31 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 31} Prevailing (and giveaway winners!)

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
The Church's One Foundation, verse 3

Today we've come to the end of this series, 31 Days of Loving the Church.  I'm thankful for the chance to think through many things that have been on my heart about church, both the local congregation and the Church universal.
To quickly review, we talked about why we should go to church at all, and how to choose a church.  We explored all kinds of topics that begin with "C":  conflict, community and criticism.  We discussed the importance of the Word and preaching, the sacraments, and how to follow the Spirit.  We took three days to talk about how to leave a church in a way that honors God.  I tried to weave some of my own story into the posts.  I feel so fortunate to have been a part of some great churches over the years; I've been fed, challenged and grown.  There have also been desert years, when I had to grit my teeth through church every. single. Sunday.
Here's what I hope you come away with:  The Church belongs to Christ; she is not a man-made institution.  Jesus loves his church.  She is his bride, and he promises to present her spotless and without blemish when he comes back to make everything right. It may be hard to us to imagine the church without any faults, but that is what Jesus promises.  How can we love Jesus and not love his bride?  How can we honor the Lord and not also seek to honor and protect his beloved? When we love the church, we love what Jesus loves.  
I've had the opportunity to read some great books (okay, skim some great books) and gain insight from wicked smart friends in the midst of all this.  Here's a list:

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
The Church by Edmund Clowney
Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Traditional and Emerging by Jim Belcher and Richard J. Mouw
My husband was a great resource.  Our friend, Jonathan Warren, also took time to suggest things I should read or listen to.  I'm grateful.

Thanks for joining me on this journey!  I hope it has been an encouragement to you; it has been for me.  I've been so glad to hear from old friends, and get to know a few new ones!

And now for the news you've all been waiting for...the winner of the book A Praying Life is...Tricia!  And, just because I really like you all and am so glad you read along, I decided to pick a second name.  Winner number two is Alisa!  Leave me your emails in the comments, ladies, so I can get your books to you.  You're going to love it.  

This is the 31st part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

30 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 30} Heeeere's Johnny

Today's post is from my pastor.  He's also my husband.  I love having my husband for my pastor.  I think he's great.
Hey!  Don't forget to leave a comment today or tomorrow to enter to win a copy of A Praying Life:  Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller.  This book has transformed my prayer life, and I can't wait to send a copy to one of YOU! I will draw a name out of a hat (yes, an actual hat) tomorrow after 8 pm.
Please enjoy these thoughts from my beloved, John Standridge, associate pastor at Christ the King Cambridge.  May you be encouraged to love the church more and more!

The Congregation
It’s not often that a chapter title will give you nearly as much to think about as the actual contents of the chapter itself, but Leslie Newbigin pulls off this rare feet in his excellent book The Gospel in A Pluralist Society.  Toward the end of the book, he has a chapter entitled “The Congregation as the Hermeneutic of the Gospel.”  “Hermeutic” is a $5 word simply meaning “a method of interpretation.”  In other words, the local congregation of the church is the method of interpreting the gospel.  What’s the best way to understand the gospel?  What is the lens you put on that will bring the good news of Jesus Christ into crystalline focus?  According to Newbigin, it’s the congregation of the gospel-preaching local church.

That’s quite a claim.  Most of you reading this blog have been around some of these places.  You might even be a member of one.  You might even have a bit of rap sheet when it comes to the church.  Maybe you’ve checked out churches and have been variously bored, offended, indifferent, or even angry.  You might feel justified in saying, “but the church is such a mess!”  Even if the church isn’t a mess, you might think, “Really?  What’s the big deal?  We show up for a few songs, hear a sermon, maybe have the Lord’s Supper and then we’re off to Chili’s.”

But let’s stick with the assertion: if you want a clear view of the gospel, look at the congregation of a gospel preaching church.  Let me just say, I don’t disagree with your view of the local congregation.  The church can be mess.  At the very least, the church is rarely the place that will dazzle your senses or strain for your attention with all the glitter and glam of Madison Avenue (beware of the church that does that!).  You’ve gotten to know your pastor, and he’s a good enough guy, but you’re starting to wonder if this guy is really the best billboard for piety and wisdom that Christendom has to offer.  You’re getting to know the people, and you’re finding that try as you might, there’s a bunch of them you aren’t that crazy about.  To top it all off, the coffee stinks. 

