I’ve often described the church as a community. Many churches do. Many churches have it right in there name. This-or-that Community Church.
But, is that really the best description of what we are supposed to be as a church? What does that communicate to the people of our church or the people outside our church? Have we even thought about it?
What is a community? This is the primary definition:
“a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”
Is that what we are? Is the church just a social group, and the only reason we’re together is because we live in the same neighborhood?
What do you think of when you think of community? For me, I think of neighborhoods. I think of the people that live around me. That’s my community. Many of us go to church with people who don’t live anywhere near our community.
Are we just together because of our cultural and historical heritage? Is that all that binds us? Let me challenge you, if that’s the only reason you’re a part of a church, you need to dig a lot deeper. You don’t go to church simply because that’s what your family does. There’s so much more to it than that.
So, what are we? We are family. We may not be related by dna, but we, who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, have the same Father. We have been adopted into His family, and now we are sons and daughters. We have a seat at the table of the King. We have an inheritance. We are co-heirs the the Lord of all creation.
More than that. We were bought with a price. We are joined together by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In that sense, we are all blood relatives. We are bound together by the blood of the lamb. He is the bridegroom and we, all of us joined together are His bride.
It’s still more than that. Because of this love we have received, we are all on the same mission – bringing more people into the family of God. We are called to go out into the people in our communities and live a life that shines before them and share the love of God with them. When was the last time your community passionately tried to get new people into the neighborhood? Usually, the talk is “how do we get that one crazy family out?” But, not in the family of God. We are joined together as family.
Does that sound like a community to you? It doesn’t to me.
“What’s the big deal?”
Well, as a pastor I do a lot of thinking about the state of “the Church” today in our culture. One of the things I dwell on quite a bit is, what has led the church of today to it’s current state? What do I mean?
The church is nothing like it used to be. Gobs and gobs of “regular church attenders” consider themselves a part of their church community even when they only go once a month or less. Commitment levels in church across the country have dropped and continue to do so. Why? Why does it seem that our current church climate is so apathetic about these communities they are a part of?
Well, I think there are probably dozens of reasons. But, this, in my humble opinion, is a big one that is seldom talked about. Reasons tend to include things like busyness of schedules, widely increased sports activity for kids, crazy work schedules, etc. Are those problems? Sure. Is that the biggest problem?
Let me ask you a question: When there is something that is really important to you, how to you approach it? Let me give you an example. For most of us, our families are very important to us. Most of what motivates us in life revolves around our family priorities, agendas and desires. We take vacations to spend time with our family. We hurry home from work to see our family. We save money to care for our family. When a family member is sick, we care for them.
Our families are really important to us, so we approach our families with intentionality, purpose and passion. We make our family the top priority – as we should. Our family purpose changes the way we approach everything in life. Why? Because it’s our family.
Our approach to church used to be quite similar. The example set before us in the New Testament was very much like a family. The “held everything in common” they “shared with anyone as they had a need”, they devoted themselves to fellowship, they ate together daily. They were a family. In fact, I would challenge you to look at the descriptions of the church in the New Testament and see for yourself which word best describes what God did among them: Community or Family?
My church experience growing up was like a family. Everyone knew everyone in the church. We at meals together regularly after Sunday evening service. We visited people in the hospital. We brought food when other families needed it. Other families in our church provided our family with clothes. All of this, by the way, happened without the church leadership having to facilitate it an organize it. Sure they would encourage it and teach about it from time to time. But, it was just how we cared for one another. Why? Because we were family.
When our approach to our church is community, I think it creates some problems.
- In a community, the problems are always someone else’s fault and responsibility. That’s why we have Neighborhood associations and elected officials right? It’s their job to take care of the problems that arise. Isn’t that what they’re paid for? Have you ever heard that kind of talk in a church? I have. Why do we have to visit people in the hospital pastor, isn’t that why we pay you?
- Communities are full of critics. You’ve heard your neighbors complain about this problem or that problem. How many of them ever take initiative to do something to fix the problem? They/you may care, but not enough to act. Or, when the community leaders make a decision we disagree with, we voice our complaints loudly. Our churches are full of critics too. Full of people who like to complain about the things they don’t like but refuse to get involved to solve the problems. We like to voice our complaints, but when challenged to solve the problem, we resist.
