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Archive for the ‘church’ Category

By the way, this is NOT me… 🙂  And they’re (hopefully) kidding…

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Issues of culture, religion, politics and the like are of much interest to me.

This Friday, quite an interesting complex of issues will be focused in one event in which I’ll be taking part.

As a pastor of one of the churches in the Northcote area, I’ve been asked to take part in the ANZAC Day Commemorative Service, where we will (as the brochure will read) commemorate “those who have fallen in service of their Country.” My part in this event –which I will do gladly– will be (and I quote – again from the already printed order of service) to offer a “Call to Worship”, a “Prayer of Remembrance” and a “Benediction”.

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If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

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a perfect church

I think my church just may be perfect…

Seriously!

Well, of course, not ‘perfect’ in the sense that many mean!

Two things, quickly…

First, the pastors and deacons (who make up the church ‘council’) recently went on a prayer retreat together. We had times of discussion, corporate prayer, private prayer, walking, talking and singing during the day. Toward the end of the retreat, we all realised what a remarkable thing we had.

Unity.

Not uniformity, but unity. We are all quite different people with quite different personalities and views on various things. But we experienced genuine unity in spite of these things. It was (and is) wonderful.

Second, a lady that has been attending for a while has recently become a member. In her interview with one of the leaders, she made the comment, ‘I love this church. It’s perfect.’

The leader tried to correct her, but had difficulty.  🙂

Now, I’m not saying we don’t have flaws, and things we need to change at my church, but we have complete – perfect – unity… in Christ…

What a blessing!

-d-

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I won’t embarrass myself, but just know that I could share many stories of times I’ve done things ‘for’ someone and found myself eventually having to apologise and say, “Sorry, I was just trying to help!” However well-intentioned our actions may be, they can be un-helpful or even harmful. Even sincere people can be sincerely wrong.From age 11-18, I spent my summers working for my Dad in construction. I learned a lot about building in those summers, but I also learned about working with a team. When you’re building a house, you have to understand and appreciate the overall process in everything you do. You may have an idea that seems helpful by itself, but in the whole scheme of things can end up being unhelpful. It could make more work for someone else, cause confusion, or a host of other things. For example, I may see that some boards on the roof need cutting. By itself, this is fine for me to do. However, if someone else is already making preparations to do it, then one of us is going to be wasting time. Also, cutting boards on the roof creates saw-dust, which can cause people to lose their footing on the roof. What’s more, there could be a reason that the boards haven’t been cut yet – maybe on this specific house there is another design feature in mind.

Another example; I may notice that a stack of boards are on the other side of the job-site from where they are going to be used. I could save someone a lot of time walking back and forth by moving them closer. There could be several things I’m not considering, though. Maybe the area I would move them to is about to be used for something else. Perhaps moving the boards at all would just confuse the person who was going to be using them, etc.

As you can see, there’s a lot that can go wrong on a job site. Intentions may be good and effort may be expended, but sometimes with distorted results. You could think it was wonderful that you cut a lot of boards, but maybe they were supposed to be cut later or differently. You may feel proud that you solved an apparent board location problem, but maybe that was the best place for them in the long run. Perhaps you can think of similar examples for other environments.

On a job site, these problems can be easy to deal with. In fact, the longer a team works together, the easier they are to deal with. You learn to ask questions and think before you just ‘do’ something. You learn how to see the big picture. You learn to work together.

In church life, however, the things we do are often close to or at the heart of our very identities. The tasks that we perform are marks of our spirituality and if the tasks that I’m doing are thought by others to be contradictory to the big picture, then we feel that our very spirituality has been attacked.

In the same way that simply ‘doing stuff’ on a job-site is not always the right thing, in the church also, simply doing things just because we can doesn’t mean that we always should in view of the big picture. Could it be that sometimes we may be just ‘moving spiritual boards’ around the job-site when we need to be cutting them according to the plan and installing them where they go, etc.?

In the world of construction, corrections have to be made. The workers have to accept it, grow, learn, move on – and most importantly – get to building the right way! At least in some ways, it is no different in the church. We’ve got a job to do. Let’s keep the big picture in mind. Let’s communicate with one another. Let’s not take advice too personally. Let’s grow. Let’s sharpen each other, making us sharper tools in God’s hands. Let’s get on with building for God’s Kingdom.

