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My Spoiled Dog

I got my wife a dog a couple years ago.  Our dog, like many others, has become like family.  To be frank she is spoiled.  She is 8 lbs and has a funny personality.  Because of this we allow her to get away with almost anything.  She sleeps in people beds, she lounges on the couches all day long, she jumps at everyone’s leg, because she knows we will eventually pick her up.  Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed about the way we treat our dog.  Caesar Millan would be ashamed of this “pack leader.”

There is however one line we will not cross with our dog.  She does not beg for food at the dinner table.  She knows better than to jump up on laps, beg at our feet or even allow herself to be seen during dinner.  It’s not that we don’t give her a special treat of people food from time to time, though we probably shouldn’t.  Rather, it’s that our dog knows she only gets the leftovers.  In the event that there is a rib bone, some fatty portions, or leftover veggies, she may find some of these in her bowl after the family has had their fill.  She never has and never will have a place at the table.

Giving God Our Scraps

As I think about my dog, I wonder if at times I haven’t treated God like my dog.  Not that I have spoiled God.   Far from it.   But have I been giving God my scraps?

The Bible speaks of giving God our first fruits:

 (9) Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; (10) then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)

The firstfruits mentioned here, are the very best of the things God has given me.  The best of my food, resources, time and talents.  It pierces my heart with conviction as I think of the times when I have refused God a place at my table.  A table I willingly admit that He has covered with good things.  I have said in my heart, “Lord I will give you whatever hits the floor.”  Whatever leftover finances, time, energy, strength, attention.  I will scrape the leftovers in the bowl.

The First Church of Leftovers

As a pastor I am often saddened by the inability of God’s people to recognize the problem with this attitude.  I have too often seen God’s people offer their hand-me-downs to God and not bring the firstfruits of their resources, finances, time and talents to His service.  If I have time, if I have some extra left over, if nothing more important comes up.  I wonder what God thinks when we have flat panel TV’s and new carpets in our homes while our church buildings lack the resources to accomplish his mission.  I wonder how it makes God feel when we push our time into our jobs, our families, our vacation plans, but neglect to give any of our best energy to reaching out, loving our neighbors and having an impact on the world.  God is gracious and abounding in mercy, but I can’t imagine He wells up with the words, “Well done my good and faithful servants.”

God’s Place at The Table

My wife honors me at our dinner table every night.  She informs the whole family that I get the first choice of the portions at the dinner table.  The best looking cut of meat is mine to choose or refuse.  I love that my wife honors me in this, not because I want the best piece of food, but because it informs everyone else at the table that I am most important to her.

What would it look like to give God a spot at your table and to honor Him with the first of your resources, finances, time and energy?  What would that do for your relationship with Him?  What would it say to others who would see you honor Him in this way?

Perhaps it would affirm the words we as Christian’s so readily proclaim.

“Jesus Christ is Lord.”

 One year for my birthday I received a gift from my brother. It was a NASCAR computer game, complete with a USB controller. It was my first real computer game beyond the standard solitaire loaded on every Windows PC. The graphics on the box looked incredible and I could hardly wait to get it loaded and start doing laps at Daytona Speedway. My visions of beating Jeff Gordon in the points race were shattered when I realized my machine did not meet the necessary requirements to install and run the game. To my wife’s delight, I had no choice but to head to the computer store and purchase a new graphics card for our PC so I could fulfill my dreams of chugging milk at Indianapolis. Without the minimum necessary requirements, I was never going to be able to use the gift that was given to me.

I have come to realize that faith is a lot like that computer game. If a Christian is to have faith working in their life, there are certain requirements for getting the most out of a relationship with God. Here are three requirements I found in my studies of the scriptures.

Crown Him

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)

The first requirement is to crown Him as King. This is a most elementary understanding of Christian faith and yet so often overlooked. If Jesus has the name that is above every name, then that means His name is above mine. Working in the mail room of a law firm in college I learned that the person in charge has his name listed before everyone else. Do you live like Jesus’ Name is above your name? Every Christian who has studied the scriptures knows that Jesus is King. The sentence written on His cross was that He is King (Luke 23:38). If you are going to accept Jesus as Lord, then you have to accept him as Lord of your life. This means He is Lord of your finances, relationships, career, schedule and family. Have you crowned Jesus? Or is your name still above His? Until He is at the top your faith won’t amount to much.

