Saturday, February 20, 2016

Membership: the Church as Body

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Luke 15:1-7, I Corinthians 12:21-31

In Psalm 139, David sings

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.


Paul corrects the Corinthians Church in this way

Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.   I Co. 6:19

Thinking about the organs of a human body and our passage about the church as body, the appendix is fascinating.   Despite centuries of research, the exact purpose of the appendix is still not certain.  It is sometimes said, perhaps as encourage a person who has had their appendix removed, ‘well, you don’t need that’.  What they really mean to say is “you can survive without it”.  But as Paul reminds us, it is against the rules to say, “we don’t need you”.

There are two examples of complaints that Paul uses in his teaching about the church as body.  The first complaint is “Because I am not”.  An imaginary hand might say “Because I am not an eye, I am not important”.   The second complaint is “I don’t need you” to another member of the body.  Appendix, you aren’t needed.  Begone.

“Because I am not…"
When a part of the body needlessly compares itself to another part in an inappropriate way, it rejects God’s part for them in the body.  How absurd that the stomach demand to see?  The body would die because it wasn’t doing the job it was called to do.

It isn’t inappropriate to see strength in another person and wish to emulate that.  But it isn’t appropriate to compare yourself to another part of Christ’s body when he has called you to your role.  Needlessly comparing yourself draws you away from God, while following God’s purpose for you brings health to the body.

“I don’t need you...”
The Scripture calls us to spur one another on to good deeds, to encourage one another as long as it called today.  Scripture also commands us to take sin and wrongdoing seriously enough to identify it and seek to leave it behind.  But the Scripture does not devalue humanity.  And it is wrong for us to say to another part of Christ’s body:  I don’t need you.

 Perhaps the biggest reason why is this phrase is an affront to God.  God has placed his body together.  So if someone judges a person as not needed, they make this declaration without all of God’s knowledge and will in view. 

Also, there is a finality to the phrase “I don’t need you”.  But the Scripture says that an eye saying to the head ‘I don’t need you’ doesn’t cease to make the head continue to be a head.


What is God showing us through the church as body image?
  1. He has put his Son Jesus Christ in Charge, and Jesus is the head of the body.
  2. God places emphasis on ‘senses’.  The body as a big eye would lose the majesty of the sense of smell.  A big nose would lose out on music.  The body losing their senses is a sick body, not complete, dysfunctional.
  3. God wants his body to awaken to all that God has created it to be.
  4. God has a specific intent for specific parts.  Scripture says that God has put each part exactly where it should be.  His will, not ours.
  5. God looks at the parts of the body uniquely and purposefully.  He has good plans for all the parts of the body.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Are We Supposed to Do?

What are We Supposed to Do?                                            2/7/16

Matthew 13:44-45, Ephesians 4:1-16

Tension is a stretching or pulling-apart force. 

Let’s do an experiment using an everyday object that speaks to the tension force in earth science, as well as our spiritual life together.   (Explanation of Janice VanCleave’s 201 Experiments)

The past few months have uncovered some feelings of tension among church members.  The ones that I hear of are related to financial anxiety, membership changes, declining attendance and the pastor’s handle on these dynamics.   But the simple truth of tension is helpful here.

Tension, when handled with care and skill, does not have to be harmful.  Let’s consider the three outcomes of the balloon experiment.
1.    The tension works negatively, and acts as a pulling apart force.  In this case, the balloon bursts and its life expired.

2.    The tension leaves negative effects…the original drawing is distorted.  You can still see what it was supposed to be, but it can never return to that shape.

3.    The tension works positively…God’s people are stretched and challenged, and out of that comes spiritual growth, as well as a return to the original design.

As I’ve heard of some of the feelings of tension by some members these past few weeks, none of the things sound to me, as something that should lead to the balloon bursting.  I do have concern or wonder about scenario two, that tension harming but not destroying can leave a mark, and distort the purpose for which we were intended.  But I also believe that if you really want to, you can choose to use tension redemptively.  But you need to look at it through the eyes of faith, and Scripture, and the Lord.