But there’s the glory.  It’s among this rag-tag collection of people, all of them – from the parents that don’t keep their kids as quiet as you would like during the service, the close talker with the coffee breath, the lady who always sits behind you and sings off-key at the top of her lungs, and the pastor who is batting below .500 on the exciting sermon average – that Jesus delights to dwell.  Augustine put it bluntly, “The Church is a whore…and she’s your mother.”

I read years ago about a phenomenon called ERP – estimated relationship potential.  This describes what nearly every human being does when they come into contact with another human being.  With blinding speed (usually in under 3 seconds), we size people up and make a determination of whether there is any relational potential there.  By the time 3 seconds have passed, our judgment (though unconsciously) is made, and rarely reversed.  The Church gives us the glorious opportunity to reverse those verdicts that the kangaroo court of our sinful souls so easily renders.  In the church, we come to the gathering of the saints (yes, regular old Christians are properly called “saints”) who have been redeemed by Jesus.  They are His and He is theirs.  And we are each other’s. 

In the local congregation the gospel becomes comprehensible because that is the place Jesus promised to show up for sure.  By His presence, the gospel becomes comprehensible because He is praised there.  The gospel comes into view because we gather stripped of any claim to worthiness apart from Christ, all the striving comes to an end, all the credentialing that earns us a place in the esteem of the world falls to the ground with a thud.  We gather as passive receivers, ready to be fed.  We come ready for Jesus to show up, because He promised He would…and He does!  We come singing songs to the only One who deserves all glory, laud and honor.  And we begin to find that we are being changed by the gospel, and by God’s grace we start to think of other people differently.  We push beyond the liking (“like” is just a button on Facebook after all) and are actually freed to love really love people, because we’ve known undeserved love in Christ, and it has worked in a gratitude and a godly sympathy in our hearts that has to propel away from self-concern and protectiveness.  And we are even able to see the world differently.  Our non-Christian friends and neighbors are not an offense to us, but those with whom we have a lot in common.  We remember what it was like to not believe, and consider the grace that created faith in us quite apart from any effort of our own. 

God does this is ways that are more ordinary than we might like to believe.  We ought to quit looking for the glory or the next-best-thing that is being spun out of the Christian-industrial complex, and just look to the local congregation.  Jesus shows up there…and that is a glorious sight indeed.

This is the 30th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

29 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 29} Seek wisdom!

Y'all, it is day 29!  Three more days of the series on loving the church.  I hope to have a guest post tomorrow by someone quite dear to me.  Monday I will wrap things up with a profound and amazing conclusion the likes of you which you have never seen on the interwebs!
Just kidding.  On Monday I will do my best to wrap up some of the main ideas we've discussed in the past month.  Hope my brain can hack it.
Hey, did you know I'm doing the first giveaway ever on my blog?  Leave a comment on the blog between now and Monday, October 31 (otherwise known as the Halloweenie in these parts), and you will be entered to win a copy of one of my favorite books, A Praying Life:  Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. And guys (I know you're out there), it's not a chick book.  It's written by a dude. You might like to read it, too!

Today (Who am I kidding?  It's definitely tonight.) I want to talk about wisdom, and how gaining wisdom leads to maturity.  We can love the church by seeking wisdom in all areas of our lives.  Doing so benefits not only us as individuals, but also benefits the whole church body.
Proverbs 2:6-11 says the following.  I've highlighted the benefits promised from seeking wisdom.
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the ways of his saints.  Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.

Further on in Proverbs 4: 5,7, 12-13, we are exhorted:
Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth...The beginning of wisdom is this:  Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight...When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.  Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

The repetition of the phrases "get wisdom...get insight" leave no doubt as to the importance of these two traits.
With wisdom comes maturity.  And by maturity I don't mean becoming stodgy and boring and old (though I am quite advanced in years in relation to most people in our church...wink, wink).  I mean growing up into the person that Jesus wants you to be right now, in your current stage of life.  I think all of us as believers should seek to become mature in the Lord, no matter our age or life stage.  Don't put off seeking wisdom and maturity.  When I was in college, I used to think, "Well, when I get a job, then I can start to really be a grown-up."  Then it was, "Well, when I get married, then I will be really settled and then I will really start to grow and learn and become wise."
Boy, was my thinking wrong (and also, um...immature)!  God is telling the stories of our lives now, wherever we are, and we must not wait to seek wisdom and get insight.  Don't wait for the perfect job, marriage, promotion, motherhood, or whatever major life stage you think will make your life really begin.  The time for wisdom is now, whether you have just started to trust Christ, or you have known him for years, whether you feel like your life is in limbo, or you are perfectly settled and (maybe a little too) content with your life.

