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the church as the body of christ: part I

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The Holy Universal Catholic Apostolic Church.
RC Sproul uses this most helpful description when talking about the invisible church (full treatment here). What comes to my mind when I hear these words is a large Medieval European Cathedral like the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica perhaps? Most people think of a fixed and perhaps out-dated institution associated with priests, angles, saints and all things sacred. I may be wrong but I believe that this is what most people have in view when it comes to church. What is kind of shocking is to read the New Testament and find something completely different. Christ used several different images to describe His church; a bride, a body, a flock of sheep, and an assembly to name a few. These pictures are very distant from a large cathedral made of stone, brick and glass. Christ saw His church as a living, breathing and vibrant organism of which He the head. He is the groom, the head, and the chief shepherd. And I would like to discuss in a bit more detail this New Testament idea of the church as the body of Christ. 

This is the first in a series of posts about the church as the body of Christ and the first we need to talk about is what is the church? There are many definitions and rightfully so since it has been around for over two thousand years and has many nicknames and many enemies as well who have their own ideas about what the church is and is not. I started this post with the title The Universal Catholic Apostolic Church. Each one of these titles describes something about the church.

 

Firstly, the title Holy refers to the fact that God’s church has been sanctified or set apart for holy or sacred purposes. This of course, is not an inherent holiness but a foreign and imputed holiness that is derived from Christ its head. We as the people of God are holy just as Christ is Holy because we are found in Him and His blood purchased our inheritance into the Kingdom of God. We in one place in the NT are referred to as “Holy, blameless and without spot or wrinkle.” And this is all because of the fact that Christ is our righteousness and we are in Him.

Secondly, the church is Universal or Catholic. This means that the church of Jesus Christ cannot be bound by geographic or political borders. It also cannot be bound by a specific time period. Universal refers to the idea that the church includes all the peoples of God who have believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah (God’s sent one), God in the flesh, and Lord of all.

Thirdly, the church is Apostolic. This perhaps is the least known description of the church as explained by the greatest theologians over the centuries. Apostolic simply means referring to the Apostles. This implies that the church has historically followed the teachings of the Apostles who were appointed personally by Christ Himself. “But I thought the church was founded on the teachings of Christ” you might say. And you would be absolutely correct! But what we know of the teachings of Christ has come to us through his Apostles. As surprising as this might sound Christ never wrote anything down (Unless you count his writing in the sand in which case we still don;t know what exactly He wrote). This is not uncommon in the  ancient world. In fact, everything we know about Socrates, Homer, Buddha and Mohamed we know because their disciples wrote down what they said. The authority of the Apostles is once again (like our righteousness) is derived from Christ Himself. It’s not the these men were any holier, better, or even wiser than the people who make up the church today. It’s the fact that Christ chose to commission his disciples with the privileged task of spreading the truth of his Gospel, namely that Christ, God very God, became a man, lived a perfect life, died a vicarious death in which he paid for the sins of all those who believe on him, rose from dead to defeat death itself, and ascended to heaven after which we look forward to his promised second coming. Lord come quickly!

So there is my first post. The church is Holy, Universal, and Apostolic. Next time I want to get into the New Testament and examine more closely how Christ describes His church, namely as His very own body. Until then, may Christ indwell you richly and fill you will all knowledge so that you may enjoy His love, protection, and full hope that he offers all freely.

 

He is risen!

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I Don’t Remember

I was hearing a couple talk about the early years of their marriage this morning and how they both had secret sins they kept from one another. It wasn’t until they risked everything and confessed to each other that there was healing and forgiveness. This story reminded me about another story that still impacts me today. My aunt Saundra died a few years ago at a relatively young age and went to be with her Lord in heaven. It was a bittersweet funeral because of how much she would be missed and yet a celebration of both her life here and her life in heaven.

My Aunt Jenny, whom I love dearly, told us about a dream she had. Now forgive me if my details are less than perfect because it was a few years ago and I only heard it once. She said that in her dream she was sitting and crying. Then Jesus came to her and said “Why are you crying?” My aunt then replied “For all the ways in which I have disappointed You and for all the wrong that I have done.”

Then Jesus told her that He didn’t know what she was talking about. So she proceeded to recount numerous and specific events in which she failed Him. With a look of disbelief Jesus turned toward her and said “I don’t remember.”

So then she she told Him in greater detail all of her shortcomings and failings, this time pleading with Him. But again He said “I don’t remember.”

To this day I recount that story in my own mind when I start to think about all of my failures. All the ways in which I have fallen short of God’s standard for me. Because the truth of it is He doesn’t remember so why should I?

“He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:10-12 (ESV)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1 (ESV)

I hope you have a great day in the Lord.