Imitate Him

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 2:6 (ESV)

Along with making Jesus our King, we also have to make Him our role model. Christians today are called just like the first 12 disciples in the first century. Jesus calls out “follow me,” and he expects us to follow. To follow means to do the things Jesus did. He laid down his life for others, fed the hungry, healed the sick, spoke to the outcasts and encouraged those who were troubled. Jesus gave a clear example that is meant to be followed. The first Christians followed Him literally! They went to wedding parties, travelled on foot, travelled by boat, ate meals and watched him interact with the teachers of the Law. They saw how he acted and reacted, they watched him in the synagogue and in his daily interactions. They did this because they wanted to be like him. We should follow His example today for the same reasons. There were those in the first century that believed in him because of what he could give them, but these didn’t follow long. Only those that truly wanted to be like him followed him to the end of their days.

Glorify Him

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV)

You don’t have to be around someone for very long to learn whats most important to them. Jesus said that “out of the mouth the heart pours forth speech.” We talk about the things most important to us. When we have faith in Jesus that means our mouths should testify to His goodness and presence in our lives. The Christian who puts his whole trust in Jesus can’t help but testify to what Jesus has done in their life. This doesn’t mean we have to only talk about our faith all the time, but it does mean He will come up when we talk about our hopes, fears, struggles and celebrations. When Tim Tebow became an unexpected star for the Denver Broncos, there was controversy over how outspoken he was with his faith. Some affirmed him and said it was good that he took the opportunity to profess Jesus, while others said he went a bit over the top. Regardless of how you feel about Tebow, the sad reality in our day is that too few are willing to profess their faith in a day when simply having faith seems to be considered an offence. If Jesus is Lord, you will at some point be faced with the choice of giving him the credit for your life, or keeping it all to yourself.

 

Knowing the Requirements

The power of faith can only be realized with the necessary requirements. Sadly some people pull faith out of the box and attempt to live a life of faith without considering what all it implies to be in Christ. Some set their faith aside when it doesn’t seem to work and never recognize why they haven’t entered the abundant life that Jesus promised. They didn’t have software in the first century, but Jesus did touch on this subject. In Luke 14:28 He asked who would start building a tower without considering all the materials necessary to complete it. Today he might have said, who hasn’t looked to see the minimum requirements on a software box? If you don’t meet the requirements for following Him, you aren’t gonna get very far.

You definitely won’t be chugging milk at Indianapolis.

 

October 31st is here again and many Christians will be considering whether or not participating in the “Trick or Treat“ tradition is an acceptable activity for our families. Can Christians engage in an activity with questionable roots?

 

History of Halloween

A quick view of Wikipedia shows the tradition of Halloween is a bit less cut and dry as some would think. The term we use for the festival is actually a Christian term. “All Hallows Eve” was the name given to the Christian tradition of the eve before “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day.” A time when Christians would share in the baking of treats and children would go door to door to receive from their neighbors.

North American Halloween as it is celebrated today didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1930’s. This was partly due to the fact the the holiday had been a Catholic tradition that was rejected by the Protestant Reformers as it had many references to doctrine of purgatory.

 

There was a holiday among Celtic pagans called Samhain, or “summers end” that many today feel is the origin of our current Halloween celebrations, but others suspect it comes from an earlier Roman holiday called Parentalia or “festival of the dead.”

 

Halloween Today

If you asked one of your neighbors to describe what Halloween is, they would likely tell you it is a time when children dress up in costumes, go door-to-door and collect candy and other treats from their neighbors. Most would not say it was a day the dead arose, played mischief and went to heaven on November 1st. They would likely have no inclination to pray for their loved ones in purgatory, honor a pagan god or sacrifice an animal. Most consider what candy or treat the kids will appreciate and look forward to seeing little ones at the door that each year get a little taller.

Sadly, for most it will be the only time they open their door to any of their neighbors, and may be the only time all year that they share anything that isn’t designed to get them a tax deduction.

 

Receive, Reject or Redeem?
As Christians we face a decision when it comes to Halloween. Paul dealt with a similar cultural circumstance when it came to food sacrificed to idols. His words guide us through these tricky waters and give us three directions we could possibly go with Halloween.

 

1. Receive

We can receive it just the way it is, and fully participate as one who is thankful for the community God has given and the opportunity to share with neighbors.

 

  • If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (31) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:30-31 (ESV)

 

2. Reject

Our second option is to reject it on the basis of conscience, though I would argue few have the grounds to do so. Paul argues that we should not partake in what we view as sinful behavior.

 

  • However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (8) Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (9) But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (10) For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?