As we consider maturity, two related issues come to mind.  One of them is gossip.  Participating in gossip is most definitely not loving the church.  When we tear others down, we tear down the body.  Our tongues are "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8...sheesh, James!) and we must be careful how we use them.  When in doubt, it is always better to hold your tongue.  How tempting it is to cover up gossip as "sharing prayer requests" or even just saying that "I need to vent".  God is big enough for us to leave certain "prayer requests" unspoken.  And he is certainly big enough to hear our venting!  He can take it.  Let's not impugn the reputation of someone else, no matter how good it makes us feel at the time.  Our words cannot be taken back, and we might lead someone down the same path of gossip.
The other point of maturity that seems to come up frequently is the idea of looking out for the conscience of others.  In the church, we don't all have the same convictions; we are told in Scripture to look out for our brothers and sisters and not cause them to stumble.  In Romans, Paul mentions this in several places:
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (14:19)
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  (15:1-3)
What is permissible for me may not be so for someone with a weaker conscience.  For example, one of my dear college friends for many years had a strong conviction that Christians should never drink alcohol.  While I did not share her conviction, out of love for her and a desire to pursue peace, I did not take the freedom I feel I have in the Lord to drink alcohol (as long as I'm not getting drunk!).  In 1 Corinthians 8, in a discussion about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, Paul says, "Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.   Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
We have great freedom in Christ, but we must not insist on this freedom if it will be a detriment to a brother or sister.  Again, as Paul says, "'All things are lawful for me', but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything." (I Corinthians 6:12)
Even while it is hard to lay down our lives, to give up what we feel are our "rights", we can trust the Lord to give us everything we need.  We can freely honor our weaker brothers and sisters as we trust the Father to take care of all our needs.
Let us love the church today by seeking wisdom and maturity, by guarding our tongues and by giving up our own freedoms to protect our brothers and sisters.
This is the 29th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

28 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 28} A time to plant

Plant a church, that is!  The planting of new churches is near and dear to my heart.  Our denomination highly values starting new neighborhood churches over simply growing existing churches ever larger.  An exciting aspect of living in Boston these days is that more and more churches are being planted, and certainly not only in our denomination.  In the 15 years that we have lived in the area, the number of new churches has taken off (I almost wrote "exploded" but that is probably too strong a word.  We still need more churches in New England!).
In today's post, I pose some questions about church planting to one of my dearest friends and co-workers in the Kingdom.  Meda and her husband launched a church plant a little over a year ago in a town just outside of Boston.  It has been exciting to see the way the Lord has worked through their family to bring the gospel to their new town and neighborhood.  A big thank-you to Meda for taking the time to answer my questions!  She is truly the bomb dot com.  If you feel so led, please pray for their church, Christ the King Newton

1.  Why are you planting a church?  Don't we have enough churches?

This is a great question.  There are enough church buildings in our area, but they tend to be empty! Our hope was to plant a church in an area that was lacking in Bible believing churches. In our city people may commute to work, but they prefer to live their personal life in a smaller vicinity. So, having more, smaller churches is a better model than one or two larger regional churches.  

2.  How does one decide where to plant?

A LOT of PRAYER!!!! We honestly spent months trying to discern where to plant a church.  We would go on prayer walks, talk with neighbors, ask lots of questions, pray, research the existing churches, meet with other pastors, fast, seek the council of our church leadership.  It was a very long process.  In the end we just had to make a decision and trust the Lord.
3.  Are you lone rangers?  Was this just some idea you and your husband had on your own?

Definitely not! As we were trying to discern where to plant, we realized that there were several families that were commuting into our old church from their communities.  However, it was difficult for them to invite neighbors to church because of the distance.  Also, it was difficult to get involved in mid week activities and actually live life together.  So, we were thrilled to have a core group of people who wanted to start a church in their community. My husband and I are definitely not lone rangers, nor do we think that is a healthy configuration for a church.  Our first step was to ask interested families to regularly pray about being involved in the plant.  Then we spent a year as a small group praying and getting to know each other before we started a public, worship service.  We would meet each week to study the Bible, pray and develop what would be the core tenets of our church.
4.  What do you find exciting about church planting?

I really like the intimacy.  It is exciting to see who the Lord will bring each week.  There is a sense of wonder as we see Him grow his church.  I like the tension of "all hands on deck."  It is certainly hard work, but I appreciate that we need everyone every week to conduct our service.  

