Not My Name

This week at my church is the incredible, exciting, draining, and yet fulfilling event known as Vacation Bible School. VBS has always been an extra special time around here, and last night was just the beginning of what I am sure will be a fantastic week.

Last night in the Bible lesson we talked briefly about the Tower of Babel. Do you remember that one? It’s in the 11th chapter of Genesis if you would like to read it for yourself. (You probably should.) One of the neat things that I have experienced at just about every VBS that I have ever been a part of is that the truth shared is just as relevant for adults as it is for the kids.

Anyway, back to the Tower of Babel. Actually, the story is more about the people than the actual tower. You see, God has told mankind twice now in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1) It’s important for us to understand that God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth is about much more than just simply having babies. It is about obedience to God and making His name great.

The problem with the people of Babel? They chose not to obey God. The settled down instead of spreading across and filling the whole earth, and they tried to make themselves famous instead of God.

The ancient people ignored God’s instructions, clustered together, and tried to make themselves great.

Sadly, not much has changed.

People now, just like people then, have a tendency to ignore God’s clear instructions, cluster together in alike tribes, and make themselves great-often at the expense of others.

So, what do we, who have put our trust in Jesus, do about this? Or how should we respond?

We first start by looking in the mirror.

God’s Old Testament command is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) God told Adam and Eve to reproduce in order to produce children who would know, obey, and love God. God now tells us to produce disciples who know, obey, and love Jesus.

But the temptation to cluster together and build a name for ourselves is ever-present. Sadly, at times, churches can be so focused on programs and events that they lose sight of what is truly important.

We cannot worry about increasing our church empires, we need to be focused on increasing His Kingdom.

Francis Chan has a pretty matter-of-fact quote “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” Ouch.

The Bible is pretty clear that those who follow Jesus are to be lights in this dark and dying world. We need to shine in the dark and we cannot allow the comfort of our familiar tribe to prevent us from doing so.

Tribalism is a dangerous and unproductive thing and it has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

Now, let me be clear, I am not advocating that we stop spending time with the people whom we love and are comfortable with. What I am saying though is, let’s be sure to be active in our love and Good News witness to people who don’t fit inside of our cookie cutter vision.

There are a whole lot of people in this world. Many of them do not look, think, act, smell, sound, or see things the way you do. That is O.K. Our objective is not to make people become just like us. Our goal is to show people how to become like Jesus.

I don’t want to make my name great.

I want to make His name great.

Beyond The Walls

Things were a bit different in 1958.

Gas cost 25 cents! The average cost of a new house was $12,750! A gallon of milk only cost $1, and the average monthly rent was only $92! Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Dastun cars went on sale in the U.S. Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jerry Lee Lewis were the most popular artists. Candid Camera and The Ed Sullivan Show were on black and white televisions.

It was in this world that a small group of people meeting in a small school in a small suburb of Chicago decided to form a church.

This coming week my church is anticipating celebrating its 60th anniversary of faithful service to our wonderful Savior.

It is such an honor to be a small part of the legacy of this church that has, for so long, been so committed to missions, youth, care for others, service to the community, and love for God.

This January, in anticipation of our 60th anniversary, we, as a church, committed to a theme for the year, “Beyond The Walls.”

beyond walls poster.jpg

The theme itself is a bit layered. First, we want to be sure that we are going beyond the physical walls of our building in order to share the good news of Jesus’ love with anyone and everyone that we meet. For 60 years we have been in the same geographical location (the church bought land across the street from the school it initially met in and built on that land.) And so, since we have been present in this community for so long we want to be sure that we are, and continue to be, committed to getting beyond the physical space that we call our church building. We want to be known as a church that gives to and loves its community.

Secondly, we understand that we, as a group of believers, need to continually pray that God would give us the boldness to get beyond our own emotional and spiritual walls that we ourselves have set up. Often times past experiences, frustrations, and fears cause us to put up barriers in our own lives in order to hide behind. When we put these barriers in place we actually end up becoming less effective in our love and service. So, we are praying that God gives us the courage to break down these walls in our own lives in order to better love and better share the good news.

As I think about all the people who have come and gone from this church I cannot help but think of just how good God is and how wonderful His family, the Church (worldwide) is as well. Over the years I, and others, have seen God use this church in order to transform lives, marriages, families, and communities. This church has sent out many missionaries, especially for its size, to go and serve all across the world. We may not be a huge church, but by God’s grace, He has allowed us to have a global impact. That is certainly something to celebrate.

The neat thing about this church, and any church for that matter, is the intergenerational connectedness that takes place. Older generations set examples and provide wisdom that younger generations can need to learn from. At the same time, younger generations provide encouragement, enthusiasm, as well as new and fresh perspective. Both, older and younger generations, would do well to learn from one another. The church is a unique place for this to take place, and it is exciting to watch happen!

The Apostle Paul repeatedly talks about the church as a metaphorical body. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, Colossians 1) We all need each other in order to function properly. The hand needs the arm, and the arm needs the legs, and the legs need the pinky toe. I need you and you need me. And we all need Jesus.

So, this week, praise God and thank Him for your church and how He has created it to be uniquely special in His kingdom. Praise God for His faithfulness to your local body of believers.

May we all, regardless of where we are, pray that God might give us the boldness to go “Beyond The Walls” in our lives in order to better love Him and love others! I pray that God would use my church, and yours as well, in order to impact this world for His good!

The Community Standard

We need each other.

This is a crucial thing for us to remember in the midst of a culture and media that would tell us “we are more divided than ever before.” Maybe the media’s statement is true (probably not) but either way, we still need each other.

