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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Five Rules for Church – Part 3

3. No mask are worn.

This might be the most difficult of the rules because it means “no hypocrites.”

Mean what you say.

Do what you say you will do.

If you say you are a Christian, act like a Christian. Act like a follower of Christ. Live your life as if Christ is living in you.

Christ is living in you. St. Paul says this in Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It should be easy, then. Jesus Christ lives in me so I should be perfect, right? I don’t have to worry about status or image or any of the other masks that I used to wear.

But it isn’t that easy. Yes, Galatians 2:20 is true. But so is Romans 7:19

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Even though Christ now lives in us, we still sin. It isn’t because Christ’s power is weak, but that we are still not in heaven – the only place there will not be sin. We have the power to overcome sin – which comes from Christ.

But sometimes we put the masks back on. We’re ashamed of the power that sin has over our lives but don’t plug into the power of Christ that lives in us.

We also might put the masks on because we are ashamed of Christ living in us. I know that sounds bad and will be easy to deny for a Christ-follower.

But it is true sometimes. As a Christian, we know what the right thing to do is – turn off the TV show that glorifies promiscuity with scantily-clothed people. But we don’t. We know that it is the right thing to do to forgive someone who has hurt us. But we don’t. We know that it is the right thing to do to speak well of our neighbor. But we don’t.

These are also masks that we put on – covering up Christ who lives in us.

And wearing masks is tedious . Wearing masks is exhausting. Wearing masks is not fun.

Wearing masks can seem like a better option for us, instead of living the open life of a Christian. The open life of a Christian will draw fire, draw persecution, draw attention to us that we would rather not deal with. Wearing a mask makes you fit in with the crowd, it can be inconspicuous.

But it isn’t real. And we are to live real lives. In the end its the easiest life to live because you don’t have to constantly worry that your mask will slip. Living a real life is living the truth. Wearing a mask is living a lie.

If you are going to live a lie, you have to work hard keeping the lie going and you also have to remember the lie to keep it consistent.

Living the truth means you don’t have to worry about remembering, you simply live.

Church is a place to find rest and refuge. Check your masks at the door. Be yourself and breathe freely again.

Church is place where no masks are allowed. Only people – real people with real feelings. And Christ welcomes you with open arms. And Christians welcome you with open arms.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Five Rules for Church – Part 2

Part 2. No one stands alone.

I’ve always felt it has been important for people to gather together to worship and serve God. And not only me, a lot of people think this and have thought this for a long time.

When I was in seminary, I learned about a man named Walther who, among a lot of other things, said it was important for Christians to find the most orthodox congregation / church they could and be a member there (I’m paraphrasing). For many years as a pastor I focused on the “find” part. But now I think I’m shifting my focus to the “be a member” part.

It isn’t that finding an orthodox church is not important, I think it is. A church needs to be deeply foundational in the Bible, no question about that.

But it is the membership part that catches my attention these days.

God forgives our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But He also desires that we band together as family to support one another, to build each other up, to cry with each other, to rejoice with each other, to learn together, and to work together.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t like to go to church or be members of a church because of all the political fighting, the hypocrites, and the boring worship services. I’ve heard people say that they can worship God out in nature, on the golf course, in the fishing boat, on the hiking trail, even in their own homes.

I won’t argue that God can be found everywhere. I also won’t argue that churches can be difficult places to be at times.

But there’s no getting past the fact that God calls us – after He forgives our sins – to band together as family in congregations.

1 Corinthians 14 says a lot about the building up of the members of a church.

Ephesians 4 tells us about the unity of the church, a direct implication that there is a family aspect to church.

But Hebrews 10:24-26 is the most clear instruction on this. Simply put, we are at war. When Jesus died, He defeated Satan and his power – death and sin. But Satan doesn’t just go away with his tail tucked between his legs. He turns his defeated sights off of Jesus and onto Jesus’ followers. We are at war and there is safety in numbers.

There is no such thing as an “alone” Christian. You are never alone. Of course, God is always with you. But you also have a family to support  you when you are down, to rejoice with you when you are up. You can give to others just as you have been given to.

No one stands alone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Five Rules For Church – Part 1

1. No Irrelevant Teaching.

When I was in seminary I had to take several classes on the history of the Christian Church. In one of these classes I learned about a trend in preaching during the 18th and 19th Centuries that focused less on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and more on social and “practical” subjects such as child-rearing, crop-planting, and the like.

While these are important subjects and God has some things to say about them, they shouldn’t be the main focus of the teaching of the Christian Church.

Central to the teaching of the Christian church is to be the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This teaching is found in the Bible.

In Acts 2:42 it says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

The apostles’ teaching was both the Old Testament (Peter quotes the OT extensively in the sermon that directly precedes this passage) and Jesus’ teaching during the three years they spent with Him.

That also needs to be the basis for our teaching.