- Community isn’t permanent. It used to be. People very rarely moved. Today, people move across town all the time. I’ve known people who moved multiple times a year. Others who move every couple of years. We get bored with a house and with our neighbors, so we decide it’s time to find something new. So we do. And we love it until it gets old too. Church used to be something we committed to for the long haul. Now, many of us change churches more often than we change communities.
I’m sure there are other problems, but these are some of the big ones I’ve noticed.
“Gee, it kind of sounds like you’re being critical.” I guess I am. But, there’s a reason.
In treating the church like a community, we miss out on the majority of the benefits.
I’ve often said, you get out of something what you’re willing to put into it. Over my years in several different churches, we’ve had people leave our church, frustrated that they never really connected with anyone. When we ask the question, “what did you do to try to get to know people”, the answer usually comes, well, “I just didn’t have the time…” or “Isn’t that your job?” In essence, the reason they’re leaving is because they expected others to do the work of getting to know them, but were unwilling to put in the effort to get to know others.
Do you know the people who stick at our churches? They’re the ones that come in and make it their mission to get to know the family. It’s very rare that one of these families will leave the church unless they’re moving out of the area. They get more out of the community because they invest into it.
In other words, they treat their church like a family. They approach church like a family. They see it as something into which they need to invest. It’s not a commodity to be consumed. It’s a family to be committed to.
How are you approaching your church?
Do you feel like you’re not getting anything out of being a part of a church? Is church just something you do once in a while, if there’s nothing better to do? Are you sitting and waiting for someone to twist your arm to be a part of this or that? Or, are you jumping in to the deep end?
We can sit around and blame the church all we want, but in the end we all know, that much of the reason we don’t get anything out of church is because we’re not putting anything in. We want to make continual withdrawals without every making a deposit. We want to be cared for and loved without ever having to care for or love anyone.
Our mindset towards church needs to change. If we can get the right mindset and approach church as a family we are eternally committed to (because we are), it will drastically alter our personal experience of church. It won’t be this outdated thing that people used to do, it will become an extremely relevant and extraordinarily powerful part of our day to day lives.
Will you join me? Will you start to shift the way you think about church? Will you start to see the church family God has placed you in as your literal brothers and sisters in Christ?
If we will, I think the end result will be so compelling to the unbelieving world around us. That was what Jesus said would happen, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” What kind of picture of Jesus have we been painting for the world with the way we approach our church?
Maybe it’s time for a new canvas.
(If you’re looking for a church family to be a part of, we would love to have you join us at SixEight Church!)
Once again, my Facebook feed is full of stories and posts and responses and posts of solidarity. There is another slew of official letters and responses to what’s went on in Charlotte over the weekend. I first heard about it last night on the news because we were with our church family all weekend. And by the way, it was awesome, so is our church family. We are really blessed to be a part of it. If you are longing for a church family, you should come check ours out, because it’s awesome.
Once again, I find myself trying to make sense of it all. But as I thought about it, it’s really simple. Let me explain.
Made In The Image of God.
God made all human being in His image. That’s it. It’s really that simple.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Every single human being is made in God’s image. From the moment they are conceived to the moment they take their last breath, we are stamped with the image of God. There is no argument, if you argue as some point along that way that we aren’t made in God’s image, then you open the door for for devaluing life all along the way. This is a hard line.
We are all made in God’s image. Because of this, every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Does that mean everyone is right about what they believe? No. But, a person’s beliefs do not make them less human. A person’s beliefs, right or wrong, do not dictate being treated in a different way.
This also must be a hard line. Why? If we are allowed to dehumanize people because they believe differently than I do, or than you do, or that popular trends dictate, then we are yet again on a very slippery slope. Who gets to decide which set of beliefs are more primary or important? Is it based on popular opinion or majority votes? If so, we should all be very wary, because there are many things that have been popular throughout human history that we see as egregious today.
All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If we abide by this simple truth, racism in all its various forms is dead. You, my fellow human, are my brother and sister because we are made in the image of the same father.
But then there was the fall.