1 Corinthians 8:7-10 (ESV)

 

There were some Christians who were eating anything that was served to them because they knew ultimately there is only one God and we should see every good thing as a gift from Him. Along with these Christians there were also Christians who had been heavily involved in idol worship and could not eat food without being swept back into their idolatry. Paul told these Christians that they should abstain from eating if it caused them to fall back into past sin.

The question the Christian who rejects Halloween must ask is, “What ‘former association’ with Halloween do you have that would lead you to sin?”
It would be slim to none of us that would have an association with occult, memories of animal sacrifice on Halloween night, or nights spent with the coven. I would grant their maybe some, but the vast majority have no context for sinful idolatry on Halloween.

 

3.Redeem

The third option we have is to move beyond receiving Halloween and actually redeem it for His glory. Check your history and you will find that pagan holidays that once were dedicated to idols now stand in our Christian calendars as redeemed celebrations. Anyone who has looked at a commentary on Luke 2 knows that Jesus’ birth was not in December.

We should look for every opportunity to share the light (Matthew 5:15). Paul describes his position on cultural traditions in 1 Corinthians 9.

  • To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (22) To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (23) I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:21-23 (ESV)

 

Paul saw cultural opportunities and did his best to make the most of them. He engaged in philosophy on Mars Hill and even quoted pagan literature to draw the Athenians toward Christ. (Acts 17)

Halloween is an opportunity for us to bless our neighbors and allow them to bless us. It is a time when we can drop candy in bags along with tracts, invitations to church or pocket New Testaments. It’s a time when we can open our church doors and have fun and games for the children in our neighborhood and allow them to feel comfortable enough to come on Sunday morning.

 

 

Dressed as Pharisee’s

As I was shopping for costumes for our kids this year, I discovered over 75% of the costumes on the racks weren’t ghosts and goblins or vampires and devils. They were princesses, superheroes, doctors and firemen. They weren’t outfits you would expect on the night of evil some make Halloween out to be.

In the scriptures there was only one costume Jesus ever criticized and it was not a pagan one.

  • “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,(5)They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,(6)and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues(7)and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Matthew 23:2, 5-7

 

The Pharisee’s tried to differentiate themselves in self-righteous ways rather than follow Christ. Their self-righteousness was defined by what they didn’t do. This is the group Jesus called white washed tombs, which sounds like Halloween, but in truth is the one thing we should fear.

Earthly Appearance

As I take my kids around for candy tonight, there will no doubt be houses that are dark. No decorations, no one answering the door to smiling children and no one sharing the blessing God has given them. I wonder what my unbelieving neighbors think of those living inside. Do they think they are anti-social? Maybe stingy and unwilling to share? Could they be self-righteous abstainers thinking ill of them and their families?
I doubt a one will look at the dark house and get any closer to believing God loves them. None will look and feel shame for what they are doing. None will visit church on Sunday because they feel convicted. They will continue to walk around in the dark on Halloween, just as they do every other night of the year. Lost.

 

A Kingdom of One

It’s all about Jesus.

Or maybe I should say its all aboot Jesus.  I’m still working through my Yankee accent.

As I’ve begun my ministry here in Toronto I find there is much I have learned and much more I will come to learn in the future in regards to culture and perspective here in Canada.  Beyond the Canadian culture there also lies the mosaic of cultures as immigrants from all over the world converge on our great city.  Each of these comes with different historical references, interests, values, and traditions that play a factor in how we relate to each other here in our new Maple Leaf home.

While the work of finding what makes each cultural perspective unique is somewhat challenging, the solution to what brings us all together is rather clear.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal 3:26-29  NIV

It’s clear in God’s word that while we are all created uniquely in ethnicity, nationality, gender, and economic status, those who are in Christ Jesus are one in Him.  We are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17) when we are united under His authority.  Despite the current popular argument, Jesus is a great binder not divider.

The New Testament church gives an amazing picture of cultural walls coming down as churches formed with masters and slaves, rich and poor, men and women, educated and illiterate, famous and ordinary meshed together in the unity of Christ.  The gospel of humility brought all under the same understanding that in Jesus’ Kingdom the rules were turned on their head.  None was viewed as more important than the others but each looked at others as more important than themselves.

Jesus goes far beyond being a focal point of unity along demographic lines; he also unites the spiritually segregated.  There is a clear representation of two different spiritual types in the gospels.  The first group is the outcast group of worldly sinners.  Jesus is repeatedly confronted and criticized for his willingness to associate with such people as tax collectors (Luke 19), drunkards (Luke 7), and prostitutes (Matthew 21) and the spiritually “unclean”.  He offers salvation and healing to those who do not deserve it and seems to target those who deserve it the least.  The gospel in its purest form is always a transformational force among the humble, poor outcasts of society.