People Are Like Food

Photo taken from: Closet Cooking: Ribeye Steak in Wine Sauce

Have you ever noticed how the best tastes are acquired and not immediately liked? As I was enjoying a nice hot cup of black coffee, I thought to myself, “When did this happen? I mean coffee… and black?” That’s disgusting– to the undeveloped tounge. Black licorice, onions, spicy foods, medium rare steak, Hawaiian pizza, espresso, and the list goes on…. Okay I lost some of you back there ( I personally can’t account for spicy). But the point is that there are all kinds of strange and different foods out there that given only a first try, might leave a bitter taste in our mouths. This can be summed up in the popular phrase “first impressions are everything.” And while there might be a hint of truth in that statement, I think that it does a disservice to not only our taste buds, but our potential relationships as well. How many times have we wanted to hit the reset button and reintroduce ourselves because of how much of a goof we made of ourselves (I speak from experience)? And how many times have we written people off because of something they said just once or it might have been just the expression on their face (some people just have a surly disposition)?

Now let’s not take this analogy too far. I’m not suggesting that if we just eat something for long enough we will like it or that we even should like it. No matter how much one eats dirt, it still tastes like dirt (and so does Turkish coffee– it’ll put hair on your chest). So it is with people; if someone is rude, they will confirm it time and time again. On the other hand, sometimes coffee gets better with each taste. It goes something like this:

  1. Disgusting
  2. Less distasteful
  3. Tolerable
  4. Not bad
  5. Kind of tasty
  6. Delicious
  7. Costanza!

And you’re hooked for life. Of course there is this scenario:

  1. Annoying
  2. More annoying
  3. Intolerable
  4. Nasty
  5. Never gonna touch the stuff

Notice this is a much shorter lists. If something is more distasteful every next taste, we won’t be so patient.

Now this is not a rule for life but more of an observation of life. For example when Peter asked Jesus “should we forgive 7 times?” (feeling pretty generous), Jesus responded with seventy times seven! But that is a different matter– a much more important matter; the issue of forgiveness. I am simply suggesting that just as we would like to be given a second chance perhaps we can return the favor next time someone starts to get under our skin. I think we would all be a little happier whether at work, a restaurant, a friend of a friend’s house, a park, or anywhere we might run into a new face.

I have found that giving people the benefit of the doubt most of the time really helps to grease the wheels of human interaction. I have often been on the “stick-foot-in-mouth” side of things and sometimes have had the opportunity to redeem myself but also have had to leave that one embarrassing snapshot of myself.

Getting back to food, as I mentioned above, some of my favorite foods and drinks have been acquired over time and if I hadn’t tried it multiple times I never would have been able to enjoy that sweet aroma and satisfying sip of black coffee or the delightful taste of a cheeseburger with the works. Humans really aren’t that different from food. They are not only meant for daily consumption (metaphorically speaking) but are to be cherished and enjoyed. What could be better than to share a favorite meal with an acquired friend?

Why the Recession is a Blessing and Not a Curse

As I came into work this morning I had a brief conversation with the building guard about work. I learned that he used to be in middle management and he learned that I used to be a teacher. He told me that just a few years ago he was doing pretty well, financially speaking. But now he has to do something that ‘pays the bills’ but he otherwise would not be doing this type of work. It got me to thinking about how almost everyone I meet is doing something different from what they were doing before the economy went sour. For those who are still working, many are in a different field altogether and many have received a ‘demotion’ of sorts; from real estate broker making $30K per deal to receptionist making $30K per year. There are countless examples of this all over the country. Everyone has been affected by this great ’employment shift’ in one way or another. Unfortunately this means that there are those who have received the most unpleasant demotion to unemployment. And it is quite a humbling thing to not be able to go to work in the morning.

But there is a silver lining of sorts to all of this. In fact I would even use the word “blessing.” Blessing you say? Yes, blessing. As I mentioned before, there are many people who lost their higher-paying jobs for lower-paying ones and those who have not been able to bring a paycheck at all. But would if our higher paying jobs were keeping us from enjoying the things that matter most? Would if our busy schedules did not allow us the time to slow down and think about our lives, our families, our pets, our purpose in life? Nothing shakes us up more than a pink slip. And nothing reveals more what we trust in the most when the bank account runs dry. I must say for me and my family this has been a true test of faith in God’s providence (having to change jobs). But it has also been a time of budget stretching, relying more on one another, communicating more keenly, praying incessantly, holding my son a little tighter, and cherishing greater the things that I really care about.

It’s been said that “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” We tend to only do that which is absolutely necessary and then we rise or fall to the occasion. It’s really hard to always be challenging ourselves. We prefer to do what comes easiest. Circumstances beyond our control so often dictate our next move in life. And so when things get tough we are truly put to the test; to see what’s inside. There is an old proverb that is very… well.. wise.