Adam and Eve chose to rebel against that God who made them in their image. From this point on, murder, pain, grief and yes, racism entered the world. God had set up the perfect existence for us and created a garden for us to live in, where we walked with God. It was the perfect operating system.
But, Adam and Eve (and all of us since), decided we wanted to be our own gods. It wasn’t enough to be made in God’s image, we wanted to God’s power. So, instead of enjoying the world as God created it, we followed the liar into a world of deception. We replaced our Father with the father of lies. The whole foundation of our existence was cracked and began to crumble.
From that point forward (read from Genesis 3 to Genesis 4 and see how quickly things changed) our world was built on guilt, shame, blame shifting and lying. These characteristics drive our world today. And we, apart from God, are trying to create a world that is free of these things. The operating system had been corrupted by the virus of deception.
But, apart from God, we will never be able to.
Without God, we will never be able to truly end racism. Racism is not a person to person problem. Racism is the fruit of a life that is rooted in things other than God. The reason racism is not dead is because we are a fallen people. We rebelled against God. And as long as we are rebelling against the God who made us in His image, we are embracing the virus not the cure.
The virus will never provide the ultimate solution, because the foundation of the virus is deceit. We can do our best to try to legislate racism out of society. We can do our best to stand for unity and shame those who still embrace racism. But, in the end, we are using a fallen system to try to fix what’s broken. We’re using a broken wrench to tighten a broken bolt. We’re using a trojan horse to repair the damage of a worm. Racism isn’t just a behavioral problem, it’s a heart problem.
What do we do?
If we’re going to fix this (and the many other problems with our world), the only real solution is to reformat the hard drive and install a new operating system. We have to wipe the drive and start from scratch.
But, this isn’t something that can be done on a societal level. It can only be done, person by person, heart by heart, life by life. In other words, the solution to the problem of racism is not more laws. The solution is me. The solution is you. More correctly, the solution is the Love of God overwhelming our lives, overpowering the sinful ways in each of us and eradicating our old, broken ways of thinking, acting and living.
The more of us who are radically changed by the love of God, the more we still start to treat one another with dignity and respect.
We can’t expect non-believers to act like believers. It doesn’t work. It’s actually not possible. We can’t live a holy life without the power source that enables us to do so. Apart from God, we can do nothing. With God, nothing is impossible.
What is the solution to racism? Laying down your life and picking up the life God has for you.
But what if I am the target of hatred?
This is hard. While I have been mocked and made fun of plenty in my life, I have never really been treated poorly because of my race. So, I can’t exactly speak from experience. But, I do follow someone who set a pretty perfect example for how we ought to handle being treated poorly.
Jesus set the example for us. What did Jesus teach?
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Matthew 5:43-47
Not only was this Jesus’ teaching, it was his life. How did he respond to persecution? He didn’t set the town on fire. He didn’t riot. He didn’t stir the people he was leading to mount an insurrection. In fact, in the end he was replaced with someone who did when the people chose to release Barabbas instead of Him. He, endured the beating and the ridicule and the cross. And what was his response in the end? Forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
We can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. When we see an unbelieving world acting out in rage and violence like we have seen this weekend, we see a world living out the only thing they know: brokenness. We see a world, veiled in corruption. Their only frame of reference is deception. There is no hope or peace to be found within the confines of this broken and corrupt world we live in.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see the world acting this way. And, we, like Jesus need to learn to respond to this brokenness in the same way Jesus did. We see the world who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And our desire should not be revenge, it should be compassion. Our desire should not be to hurt, wound or murder. It should be a broken heart. They’re not thinking, speaking, seeing or hearing correctly. They don’t know what they’re doing.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
– Romans 12:14
What is our response? Good. Do good. Be good. Live good. It’s kindness and generosity. I understand the desire. We want to lash out in rage over the injustice we see. And we do have a responsibility to stand up for those who are being oppressed. But, we do not have a responsibility to respond with more injustices. We stand and lead the way for forgiveness. We don’t stand for the rights of one human over another. We seek to bring every human together.
Ours, after all, is a ministry or reconciliation.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor. 5:11-21.
Maybe we can all be ambassadors of reconciliation. Not to a political party or other agenda that is driving us. But, ambassadors seeking to see the world reconciled to the God who created them to live in harmony with him and with one another. The only hope for true, long lasting reconciliation is found here.
