Category Archives: Scripture

Mercy, Not Sacrifice

In various ways we can build walls that divide us from numerous other people. The result is a culture of us verses them, where this wrong is justified. What we are left with is an is what Miroslav Volf describes as a “glaring incongruity” where “in a world so manifestly drenched with evil everybody is innocent in their own eyes” (Exclusion and Embrace, p. 79).

Then comes along Jesus who calls us to follow him and as we do, challenges us to break down these hostile divisions. Here is a challenging story about Jesus found in Matthew 9:9-13:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Most Christians are familiar with this story and Jesus’ saying, “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” But I wonder… Have we really taken time to do just what Jesus says and “Go and learn what this saying means”?

Breaking Boundaries

Last summer after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Darren Wilson, protests erupted across America. Regardless of what happened on August 9, 2014, the incident and the ensuing demonstrations showed that there was still much racial tension between Blacks and Whites. This had to do with the perceived feeling on the part of the Black community that they are still treated unfairly by Police and the White power establishment. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, there normally is always a certain amount of truth to perception. Nevertheless, the situation created a politically hostile climate and threatened to create an “Us vs. Them” world. If you were on the side of the Darren Wilson and Law Enforcement then it seemed that you were against the Blacks. On the other hand, if you were on the side of the Blacks then it seemed as though you were against the Police and White people.

Here in Columbia, people joined in these protests. I was one of them and I took my daughter along with me. We joined with some from our community to say that “Black Lives Matter!” Believe it or not, I was told by one White person that I was being racist because I stood there peacefully demonstrating with other Black and White people. My daughter and I stayed at the demonstration for about two hours, where I engaged in several good conversations with some Black people about issues pertaining to racism and discrimination in America. At the demonstration, there were several Howard County Police officers present in order to make sure the demonstrations remained peaceful and lawful. So as my daughter and I were leaving, I walked up to the police officers and thanked them for doing a very difficult and underpaid job.

Why go and demonstrate with a community of Black people? Why stop and thank the police for doing their job? Here is why. Because I will let my Black Neighbors and my neighbors who serve as police officers become my enemy and become the “them.” It has nothing to do with my opinion of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and what has happened in other police shootings of Black men. It has everything to do with following Jesus and refusing to allow the barriers that society would like to build up define who I will fellowship with.

Following… Jesus or the Pharisees?

It seems that if we really are following Jesus, then we cannot just religiously talk about reconciliation. We must actually attempt to practice reconciliation which involves getting up and following Jesus into the homes where he eats with those people, the “tax-collectors and sinners,” who were excluded behind a barrier that his society had built. Jesus did this without ever endorsing or approving of any sin and so can we.

Our society is full of divisions where an “Us vs. Them” reality exists at some level… Blacks and Whites, Christians and Muslims, Liberals and Conservatives, etc… Too often we align ourselves with a version of “Us” and hedge the boundary lines. That’s not the way of Jesus. So what can we do?

  • Option #1: As followers of Jesus we can actually follow Jesus among “Them” in order to show mercy rather than sacrifice. Remember, that Jesus’ practice of mercy is done among the sinners. The Kingdom of God was a space that had room for everyone, not just the righteous.
  • Option #2: We can follow the Pharisees, justifying our exclusion of “Them” in order to maintain our own purified socio-religious and political enclave. Remember, the Pharisees read their Bible’s too and they had their reasons which sounded very biblical too (perhaps they even came replete with biblical proof-texts). Yet they were wrong!

When Jesus said, “I want mercy and not sacrifice,” he really meant it and it is important that we honor his desire. But to do that, maybe instead of becoming quick to defend our religious freedom so that a pizza parlor doesn’t have to cater a gay wedding, we should instead pause and discern what it means to show mercy rather than sacrifice. Or maybe, instead of becoming quick to defend our rights by joining in an online bullying campaign because some small town restaurant owner doesn’t share our same moral-political view, maybe we should learn what it means to show mercy rather than sacrifice.

After all, Jesus did also say “Go and learn what this saying means…”

The Love of God and Marriage

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Henri J. Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved in a bookstore. I started reading through it and as I read about the love of God, I began to think about this love and marriage. Does marriage express the love of God? And if so, how so? So read on…

We are the the beloved children of God. This is a truth imprinted throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. But the truth and believing the truth are two different matters. For various reasons, maybe our own sinful awareness or perhaps a traumatic childhood, we’re so prone to rejecting the truth that we are loved by God.