5.  What do you find scary or intimidating about church planting?

Some of the things that are most exciting are also the most intimidating.  It is a great thing to have everyone working together to conduct the service, but it is difficult when I know our family will be responsible for any loose ends whether it is set-up, clean-up or extra nursery duty.  However, church planting is not our family business.  I long for my kids to want to love and serve the church just as I long for other families to love and serve the church,  not out of obligation but out of gratitude.   I also have to continually remind myself that the church belongs to the Lord.  I am called to serve to the best of my ability, but only He can grow and sustain our body.      

6.  Is there anything you wish people understood more about church planting?

We started our church because there was a need.  It is what we were called to do.  However we are all called to seek out the lost and meet that need with with Gospel.  I am very thankful that our church has been motivated to aggressively plant churches.  I am also thankful that our city has many church planters from many denominations doing the same thing.  Church planting is just one way of loving your neighbor.  It seems imperative for every believer to consider how they will respond to Jesus' commandment to love the Lord and love your neighbor.  

7.  How is being part of a church plant different from being involved in a more established church body?

I think you are more exposed in a church plant.  People take notice if you are there or not there.  While some people like that intimacy, others find it to be intimidating.  In most plants, everything is a work in progress.  The worship team is just starting, the children's ministry is new, we are trying to develop a mercy ministry, we are trying to meet our neighbors----EVERYTHING is fluid.  Sometimes the "newness" can become tiresome.  It is also an amazing chance to start anew and prayerfully consider why we do everything that we do! Also, because there is a dearth of any one age group, it feels more like a family to me.  To other people it may seem lonely.  Some people are looking for a group of peers that are at the same stage.  They want more developed resources and established programs.  

8.  How can believers love the church by knowing more about church planting?

Church plants are not for everyone, BUT the Church is.  We are continually blessed by people in churches all over that are praying for us, sharing resources with us, coming to worship with us! For the first few months, volunteers from other churches taught our children and staffed the nursery so our entire core group could worship together.  That was such a wonderful blessing. We should all be praying for the church more than we do! We need to pray for her growth, for her members, for her leaders.  It is hard to be faithful, in a church plant or in an established church.  We need to pray that we remember and believe the gospel for which the church was established.  Otherwise all we do is futile!

This is the 28th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

27 October 2011

We interrupt this program...and a giveaway!

Hey everyone!  Just wanted to say hey outside of the loving the church posts.  I spoke with a friend today who said he kind of misses the normal posts about the family, the struggles, the recipes.  Oh man, I do, too!  And they will be back, believe you me.  I have loved writing this challenging series, but I also miss just the fun, the beauty, the sharing.  So if you're one of my faithful readers who is just waiting for our regularly scheduled programming, it is just around the corner!

In the spirit of loving you, my readers, I want to give away a book that has meant helped me so much in the last year or two.  I've mentioned it numerous times here.  It is A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller.  This book has is deeply grounded in the gospel and has changed my life in that now I actually pray.  And I want to pray.  I see God answering prayer, and giving me hope for all the prayers for which I do not yet see an answer.  I recommend this book all the time, and would love to give it way.
Leave a comment on this or any post between now and October 31 and you will be entered to win a copy of this book!

Loving the church: {Day 27} Different and the same

Who are your friends at church?  If you're like me (and most people), your friends are people like you.  If you're single, most of your friends are single.  If you're a new mom, you may have many friends who are also new moms.  If you're just out of college, you may gravitate toward people in the same stage of life.  
But I would wager that your church is not filled with people just like you.  In fact, there are most likely many in your church who are different from you in many ways.  They may be significantly different, or just slightly different.  
In the last several weeks, I've referenced the Biblical idea that we in the church are all necessary parts of one body.  The following passage demonstrates how each individual person in the body plays a vital role in making up the whole:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the hand should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less part of the body.  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts if the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor...But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.   I Corinthians 12: 14-26