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God. (ESV)

Proverbs 30:7-9

This is my dilemma. It’s so easy to take things for granted when I am always being cared for. In fact, not only do I take them for granted but I even demand them when they are taken from me as if I was owed them. I am not owed a wife, children, a place to sleep, stylish clothing, health, employment, material wealth, etc. and yet all these things I have been given. Wealth? Really? Yes. Even the poorest family in the U.S. has exponentially more than much of the rest of the world. We (Americans) are something like 5% of the world’s population and consume somewhere around 40% of the world’s resources (to quote my old Poly Sci Prof). However, according to Agur (the one who wrote the proverb) this is a curse rather than a blessing. If we have all that we need and more we are apt to forget to be thankful and eventually become lovers of stuff rather than lovers of God and people. And yet if we go without for too long we are prone to curse the One who gave us life.

It’s interesting to me how much we love our futures (for some it is literally futures) more than we love our todays. Feed me with the food that is needful for me. Can you imagine if you had no 401K, no retirement fund, no social security, nothing in your savings except for what’s currently in your checking? And then everyday you check your balance and it starts at zero again until you are given your daily wage. That kind of life is so foreign to the American way we view economics. In fact, we would say how foolish that kind of system would be. And yet that is exactly what Agur prayed for; his daily bread– no more– no less. There is something profound about it. And scary too. But if everyday you were given exactly what you needed then maybe you wouldn’t worry so much about all of the bad things that could happen and focused more on what did happen. You worked. You ate. You slept. You have enough. That would be something.

Recession. A curse or a blessing?

What’s Next?

The New York Times

It’s a pretty surreal feeling this evening. I came home from a walk with my son and turned on the TV and heard the amazing news– Osama Bin laden is dead! As I watched the news I could see an outcry of patriotism and elation in the streets all over the U.S. I remember a similar feeling of patriotism as many others did that fateful day on September 11th, 2001. I remember driving around in my car and making eye contact with total strangers and yet shared a feeling of connectedness and shock. There is that same sort of feeling tonight. But this time its more of a sense of relief and a sense that some justice in this world is possible. But it is this feeling of justice that I find to be most curious. Americans differ in their opinions in their attitude toward the wars that have ensued since the announcement that we were at war with Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction– words that now live in infamy. But there was initially a call to arms as it were; a “sleeping giant” awoken once again. Everything happened so fast and there was a bipartisan unity for immediate retaliation. Unfortunately for Saddam Hussein, it was really bad news whether he was responsible or not.

I find this sense of American justice to be rather peculiar. But let me first say that I am proud to live in a country where there are those who are willing to fight for the freedoms of others; whether those people want them to or not. I think tonight you will be hard-pressed to find an American who is not glad at the news of the death of someone who very purposely and precisely carried out a plan to kill many innocent American lives. But as I said before, this feeling of justice is a peculiar one. This is a country that is divided on the issue of capital punishment. We stand to protect the rights of those who disagree with us. We do not like the idea of being at war (I believe that to be a good). I remember a similar celebration in the Arab world when the news came that New York had been attacked by two planes. I remember seeing people dancing in the streets because America the great harlot had been wounded. Now of course as an American, I have a very strong bias toward seeing my country succeed in all its endeavors, including just military campaigns. I can’t help but feel glad that an evil man has been taken from power and will stand before a Holy Judge. And I believe that most Americans in some sense would agree with such a feeling. But for how long?

How long will this patriotism last? Over the last 10 years of seemingly unending war we have grown weary of seeking justice and have felt tremendous pressure from the rest of the world to stay out of the affairs of other sovereign nations. And no doubt pressure from within our borders. Justice has become an archaic and primitive ideology of which we have no need for anymore. Ideas of justice and righteousness have been replaced with catch words like Karma and positive thinking. Our culture has all but divorced itself from just causes. That is why such rhetoric used by former President George Bush during the search for WMD’s was parodied on shows like SNL and The Daily Show with John Stewart. Talk of ‘evil doers’ and ‘evil deeds’ is not only outdated but is extremely offensive, judgmental and even potentially harmful. Now I must say that I am not interested in promoting a particular political point of view (because I know this side of heaven I won’t ever get it right) but I am interested in talking about the use of language and how it changes depending on what way the winds are blowing. For now, justice has been served. There is much well-deserved and rightful celebration. But I would be interested to know what will be said in the coming years about Osama Bin Laden’s life and death. He has epitomized evil in the minds of most Americans for these last ten years. Has his death also been the death of justice in our country? I sure hope not. But only time will tell.

to make you feel my love

I was listening to some tunes today and I heard Adele’s chilling voice once more. The first time I heard her sing her voice just blew me away. And then when she did this Bob Dylan cover To Make You Feel My Love, it simply turned my heart to mush. Songs like these will no doubt rule the air for the next couple of weeks in honor of yet another commercial holiday. I used to dread this time of year because if you’re not in a relationship, then you feel pressure to find a date. If you are in a relationship, depending on the level of commitment, it could potentially be extremely awkward. I once had a girlfriend who’s birthday just happened to be within a week of Valentine’s Day (talk about a double-whammy). However, for the  cowards (like me), this day can serve as an excuse to ask out that special someone you’ve been fawning over. For those in committed relationships it can serve as a great way to express what you have been feeling all along. Either way, we’re in for a barrage of “romance” for the next few weeks.