This is a big one.
Love is one of the biggest driving forces in the world around us. Love may be THE dominant force in the world. It definitely rivals power.
We use the word all the time. We love our family, we love our cars, we love our pets, we love this dessert, we love that movie. We love God and we love the way God loves us.
Do we really have any concept of what love is? Where have we derived our definition for love? Have we allowed the world’s idea, misuse and manipulation of love to affect how we think of love?
How does the world define love?
- “Love is when you don’t seem to know why you’re attracted to a person.”
- “Love is handing someone a loaded gun and believing he won’t pull the trigger.” “Spongebob”
- “If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” – Johnny Depp.
- “We’re all a little weird and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness, and call it love.” – Dr. Seuss
- “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” – Haddaway
But, if the Beatles were right, and, love is all we need, shouldn’t we know what it is? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Is it strongly liking something? What is love?
If love is, “Baby don’t hurt me no more” then most of us don’t really love the people we claim to love the most since the people we most often hurt are the ones closest to us. Therefore, the people we really love the most are the ones we know the least.
If love is finding someone else with the same weirdness as me, then apparently I’m in love with everyone else who hates onions as much as I do.
If love is who I’m falling for next, then I’ve never really loved anyone.
If love is trusting someone won’t hurt me, that’s kind of like Haddaway’s love.
If love is not knowing why you’re attracted to someone, then love is not just merely physical impulses, but it’s stupid.
What then, is love?
To know what love is, we need to go to the one who created it and see how He defines it. We must used God’s definitions to define love. We cannot allow ourselves to veer off course and let our surrounding culture define love? Why, because in my lifetime alone, culture’s definition of love has drastically changed. What used to be love is no longer love. What is now love, didn’t used to be love. It’s a moving target.
But, it’s worse than just a simple moving target that’s hard to stake down. The reason the target is moving is just as concerning as the fact that the target moves. There are many different agendas out in culture who are driving the shifting definition of love. Their desire is not what’s best for you, it’s what’s best for their agenda.
We, not just when it comes to love but in everything, must first seek to know God’s truth. We must allow God to define love for us, and when God’s definition of love stands in stark contrast the culture around us, we must also have the courage to embrace God’s truth. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us. Why? Because God actually has our best interest in His heart for us. He is not trying to use us or manipulate us. His truth is the foundation for the things we long for in life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
Also, God is love. (1 Jn. 4:8) If that is what God is, then wouldn’t He know best how to define it for us?
Ok, seriously, what is love?
The Bible actually has several different words for love.
In the Old Testament we have the words:
Ahab: To have affection for
Chashaq: To cling, to love, delight in, desire, long
Dod: To boil, to love, a love-token, lover, friend, beloved, uncle
Agab: To love sensually, amorousness, inordinate love,
Racham: To fondle, to love, to have compassion, mercy, pity
Agapao: To Love, Deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, dute and propriety. Of the head.
Agape: Affection or benevlonce, dear, love
Thelo: To determine, choose or prefer, be inclined, delight in, to love, to please,
Philadelphia: Brotherly love, kindness. Of the heart. (Other variations of this word, to love your spouse, humane…)
Bigger than we imagined.
All of the words above are translated love in different parts of the bible. Some translations will translate them differently, adding word to help add clarity (which, I personally prefer when they do this but I know others who don’t). So, some things become very important.
1.) When we’re reading our bibles, we need to remember they are translated from a language that is very different than ours. We don’t build words the same way words were built in Greek and Hebrew. In Hebrew, even the individual letters carried their own meaning. When you take the definition of the word and add to it the meanings of the individual letters, you get a much bigger idea.
For instance, the Hebrew word for love is ahava (אהבה), which is made up of three basic Hebrew letters: aleph (א), hey (ה), and vet (ב).
From these three root letters of a-hav-a, we can discover two root words.
The first is hav from the two letters hey (ה) and vet (ב), which means to give. The letter aleph (א) modifies this word making it אהב,which means I give, but ahav is also the Hebrew word for loved. (Jewishmag)
This Hebrew word, therefore, contains this tremendous truth: giving is fundamental to loving. (From: http://free.messianicbible.com/feature/love-and-the-hebrew-language/)
So, we need to do a little deeper digging to help find the meaning of the text. Which word for love is being used? Agape or Phileo? Ahab or Agab?
