Tag Archives: church

“Go to the world” not just “Go to Church”

 

Why should we go to church?   Do we go to seek healing from our “brokenness”?  Do we go to seek God’s will for our lives together with others who are searching for the same thing?    Do we go there to worship God?   Do we go for the beautiful music and the good feelings we have as we listen to it?   Do we go because it is a requirement for salvation?  Do we go to learn together with fellow Christians how to be disciples of Jesus?   Bingo!   You’ve got it!!

What is it that the church does that we should support it?   Are we discipling people so that they can go into the world and fulfill Jesus’ commission?   If we are not doing that, then perhaps we should support it as a nice social club, but not because it is the Church of Jesus Christ—because it isn’t.

In my opinion,most churches have things all turned around.   In our selfishness and our conceit we think that the church is a building or group of people that exists somehow for our benefit.    Isn’t that what all of the above, except the last statement,  is saying?

Instead of “going to churchhave we considered thechurch going to the world?”

Jesus, the itinerant preacher, early in his career visited his home synagogue of Nazareth. It was the equivalent of “going to church” today.   As he was already gaining fame, he was asked to read from the scrolls..  He read a passage taken from Isaiah 61,  and he so infuriated them with his remarks after the reading that the synagogue as a body rose up in rage and took him and tried to throw him off a cliff outside the town.   (Read Luke: 4:14-30 for the details!)   Clearly the synagogue wasn’t in agreement when Jesus read his job description:   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   They especially weren’t impressed when he told them he (Jesus) was the one that Isaiah was talking about.  I can almost hear them say:   “What is all this claptrap about the poor and the oppressed and the blind?  Who does this simple carpenter’s son think he is anyway?   What does all this stuff have to do with our church (synagogue)”?

If you read the gospels that tell of Jesus, it had everything to do with what churches should be doing.    Jesus never founded a church.   He never taught that people should go to church.   Jesus committed the “good news of the gospel”to those who were his disciples.  The church should be the gathering of those disciples today.    You can read his commission to his disciples  several places in the New Testament:   In Matthew 28: 19-20 he commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.   And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

A similar commission to his disciples is found in Acts 1:7-8 :   It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The purpose of the church is to make disciples If you are one of those disciples then your commission is to “GO INTO THE WORLD” , not just to  “go to church.”   

There is a world that is hurting outside the doors of our churches.   There are children that are hungry.   There is massive poverty.   There is lack of medical care.   There are people who are mentally ill not getting help.   There are oppressed people.   There are people in prison.   There are people trying to turn their lives around.   There are hopeless people that need a word of hope.   There are people in despair.   There are people in mourning over the death of a loved one.   There are people who are warehoused in nursing homes with no family.  There are people who are victims of human trafficking.   There are people dying alone.   There are people with no housing, living on the streets.

All of these are people to whom Jesus send us as his disciples, his church, when we “go into the world.”

All of these are people who need to hear and see in the lives of Jesus’ disciples the “good news” that God loves them and will care for them through Jesus’ disciples—that’s us!   We need to go to church to prepare to be disciples, but we need to then go to the world and fulfill the commission given to Jesus’ disciples—-the church.

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Are your Dreams Big Enough?

When I retired from teaching I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to fulfill in retirement.   For example, I wanted to put together a woodshop and one of my first projects would be building a grandfather’s clock with a kit from Emperor Clocks in Alabama.  I envisioned other things I would do, such as writing a book,  traveling in the U.S. and abroad, etc.    Dreams!     I put those dreams in a journal that I began writing every day (and still do)  after I retired and moved to Kansas from southern California.   for the first few years, once every year I looked up those dreams in my journal and wrote a “progress report” in my journal about my successes and failures in achieving my “dreams” and what I planned to do about it the following year.    Dreams are important!    They give you a reason for being, for living!

I recently worked for several months with leaders of my home church to evaluate our church and what could be done to improve it.   In the process we used the “Life Cycle of a Church” found in George Bullard’s book—Pursuing Your Full Kingdom Potential—-and decided we were in the “Maturity Phase” , which is one phase  beyond the prime time of the church and beginning the downward part of the life cycle that leads toward death of the institution.    One of the telling points in  the committee’s decision was a decided lack of a “Vision” or “Dream” for our church.    Vision is the first thing that disappears, according to Bullard, when a church begins a downward trend.   When I asked the group of spiritual leaders who were gathered for evaluation what the vision was for our church, I was met with silence—-no clue.

Long ago, the writer of the Book of Proverbs wrote (KJV) “Without a vision, the people perish!”     That is true, and without a vision, the church will perish.  It has no raison d’etre, no ” reason for being”.

As I grow older I ponder two thingsfirst, where I have been and what I have done, and where I am going and, secondly,  what remains undone in that uncertain future that I have ahead of me.    I guess I’m a lot like the late  Robert Kennedy,  who is quoted as saying:   “Some people see things as they are, and say why?   I dream of things that never were and say, “Why not!?”  When I give up dreaming you might as well bury me as I’m the “walking dead.” 

Many people and many churches never achieve their full potential because they fail to dream big enough dreams!     Churches, especially are weakened by their failure not only to dream big enough dreams of their church’s future but to dream God’s dream for them.   However both ourselves, and our churches limit our potential if we do not dream large enough dreams and if we do not become aware of God’s dreams for us!