Unfortunately, as our rejection contradicts what Nouwen describes as that sacred voice that tells us we are Beloved, we begin a futile chase for love in various streams and substances that never satisfy. They have the appearance of fulfilling our desire for love but ultimately they fail to deliver anything but eventual misery. Whether we’re chasing the bottom of a whisky bottle, that next pornographic website, a bigger house then the one that already is stretching our financial means, endless work just to appear as someone great in the eyes of our peers, etc… it’s all the same. That’s why we must come to the knowledge that we are eternally loved by God.

Yet knowing that we are eternally loved by God, our Creator, we lose the desire to vainly seek love in created realities.

Knowing that we are eternally loved by God matters much. As Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (p. 37). So once we come to a full awareness that God loves us and that our deepest desire for love is found only in God, then we continually seek that love in God.

However, as I think about this, I think about marriage… After all, we are creatures and so our are spouses, yet we seek love from one another. Is this vanity?

No!

In the story of Adam and Eve, the Lord says, “It is not good that the man should be along; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18, NRSV). Then God creates a woman for the man and Adam has a wife named Eve. Before going on, let me point out that the word “helper” (‘ezer) is not about hierarchy in the relationship between the man and woman. The same word is also used in Deuteronomy 33:29 where the Lord describes himself as Israel’s helper and I’m quite sure the text is not implying that Israel has a hierarchal relationship over God. What the Lord is doing is creating a helper who will bless the man as his partner and had it been that the woman was created first, then the Lord would have created man as a helper to bless them woman as her partner. Because in truth, both the man and woman need each other as partners who help each other and that is what this relationship is about… Two people, who through a mutual relationship, will help each other as partners.

Consequently in Genesis 2:18 we find an expression of God’s love for us as he gives us partners to help us along in life. In the context of marriage, it means that marriage itself is a blessing from God. While not everyone will marry in life, nor do they need to in order to have the love of God fulfilled in their life, this is important for those of us who are married. Our marriage is an expression of God’s love toward us. In marriage, God is giving us a spouse as a helper and likewise, God is giving us to our spouse as a helper too. That is, when two people are married, God is blessing them with the intention of them living as lifelong partners who help each other through life. So when we look at our spouse and our spouse looks at us, we are seeing what should be a tangible reality of God’s love.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Marriage is never a perfect blessing because it is an expression of love clothed in flesh… in the humanity of Adam. It’s a risk that God takes. It’s the same risk God takes in creating humanity in his image, who will fail to reflect his in numerous and sometimes very horrendous ways. Sometimes the expression of God’s love through the blessing of marriage  backfires horribly and for those who have experience this failure, I am deeply sorry. Nevertheless, for many of us, despite our sins and weaknesses, God is still able to express his love to us through our marriages.

Realizing that we are loved by God means that we also must learn to let that love permeate everything we think, say, and do.

Early on in marriage, after the honeymoon is over, we begin to see the short-comings and weaknesses in our marriage. Unfortunately, what we often see our the problems that our spouse’s have, while failing to recognize our own problems. Often then, the first response is to try “fixing” our spouse, by criticizing and correcting, which only adds to the problems. Stop that! It doesn’t work. There is only one person in this world that we have enough control over to affect change and that is ourselves. So my suggestion is this: INSTEAD OF TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR SPOUSE, DECIDE WHAT YOU MUST DO TODAY IN ORDER TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO YOU SPOUSE.

Now, go do that.

As a husband or wife, be a helper and be an expression of the love of God to your spouse.

Good Friday: Religious Freedom and the Crucified Christ

Every week I drive into the same local Shell gas station to buy gas because this is where the cheapest gas prices are in town. The manager is a Muslim and I think he originates from Pakistan. Then about once a month I get my hair cut at one particular barber shop because the barber not only does a good job but also offers the cheapest price for a haircut in town. The barber is a Buddhist who migrated to the United States from the nation of Laos.

I wonder how I would feel if either that gas station manager or the barber refused to do business with me because as a Christian, my religious and moral values differ in some way from their own convictions? How would you feel if either of these businesses refused service to you because they do not share your Christian religious and moral convictions… because in doing so, they feel they would be violating their own religious convictions?