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The phrases ‘christian life’, ‘spiritual life’, ‘family life’, ‘work life’, ‘prayer life’, ‘devotional life’ and many others are very common. What I’m talking about is our tendency to divide up our lives into bits that don’t blend together or overflow into one another. It’s when the various ‘parts’ of your life have little or no effect on the other ‘parts.’I’d like to (big surprise) focus on the Jesus ‘part’ of our lives. Why? Because I believe that the person of Jesus, with all of the depths of meaning that He embodies, ought to have no small effect on our lives. We should not be able to encounter Him as He truly is and not be shaped, challenged and moulded! How is it that He so often doesn’t have this effect on us?

Among the many things that keep Jesus from having His full effect on us, I wonder if a significant barrier to us being re-worked by Him may be our tendency to (perhaps unintentionally) divide our lives into bits. Here are a few ways that I think we do this…

Spiritual v. un-spiritual
While most of us would agree with the statement that our whole lives are meant to be ‘spiritual’, we still attach a greater spirituality to some parts of our lives than we do to other parts. Activities such as church services, conferences, bible-study and the like are seen to constitute our ‘spiritual life’ while ones like eating, working or driving are ‘just life.’

I think this is deeply problematic. Our entire lives are meant to be ‘spiritual.’ We don’t hop and skip from one spiritual moment to another, instead we are to be continually being filled with God’s Spirit and continually overflowing in service, life and love to God, others and the world. And this continual spirituality isn’t necessarily always dramatic or emotional. I think that some of the most spiritual people in the world live gloriously unspectacular and wondrously normal lives. Our whole lives are spiritual.

Postively positive
Most of us have heard Matt Redman’s song ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ by now, so we’re familiar with the reminder from the story of Job. Praise God in the good and the bad. We agree with this mentally. Fine. That’s great. But why do we still tend to attach greater spirituality to the ‘happy’ moments? Something great happens and someone says, “God is great!” After an exciting worship-singing time someone reports, “God showed up!” I’m thinking that God is always good, and that He hasn’t gone anywhere.

Knowing God with heart, soul, mind and strength means more than just agreeing with theological statements. It has less to do with being the most exited person in a church service.  It has more to do with how you live outside the church service.

God is in this place?
Every Sunday morning, we often hear someone thank God for ‘being with us’ or hear a prayer that God would ‘meet us here.’ I understand the concept of God ‘drawing near’, but when we attach a greater spirituality to our church building on Sunday morning, we’ve taken this too far. I’ve heard people pray before church services for ‘hearts to be changed as people enter the building.’ This a good example of seeing the church building as too important. It’s not that the church building doesn’t matter at all, it’s just that it ought not to matter any more than the rest of God’s creation.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming and had already come that worshipping God wasn’t about being in the right place (Samaria or Jerusalem – see John 4), but about knowing who we worship – God. Spirit and Truth know no boundaries. And in case you’re wondering, the church building is NOT the modern day equivalent of the Temple in Jerusalem. Our bodies are. That, my friends, ought to make us stop and think.

Our lives aren’t the sum of a bunch of parts, but is meant to be entirely spiritual. Paul says that our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God.’ May we live every moment in Him. May Jesus our Lord be truly ‘Lord of all’ in our entire lives. May He reign in us totally and wholly.

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What does the phrase ‘missing church’ mean to you?

Poor attendance? Vacation? Sickness? Sleeping in?

Perhaps we’re all aware of the pressure to ‘make it on Sunday.’ Various methods are employed to encourage people to show up. In some situations, if you don’t show up for a few weeks, you’ll get a phone call from someone who – usually after a bit of small talk – will mention that they ‘haven’t seen you’ for a while.

Before I say any more, let me be very clear about how I feel about Sunday morning. I believe that the followers of Jesus after Pentecost gradually adopted Sunday as a time to meet together. It seems that they called Sunday ‘the Lord’s day.’ I agree with the writer of Hebrews that we shouldn’t forsake the’ assembling of ourselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) I am enthusiastically in support of Sunday meetings so that we can – as the writer of Hebrews instructs precisely before the above passage – ‘stir up love and good works’ and also remember and celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. I aim to always meet on this day and in this way.