Not the end-all-be-all of our teaching. For if we only teach about Jesus’ death and resurrection we are missing many other relevant teachings of Jesus that are part of the life He came to give us.

The death and resurrection of Jesus need to be the centrality of our teaching. Being at the “center” implies a “before and after” or “left and right.” So it should be with our teaching. We need to include – when appropriate – teachings of pre-Gospel Law: that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We also need to include – again, when appropriate – teachings of post-Gospel Law: that we are transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus and can live new lives here and now and in eternity.

“No irrelevant teaching.” The first rule of church.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Five Rules for Church

I know, I know, just what the Church doesn’t need – more rules. But these are really, really good.

These come from a Small Group study called “H2O: A Journey of Faith” produced and distributed by City On A Hill Productions.

1. No irrelevant teaching

2. No one stands alone

3. No masks are worn

4. No part-time worship

5. No perfect people allowed, only changed people.

I’ll post some thoughts about each of these over the next couple of days and I welcome your thoughts as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jesus Died and Rose For Me?

In Max Lucado’s 3:16, at one point he recommends that the reader substitute his or her name for “the world” in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s a great feeling to know that Jesus Christ died and rose to save me from my sins.

But did He really die and rise again to save me?

I once heard a saying, or it might have been on a greeting card or some such thing, that even if I was the only sinner in the world, Jesus still would have died to save me from my sins.

Ok, I understand the sentiment. God loves on intimate levels, as St. Paul uses the illustration of marriage to show Christ’s love for the Church.

But on this Easter Sunday I would like to bring our attention to something that is said quite a bit in the New Testament.

Christ died for all. Christ died for a lot of people. Christ died for a group, a multitude, a plurality.

Consider these quotations from the New Testament (English Standard Version):

Romans 5:6
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5:8
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 6:10
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

I emphasized the plural words that illustrate what I’m saying.

Yes, there are two verses - Romans 14:15 & 1 Corinthians 8:11 that both mention that Christ died for a person, but I think they also imply that Christ died for more than just one person.

My point is that in an individualistic society, it is not always helpful to emphasize the love of God

for an individual to the exclusion of God’s pluralistic love for all the world.

Let me put that another way. The Church of Christ is not made up of one person. It is not about individuals. It is about a community of believers.

God so love the world. (John 3:16)

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

He came not to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47)

This is why I emphasize the family aspect of church. This is what I love about my church. It is a family.

A family that Jesus Christ died and rose for.

Yes, Jesus died and rose for me. But Jesus also died and rose for you, and your neighbor, and the people you work with, play with, commute with.

Jesus died and rose for the world. And He offers the precious gift of eternal life to all.

Happy Easter!

©2009 True Men Ministries

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can You Trust God?

The first question I need you to answer for yourself is “Do I want to trust God?” I think we have to start there because if you don’t want to trust God, we need to take a different approach to get to the answer of the question “Can I trust God.” If you aren’t interested in trusting God – then we need to talk about why that is, why don’t you want to trust God? Did something happen to you that caused you to turn your back on God? Or maybe you don’t believe in God at all – which is a possibility. Many people don’t. But if you are reading this right now, I find it extremely interesting that while you don’t believe in God, you are reading this and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to learn more about why. I hope you’ll talk to me, and I invite you to do so, I’m ready and willing to listen.

For you who answers the question, “Do I want to trust God?” with “yes,” let me say this. You are not alone. I want to trust God, and there are other people around you also want to trust God. The big question is, “How?” How can we trust God, especially after going through a painful, personal tragedy.

It’s all well and good to say, “put your trust in the LORD” (Psalm 4:5), “O my God, in you I put my trust” (Psalm 25:2), “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). That’s what the Bible says, but that just tells us we should, not how.

The “how” is found in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus trusted God completely, in good times and in bad times. As we have faith in Christ, he now lives in us, so we have the ability to trust in God as well. Jesus, who lives in us, knows what it is like to suffer pain, and personal tragedy. His experience and his ability to trust in God, no matter what the circumstances, is now living in us.

And yet, life is hard. Life is pain. Life is tragedy.

Things happen for a reason. You throw a ball into the air, it will come back down. You drink a lot of water, and you’ll have to go to the bathroom. This is true for everything. If this statement is true, “God is in control,” then there is nothing that is reason-less, or senseless,

Everything has a reason – that is true, in my experience. Every reason can be understood – that is not true, in my experience and most likely in yours as well.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the Sunday before He died – what Christians call Palm Sunday – there was a reason. His followers didn’t know what it was at the time, but that didn’t change the fact that there was a reason. It was only later – after Jesus died and rose again, that His followers began to see the reasons for why things were happening. The two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus the afternoon of His resurrection were the first to experience this. And there is where we find our how.

How do we trust God? By going through the Bible and reading and meditating and praying about the love God has for us.

Bad things happen, that’s true. But God is in control and will use all the things that happen to us for our good.

©2009 True Men Ministries

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