Us vs. Them

As you most likely know, their is a firestorm erupting in American culture over the State of Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). You can read the bill, officially known as Senate Act 101, right here. Whatever the intention of this bill actually is, which is still not entirely clear (evidenced by the fact that Indiana legislators have already amended the law), the application of the law seems to single out LBGQT people over the issue of gay marriage. Consequently, a restaurant owner has the right to refuse catering service for a gay wedding because doing so violates the religious conviction of the restaurant owner who believes that gay marriage is morally wrong.

The firestorm has continued to spread with one restaurant owner, who professes to be a Christian, calling into a radio station to freely admit that he does discriminate against gay people. Then another restaurant owner, responding to a hypothetical question (which seems unwise), has said according to this article “If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we’d have to say no.”

So it seems that regardless of the RFRA intention, the issue has singled out the moral issue of homosexuality. That is, once again some Christians have found another way to elevate the moral issue of homosexuality above other moral issues and religious convictions. I wonder if those same Christians would refuse to provide catering to a wedding should they learn that the ceremony will include something such as a Wiccan prayer ritual or if the reception to follow should have alcohol where inevitably some people will become drunk? My point is simply to say that by singling out gays and gay marriage, something else appears at work beside mere religious and moral conviction. That something else is a cultural war waged by political power that continues fostering an “Us vs. Them” scenario where exclusion  − both implicitly and explicitly − is the result.

This is a Christian problem! Some Christians seem to insist upon the rest of society conforming to their beliefs and values, even if it means relying upon state political power to ensure that conformity. Those within society that do not embrace the beliefs and values of these Christians are then marked for exclusion. This was the way of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who were quite accustomed to practicing exclusion themselves. Yet the more that Christians embrace an exclusionary practice, the more Christianity drifts further and further from Jesus. Only this time this drifting is not due to the theological liberalism that characterized some mainline Protestant Denominations throughout the 20th century; this drifting comes from Christians  maintain the political privilege of a Christendom culture is coming to an end.

Good Friday and the Gospel

It seems as though the gospel is failing among us… the gospel that was and is salvation for both the Jew and Gentile (cf. Rom 1:16)

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day when Jesus was nailed to the cross for the sake of the world, to set the world free from the burden of sin and death. Jesus’ death was that inclusive moment when God destroyed the barrier that excluded Gentile from Jew, by making the two into one…

But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. – Ephesians 2:13-16

Jesus’ death was that act of grace on the part of God that said my sin and your sin will no longer separate us from God or each other. It doesn’t negate the fact that we are sinners, as we most certainly are, it just means that Jesus has atoned our sin by making peace through his death so that our sin would no longer exclude us.

We praise God for that act of grace, as we should. We gather together around the Lord’s Table to sing hymns, offer up prayers, hear from God’s word, and ultimately remember through the partaking of bread and wine, which represents the body and blood of Jesus, that we are now included. So why then should we turn around and maintain a practice of exclusion, singling out certain people for their religious, moral, and lifestyle choices? Do we think their behavior somehow taints us, indicts us as guilty? Or do we just need to keep our culture sanitized of that which offends our Christian sensibilities? Were these the concerns of Jesus  when he embraced the sinner… when he was lifted up upon the cross as a scandalous and shameful spectacle?

True Religious Freedom

Jesus died to include those whom his followers sometimes exclude. This has to change. Here’s how…

In his book Exclusion and EmbraceMiroslav Volf writes, “We would most profoundly misunderstand the Eucharist, however, if we thought of it only as a sacrament of God’s embrace of which we are simply the fortunate beneficiaries. Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us” (p.129). That is to say that as we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember the very grace of God which includes us who are sinners, we must also become practitioners of this inclusionary grace. We are to be agents of this grace with our fellow believers whom we are communing with around the Lord’s Table and with our neighbors, regardless of whether or not they are believers… or whether they share our same beliefs and moral values. However, the way we live as agents of this grace will differ in each particular setting we find ourselves in.

When it comes to discerning how we should live as agents of this inclusionary grace in the market place, we should look at how Jesus, whom we follow, did this in his life. For the sake of space, let’s just recall that Jesus sat among and engaged in life with the “sinners and tax-collectors.” In doing this, Jesus was neither approving of their sin nor becoming participants in their sin and it seems that should be the case with us. Neither by eating a meal with a gay person nor by providing them with a meal, even in a gay-marriage or same-sex civil union, means approval or participation in the actual relationship. To say otherwise is believe in guilt by association and it that’s true then we are guilty of another sin just about every time we engage someone else with just a simple smile. Rather than incurring guilt participating in life with someone who is gay, what we are doing is removing the “Us vs. Them” barrier that we have built up. We are saying that even though we may not agree with their certain aspects of their life, we will not let it become a hostile barrier that stands between us because our God let his Son, Jesus the Messiah, be crucified to demolish such barriers.