I love the idea that God has arranged us all in the body as he chose.  We can be certain that he did so carefully, in love, with our gifts and shortcomings in mind.  He has arranged us so that we can function well, benefit each other and glorify him.  I'm so glad that this passage is in the Bible because sometimes church and its people feel so arbitrary.  As in, "How in the world did this bunch [me included] end up together?"  I have found myself at times, when dealing with someone different than I, thinking, "If only this person could be more like me, this would go much better."  Has that ever happened to you? 
Let's think about some of the things that make us different in church.  We are just starting lives on our own, or have been working for decades; we are college-educated or less, or even much more; we are native English-speakers or English language learners; married or single; parents of babies or parents of grown-ups; new believers or mature; white collar professionals or blue-collar workers; Southerners, Northerners, Mid-Westerners; grieving and struggling or rejoicing and resting.  So many aspects of our lives could easily divide us and keep us from each other. 
How do you try to step out from always being around people who are pretty much like you?  Or do you?  Do you need a gentle reminder that all of the people in your church are there by God's design, that you need them, and that they need you?  
Being around people like us is so easy, isn't it?  We like each other and we have things to talk about.  Being around people unlike us is hard.  There are barriers.  Sometimes we don't understand each other.  It can feel awkward, and sometimes we just want to get away, back to somewhere we feel safe.
I want to encourage us to be brave and get to know those in our churches who are not like us.    We need each other; it goes far beyond just a matter of liking each other.  Married guys, the single men need you to hang with them.  Single women, the married ladies need to know you and all you bring to the church.  Older believers, the young people need you to walk with them as they grow and find their way.  Busy professionals, you need the stay-at-home mom and the student.  We are all necessary, chosen by the God of the universe, put here at this time for a purpose.  Doesn't that make you want to get to know somebody?!
Think of all that unites us.  First, we belong to Christ.  We are his people, his sheep, all dependent on him.  We are all needy; not one of us has it all together, despite any appearances to the contrary.  I sometimes find it refreshing to meet someone who hasn't got it together even on the outside, because it really reminds me of our true condition outside of Christ and his grace.  We are all sons and daughters of Adam, born under the curse.  And we are all sons and daughters of God, given the Spirit of sonship and all the full rights of natural-born children.
...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith...There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3: 26, 28-29
All the parts of the body are necessary, important, and deserving of honor.  We can love the church as we learn to know and love all its parts - the ones we naturally want to know, and those that we are more likely to ignore.

This is the 27th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

26 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 26} The Word

As I've touched on the sacraments this past week, I must include the ministry of the Word of God.  I so appreciate that at our church we all stand up for the reading of God's Word.  It is good and right to hear the Word read all together, and to hear it preached.  But have you ever wondered, "But what is the sermon really FOR?  God doesn't need a sermon."  I know that I have gone through seasons when I wasn't sure how to think about the importance of preaching and the Word.
Edmund Clowney's book The Church has been a great resource for me in this series.  Hear what he has to say about preaching in his chapter on the service of worship.

"Public worship addresses God in the presence of his people; it also addresses God's people in the presence of God.  Preaching is not prayer; it is not directed to God, but to God's people and to any who will hear the message.  We have all heard prayers turn into sermons, as though the Lord needed instruction.  Easier to understand is the preacher who interrupts his sermon to pray for grace, or to praise God for the light of his Word.  Both preacher and congregation, however, must be clear as to who is addressing whom.  Preaching is part of worship, not because of a sprinkling of prayers, or by the use of a special 'holy' language, but because both preacher and people know that the Lord is present among them, and addresses  them through his Word.

Because the church is the Lord's assembly, and because the hearing of the Word of God forms and directs the life of the assembly, there can be no spiritual renewal of the church that does not restore the place and power of preaching.  Paul's last charge to Timothy remains the Lord's word to the church in the twenty-first century:
     'In the presence of God and of Jesus Christ...I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction...'(2 Timothy 4:1-4)"
Edmund Clowney, The Church

This is the 26th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

25 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 25} The littles

In yesterday's post about baptism, I mentioned that baptism helps us love children and families.  I don't know about your church, but ours is full of little bitty babies, toddlers and small children.  We've got a few middle and high schoolers (praying for more!).  Whether you are a parent or not, married or single, young or old, we can love the church by loving the little ones among us.  Here are some ways we can love children in the body.
Learn their names.
Engage them in conversation.
Pray for them.
Don't be afraid to be the grown-up.
But also, it's okay to play with them.
Encourage them when you see them doing something good.
Look for the best in them.
Be patient with their childish ways.  Even crying in church.

In particular, I've seen the children in our church loved in these ways:
Take a toddler on a walk after church so the parents can have a undistracted conversation.
Write a note of encouragement to an older child about something you've noticed in him or her.
Ask an older child to volunteer for something.
Take a child on a special date.
Attend a child's sports game.
Hold a fussy baby.
Offer to chase an escaping toddler.
Overlook an offense.
Tell a child you're praying for him or her. 

