Acknowledging the Beauty of the Body

I don’t know how many times I have heard it or read it before. People referring to this phrase that Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (‭John‬ ‭13‬:‭34-35‬ ESV)

But almost EVERY single time I heave heard or read someone refer to this statement, it is followed by commentary along these lines:

  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other; and you’re not doing it well enough!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, not by our doctrinal purity!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, so do it better!

I spent this past weekend in Washington State and British Columbia. A dear friend of ours from our church in Hungary passed away, and his funeral was on Saturday in Langley, BC.

When I heard that this friend passed away, I called some friends in Everett, WA, where the husband is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Everett, to ask if they might be able to help me out if I were to try to attend the funeral. They quickly told me to go ahead and book the tickets and they would work out the rest: lodging, rides, etc. I also got in touch with people from my friend’s church in Langley to tell them I was trying to come, and they responded the exact same way.

This whole past weekend was spent with people from these two churches in Everett and Langley. A couple from the church in Everett picked me up at the airport and drove me to Everett, where a car and a place to stay the night were prepared for me. Of course, this was all done by people I had never met before

On Friday I drove up to British Columbia, and that night went to stay with a family from Christ Covenant Church. As soon as I arrived they welcomed me, and then I went with them to their church community group, where we ate, studied the Bible and sang and prayed together. Again, I had never met these people before, but they treated me like a long lost family member. There was something we had in common, a bond which was stronger than race, citizenship or accent (it was surprising how strong that Canadian accent can be!).

We went home and I ended up staying up until 2 AM conversing with the couple about so many things regarding our shared faith.The next day was the funeral, which consisted of 3 parts at 3 locations over the course of the whole day. During this time I got to see how well our friend’s wife was being cared for and loved by her church community there in Langley. And I felt loved and cared for by that community as well

I returned to Everett, where I preached at Calvary Chapel yesterday morning, and was once again loved and welcomed like a long-unseen family member.

This weekend left me considering those words of Jesus, and the commentary which is almost always attached to them – and it made me think: that’s what Jesus was talking about!

And to all those people bemoaning the perceived lack of love amongst Christians: I disagree with you. In my experience, the church has been the most beautiful, wonderful, true community. It’s something I want to be a part of. It’s something I believe in. Yes, it has its spots and wrinkles and blemishes, because it is made up of flawed people, but it is wonderful – and I come away from this weekend and the love that I experienced in amongst those Christians with the feeling of: THAT is what Jesus was talking about when he said that we will be known as His disciples by the love that we have for one another.

It doesn’t take a genius to identify weaknesses or problems or find fault; the basest among us is capable of that. To put it frankly: any moron can do that! But it takes nobility to identify beauty and light and goodness.

I talked to someone a while back, who, upon hearing that I was a pastor, immediately assumed that I would agree with her, that church is just the worst! She said that in her opinion, “Church is a necessary evil.” I told her that I couldn’t possibly disagree more! I love the Church! I believe in the Church! It is the most wonderful, most beautiful thing in the World! It is the Body of Christ, in the world, living out his mission and being his hands and feet.

How do you think this woman’s children are going to view the church as they grow up if she continues in this kind of attitude? Most likely, they will think of the Church as a “necessary evil” too. They might choose to attend when they are adults, but they will have been trained to look at it with a critical, cynical eye. I do not want that for my children! I want my children to grow up LOVING the church and seeing the beauty in it, and knowing it as the most wonderful, most loving community in the world – and one that they want to be a part of, not because they have to, but because it is so wonderful. And they should believe in it – because Jesus ordained it for OUR good, and for the good of the whole world!

And for this reason, my wife and I have determined never to speak badly of someone from church or discuss tension or bad things that people from the church have done in front of our kids, because we want them to love the Body of Christ rather than grow up cynical about it, considering it a “necessary evil”. (And may I say: far be it from any of us to use the word “evil” in reference to something ordained by our Lord! How can we call bad what the Lord called good for us and for the world?)

So, love the church! And keep on loving each other. And don’t always talk about how it’s lacking; recognize and acknowledge and rejoice in the beauty of this loving community, which is the Body of Christ, where Jesus’ disciples do indeed show love one for another, in a way that is a testimony to the world.

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Someone Like You? : The Purpose of Community

homogeny

What should the church be?  A place where you go to meet someone like you, or a place where unity in diversity is the name of the game?

I think in this we have two divergent approaches to what the church should be. And the approach taken will determine a lot about what a church looks like.

On the one hand – if church is a place where you go to meet someone(s) like you, then we would expect to see different churches geared towards every “people group”, and in our churches we would design small groups and programs around every different interest and age group. This is the case in many places.

On the other hand – if church is a place where unity in diversity is not only an integral part of the design, but is portrayed as something to be sought after, then that would mean that our churches will be designed in such a way as to not be centered so much around bringing people together based on demographics and interests, but more about bringing people together around ideas and concepts and doctrines – no matter what stage of life they might be in.

I must say that for me, the second option is the more intriguing – and the more Gospel-driven. I think that unity in diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the body of Christ, and something we should seek after. If we are constantly surrounded by peers and people who are basically just like us in the way they think, their socio-economic status, their stage of life – then we will be poorer people as a result of having a very narrow view and experience.