As we, who profess to be Christian, remember the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, let us become conduits of the very grace we are recipients of. Let us give up the political power we use as an attempt in conforming the rest of society to the beliefs and values we choose to live by… And let us instead serve our neighbors regardless of whether we agree with their lifestyle choices. For to do is to embrace true  religious freedom!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

“So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10.

May it be so among our neighbors whether they be Christian or not, White or Black, Strait or Gay!

Ministry and Envy

Everyone wants to be appreciated for the good they do and at some level, everyone needs to feel appreciated. That includes pastors too. Although the ultimate reward for all Christian service comes from God, its hard for anyone to keep giving their best when their best seems to go unnoticed or is continuously met with criticism.

However, in ministry the need for appreciation can also develop into an unhealthy envy. The need for appreciation morphs into the need for recognition.  This is a problem that most pastors, including myself, have struggled with from time to time.

Yesterday Rich Little wrote a blog piece titled 5 Difficult Questions Pastors Must Ask and the first question was “Do I feel competitive with my peers?” Yes, I have at times. I’m sure other ministers have and do as well. This especially seems to be the case when our pees are recognized and we’re not… or at least not the way we think we should be recognized.

You see the problem. It’s the problem of envy, a sin of the heart that is often coupled with a lot of pride and sense of entitlement.

Saul, the King of Israel, struggled with envy too. After David had won the battle against the Philistines we are told in 1 Samuel 18:7 that women throughout different towns were singing “Saul has struck down his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” Then in the very next verse we read that this “made Saul very angry.” And if you read the rest of the story, Saul attempts to kill David several times.

Attempted murder. That’s the result of Saul’s envious heart. It might be easy to ignore this as a warning since most of us would never even contemplate committing murder. However, when our hearts are consumed with envy, we become dissatisfied and frustrated with the ministry God has called us to because we want what our peers have. Maybe that frustration gets taken out on the family at home, whether that means becoming a workaholic who neglects our family because we’re trying to chase something we think we don’t have or just turning our anger into physical and emotional abuse. Or maybe that sense of entitlement turns into other unethical practices, such as buying one’s way onto the New York Times Bestsellers book list, to provide for ourselves what we think we don’t have. Or maybe we take our dissatisfaction out on the church we serve, berating them with “bold preaching” for not being the church that our envious imagination says we should be pastoring.

The best antidote for envy is prayer! Pray with thanksgiving for the way God has gifted us for ministry and with thanksgiving for the ministry God has called us to, whether that is with a large church or small church… a church in the city or a church in the country. Pray also for the people we serve in ministry. Doing so keeps the focus where it belongs, on God and others rather than ourselves.

And if you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, then send your pastor a card telling them how much you appreciate their ministry. Believe me, such words of encouragement are precious and your pastor will appreciate it more than you realize.

Reading Scripture: Christianity and Church Community

One of the challenges that Christians face in North America is the individualism that we filter the Christian faith through. We do this because we are culturally conditioned as residents within North America which is shaped predominately by Western thought that is individualistic. That’s very different from Eastern societies, including those of the Bible, which are community-oriented in thought.

As an individualistic society, the most important person is the self, whose identity is always distinguished from the others. What matters is that we are true to ourselves and that we be ourselves because it is the self that is ultimately sovereign. That is different from the community-oriented life where family and tribe are more valuable than the self, so that the welfare of the family and tribe are more important than individual expression.

In their book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, authors E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien write…

If we’re not careful, our individualistic assumptions about church can lead us to think of the church as something like a health club. We’re members because we believe in the mission statement and want to be a part of the action. As long as the church provides the services I want, I’ll stick around. But when I no longer approve of the vision, or am no longer “being fed,” I’m out the door. This is not biblical Christianity. (p. 107).

No it’s not! The question then is how else might we handle different issues of conflict and disagreement so that we’re not bolting for the nearest door overtime we don’t get our way like something?

Well, w need to get over ourselves! What I mean is that as long as our concern is individualistic, not only is that being self-centered but it is very unlike Christ whom we confess as Lord… whose example we are to take up, which is exactly what Paul instructs in Philippians 2:5-8.

