Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unity in Diversity

A man was shipwrecked and he was able to find his way to an island. He lived there alone for ten years. Finally a ship came to his rescue. His rescuers saw three huts that he had constructed and they were puzzled by that. They asked him if he were alone on the island and he answered that he was. Then, “What was this hut used for?” they asked. “I live there.” he replied. “What was the second hut used for?” they asked. “Oh, that’s where I go to church.” was his answer. “And the third?” they queried. “Hmmph! That’s where I used to go to church.”

Working in a variety of churches over the past twelve years has given me a little perspective when it comes to what it means to be part of a church versus what it means to be part of the Church. A church is a local body of believers that meets together to grow spiritually and expand the impact of the Kingdom of God. The Church is the kinship between all these churches. The Church is every believer working towards the same goal. It is referred to “The Bride of Christ” in the Bible. Again and again, unity is stressed. Unity not just within the walls of our faith communities; but encompassing those of others as well.

Jesus said that He would return one day for His Bride. I don’t think He had a harem of churches in mind.

The River will be sharing a joint service this coming Saturday (January 31st) at 6pm with Mosaic Church. Why? Because we are members of one body under Christ. All churches do things differently, but we’ve been given the same Spirit. This will be an opportunity for diversity of form to intersect unity in function. I’m excited about what we’ll learn from each other.

Mosaic Church meets at 102 South Blue Ridge Avenue in Culpeper. Hope to see you there!


Questions to Ponder

When I hear the word “church” what do I think? When I see people from a variety of churches working together, what do I feel? How would the Kingdom of God look like if churches did more stuff together as opposed to separately?

Related Verses

John 13:34-35
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Ephesians 4:1-6
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?
After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Call for Action

I got to actually give Jesus a cup of coffee yesterday.

Yes, Jesus.

You see, for over a year now, I've been giving out coffee to day laborers weekly. You never know what's going to happen as you walk along Business 29 on a weekday morning. Some mornings I get into some great conversations. Other mornings, the only outward transaction is a "Gracias" for the coffee, and a "BendiciĆ³n" for their often fruitless search for employment.

But this is only the outward appearance. There is something else that is given besides a cup of Joe. There is acceptance. There is hope. There is love. Jesus said that whenever we serve another, we have served Him.

But there’s the question; who are these “others”? Are the “others” only people who think, look, and believe like me, or is it possible that they may be different? Are they strangers or friends? Can we relate to them, or do we believe that they're completely foreign to us? Do we avoid or embrace them? Is "all of the above" an answer?

Anyways, as I walk along the road and give out coffee, I sometimes think of what I am trying to accomplish by my actions. Am I making a difference in the lives of these people? How much does a cup of coffee help fight the cold chill of a winter morning? What is God up to with all this anyways?

Over time, I get some answers. I hear of friends who have been spurred on to show love in practical ways in their sphere of influence. I feel the pleasure of God (not for doing good deeds, but rather for obeying His call upon my life).

Yesterday, I saw the hands of a day laborer, raw with wind and cold, trembling as he held a cup that soon filled with steaming coffee.

He asked me in English, “What is your name?”

“Joe,” I replied. “What’s yours?”

“My name is Jesus.”

Who are people that God puts on your mind? Why do you think they come to mind so often? What can you do to show love to these people? What do they need? How can you spur others on towards acts of love and good works?

Hebrews 10:23-25
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Call for Change

I have never gotten a warning from a police officer.

Well, let me restate that. I have a friend of mine on the force that has repeatedly warned me about expired inspection stickers on my previous car (my old car would routinely fail them). My current car is in much better condition than the old “Z” ever was.

So, I got pulled over today. Blue lights in the rear view mirror always make my innards quiver. The officer politely asked if the car was mine, then if I was aware that my inspection sticker had expired fourteen days ago. I lamely replied yes, I was going to do it, but didn’t get around to it. He got my info, and then gave me my court date and ticket.

I was stopped just a hundred yards from my office. I was planning on heading there so that I could finish writing this blog. God, apparently, had other plans. I went straight to my regular inspection station and got it inspected (it passed). I didn’t want to chance getting pulled over AGAIN.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I feel better. I was PLANNING on getting my car inspected, but until I did, I was a veritable ticket-magnet.

When we think of repentance, sometimes we think that it entails feeling guilty or punishing ourselves. It brings to mind self-flagellating monks and dragging up “dirty sins” (as opposed to “somewhat unclean” ones). But it’s neither. Repentance is about turning away and turning toward. It’s about action, not mere sentiment.

The Bible speaks often about repentance. God repeatedly call us to turn away from actions which only end up hurting us and others. He doesn’t call us to beat up ourselves. He doesn’t call us to feel a certain way. He calls us to change. Real change isn’t sentimental, it brings out tangible results.

When we change the direction of our lives from destructive habits towards selfless acts of devotion towards God and man, we begin to experience what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke about God establishing His presence, His purpose here on earth as we waited for His return. The Kingdom was to be realized through the Church and His presence and purpose would become tangible through His followers as they lived out a life of compassion and truth.

But, we constantly screw up.

The beautiful thing about this Kingdom is that it is open to screw-ups. People who fail again and again, but never give up. People who believe that God can change them and can change the lives of those around them for the better. People who live a lifestyle of repentance.

Ezekiel 18:30-32 is a poignant cry; not from a ruthless judge, but from a devoted parent. “Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign LORD. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live!”

What do we do that only serves to hurt ourselves or others? What excuses do we make for ourselves? What needs to change in our lives? What might our lives look like if we were to turn? How would that affect those around us?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Finger Feels Naked

I lost my wedding ring yesterday. Kathy and I have been married for over six years, so this was quite a shock. I’m not sure when it happened (for all I know, I could have lost it on Monday), but that has not deterred me from retracing my steps and searching EVERYWHERE.

You know you want to find something pretty bad when you stick your hand into the garbage disposal, praying that a freak accident doesn’t turn it on. Or when you approach the counters of every business you’ve visited in the past 24 hours. Or when you circle every parking space you had the day before. Or you dig through garbage cans.

Isn’t it amazing how a little band of metal can spark an all out search effort?

The Bible tells of a similar passion between God and humanity. He never gave up on trying to connect with us. He broke through time and space to call for us, to send us wisdom, to nurture us. He finally sent Himself in human form to tie the knot by dying so that we could live with him. He's committed to us.

I don’t love the piece of jewelry that I lost; I love the commitment it represents. Kathy and I tied our lives together on August 17, 2002, and that band of gold has been a reminder that we love each other through thick and thin, for better or for worse, and in sickness and in health. Communities of faith are to be committed to each other and God. No matter what. This mutual commitment is what “church” is supposed to look like. It’s what churches are supposed to be, no matter the size or denomination. It's why the church is often referred to as "the Bride of Christ".

What are you committed to? What are the benefits of commitment? The challenges? What is a symbol that reminds you of commitment?