While the degenerates of this world are blessed to have opportunity for salvation, God does not close the door to the other spiritual group; the religious.  Let me say that again.  The second spiritual group to hear and receive the gospel is the religious.

Now I know for most this would seem like a disconnected statement.  After all, isn’t Christianity a religion? When we speak of the religions of this world, don’t we usually lump Christianity in with all the other major world religions?  To this I would say yes…and no.  Yes the world does refer to Christianity as just another religion, but I want to challenge you that the church never should.  Let me explain why I believe this to be the case.

First, Jesus didn’t really get along well with religious people.  In fact, when we see the gospel spreading throughout Christ’s ministry, it seems most hindered among the religious.  They are continually arguing over issues of morality and law and never truly hearing what Jesus is saying to them.  In the rare occasion a religious person actually listens to his teaching, it is under the shadow of darkness and away from the religious majority (John 3).

Secondly, the good news goes against everything religion stands for.  When it comes to religion, all religions operate under the same ideology.  There are a certain set of rules or social norms that make one righteous in the eyes of God (and the judgment of other religious people).  If these rules are abided by then one is considered exemplary and elevated to the highest esteem and prominence among the other religious people.  These people who excel at keeping the code are proud of their efforts and tend to look down on others who have yet to get their act together.  Meanwhile, there are those who have not been able to keep the code in an exemplary fashion and therefore feel the judgment of those better than them.  They have been unable to meet the standards that their god has set for them and they feel his disapproval through the attitudes and actions of the others in their religious order.

In Jesus’ day these religious elite were the teachers of the law.  It was the clergy of his day that received from Jesus a message full of rebuke and correction (Luke 11).   Religion at its heart does not produce the essence of the Kingdom which is love, humility, self-denial, sacrifice and perseverance.  Religion produces pride and self righteousness that does not lead to a realization of our dependence upon the grace of God.  Under the light of the gospel, you can see how some have indeed taken the good news of Christ and turned it into just another religion.

In light of these walls of spiritual and earthly separation that Christ has brought down in the Kingdom not of this world, we should be compelled to consider for ourselves the path that leads to unity.  For those of us who have considered our culture, heritage, ethnicity and values superior to others we must follow Jesus into humility (this is rich coming from an American I know, I am chief of sinners).  We must recognize that we are now heirs to a higher culture and kingdom that will never pass away.  A kingdom that is not limited to any one worldly nation.   It is to this Kingdom that our hearts should be faithful so that our forefathers in the faith might look upon us as the fruit of their labour.  We must also take a step towards humility, extending a hand to those who are outcasts, unable to measure up to the standards of this world and desperately longing for the joy we have found. It is for these the gospel has come.  And as for those of us who find ourselves in the self-righteous position of those who opposed the ministry of Christ, we must repent.  We must recognize the good work of Christ in our lives and like Paul consider our religion as rubbish (Philippians 3:8).

Each of us must consider how we must proceed as we follow Christ together.

I was listening to Dennis Miller on the radio yesterday and picked up on an interesting topic of conversation concerning the Christian view of heaven and hell.  He said that the majority of Christians that he knew were good people, but he really couldn’t stand the groups that say those that don’t profess Jesus to be Lord are going to spend the rest of eternity in hell.  I like Dennis and can understand why it seems a little unloving to send a message that really leaves the listener with no choice.  Where is the love in a God that forces you to call him Lord or throws you in the fires of Hell for all eternity?  The message that says “you are all going to hell!” surely isn’t the “good news” talked about in Scripture is it?

I think the problem has arisen through the message some Christian’s send that is not “news” and could no way be considered “good.”  The problem is that we have confused the message we are supposed to be sharing to the world with the message we are supposed to be sharing with the church.  We all need to learn to speak the words of Paul and say “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Cor 5:12)

The problem is that there is no more “good news” left in our message.  We share about a God who is going to either send you to heaven or to hell and it all depends on whether or not you agree to the reality that he died and rose form the dead three days later so that one day on the distant future you will be forgiven of your sins and get to spend an eternity in heaven with this God you don’t know while all your friends here on earth spend their eternity in hell burning like Johnsonville brat’s on the grill for all eternity with no hope of ever receiving relief. 