Perhaps it is time we ask God in prayer to retrain us to read scripture with a concern for the community above our individual selves.

Whose Side Are You Standing On?

Last Tuesday, March 3rd, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States speaking to Congress. Predictably, his appearance and speech was a political moment that showed the great polarization between Democrats and Republicans. Not surprisingly, his address was lauded with both support and scorn by Christians. Those who favor the right, the conservatism of Republicans, expressed their approval for the Prime Minister while those who favor the left, the liberalism of Democrats, criticized the Prime Minister’s appearance. And not surprisingly, though disappointing, many of these voices lending support or scorn were the voices of Christians… people who belong to the Kingdom of God.

This all seemed like a primer for what’s to come as America gears up for another major election, including the election of a new President. Many Christians will take to social-media as a vehicle for expressing their views, most of which will sound unabashedly either Democrat or Republican. So let me be clear: Christians, we have a problem!

Gospel of Reconciliation

When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthian church to defend the legitimacy of the ministry he and Timothy are engaged in, he described the work as the ministry of reconciliation. Paul said that it was “…God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). In a world divided between Jews and Gentiles, fueled by years of animosity, Paul was called to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ which was the climatic event bringing an end to the division by creating one new creation in Christ. In fact, much of Paul’s writing in the New Testament is dedicated to bringing out the implications of this reconciliation.

One of the implications for reconciliation is that those who are reconciled to God also become agents of reconciliation. After discussing how in Christ the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles has been destroyed, creating one new people known as the church, Ephesians makes clear that this “wisdom of God” is now being made known “through the church” (Eph 3:10). The church is able to participate in this mission of God because the Holy Spirit empowers it to live as a proleptic reality. That is, the Holy Spirit enables the church to live among the present as a witness of what the future is.

This is how the eschatology of the gospel works. The future of history, God’s future, has entered into the present through Christ and now his church who continues the ministry of Christ. This means the church is called to live as the tangible reality of what reconciliation looks like among a dying world that only knows division.

There’s just one problem: The majority of Christians in America seem to have forgotten this gospel of reconciliation. Or worse, they just don’t care. What makes me think this, you ask? Because too many Christians are more worried about upholding the present day divisions that having nothing to do with the gospel by aligning themselves with the American right and left… Republican and Democrat politics.

Swallowed Up Into the Division

One of the books I am currently reading is Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. The author, who as a native Croation, lived through the wars in the former Yugoslavia, knows something about division and explains the real consequence of aligning with one side or the other…

The stronger the conflict, the more the rich texture of the social world disappears and the stark exclusionary polarity emerges around which all thought and practice aligns itself. No other choice seems available, no neutrality possible, and therefore no innocence sustainable. If one does not exit that whole social world, one gets sucked into its horrid polarity. Tragically enough, over time the polarity has a macabre way of mutating into its very opposite − into “both us and them” that unities the divided parties in a perverse common of mutual hate and mourning over the dead (p. 99).

Volf explains how people, by failing to remove themselves from the division, become swallowed up into the division, taking up the cause of one side or the other so that it becomes about “us” (whatever side we align ourselves with) against “them.”

Here in American, that polarity is the politics of the conservative vs. the liberal, typically known as Democrat vs. Republican. The problem for Christianity is that is aligning ourselves with either side, we become that side and lose the ability to participate in the gospel of reconciliation. Note what I did not say: I did not say that by aligning ourselves with one side or the other will prevent us from proclaiming “Jesus saves,” teaching a bible class at church, helping with our church’s VBS, or many of the other good Christian things we do. But let’s be clear, we can do all that and still fail to join in the gospel of reconciliation because this ministry is about living among the present old world of human kingdoms as a witness of the new in-breaking future world of God’s kingdom. And we can’t embody the new when we’re still enjoined with the old!

So, someone might ask, are you saying that Christians cannot vote? Nope! I’ve not said that once and to think that this is the issue is to miss the issue. Most Christians are way past voting. We’ve gone from being just voters to people who are involved in waging a social-media war for one side or the other, as if whatever side we are fighting for is the good news that give life to this dying world. Except, if we really believe the Bible, then we must admit that this is wrong and that the only way we can participating in bringing good news to America and the rest of the world is by aligning ourselves exclusively with Jesus’s cause… not Jesus’ cause and America’s cause but Jesus’s cause alone!

One Question

Let me finish by asking a question. But first, a quick story.