When I heard these lyrics I thought to myself Wow, who would love like that? Who would go to these depths just to make someone “feel” their love. As I thought some more, I realized that no one had ever actually done all of these things for someone else. But when you’re in love, you feel as though you would do all those things and more. You feel as though you could not love any greater than you do now. I remember feeling this way when I was engaged to Sarah. Little did I know that I really didn’t know much about love. To say that you would “go to the ends of the earth” is not a small thing. And I think we all feel that we would do just that. But who has?

And then that’s when it really struck me. The greatest love story of a man going to the very depths of hell for his bride was none other than Christ himself.

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

Who can say they have done that for the one whom they love? It reminds me of Christ in the desert going 40 days without food. Or when He was beaten unrecognizable and then made His way down the “avenue” to the cross– all to make me feel His love.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love

And there is nothing that He didn’t do for us. He suffered the pains of hell just to make me feel His love. And He is the only one who truly can make my dreams come true. He is the only man that has ever done all those things that we say we would do to show our love.  And I love the challenge in the song:

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

In a world where people have yet to make up their mind about Him, He already has made up his mind about us. And unlike our human relationships, He has never and will never do us wrong.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (ESV)

Revelation 21:4

I love my wife and I want to do all to make her feel my love. I have the best example to follow. 

scott pilgrim vs the world

Michael Cera, indie rock, demon hipster chicks and 7 evil-ex’s. What more do you need to watch this film? That’s exactly how this film was marketed. After much coaxing, I finally sat down to watch this much-heralded teen flick. While I am not endorsing this film, nor attempting to review it I would like to point out some observations I had about it (here’s an actual review http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/scott_pilgrims_vs_the_world/). The movie itself seemed to be this generation’s Weird Science meets Ferris Bueller meets Comicon. I rather enjoyed the ridiculousness of this film but in the end, much like eating too much candy, I found myself wondering why I continued to see the bottom of the box.

However, Scott Pilgrim also seems to be somewhat of a generation-defining movie, carefully manufactured and packaged for young males, appealing to their love of music, video games, and pretty girls who are willing to go out with muscleless, shaggy-haired nerds because they can play guitar (a bass guitar no less). Scott Pilgrim is the new cool. He’s shy, easy-going, musically inclined, awkward, a lady-killer of sorts, and packs a powerful PlayStation punch.  He is the young everyman. This I think is what resonates with Millennials (Generation Y) and what made it an instant cult-classic.

The question I have about this film is “what kind of type and anti-type is being presented?” And what do young people actually admire? Being in the graphic-novel-made-into-a-movie genre, it speaks the language of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. If Scott Pilgrim is the new Ferris Bueller, then what are the major differences between what the past generation upholds as ideal and this one? One of the major differences I see is in their relationships. The relationship Scott and Ramona have is largely one-sided and basically grows out of a boyish fantasy come true until he gets a dose of reality. This generation seems to place great value on relationships (although more emotionally-based than physical attraction-based) and yet is agnostic about them. The end of the story is still open. In almost all of the previous teenage-angst (although Scott Pilgrim is technically a twenty-something who is dating a high-schooler) movies of the 80’s and 90’s, the boy still gets the girl with a more traditional happy ending. This underlies the brooding skepticism of this generation about relationships.

One other major difference is the music. And for that I really enjoyed the film (revealing my disgust for 80’s music). The movie is almost like a really cool and funny Guitar Hero music video with a Kung-fu twist. I really liked the musical interludes and the epic bass battle between Scott and a pretentious Vegan. This generation’s music is much more artful than the previous “party music” of the ’80’s. It is still armed with the angst of the grunge era and yet has a soft underbelly of emotionally driven lyrics. Overall, I would not recommend this movie because of the constant sexual double entendres and lack of any real story. With that being said I found it to be rather amusing and quite telling of what younger folks are being bombarded with. I say bombarded because I still think that even though the message of care-free agnosticism (about everything) is what is being pushed, I believe millennials are still not there. I believe that they are more optimistic than previous generations give them credit for. But that’s just my take on it.