2.) We cannot use our one, culturally driven definition of love to inform our understanding of what the Bible means with the use of the word Love.
So, what is a biblical definition of love?
One of my favorite bible study resources is bible.org. There is a ton of great material there to help us really understand God’s word to us. So, let’s look at how love is defined there:
Love is the heart-felt affection of the Christian in response to the love God has shown toward us, especially in the gift of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Love is an affection which prompts the Christian to action. Love is first and foremost directed toward God and then toward others in an order of priority: God, family (especially our mate), fellow-believers, our neighbor, and even our enemy. Love subordinates the interests of the lover to the one who is loved. Love inspires our deliberate, diligent, self-sacrificial service to others, which is intended for their good, at our expense. (https://bible.org/seriespage/31-what-thing-called-love-romans-129-13)
Now, we’re getting somewhere. Love is the heart-felt action I have in response to the Love God has shown me through the sending of His son to pay the ransom that sets me free from the prison my sin created. It’s not just a feeling, but it is a feeling. It’s a feeling that leads me to action. What is the action that this feeling leads me to? First, to Love God with everything I am. Then to love others. But that’s not all. If we stop there we stop short of what love really is.
Because, we love in the way God has loved us. How did God love us? Sacrifice. God sacrificed His own son for us. The Son sacrificed his position in Heaven to walk among us. The Son gave his life. God sacrificed for the ones he loved. This is what love is. Love is sacrifice. It is laying down your life for God and others. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.”
While love is partly feeling, love is also deliberate. Love is something I choose to do and I keep on choosing to do. I keep on choosing to love by sacrificing myself because love is also diligent. And I do this, not for what I will get out of this person in return, but at my own expense.
Love is also action. Love is not just a feeling that makes me feel good about myself. That’s what too many of us have done with God’s love. We’ve hoarded it for our own benefit. But, becoming love – becoming God’s love – moves us to action.
The love which God calls for is a holy love, a love which hates sin and loves righteousness. The love God calls for is a sacrificial love. It requires us to subordinate our desires and interests, so that we may serve others selflessly. The love which God calls for is one which looks for long-term rewards rather than short-term pleasure. It endures hardship, suffering, and pain, for the benefit of others and for the service of the King and His pleasure. It is a love which takes risks and which shines forth when others are shrinking back. It is a love which responds to and reflects the love of God for us. (https://bible.org/seriespage/31-what-thing-called-love-romans-129-13)
Love is first received from God before we can truly love another. Until we have been “Rooted and established in Love.” we have no source from which to pour out love on others around us. That was Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
We have to be rooted and established in love to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” that we may be filled to the measure – which means – filled to the full of all the fullness of God. Why would we need to be filled to brim?
So that we have the power to:
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:1-6)
God’s sacrificial love, poured out over us and filling us up to the brim is the power source for the life of love we are called to live. Without this filling of God’s love, all we have is empty religion trying to earn our own salvation and position with God – which is impossible.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. – 1 John 3:16-20.
Love is action. If love is not acting, love has broken down. And when we receive the filling of love that leads us to the feeling of affection for God, which helps us begin to understand the fullness of God’s love, which leads us to the deliberate pursuit of God and diligently living out the commands of God (“15 “If you love me, keep my commands. Jn. 14:15), then we our lives become truth. We aren’t just in alignment with the truth, but we become truth. We are a part of truth. And we are now better able to worship God (“24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jn 4:24)
This, not all the other rubbish the world is hurling our direction, this is what love is.
And, this love is better than life. (Psalm 63)
Most days, if you were to ask me where I was 14 years ago today and what I was doing right now, well, the best response you’d get would probably be some kind of sarcastic response as to the absurdity of your request. Who remembers what happened 14 years ago? If you asked me what happened on this day when I was fourteen, I’d have nothing, maybe I watched re-runs of Happy Days.
Most of the time, we don’t remember such things. Sure, if we see a picture or share a story, it might spark a memory. Facebook is taking care of that for us now though, we won’t need to remember much for too much longer. But, Facebook didn’t exist 14 years ago.