When I was a child at church camp, we would sing a song during devotionals called Standing On The Lord’s Side. The song went something like this…

Leader: “Tell me, whose side are you standing on?”
Church: “I’m standing on the Lord’s side.”
Leader: “I said, whose side are you standing on?”
Church: “Standing on the Lord’s side.
I stand, I stand, I stand… standing on the Lord’s side.

So it seems time for us to ask, whose side are we standing on? The American Right and Left or the Lord’s Side?

I Went To Church And…

Ok, I’m not really a fan of saying “I went to church” or “I am going to church” since the church is a people and not a building or worship event. Nevertheless, that’s how our society speaks of gather for worship with a Christian church.

Most church communities have some sort of centralized gathering where people come together for worship and fellowship that includes singing, praying, reading scripture, preaching, and participation in the Lord’s Supper. Maybe these churches do a few other things together like Bible-class time or a meal but regardless, this is a very typical feature of church. Yet in recent years it seems like this tradition, especially of the contemporary style, has taken its share of criticism from both Christians and non-Christians (see, for example here and here). But yesterday, I went to church with my family and enjoyed it. So did my family.

A Little Context…

I am a minister of the gospel… a preacher or pastor, as some call me. I really don’t put a lot of stock in titles, as I am just trying to follow Jesus whom I believe is Lord. For the last three and a half years I served with the Columbia Church of Christ until the church decided it was time to close at the end of January 2015. I still believe I am called to serve as a minister of the gospel and so I am searching, waiting, and listening for the church God wants me to serve with next. But in the meantime, what do I do?

The first two Sunday’s in February I was doing some guest-preaching in a couple of different churches in the area. Then there were two different snow storms each of the next two weekends resulting in every area church canceling their services because of the weather and road conditions. So each of those two Sunday’s were spent at home with the family (no complaints).

Although I have daily disciplines such as regular prayer time and daily Bible reading to help maintain my own faith and don’t expect the worship gathering to sustain my faith, it felt odd to sit at home on Sunday and not be at church. Then came yesterday. I wasn’t expected to be preaching anywhere or doing anything else as a minister and I certainly didn’t have to get out of bed, should I have chosen to sleep in which I’ll admit was a tempting idea. So came the moment that I had to answer for: Do I go to church only because I’m the preacher or do I go because, for all of the criticisms I might raise, I really believe in and value gathering with other believers for worship and fellowship?

Into The Holy of Holies

So as I have said, I went to church. I went with my wife and children. We visited the Countryside Fellowship Church in Savage, Maryland where a few of the people from the Columbia Church of Christ are now visiting. I also happen to know the pastor of that church, so there was that connection too.

The atmosphere was relaxed, somewhat contemporary but it didn’t seem like the church was trying to keep up with the latest trendy fads in worship. The members were friendly and hospitable without pushing themselves upon us. The worship began with a reading from the Psalms and a call to worship. After singing several songs, the pastor preached on Revelation 3:1-6 (Jesus’ message to the Church of Sardis) and then we shared in the Lord’s Supper together before singing one final song. In so many ways the gathering was typical and normal with nothing spectacular except for the presence of the true living God. It was just church.

Yet it was nice, for a change, to sing, pray, read scripture, encounter the preached word of God, and share in the Lord’s Supper not as the preacher but just as a worshiper. It was nice to be reminded through song, prayer, scripture, word, and the Lord’s Supper that even though I am not righteous on my own accord, I belong to God and live in the glorious presence of God because of the blood of Jesus Christ by which I am made righteous. That message was especially pointed as we sang the song by Kutless Take Me In (To The Holy of Holies).

I Went To Church And…

I know that there are churches where worship is a lifeless endeavor of just going through the motions of a dead faith. Likewise, I know that there are other churches where worship has become such a professionally manufactured endeavor that the work of the Spirit seems stifled by a shallow faith. But as I reflect on going to church, I am reminded that when we come ready to give our heart to God we receive… not some superficial emotion that is meant as a mask to whatever junk we are dealing with. I’m still struggling with the worry of my family and I living in limbo as we await the next church I’ll serve with.

What I received was joy, the kind that Paul spoke of in Philippians 1 where he was content with whatever happens because of his solidarity with Christ. I received this gift of joy not because I deserve it or could obtain it as though it is a commodity. I received it simply because I showed up at church desiring to worship the God who, by his grace and mercy, has made me alive in Christ and given me his Spirit as the assurance of this life.

So yeah, yesterday I went to church and I am glad I did.