If you look at Paul’s message in Acts 17 you will see that he mentions nothing of hell to the pagan philosophers of the day.  This message instead brings the good news of God’s unveiling of himself to the Greek people of the day.  It was a message that revealed a God that could be known and walked with through life.  A God who allow sinful man to have relationship with him despite their out and out rebellion towards him.  Finally these men could stop talking about God and begin to talk with God.  Eternity could start now and this was evidenced in the resurrection.  The good news is that heaven has come to earth and all those willing could enter this rest today.

I think this whole heaven and hell thing would be better understood in the answering of this question: “Is this life more like heaven or more like hell?”

Jesus said that hell is a place where there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (Matt 8:12)  Is this something we can relate to, or is it pain we cannot relate to?  Just this week there have been two murderers brought to justice and at each of their sentencing the families who spoke were definitely weeping and gnashing their teeth.  Anyone who has lost a loved one, suffered divorce, been wronged by a friends, been robbed or cheated, suffered loss, etc. has experienced pain and gnashing of teeth. 

For people in these times of life’s troubles, does it not stand to reason that they know more of what hell is like than what heaven is like?  For most people hell is their point of reference.  This is why when Jesus looked at people he saw men and women who were already suffering, not needing to hear another message about suffering. (Matt. 9:36)

What would happen if Christians began to express a message that heaven was coming to earth and that anyone from the most seedy to the purest of us could freely enter?  What would our generation have to say about the good news then?

The Living Church

I read something just recently off of Alan Hirsch’s blog that got my mind buzzing about the way the church is supposed to function.  Those in the Endeavor Family know just how much I talk about the church being an organism and not an organization.  The church is a living thing, as so illustrated in the New Testament by both Jesus and the Apostolic writers.  Each and every part is crucial as defining the whole.  The key to faithful church life is to create an environment where everyone is bringing what they have been given for the benefit of the whole.  Hospitality, compassion and knowledge are all great examples when it comes to the ways in which Jesus gives gifts to his church for the purpose of edifying the whole. 

This concept of swarm theory that Alan points us to is a fascinating view into how God has designed living communities to function as a single group.  Here are some of the rules that ant colonies follow in order to function as a united body:

1. No one is in charge. 

2. High levels of interaction between all individuals is crucial to unity.

3. Individuals all act on local information.

4. No ant sees the big picture.  Even the queen is not “in charge” but only fulfills the function of reproducing more ants.

5. No ant tells any other ant what to do.

6.  All ants obey the same general rules of thumb.

It’s amazing when you consider these types of community systems just how similar they are to the way the New Testament portrays the church.  None of the Apostles view themselves as solely in charge but come together collectivly when it comes to making big decisions as a group.  No one part is viewed as more important than the others and so they all are called to serve in whatever way they can.  It would even appear that none of the Apostles are able to see the big picture of what God is doing but they each serve in the capacity that they are called to.  In this system, obedience is seen as more important than knowledge.  Christ is the head, and it is made clear that he acts as the mind for the body.

What if we were to all approach Kingdom life, like the ant colony?  Each of us acting on what information we have, each of us faithful in following through with what we were created and called to do.  It’s impossible to imagine what God might be doing in our midst. 

Maybe this is the key to each of us “growing up into Christ, who is the head.” 

I came across a two legged dog a few years back and the image will be permanently imbedded in my mind.  It was while I was on a mission trip in Kentucky and the dog belonged to a relative of the family we were helping.  I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of seeing a two legged dog, but it has to be one of the most disturbing sites on the planet.  I’m not talking about a dog that has been helped through the miracles of modern technology.  This dog had no prosthetic replacements, no wheeled assistance.  It had only its front two legs to drag the rest of its body around.  The animal looked to be in terrible pain and several of the gentlemen on the trip were talking of putting the dog down.  The locals warned us against such action as it would be a source of conflict between us and the dog’s owner.  So we were left to watch this pitiful creature struggle to drag itself around the yard and into the shade, across the gravel road and over to get water, writhing in pain the whole way. 

 

As I think back on that trip it occurs to me that the church is a lot like that dog.  It is said that in the church 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  Having worked in the church for the last 10 years I would have to say these figures are accurate.  Most of the people filling chairs and pews out there on a weekly basis see no reason to engage their faith beyond their present efforts (or lack thereof).  In clearer terms, they are consumers of the gospel, of Jesus and His church.  This is in stark contrast to what is told of in the New Testament Church.   There seems to be among the people of the first century church a strong sense of responsibility toward one another.  These early believers meet and pray together daily, they share with anyone who has need, and they all feel a sense of calling to the mission of God’s people.  The glaring question in light of this contrast is, “why don’t we look like that?”