When I dreamed about my retirement I failed to dream large enough dreams.   I achieved much of what I dreamed originally—-not all, but enough—on my list.   But my life is full of much larger dreams and much larger achievemenst now  because God had much larger dreams for me than I did for myself!     For example, when I retired from teaching, I was going to build some things in a wood shop  I would put together, write and travel—-God’s dream was for me to go back into ministry where I had originally started fresh out of seminary years ago. I became a pastor to 7 different churches in Kansas, after retiring from teaching—five of them as an interim minister helping put churches back together for the next pastor.  It was also God’s dream for me to be a chaplain for three years in southeast Kansas and to touch numerous lives of patients and their families during their end of life experience.    If God’s dream for me had not prevailed over my limited dreams for retirement I would be much less the fulfilled person that I presently am!    A second example,  I felt my dream was to retire with my wife of 50+ years and live out the rest of my life.   But my wife died after 56 years of marriage and I found that God had other plans for me.   Although the original dream was shattered by the death of my wife, God found me a wife at a church I served after my first wife’s death,  and I am now enjoying a wonderful loving relationship with her in complete retirement!   As my present wife and I express often—-it was a “God thing” that led us together and made life so much  better for both of us than we could have dreamed.   She lost her husband about the same time I lost my wife.     God had other plans for both of us.   God’s dream is always bigger and better than we can dream ourselves.

I need to ask you, my readers:    “How big are your  dreams?”   “Have you included God in your dreams and are you trying to dream God’s dreams, as well as your own?  We are never too old, and never too young to “dream dreams, and see visions”.   Make sure that your dreams are “big enough”   and that they are God’s dreams and visions for you.   And we will be blessed by those larger dreams!  That’s my experience!Amen.

Disciple “Lone Rangers”?

It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   Can you be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, and not be a church member?   On the other hand, can you be a church member and not be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian?  Good questions begging for answers in our current times!   Can you be a “Lone Ranger” Disciple of Jesus?

I begin to seek answers in pointing out that, according to the Gospels, Jesus never founded a church called “The First Church of Jesus the Christ”.   The Gospels do seem to assume the existence of the church and we know the church existed from the earliest writings in the New Testament, those of the Apostle Paul, who wrote many years before the Gospels were written and his letters were to “the church” at different locations.    But what Jesus  did was to call people to discipleship many different times and in many different ways in order to carry out the ministry that he felt called by God to do.     It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   A personal relationships with God through Jesus is good—but is that what Jesus calls his disciples to do—just be God’s individual friend through Jesus?   Perhaps we need to examine what that “discipleship” is that Jesus calls us to.   Jesus view of what he was called by God to do in his ministry is found in his first sermon after his temptations in the wilderness,  given at the synagogue in Nazareth.     Luke records it this wayHe stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring goood news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke4:16b-21)    This scripture is Jesus’ statement of his ministry and  mission.  If we are his disciples it is our ministry and  mission also.

To carry out this mission and ministry Jesus called a special group of 12 disciples to follow him and help him.   He realized, even with his relationship with God, that he could not accomplish his ministry and mission alone.  Neither can we as  inidividuals alone do so today!

Throughout the New Testament—there is an underlying assumption that if you are a follower of Jesus you are a member of a group, whether it is called a “church” or not.   The earliest writings of the New Testament, the Pauline Epistles (written long before the Gospels were written) are to the church.  And Paul describes that church unequivocably  as the “Body of Christ” with  all believers and followers of Christ being members of that body, working together to bring about the Kingdom of God and carry out the mission Jesus was given as captured by Luke in the synagogue at Nazareth.   Paul writes:  For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.  ….If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 

There is not a great deal of support in the Bible for the popular saying now—I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus, but I’m not a church member.

Perhaps the problem is how we define “church“.    The Greek word eklesia has the  literal meaning of “those called out”.   Note that there is no mention in the New Testament  of denominations that we ordinarily refer to as “church” today.    There are no Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ (Christian Churrch), Presybyterian, etc.  named.   The church, in the writings of Paul, is “The Body of Christ” —one body with many members   When we confess Jesus as Lord we become a member of that body according to Paul—-certainly not just a member of a denomination or megachurch—-we become part of, (a member of)  the earthly body of Christ.   We individually answer the call to follow Jesus as Lord, but that following what we are called by Jesus to do  is carried out as a member of the body of Christ.    In doing so we inidivdually answer to call to follow Jesus as his disciple, but we carry out that call as one of many members of the body of Christ.   As Paul writes to the churches in Ephesus:  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s grow in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:15-16).

It appears to me that the followers of Jesus have failed to grasp the full meaning of this concept of the church.  When they do so, they will follow Jesus’ calling to his disciples more fully and will seek not just a personal relationship but a call to do ministry and carry out his mission as the Body of Christ.   It’s the mission he outlined in the synagogue in Nazareth many years ago—to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”   In  Matthew 24:34-40 Jesus puts his mission in these words and says to his disciples who carry it out these words:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?   And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?   And the king will answer them,  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

It appears to me that when the followers of Jesus finally grasp the full meaning of this concept then  “the church” will follow its calling as Jesus disciples more fully.   Right now we have much to do that we are doing in carrying out his mission and ministry.

I don’t think there are any “Lone Rangers” in the ranks of Jesus’ effective disciples. 

What do you think?