The church ought to be the premier example of what a good need-each-other community looks like. We, as the church, haven’t always been that shining example. We can do better.

Mankind was created to live in community because (have I said this yet) we need each other. It is pretty undeniable that human beings crave community. We hate being lonely, and we can’t “do life” all by ourselves (no matter how much we might try to deny it.) We hate being alone because we were not created to be alone.

A good and healthy community was God’s plan for human beings from the very beginning. God said, in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good that the man should be alone.” Both men and women, being made in the image of the Triune God, need a community to support and be supported. Without some sort of healthy community, we all suffer.

The Church (When I talk about “The Church I am talking about both local churches and the Universal Church as a whole that is comprised of all believers worldwide.) should not have to suffer in this way. A lack of, or an unhealthy community should be the least of our worries. We ought to understand the great and amazing gifts that we have been given- each other.

The Body of Christ should, and needs to be there to encourage one another, (1 Thess. 5:11) comfort and pray for one another, (Gal. 6:2) look after one another, (Phil. 2:3-4) and love one another (John 13:34-35).

When the church focuses on doing these things and caring for one another in these ways other people will begin to take notice. Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22 was that “they [followers of Jesus-i.e. the church] may become perfectly one so that the world may know that you [The Father] sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Our community with one another as believers is our strongest form of evangelism. This community-evangelism serves to remind us that the Family of God (those who put their trust in Jesus alone for Salvation) was intended to be open to all and ever-growing.

Our communities (churches, small groups, friend groups, Bible studies etc.) need to be a place where believers can love and support one another while growing in their faith as well as a place where non-believers can observe a healthy and biblical community that ultimately points to Jesus as Savior.

Another incredible reason why we need to focus on our community health more is that each of us, as individuals, has so much to offer. Every single person who has put their trust in Jesus has a God-given gift. These gifts (spiritual gifts) are given for the building up and strengthening of the church. And, as we looked at earlier, when the church is strong and focused that means good news for the spreading of the Good News.

There is a big difference between attending a church and participating in church. A healthy disciple of Jesus will be an active participant in the body of Christ. Those who simply attend church deprive both themselves and the rest of the Body, of a true and godly community. Those who participate in church (use their gifts and serve one another) will benefit both themselves and the rest of the body.

Romans 12:4-5 reminds us that the Body is made up of many members who need each other. A true and growing disciple of Jesus is one who understands and fulfills their purpose in the church.

What would our churches look like if we were to focus more on the health of our community with one another?

Imagine just how much more impactful we would be if we were more loving, caring, and committed to one another. It’s time for the church to, once again, set the standard for what a good and healthy community looks like.

Transforming Society

Chances are that this last week, whether on the news or in a casual conversation, you heard the questions; Why did this happen? and What can we do?

The answers to those questions are both very complicated and yet plainly simple.

This, along with every other mind-numbing tragedy, happened because of sin. And what can we do? A lot.

Before you read on I would challenge you to stop for a moment and pray. Pray for all of those who have been impacted personally by the horrific events of last week. I would also encourage you to pray for the transformation of our society of which has become numb to death and destruction.

It is saddening to see “shares” on social media of numbers of deaths caused by guns vs. drunk drivers vs. knives vs. etc. Giving into those arguments only continues to make us numb. I fear that we have gotten to a place where we forget that there are real people behind each of those numbers represented. Human life is worth more than that.

Laws are important, but I do not want to get into any sort of debate here. The reason is that neither the right nor the left have the remedy for what ails us. That remedy only comes in one form and one form only. His name is Jesus.

Jesus is the centerpiece of the Bible and He carries with Him the message and the mission of the Bible: redemption. In simpler terms, God heals what is broken.

Our society is broken. Our neighbors, co-workers, families, and friends are all broken. We are broken. Jesus can fix that.

2 Corinthians 5:17 promises that if anyone belongs to Jesus they have been made new.

Ephesians 2 tells us that we can be transformed from death to life because of God’s great love.

Romans 5:6-8 reminds us that Jesus welcomes us in our weakest, ugliest, and worst states.

So, what are we, those who have been transformed by the love of Jesus, to do in the midst of times such as these? We do what Jesus always intended for us, the church, to do.

We transform society. (Matthew 5:13-16)

We shine so that others may see. (Matt 5:16)

We don’t conform but rather allow the Holy Spirit to transform us. (Romans 12:2)

We remember where we come from. (John 17:16)

We stand up against what is wrong. (Daniel 1 & 3)

We remember what our mission is. (John 17:15 &23)

We remember who is with us on this mission. (Matthew 28:18-20)

We tell others what Jesus came to do. (Luke 19:10)

We walk what we talk. (James 1:19-27)

We trust God to make beauty from ashes. (Genesis 50:20)

One of my favorite Missions organizations (Send me a message if you’re interested in finding out which one and I will tell you all about them!) has an incredible missions statement. Here are my favorite parts of it.  “A movement of God…that finds its home in the local church and transforms society.”

I love that statement so much because a movement of God that is fueled by local churches and transforms society can and should happen anywhere. Whether we are here or there, God can and will use us, His church, to impact the world around us. Imagine what could happen if believers everywhere began to focus all their time, effort, and energy on transforming society. We transform society by telling people about Jesus and by living our own lives like He did.

We can’t afford to not tell people about Jesus. We can’t afford to not live for and like Jesus. The people around us can’t afford it either.

Revelations 21:3-6

Come soon Lord Jesus.