 

I believe the church is in the state it’s in not just because her people will not engage their faith, but because of the way her leaders engage her people.  We have created in the American church, a dependency upon leadership for the most basic of Christian life.  We rely upon our pastors and teachers to rightly interpret the scriptures for us, instead of allowing room for God’s people to discover Christ in the journey.  We depend upon a few to guide, pray, study, listen and then tell all the rest of us what we should be doing.  It is as though we are in a time machine, and we have found ourselves stuck in the middle of the Exodus story, and all of us look to Moses to go and talk to God for us instead of climbing the mountain and seeing Him face to face. 

 

If you don’t believe me just look at some of the examples of the few we have raised up to drag the rest of us along in the wilderness.  We put them on television and radio, and pick up their books to read instead of picking up the scriptures.  For most churches we rely upon them so heavily that without them our churches would quickly dry up and blow away.  The reality of this is seen when one of these men falls to sin and leaves the church in the wake of such poor example.  Often it becomes impossible to see Christ through the veil of their “success” in the church.  Humanity casts a shadow on the divine and we are dragged into the mire of their mistakes.  While not all of our leaders end in this type of tragic fall, these circumstances help us to see the real health of our churches.

 

We cannot simply blame the leadership for the current predicament we find ourselves in.  After all, they are the two legs that have taken it upon themselves to carry us forward, even though this task is a difficult one to say the least.  While they haven’t led us to engage our faith properly, most have laid down their lives in many ways and brought the heart of Christ in their service and teachings, but in order for the church to get back up on all fours, we are going to have to set aside some bad misconceptions we have about faith and life and leadership in the church. 

 

The first issue deals with faith: faith in a Christ who wants to walk with you and work through life’s ups and downs.  Faith and life must walk hand and hand if we want to see improvement in either one.  If faith is left to the Sunday sermon and your worldview, then you are missing out on the Kingdom that Jesus said is at hand.  We all need to shut of the TV preachers, audio sermons and put down the latest Christian best seller and pick up the Words of Life.  Stop reading about the adventures that others are having in their spiritual journey and jump into the journey with Christ today!

 

After we have set aside all the religious goods and services, we have to take serious the call that Jesus has placed on our lives.  I’m not talking about the call to hand out bulletins, serve as a greeter or a children’s ministry volunteer.  I’m not even talking about going on that next mission trip to South America.  We need to take serious Jesus’ call for us to come and die.  To deny ourselves and take up are cross is to adhere to the very basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Our faith is not about improving our lives; it’s about losing our lives!  This is contrary to the tone of most of our teaching today.  While this is not the nicest teaching to hear, Christ is clear that it is through dying daily that we will find life. 

 

After you have taken on a theology of death, you are ready to serve the people of God.  It is clear in the teachings of Paul and the example in the New Testament that God gives gifts to His people for the growth and equipping of everyone in the church.  We see that each of these servant leaders bring something for the benefit of the rest.  Early on in the church men like Stephen are appointed to hand out food to widows, but God gifts him in evangelism and uses his execution to scatter the church throughout the world.  We see everyone leading the rest on toward maturity and no one claiming authority over the rest.  Christ is seen as the ultimate authority in the church and all are willing to subject themselves to the rest out of love.  Just like the first century church, God has given us gifts for the growth and equipping of His church today.  We cannot wait for men to ordain us, but we must engage in the ways in which we are convicted.  The spirit orchestrates the body, the body doesn’t orchestrate itself.  It’s time to engage.  This may mean stepping outside of any known job descriptions.  It may mean being outside of the box.  It looks more like the example of Becky Covert with www.agapeart.org.  She is a young graduate from Bethel, working at Starbucks.  She has been hesitant to enter a career because she is afraid it would restrict her ability to follow through with what she feels called to.   Becky has felt a conviction to help an orphanage in the Philippines through art.  She and several other artists auction their photos, paintings and sculptures to help support the orphanage.  They also travel to the Philippines regularly to minister to the children and teach them art classes.  They return to the states with the art that the children have crafted and they auction off these peices to people who view compassion as the most beautiful art form off all.

 

When I look at lives around me, I am amazed at our inability to see the potential of what God could do in our lives.  It’s time for this dog to jump to its feet and run towards the finish line.  The Kingdom is at hand.  Will you be dragged across the finish line?

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