Archive for November, 2009

Need Church?

Is the church really necessary for a follower of Jesus?  Can we not simply follow Jesus on our own?  I’m told that Winston Churchill said he related to the church like a flying buttress: he supported it from the outside.  “But, I get nothing out of church,” is the often heard refrain. Add to this the fact that some of us have been burned in churches.  We’ve been betrayed in relationships at church, and hurt there.   Philip Yancey asks,  The church: why bother? C. S. Lewis struggled with being a part of the church, and he found great difficulty worshiping there.  He remarked:

I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth rate poems set to sixth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it…. I realized that the hymns were nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

Going to church swept Lewis into a community he could see he needed. He confessed his own conceit and need to be with others who could put him and his life into perspective.  This is one of many reasons Jesus told his followers to gather together, to share their lives with each other, and not to live solitary.  Researchers tell us that loneliness is an American epidemic.  Modern life has not drawn people together, but instead has fragmented our communities and even our families.  We desperately need community.  But, this isn’t the only reason we need the church.  We were created by God for community.  God, who himself lives in the community of the Trinity, made us in his image.  He made us for himself, and for each other. As flawed as the church may be, what God tells us is that we need his community to be whole.

He tells us that the church provides us with a sense of identity as the people of God.  The way we identify with him is by being part of his church.

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2

Now through Christ we have an identity.  We are now a people together!

Receiving the Gift

This past year I had an unusual visitor to my office. As the woman was ushered in to see me, I could immediately tell that she was emotionally spent, and deeply touched by something that had happened to her. She was devoting much of their energy to hold back her tears. Her story seemed to rush out with a mixture of awe and excitement. She explained that her twenty-something son had been involved in a life-threatening auto accident. His car had been totaled, and arriving on the scene the EMTs assumed the worse. Beyond anyone’s wildest expectation, the young man walked away from the wreckage without a scratch to show for it. This woman had not understood the seriousness of her son’s situation until a police officer stopped by their house the following day. He’d seen accident the day before and came to the house to tell this young man that his survival was a miracle. (How often does a police officer do this?)

Now this young man’s mother was in my office. I asked her why she’d come. She said: I don’t know why I am here, but I know I must do something. Her heart was welling up with gratitude, but she had no idea what to do with it. She knew she needed to express it, but where and to whom? Thanksgiving can only be given in two ways: as an obligation or as an opportunity. We may feel when something miraculous happens to us that we have an obligation to thank God for it. Like the woman who came to see me, we know we are indebted. We know something is required. But, do we also see gratitude as an opportunity? Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that one day ten lepers approached Jesus to beg for healing. Their future could only be described as hopeless and shameful. Jesus sent them away with his miraculous healing blessing, but Luke tells us that only one of these healed lepers returned to thank Jesus. Jesus says to this man:

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus explains to this man that his act of returning to Jesus to give thanks completed the gift. It was this man’s opportunity to connect the dots in his life, to remember the gift of health he’d received, and to acknowledge what had been done for him. Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us, and opportunity to return to the scene of the gift, to bring a word of gratitude to the giver, and to complete the joy of receiving the gift as well.

May you seize the opportunity of this thanksgiving to seize the joy of the gifts God has given to you.

Dedicating Renovated Sanctuary

The book of Exodus tells us that God commanded his people to build a place of worship.  He wanted to be with his people and so it was necessary to provide a place where God could meet with them.  In the beginning it was simply called the “Tent of Meeting” or the Tabernacle.  God gave his people very clear and detailed instructions about the way he wanted it built.  When the Tabernacle was completed, Moses held a dedication service.  The problem was that he couldn’t finish the work of dedicating it.  He couldn’t even go inside.  Why? The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle leaving no room for him to enter.  This made it clear that the Lord would be with them.  It was also proof of the Lord’s approval of the project.  It was as if the Lord said, “Well done.

Many times I have wondered: How will we be able to hear the Lord’s “Well done” to us?  We can’t have assurance from how beautiful the building is, or the quality of construction, although we want the room to point to the excellence of God. We need to know that this project is for God and not for us.  (Although God wants us to enjoy the place where we come to worship him.)   Of course, I would love to see the glory of the Lord settle on the newly refurbished sanctuary signaling God’s presence and approval.  So, how shall we know?

We can only give to God our hearts and actions.  All sacrifices come from the heart. Even though our sacrifices are never perfect, God knows our hearts when we come to him.  We can show this by the way we worship, full-hearted, and directed toward him with gratitude for his love toward us in Christ.  I also think we can also know by our use of the beautiful place he has given to us.  What will we do here?  Is his love shared, his word preached, his mercy extended, his welcome offered, his family unified, his name glorified, his face sought, his mission joined, his world loved, his son exalted?  Will we do these things here for his sake and out of our joy in and love for him?  If so, I believe that we will all see the glory of the Lord here.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

Lord, let your glory fall.