True story here.  Several years ago, one our children and two of his friends were having a terrible time obeying and respecting their teacher in children's church.  We decided to get our senior pastor involved; he and the teacher decided that the boys should report to Pastor Rick (who is very tall and kind of scary) each Sunday to see how class had gone.  After a few weeks of check-ins, our pastor wrote notes to the boys, encouraging them to lean on Jesus to help them in their struggles. Once it seemed that the guys had turned a corner in their behavior, he took them out to the movies.  How special is that?  I myself felt very cared for in how our pastor loved our boy.  This is just one instance of how our children have been loved by the members of our church.

Let's love the church by considering even the smallest members, remembering how Jesus loved and welcomed them.  To such belongs the kingdom of heaven.

This is the 25th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

24 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 24} Let the little children come

Today I want to talk about baptism.  In our church, we practice pedo-baptism, which means that we baptize babies and small children.  Of course, adults who are just coming to faith, or who have never been baptized, receive the sacrament of baptism, as well.  Here I don't wish to focus on the different views of how and when to baptize (though I will say that I LOVE infant baptism and feel such gratitude for this doctrine).  Rather, I want to explore how our love for the church can grow as we witness and participate in baptism.  In other words, if you are yourself baptized, why does it matter to you when someone else receives baptism on a Sunday morning?
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two sacraments recognized by most Protestant churches (Anglicans, as well as Catholics, recognize seven sacraments).  As such, these two are powerful means of grace in the life of the believer.  I wrote a few days ago about the Lord's Supper, and how we can take hold of all that God offers us in the supper.
Likewise, baptism is a means of grace in our lives.  I'm talking about our own baptisms, but also the baptisms that we witness in church.  Here is what I mean.

Baptism reminds us of our own baptisms.  It's like how married people remember their own wedding vows every time they attend a wedding.  When anyone is baptized at church, we hearken back to the covenant made with God when we ourselves joined the church in baptism.  Martin Luther, when the devil accused him, and he questioned his salvation, is said to have exclaimed, "But I am baptized!"  In this way, we, too, can remember that we are God's children.  He is the one who has called us from death to life; we have died to sin and have been raised to new life in him.  When I see a tiny, helpless baby coming to be baptized, I remember that I, too, am just as helpless save for God's work in my life.  I can only receive, not earn, just as the baby can do nothing to earn God' favor.

Baptism keeps us tied into the life of the church.  At our church, lots of promises are made during a baptism.  First, the parents affirm their child's need for the cleansing blood of Jesus.  They promise many weighty things, such as bringing up the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and striving to the best of their ability to teach and train the child in the ways of the church.  Then, all the members of the church stand up (I love this part).  And our pastor tells the parents to look out at all the people standing there.  And then we all promise that we will do everything we can to assist the parents in keeping those hard promises they just made.  Then we all sing "Jesus love you, this we know, for the Bible tells us so" to the babe. We don't do this for adult baptisms, but I really think we should.  We all need to be reminded all the time, don't we?

Baptism helps us love children and families.  As a congregation, we make very serious promises to families when their children are baptized.  What does this look like?  While not specifically relate to baptism, loving the children of the church goes far in loving their parents, and also in loving the church itself.  I think this deserves a post of its own, so will save more specific ideas for later in the week!

This past Sunday a family dear to us brought their (gorgeous) infant daughter for baptism.  The baby leaned heavily on her mama's shoulder, sound asleep, as they walked on the stage.  I remembered back to this couple's dating days.  Then not dating.  Then dating again, then engagement and wedding.  Longing and longing for a child, and God saying yes to many, many prayers.  I was overcome with emotion to see that perfect baby, still sleeping as she was handed to our pastor, and he said to her, "Because your mom and dad love Jesus, and because Jesus loves little children, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."  What a picture of perfect repose in Christ -- being carried to him while we rest, knowing that we can bring nothing, not even faith, for it is a gift.  And we receive, just as that baby received the water of baptism.

I realize that this discussion may bring up all kinds of questions, such as:
Does baptism mean the baby is saved? (No, but it is not out of the question.  John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb when he heard about the Savior.  Nothing is impossible with God.)
Why didn't you talk much about adults being baptized?  (The bulk of the baptisms in our church are infants and children of believers. But, Lord, haste the day when more and more new converts are coming to be baptized!)
Sprinkling or dunking? (Not in my area of expertise, but I can point you in the right direction if you have questions.)