For example, tension doesn’t need to lead to anger.  The Scripture says,

“Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19)

Tension does not need to lead to anxiety.  The Scripture says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”  (Philippians 4:6)

Tension does not need to lead to complaining.  The Scripture says,

“Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Philippians 2:14)

Last week, we brought forth the question that all members must ask themselves:  Who is in charge?   The Book of Order (and Scripture, of course) answers this question:  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is in charge.

This week, the question is one church members must also engage:  What are we supposed to do?  The Book of Order, rooted in Scripture, provides the answer.

The Great Ends of the Church

The great ends of the church are

the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of


the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the

     children of God;

the maintenance of divine worship;

the preservation of the truth;

the promotion of social righteousness;

and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the


 Every single event, conversation, meeting, worship gathering, prayer should in some way fit into one of these great ends.  

So I look at Stockton’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner, and to me it is an exhibition to all who eat together that in the kingdom of heaven, we will eat together.  Brothers and sisters in the Lord can start an eternal celebration every time we gather to eat.  Inviting the community in is an invitation to each person to see a different way of life, beyond drudgery and isolation, into community and joy.   And as much as I joke, it isn’t about the pancakes.  And it isn’t about making people busy or worried.  It is about this event showcasing one of the great ends:  we exhibit the kingdom of God to our community.

It is about keeping these great ends on the forefront of our minds.  Why do you go to a meeting at church?  Why are you on a charity board in your neighborhood?  Why do you go to a group discussion or lecture about the dilemmas of our modern world?   All of it, everything done under our name “Christian” should promote one or more of these great ends.

Let us look a bit closer at each theme.

The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
Sometimes people in churches have been in churches so long that they forget.  They forget who they are.  We are not in the church because of our will, or our efforts, or our family history.  We are not in the church to keep a congregation surviving, or in motion, or programs continuing.  None of that.  The church exists in congregational form to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ died on a cross.  He rose from the dead.  He forgives our sins, calls us children of God and grants, through faith in him, eternal life.   That is the gospel.  The gospel is so profound and true and good, that is why we gather.  Let us never forget that.  And let us correct ourselves if we have.  And if we don’t believe, may we repent and believe the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

When we come together, you are invited to see yourself as shelter for someone in their storm, part of the nurture of one another’s spiritual life, and part of a fellowship, a gathering of like minded folk who believe Jesus is Head of the Church, and that he has given us work as well as rest. 

the maintenance of divine worship;

We gather to offer our worth giving to God, the creator of life, to Jesus Christ, Redeemer of creation and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer.  We gather to keep what and who is most important to the cosmos on the forefront.  We gather to give praise and love to God.  Scripture’s view is that this worship should take place at least once a week, as it keeps God first and life in perspective.

the preservation of the truth;

we are also invited to preserve truth, for society and human life, to live and preserve the wisdom from God for a good life, to be people fascinated by the world and existence, by science and beauty and history and mathematics, geography, culture, engineering and invention, art and language.  We are to be people of the truth.

When tension is present, it is very easy to trip up and create a false narrative, whether done out of anxiety, or sloppiness, or trying to create distance…but the truth is, that which is false does not endure.  It can’t.  Truth endures.  So as your pastor, I counsel you to speak with an integrity, and a care that honors what is true, and does not promote that which isn’t accurate, or based on conjecture and not facts, on opinions but not conversation.  Jesus is full of grace and truth.  And we are to be like him.

the promotion of social righteousness;

The church throughout its history has contributed to hospitals, schools, abolition of slavery and racial equality.  It has pushed the question of economic justice and appropriate labor laws.  The church, when showing Jesus, should point to a good life, to goodness itself, to peace and justice.

and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

We point people to Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life.  He said he was these things to his disciples after a conversation that he was going to heaven to prepare a place for them.  You know the way to where I am going, he told his disciples.  Christ is the way, the way to good and everlasting life, to feasting and joy and fellowship with saints throughout the ages, and heavenly creatures yet to be known.

As we walk through the challenges of life, our job is, to the best of our ability, to keep our shape and design, so that when Stockton/Titusville and surrounding neighbors see this congregation, they don’t see a burst balloon, not a balloon stretched too far, and as a result, has lost its shape and design.  But rather, they sees a people who love God, who follow Jesus, and who experience the Holy Spirit, so that even during those times when tension comes, we are shaped for good by God through them.