part of a church, because the church is His body.

And you need it. And it needs you.

Friends, here’s the thing. If we are truly the body of Christ, we don’t really get to choose. It’s God who makes the body and He’s the one who gets to decide where the pieces go, what they do, and how they work together to achieve His purposes.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
(1 Corinthians 12:18)

If we take the arrangement of the body into our own hands – even choosing our own part to play – we invite chaos and disaster. In such a case, not only are we taking on the role of the Creator, we are also rebelling against the authority of the Head – a body made of parts with no control center, running amok and doing as they wish without a central purpose or direction.

And if you think of it in those terms, it’s more than a trifle ludicrous.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
(1 Corinthians 12:14-15)

It’s also somewhat mutinous. Just think of your own elbow deciding it would much prefer to digest food than be a hinge. Ew. Or your heart imposing a preference of beating on the outside where all can see his might instead of dutifully thumping away in a cage.

Or what if the heart bore a grudge against his bony housing and decided he would not beat at all as long as the ribs remained in their place? That would not be a healthy body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
(1 Corinthians 12:21)

Aside from that, there’s a simple fact we cannot afford to ignore. It is not in spite of the church’s fault but because of them that we need it.

By learning to be rejected and overlooked, by having our toes stepped on and stepping on the toes of others, by being burnt out or just burnt; in short, by belonging to a group of redeemed sinners in various stages of sanctification, we strive together and grind against one another and wear on one another.

We grow to be more Christlike because we learn to endure mistreatment like Christ. We see how far we are from being Christlike because we are forced to see how we mistreat others. Our pride is exposed and humility begins to take its place as we learn to submit to the Headship of Christ together.

In putting aside jealousy and self-importance, we learn to celebrate others’ success and mourn others’ losses as if they were our own. We become a single Body, living and breathing and worshiping no longer for self but for the eternal glory of our Head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

And as much as I love the blogging community, I also realize the limitations of digital relationships. There’s zero chance of an awkward encounter on the web. We aren’t forced to get through relationship difficulties on the internet; we can just unfriend,  mute, or ignore. Even delete. And we can’t blurt out something accidentally offensive. We have time to read and edit.

That is why in this day and age, we need to foster our face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder relationships, growing together and building one another up in love.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

For more on this topic, check out: Hurt by Church? Me Too. Let’s Chat.

Tuesday Prayer

Somewhat erratically, I have posted a prayer for the Church. Many of these have sprung from prayers for my own local church body, but nearly all are applicable for the wider Church – the Body of Christ which exists worldwide and transcends differences in complexion, language, geography, or any other. So why not post them here? 

Why not, indeed… Let’s shoot for weekly and see what we get. 

Light of the world, You are the only source of true wisdom, revelation, and love. There is no dark side to Your inclinations nor any taint in your purity. You are good and holy and just, compassionate in Your dealings with us and patient to the extreme.

We worship You not only for the incredible works You have done but for who You are. Our God. Our King. You are enough. Your grace is sufficient for us.

Lord, as you know, we live in an age where even reality is called into question – as if there can be multiple realities based on nothing more substantial than the fluctuating mood of capricious beings such as we. In such times, You are the firm foundation which does not change; the solid Rock to which we can cling as the cultural storm rages around us.

But Lord, You are so much more besides.

You are also our Strength so that in You we do not merely cling to a dubious existence, barely getting through. Instead and by Your power at work in and through us, we are more than conquerors, able to thrive even in adversity and live out our trust in You day by day. Because of our salvation, we can even feel joy despite pain and loss.

Your Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to love the unlovely and to forgive those who hurt us in unforgivable ways – because we know we have been loved and forgiven so much more by You.

It is You, also, who gives us the boldness to stand firm on the Word of Truth even when the very idea of absolute truth is unpopular. Not because we are an argumentative and hateful people, Lord. May You forgive us if and when we are!  But instead, by Your Spirit we are a people who love others enough tell them the truth and to answer rejection and even persecution with forgiveness because we realize it is You they are rejecting, not us. And again, You are enough for us.

And we thank You, Lord. We praise Your name for the many prayers You have already answered and the many more You will answer. We thank You for the lost who are saved and for our loved ones whom You will save in time. We praise You for the healing of broken families and for families You will heal in the future as Your Spirit works in hearts and lives.

We honor You for setting us free from sin and we choose to live as an example to others, daily dying to ourselves so we might live for You.

We long to see Your Kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven, and so we set ourselves to faithful diligence in doing our part to see it done.

We recognize to fully engage our world with the Good News of salvation from sin, we must first engage it within ourselves. Before we lead others to the Gospel, we must believe it enough to live in continual humility, accepting responsibility for our sins and repenting fully – not once only but as a practice in cooperation with You for our sanctification.

And as a body, we hold one another accountable within our church local churches, loving one another with such a balance of grace and truth that our oddity stands out to the world as clearly as a city on a hill in a full blaze of electric lights in the dark of night.

Light of the world, let Your light shine in us as a beacon of hope for the disillusioned, the miscreant, the prodigal, and all who are deceived and lost so they may find their way home to You, amen.