This is the 24th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

23 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 23} Checking in

How was your day at church?  I hope you met the Lord.  I met the Lord in many ways.  First, I was mean to my kids and reacted badly to their bad behavior.  So I sinned big time, and then got to repent to them and to the Lord.  Gracious children, they forgave me.  But thoughts of all my brokenness and neediness and horrid, ugly sin kept with me.  My enemy was accusing me: "You're the pastor's wife.  What a liar you are.  What can you possibly offer anyone?"  Thank God, the gospel fought off those thoughts, and I was reminded of MY OWN WORDS yesterday:  all I bring to the table are my sin and weakness.  There are no good deeds to bring, for they are but filthy rags.  Then we had a baptism and it was beautiful.  I shed tears of joy as I thought about the couple, their love story, their baby, whom God called into existence and who is now a part of the church.  We heard the Word of God read and preached.  I had a big piece of Jesus, and prayed that he would be everything I need this week.  A great day of real self, real church.
I want to make sure to talk about baptism this week, as we have already talked about the Lord's Supper.  I have a few guest posts up my sleeve, as well.  I'm looking forward to all we will explore.  I can't make any promises, but if you have a topic that you would like to hear about, let me know in the comments.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o'er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food, 
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master's hand
Led through the deathly water,
Repose in Eden land.
"The Church's One Foundation", verses 2 and 6 

This is the 23rd part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

22 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 22} The Supper

Before we all head off to church tomorrow, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the Lord's Supper.  I hope that you will have a chance to take it tomorrow.  
The Lord's Supper never had any special meaning for me until about five years ago.  Until then, I saw it as a mysterious church ritual.  I had a vague sense that I was supposed experience emotion of some kind around the Supper, but I wasn't sure how to achieve it.  Some churches we've been in celebrated the Supper once a month, some every couple of weeks.  I never imagined that I would one day long for the Supper each and every week, and would feel acute sadness if ever I were to miss it.
Several months after our youngest child was born, I experienced a time of depression.  Life was all darkness.  I couldn't pray or get anything from sermons.  I could barely speak about how I felt.  I was weak, so weak, and desperate.  In that season, the Lord's Supper became intensely meaningful to me.  Taking the body and blood of Jesus was all I could do.  I couldn't pray; but I could walk up to the front of the sanctuary and take a piece of bread and a little cup of wine.  I could take Jesus to myself because he was on offer (as our pastor says!).  He freely gives his very life to me, for me, so that I might have more of his life in me.  My weakness is all he requires.  In fact, he was and is most available to me -- and to you -- in the deepest part of the valley.  During the months of depression, I clung to the Lord's Supper for my very life.
Here is something we read from time to time just before taking the Supper together:

Minister: Christ calls the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood.

Congregation: Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that as bread and wine nourish our temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood truly nourish our souls for eternal life. But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit's work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins.
(from Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 79)

As you consider how to love the church, let us begin tomorrow by taking gladly the Lord's Supper together.  Take a big piece of bread; you need a lot of Jesus.  There is plenty to go around.  Take as much as you need for your weakness, your neediness, your wanting, your longing, your sin, your pride, your desperation.  These are all you will bring to the table tomorrow.  In exchange, you will be fed with the Lord himself, fed with food that gives life everlasting, and life for the week ahead.  I pray you will be satisfied in him, that he will meet you tomorrow.  I pray that we would all be desperate, not about our lives or circumstances, but desperate for more Jesus.  Let's look forward in hope as we contemplate our invitation to the great Supper of the Lamb.    

This is the 22nd part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

21 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 21} Friday food for thought

Chuck Colson on the church (as quoted by Ted Kluck in Why We Love the Church):

...there's an organic connection between faith in Christ, and being part of a church.  The relationship is spelled out so beautifully in Ephesians 5.  Just as a husband and wife at the altar become one flesh, you meet Christ at the cross and leave as one with His church.

I've seen much of the world where people could not get together for worship, and I've seen how desperate they were for fellowship, and how desperate they are for teaching and learning.  Church isn't something to be endured, it's something to be entered into joyfully.  Maybe you don't like the sermons, or maybe the music bothered you one Sunday, but those things are trivial compared to the very act of committing yourself to being part of the body of Christ, and participating joyfully.

We live in a therapeutic age where everything is measured by how much I get out of it...we live in an era of rampant individualism.  So in a very individualistic culture, the whole idea of being part of a community is counter cultural.

It's easy to be down on the church, and it's easy to find its faults; but when you become a believer, you are the church. 