While I don’t mind people being encouraged to make meeting on Sunday a priority, I am nervous about the way this is often done. I fear that in our genuine (but possibly unhelpful?) attempts at ‘getting people along,’ we may be in danger of missing the point. For example, I wonder if we can mistakenly assume that a person’s regularity of attendance is an indicator of their walk with God. If they show up regularly, then things must be fine, and if they’ve missed a few weeks, they might be struggling with their faith. I’ve heard such comments many times. All the time, I’m wondering, “Yeah, but what about the people that are regular attendees that might be struggling?”

Sunday Best?
For many, Sunday morning is a great time of catching up with friends, celebrating God in song and receiving useful Bible teaching. But let’s not forget how others can see it. A routine trip to a building, making their way to their seat (if they are greeted, it is impersonal and brief), singing songs that make them feel guilty for not being ‘happy all the day’, sitting through a monologue that doesn’t relate to where they are at but still manages to leave them feeling discouraged about their relationship with God, briefly hanging around afterward in case someone may talk to them or invite them to lunch or something else, and heading to their car wondering how they will motivate themselves to go through the same routine next week. And that is an example of how a Christian may feel. What about someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God?

I’m not suggesting we do away with Sunday mornings. I am suggesting that we work hard to make them as relevant to reality as possible, and that we realise that what we ‘do’ on Sunday morning will never be able to meet all of our needs as the ‘church.’

It seems to me that failing to understand why we meet, combined with a misunderstanding of what ‘church’ is, creates a dangerous situation. Not a small, harmless one, but one that can either contribute to someone being hurt, or someones hurts not being known or cared for. Let me offer some thoughts about these two ingredients.

‘What’ Is The Church?
This is the wrong question to start with. It’s not a question of ‘what’ the church is, but ‘who’ the church is! ‘Church’ is not the building you go to to meet with other Christians, a street address, or a block of time on Sunday. The Church consists of people who recognise Jesus as Lord. This understanding is not new, but we still ask each other the same confused types of questions that reflect the mistaken view of Church, such as “how was ‘church’ this morning” or “where do you go to ‘church’ at?” or “what is your ‘church’ like?” Instead, we should ask, “Who do you church with?” I think it would be a great excercise for us to not call Sunday ‘church.’ I’m not saying make Sunday less important! I’m just suggesting that it might be helpful in reminding us that ‘church’ is not some ‘thing’ that we do on Sunday mornings, but rather it is people who follow Jesus every day of their lives – and people who happen to meet together on Sunday.

Why Do We Meet?
This is a great question, and deserves a great answer. More and more I’m seeing that there is not really any biblical doctrine or instructions for what we are supposed to ‘do’ when we meet. The commands that are given in the New Testament are the kind that we can follow any time, any where. So what do we ‘do’ when we meet? Well, I think Hebrews 10:24-25 provide a nice summary statement.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

This, of course, is just one passage in the New Testament. As you can see, the time, place and style of the meeting is not the point here. It is exhorting each other to love and good works that is called for. We need each other. We really do. If we are to live lives that are counter-cultural, we are going to need help. We’re going to need more than a few songs, a sermon and a cup of coffee.

That is why we must never stop meeting together! That is why our songs must be real, and reflect that life (yes, even the Christian version) is not a smiles-only club. That is why teaching must be more than a Sunday sermon, and must be interpersonal, challenging and sharpening. That is why our relationships must go beyond ‘catching up at church’ and develop to the point where we not only allow others to sharpen us, but we actually look for it. That is why ‘church’ is not a place or a time, but a people. That is why so many Christians are ‘missing church’, but still attend a building and service each week.

May we truly be committed to Christ and to each other.

May we stop expecting all our needs to be met on Sunday.

May we see the difference between the Sunday meeting and church.

May we exhort one another to love and good works.

May we develop our relationships to where we can give and recieve such instruction from each other.

May we stop ‘doing’ and ‘going to’ church, and start ‘being’ the Church.

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