But, this was no ordinary day. This was the day that I married my one true love. And the details of that day stick in my memory. I don’t remember everything, but I remember a lot. I remember rushing to get everything set up. I remember not having all the right parts of my tux. I remember pictures. I remember when I saw you for the first time in the sanctuary. I remember the epic ceremony and how my dad’s scripture reading turned into a sermonette. And I remember some of what he said. I remember Pastor Mike telling our stories. I remember the slideshow and singing you the song I wrote for you. You say I cried, but I don’t remember that. 😉 And I remember saying I do. (You said it too, if I recall.)
There are lots of memories since then too. Far to many to recall here. I remember when I got my first full-time pastoral job and when we bought our first house and got our first dog and had our first baby. I remember going to the symphony in Longview, and how we learned (after we got there) that people don’t dress up for the symphony in Longview. And I remember all the old ladies and their little flashlights looking at the program a couple of hundred times per song and how it seemed like we were surrounded by a bunch of gray-haired fireflies. I remember our one year anniversary, and how we ate the top part of our wedding cake. Which had been frozen for a year. Well, I ate some of it. And, I think it was more than we got on our wedding day.
I remember when we sold our first house and bought our next one, and how a couple of days after we moved it, it got up to 101 degrees inside the house and we were spraying the kids with a spray bottle in the living room because we didn’t have the blinds up yet.
I remember a lot of good things mixed in with some bad things. Good days and bad days. Easy days and hard days. About 5,113 days (counting leap year days). And you only spent 1,095 of those days throwing up while you were pregnant with our four kids.
When they came, everything changed. Our priorities changed. We changed. The way I drove changed – for a while.
And now, we’ve had kids longer than we were together when we didn’t. And we have less time with some of them than we’ve already had with them. They’ve blessed us and stressed us. But, in so many ways, they are us.
What I’m saying in all of this is that every single day with you has been a special day. It may not seem that way. It’s not like I’m overtly romantic or prone to major romantic gestures. And, it’s not like every day is disneyland. Just a lot of normal days. Thousands of them. Of course, normal keeps on changing.
But, isn’t that kind of the point of marriage? Some people think every day is supposed to be like a scene out of the notebook, and there’s a place for that. But, the point is a lifetime of togetherness right? And what is life if not normal.
But, what is normal?
Dictionary.com defines normal as: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. Or serving to establish a standard.
Perhaps normal is the wrong word. Because, day to day life with you has been anything but regular. And, by modern definitions, being with someone for 14 years isn’t all that normal anymore.
But, then again, maybe normal is the right word if we’re using the right definition. “Serving to establish a standard.” Not that we’re super awesome or anything. But, if this was the normal, and more people experienced this kind of normal when it came to being married, then maybe more people would stay married for longer and it would be more normal.
I know there are many who have been married for much longer. Your parents. My parents will be celebrating 50 years in aa little over a week. We’re only 13,140 days or so away from that. But for us, it’s everything. And everyday we add to that is another day of everything. Which is what you are. Everything. To me anyway. And all the days we’ve been together, all the days we’ll be together and this day are all the reasons I wanted a life with you.
So far, it’s been amazing. Perfect? No. But, amazing nonetheless. And if that last 14 have been any indication, the next 14 are going to be even better.
And who knows, we might just be able to set establish a new standard of what this whole married life thing is all about. Happy Anniversary Mrs. Lindner. I love you.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
We have many misconceptions as to what the Gospel is about. Many of us, when we think about the gospel, the first thing that comes to mind is cheesy tracts that try to “share the gospel” through some contrived form. They had their place. They once worked, I don’t think they have much effect anymore. Because of this, we think of the Gospel as the “Four Spiritual Laws.” And images of bridges made of a cross, gaps, short-comings and the sort come to mind.
Sure, we are sinners. Oops. I’m not supposed to say that anymore. I’m supposed to say, we struggle with issues. Truth is, we are sinners.
But, the truth about truth is that, too often, we have only focused on the truth about our human condition and not enough on the truth of what the Gospel produces in us. I am not seeking to minimize the human condition. I acknowledge it. It’s apparent to us all. Apart from God, we can be pretty messed up.