I've always resented the phrase, "Where do you go to church?"  I don't go to a church; I'm a member of a church.  You don't ask where somebody "goes" to a country club.  I'm not talking about where you're going, I'm talking about where you plant your flag and say, "This is where I'm a Christian."

What are your thoughts?  Reactions?

This is the 21st part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

20 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 20} If you have to leave 3.0

For the past two days, we've been talking about how to decide when it is okay to leave a church.  I told a little bit of my own story, and talked about how to make this kind of decision.  So what if you (and your spouse, if you have one) prayerfully and humbly come to the conclusion that you need to move on from your current church?  Today I offer some practical things to do which will go a long way toward preserving the peace and purity of Jesus' bride.
Meet with your pastor. Instead of just disappearing, without a word to anyone, make an appointment with your pastor.  If you haven't been in discussion with him yet, he deserves the courtesy of knowing that you will be moving on.  I also think you should gently tell him the reasons why.  Most pastors want to know if there are things about their churches that they need to do better.  Too often we have seen people fall off the map, making it terribly hard for the pastor to extend care, or make sure that everything is okay.  Openness and honesty win the day here. 

Gently let others know of your decision.  Again, please don't let yourself just fall off the map.  It hurts the body when people disappear; it is unsettling and causes suspicion, speculation and sometimes gossip.  We can love the church and respect its members by maintaining gentle honesty and humility.  This leads to my third point.

Resolve to not bad-mouth the church.  This is a hard one, isn't it?  If you're leaving a church, you obviously have reasons for doing so, and they may very well have to do with some negative aspects of the church.  How can we still respect the church as Christ's bride, even while we have not-so-great thoughts about it?  In my mind, we should resolve to either only speak encouraging words about the church, or not speak of it at all.  It would be a terrible thing to cause strife within a body, and it would also be a terrible thing to keep someone from joining a body based solely on your opinion.  This doesn't mean we can't have honest discussions about churches; it does mean that we ought to exercise discretion and wisdom in doing so.

Above all, we must remember how important the church is to Jesus.  It is the visible manifestation of his body, the vehicle for the sacraments and so many means of grace.  We ought to seek not only to preserve it, but to uphold and promote it, as best we can, even when we move from one local body to another.

This is the 20th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.

19 October 2011

Loving the church: {Day 19} If you have to leave 2.0

Yesterday I began to answer a question from a reader (and friend who attended our church before she moved far away!) about when it would be okay to "give up" on a church.  I mentioned a time when John and I really wanted to leave the place we attended (pre-ministry days).
So how did it resolve for us?  Well, we stuck it out for three years.  We had an honest conversation with the pastor about halfway into that time, and expressed our dissatisfaction.  Again, none of our concerns were in and of themselves great reasons to leave; we just wanted to get back to the place we had left.  So, even while our pastor "released" us and made it clear that we could move on without hard feelings, we stuck around for another 18 months.  I think we just had a sense that our time there wasn't really over, for some reason.
How did we know that?  Simply through prayer, and asking God to show us.  Was it always clear and easy?  Not at all.  We questioned much in those months, and didn't actually move on until we both felt a peace about doing so. While the time leading up to the decision seemed fraught with confusion, once the decision was made, a deep peace about it descended on us both.
So, back to the question.  When would it be okay to "give up" on a church?
Clearly, if a church is not teaching the Bible, and does not have gospel-centered preaching, I would strongly consider moving on.  I do think that the church's view and treatment of the Word of God will be reflected throughout the community; it is important to find a church that is faithful to teach the gospel as found in the Scriptures.
I'm not referring here to "interesting" preaching, or "cool" preaching.  Is the preaching faithful to the gospel but kind of boring?  That's okay.  We don't need our ears to be tickled; we need to hear the gospel as much as we possibly can.  
On a less definitive note, I recommend that you pray A LOT before you leave a church.  Get wise counsel from others, either inside or outside that particular congregation.  This must be done with humility and discretion.  Ask God where he would have you.  Ask if you can be of service to the church you wish to leave.  Are you considering leaving for consumerist reasons?  Remember that the church is not a cafeteria, there to serve your changing whims.  More importantly, remember that the church ultimately belongs to Jesus.  He LOVES that church, as dissatisfied as you may be, and he wants to see his church flourish and grow in beauty.
Tomorrow I will wrap up this topic with some ideas on how to leave a church with humility and grace.

This is the 19th part in a series.  Go here to read the series from the beginning.  Go here to read over 700 other 31 Day series on all kinds of topics.