If single people or young married couples without kids are in fellowship with people who have kids – actively spending time with them, then guess what happens: Yes, they have to deal with stuff they don’t usually have to:  screaming kids, messes, tantrums. But guess what else: they learn from observation. They get to observe how those parents deal with their kids – for better or for worse. Rather than being a bother, this should be taken as an enriching experience. Part of the reason is because through being parents, those people have learned something God and walked with God and grown in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise. The person with kids has something to glean from the one who doesn’t – and those who don’t have kids have something to glean from those who do.

If upper-middle class people are in fellowship with lower-middle class people, what happens?  Yes, they might feel uncomfortable with some things – there is an obvious cultural divide between economic classes in our society – but guess what else: presuppositions are challenged on both sides, and that is healthy and makes us grow.

In 2005 my wife and I planted a church in Eger, Hungary. In the beginning, the church only had one demographic: college-aged girls. They were all friends, they all hung out all the time. And that was fun and great for a while. Later on others joined the church – the oldest person in our fellowship was 40 years old, and we became known in town as the “youth” church. That was fun and great for a while – but do you know what happened? The people in the church began to complain and bemoan the fact that there was no one in the church who was different. There was no one who was older, who they could glean wisdom from. There were really no minorities to add cultural and economic diversity. God did add those elements to that fellowship in time – but the point is that they realized that they were poorer for the fact that they were surrounded with people who were basically the same age, same stage of life, same basic interests, etc.

Let me say that God’s vision for the church is much bigger than a group of people who gather together to find other people who are like themselves and share their interests. God’s vision for the church is that it be an oasis where the principles and culture of His Kingdom are present and cultivated, for the flourishing of life and the growth of human beings ultimately to the full stature of Jesus Christ.

Don’t limit your view of the Body of Christ to a lesser vision of it than what God intended. Embrace diversity, seek out diversity – for your own sake, for the sake of others and for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom. If the body of Christ is truly a body, and each member has been given a distinct gift to share and a role to play in the lives of others to mutually build each other up and help each other grow – then don’t not limit your experience of the body of Christ to just ‘someone like you’.

What is the best thing happening at your church?

About 2 months ago I got invited to a pastors’ lunch up in Berthoud. There were about 12 of us there from different churches in Northern Colorado – I was the only one from Longmont. There was a guest speaker, Ray, who pastors a large church in Sacramento.

I’ve been to these kinds of meetings before – but this one was different, because Ray asked a question that I wasn’t expecting:

“What is the best thing happening at your church?”

That was the question which he opened the meeting with, and it caught me off guard! I had expected Ray to talk about the great things that he is doing, or to ask: ‘what needs to change at your church?’ – but I wasn’t ready for that question: “What is the BEST thing happening at your church?”

It seems that the other pastors in the room were caught off guard by it too, because many of them didn’t know what to say. Quickly though, momentum picked up and everyone had plenty to say on that topic – including me.

Ray went on to explain that we need to stop focusing on what is lacking, and we need to start focusing on what is right – the areas where our church is knocking it out of the park and killing it, the things that we just naturally do well, and we need to do those things more and better!

I have found this concept to be so freeing, so invigorating and exciting and so vision-focusing – not only when it comes to visioneering for church, but when it comes to life and who God has called me to be.
The essence is: Who is it that God has uniquely gifted and called you to be? What is that niche that God has created you for and called you to?  You can’t be everything – but you can be something, and if you learn to focus on being and doing what God has uniquely called and gifted you to do and be, then you will thrive, and it won’t be contrived, it won’t be a burden – it will feel like you just stepped into the fast-current on the lazy river ride at the water park, rather than being stuck in the whirlpool.

This is important when it comes to church, because the fact is that there are other churches out there. And there are many churches that are doing things that we aren’t – or can’t. BUT – there are things that we can do better than any of them; there is a culture that we have, that they don’t. There is a place and a role that God has uniquely given us in the Body of Christ in this place. There is a reason why people come to our church – and it’s not because they don’t know that there are other churches out there.

So I’ve been asking the question: What are the greatest things happening at White Fields church?
And THOSE are the things I want to be focused on. Those are the things I want to turn the dial UP on and make better. Rather than focusing on what we aren’t (yet) – I want to focus on what we ARE and what makes us great, uniquely – and turn up the dial on that! When you start thinking that way, you are no longer “competing” with other churches, but you realize that you are each filling a different role in the Body of Christ.

The danger is, that if we spend all our energy focused on what we aren’t (yet), we can neglect the things which to us are as easy and natural as falling off a log – and then those things will suffer as a result. The end result of that? We are mediocre at EVERYTHING and great at nothing. Rather, our focus should be on being GREAT at the things which God has uniquely gifted us to be and do – and those are usually the things which come most naturally to us – which are as easy as falling off a log.

People wanted David to fight Goliath the way that Goliath was good at fighting. David knew that he could probably do that – but it wasn’t what he was good at. He knew that he wasn’t Goliath. But he also knew what he was: he was David. And he had certain abilities and strengths, that he was uniquely gifted at: he could sling a rock like no one else! So he went out to battle with his strength, and ended up victorious.
It is important to know who you are, who you aren’t – and how God has uniquely gifted and called you. Go to battle with that, and you are much more likely to be victorious.

This doesn’t just apply only to church – it applies to many areas of life, business, etc. Who has God uniquely called you to be? What is the niche that God has called you to fill?  You don’t have to be everything! But God has called you and gifted you uniquely for somethings. Focus on those things. Go and kill it in those areas, and focus on developing those areas and being GREAT at those things.

Leave me a comment below and tell me: What’s the BEST thing happening in your church?