But, what if we started – as believers and followers of Christ, as pastors and church leaders, as influencers – what if we started paying at least equal attention to the fruit this gospel produces in us? What if, instead of spending as much time harping on all the failures and shortcomings we have, we started talking more about what this new life in Christ is supposed to look like?
That’s what I’m trying to do as a pastor. I will not neglect the contribution we made to the crucifixion of Christ. However, I also firmly believe we shouldn’t neglect the new life that Christ died for us to have.
What is this new life? Well, it’s many things. Many joyous things. My hope, as I write of these things is to call you into the greener pastures of God’s goodness and faithfulness He desires for you. I don’t want to be the kind of pastor that is always driving from behind, trying to force everyone to go the direction I think they should go. I want to be the kind of pastor that calls out from those greener pastures, drawing people out of the brush and into God’s goodness.
So then, back to it, what is this new life. One of the first and foremost aspects to this new nature is freedom. Freedom from bondage to sin. Freedom from the life we were once controlled by. Freedom from the passions that used to drive us.
What does the Bible say about freedom?
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
As you can see, the world exists in bondage. The world is frustrated (no wonder it’s frustrating too!). The world was corrupted from God’s original design when we rebelled against Him. Since then, creation has been waiting for the day when it would be restored to what had originally been put in place. Creation is in bondage. We, as a part of creation are in bondage.
Bondage to what? Sin. Yes. We have to talk about sin to be able to talk about freedom. Sin is the way we rebel against God. Most sin can be categorized under one idea: Selfishness. We want or desire things for ourselves. Sometimes those things are inappropriate in/of themselves. Other times we do inappropriate things to get good things. But, it’s all self serving.
Jesus turned all that on it’s head when he game and lived the perfect, sinless life. What did that life look like? You, you, you. He, being God, could have made everything about him. But, he didn’t. He gave everything, for you and me.
Consequently, the life we receive is this life. We are not receiving God’s stamp of approval on all our selfish pursuits. We are receiving this gift of life that is all about giving. Why do we give? Because we have received so much. This kind of truly selfless life can only be lived by the power of that Holy God living in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When we try to give, give, give, but all on our own strength, we are giving of a limited source. It’s a well that will dry up. But, when we live a life of giving because we are powered by the Spirit of the living and giving God, that’s a well that will never run dry.
Our freedom is not that we may do as we wish. We’ve spent a life of doing that. And that kind of life was what leads to our need of a savior. Our freedom is being set free from that kind of life. It’s also being set free from the bondage in our thinking that comes with this life. We don’t realize it, but we are shackled to our individualistic pursuits. We are trying to get ahead, restrained by our inability to see beyond ourselves. That’s not the freedom we receive.
The freedom we receive is freedom from that. We are not free to do whatever we wish. We are not free to use our freedom for selfish gains. Our freedom is not an license to sin. God’s freedom in us revokes that license. And now God is at work rewiring our very nature so that those things of sin that once enticed us, become things that repulse us. God starts to teach us to identify the ways we are taking advantage of others and this world for our own benefit. Then, through his ongoing work of setting us apart for his purposes (called sanctification), he fills in the void left by sin with his truth.
Think of it this way. Sin is like a dandelion. When you go to pull up that dandelion, you have to be sure to get the whole thing out, otherwise it will grow right back. It’s roots go deep into the soil. It make take quite a bit of effort to remove it in its entirety. And once you do, there is a void, there a hole. If left to our own devices, we will fill that hole back in with other weeds. But, with God’s great work of freedom, he fills in the hole with his truth. The world is rooted out of us, and we become the recipients of grace upon grace.
This is freedom. God’s truth and grace is our freedom. This is what the Gospel does. The sin and death that we used to be handcuffed to, has been done away with. We are set free. And if the son has set you free, you are free indeed. Really, really free.
But, as Peter shares with us: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16). We aren’t to use our freedom to get away with murder. Our freedom leads us to be bound to God, willfully bonded to God’s purpose and plan for my life and for the life of the world around me. My life is no longer my own, I was bought with a price. I will spend my life bound to the God of freedom. I’m either bound to my selfish pursuits and the corruption of this world, or I’m bound to God. But, being bound to God frees me from the shackles of this corrupted system. Being bound to God eradicates the me-virus that is thriving on a dead host, resurrects the host, giving it the only true life that exists in all of creation – the life that comes from the Spirit of God breathing life into it.
That’s what the Gospel gives us. Well, that’s part of it – that’s the freedom part. There much more to it than that!
Have you ever re-gifted something? Have you ever received something that was a re-gift? It’s one thing when it ends up being something you like or even want. But, most of the time, it’s the stuff that nobody wants that ends up being re-gifted.
From my intense research, this is what I found to be the origin of the term ReGifting. I can’t verify this for sure, but here’s where the idea came from.
Okay, I don’t really know for sure if that’s where the term started. Maybe. I also don’t know where the phrase Time, Talent and Treasure originated. From my research, it appears to be something that came from way before me, appearing in print for the first time in 1852.
On Sunday, we talked about living a generous life. Not just when it comes to finances, though, that’s a part of it. We were more dealing with the idea of having generous hearts. Why? Because God is generous. He is abundantly generous. God is rich in mercy and abounding in love. He sent His one and only son to pay for the sins of the whole world. God created this world for us to enjoy and then put us in charge of it all. God is a radically generous God.
The New Testament Church was a radically generous community. The shared all their possessions. They shared their meals. No one had a need that wasn’t met. They even sold their land to care for the least among them. There was no upper class or lower class, only brothers and sisters. There was a church who actually fought for the chance to give an offering – when, by all accounts they should have been counted out because they were so poor, but they gave out of their poverty and even more than that.
Fast forward to today, and what does the church look like? Sure, there are many among us who are generous. But, they are generally the exception.
2 Cor. 9:6-7 says: “6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
What keeps us from being cheerful givers? What keeps us from finding joy in giving away what God has entrusted us? Well, I think it’s a false belief. We think it’s our money.
Psalm 24 tells us: “1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.”
Everything we have is already God’s, but we get misled and confused. We think that because we worked for it, it belongs to us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It belongs to God. You may work and receive a paycheck, but God put you in a place where you could make as much as you do. What about those around the world in third world countries who work much harder than we do and receive much less? What about those whose work never results in a paycheck? God is the grand designer of our lives, whatever we have is because He has given it to us.
And he wants us to be generous with it, giving it back to Him for building His kingdom…giving it to others in the community of faith to meet there needs and being generous in many other ways as God creates the opportunity for us to do so. God doesn’t need or want our money. With God, the point is never about money or whatever it is God is asking for. God is after our hearts. He wants complete ownership of our heart. For that to happen, there can’t be anything our lives that is more important to us than God. We think the church is just after “our” money, when the reality is God is working through the church to reach the deepest parts of your heart. The church isn’t after your money, God isn’t after your money. God wants all of you.
This is what God says:
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:9-12)
God doesn’t need “our” money, because it’s already His. Everything we have is His. And He wants us to regift it. But not in the same way we normally think of. Regifting is usually that thing nobody wants.
Unfortunately, that’s how most of us give to God. We give him the time, but only when there isn’t anything else better we could do with our time. I’ll go to church unless so and so asks me to do this or that. I’ll go to church as long as I get this done first. I’ll spend some time with my community of believers unless something more fun presents itself as an option. I’m okay to use the talents God has given me for the kingdom, but I ought to get paid too. I could help my neighbor with this skill God has given me, but my time is worth something, I can’t just work for free all the time. I’ll give God money after I get enough in savings. I’ll start tithing once I get a raise and have a little more cushion.
Basically, we take the very best of everything we have for ourselves and give the leftovers to God. For many of us, we don’t even do that.
I think this is something we need to address in the church. We’ve started the conversation at our church. It’s important. Why? Well, I think this is one of the primary reasons the church exploded onto the scene. This is why so many people wanted to be a part of this radical community – because they saw how they loved one another. Most of us in this era have never been a part of a community that loves each other in this way.
But, can you imagine if we started? If we just started sacrificing for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you know what would happen, those that are the recipients of our generosity will go and tell people about this awesome community that takes care of us. The unbelieving world around us would see us reflecting to one another the radical generosity we have received from our heavenly father. And that would draw them to their creator and savior.
I think it would be awesome.