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What is the Church? – Part 5

February 29, 2016 Leave a comment

As we have seen, Jesus had provided some critical information to help combat the disciples’ confusion as to what comes next after the tumultuous days of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. And, ultimately, the awaited empowering brought a sense of direction amidst a Pentecost celebration like no other.

The promise of “You shall receive power” became a reality as the Church was launched from an unexpected Upper Room. Some have called this Day of Pentecost the “birthday of the Church,” but such a tag ignores the faith and relationships that already existed among the Twelve, the 120, and an even larger number who had seen evidence of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus gives no indication that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit would begin their relationship with Him–that they already possessed. But this remarkable moment would mark the onset of His Commission. So, the Church began days earlier, perhaps in moments like John 20 (when Jesus “breathed” on them His Spirit), but the Day of Pentecost was clearly the day of their intended launch.

And what a day it was!

First, there was the outpouring–the extraordinary demonstration of the Spirit’s presence in the room and then in them.

Next, there was the first evidence of a message as Simon Peter, of all people, stepped to the forefront to proclaim Christ’s identity and point his bony finger at the crowd who crucified Him. The altars filled with thousands now compelled by the same Spirit that had energized the room above.

Finally, Acts 2 reveals what they did next–and what we still do as Christ’s Church today. They worshipped together, fellowshipped together, served together, received teaching together, and proclaimed a message that people were responding to each day. There it is–the Church in action, ready to spread itself across the globe as the Spirit empowers.

Confusion has melted into commission. The days of not knowing what to do have become a clear sense of direction as they began to worship, fellowship, serve, disciple, and evangelize together. The message spread, but so did their methods. Now, nearly two millennia later, we still proclaim their message and every local church expresses their methods in some fashion or with varying degrees of impact.

The Church’s identity crisis is solved in Acts 2. Fishermen who had returned to their boats in John 21, won’t be returning there again. For they have found their way and launched their mission. Their “now what?” has been solved and their answer continues to guide us to this day.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 297

February 26, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

Is the message here too hidden? Did we not see what Jesus says will glorify the Father? He has completed the work. No, we don’t achieve righteousness by our works, but surely we glorify Him by our works. This is what James will later insist upon. We cannot simply claim to be something if our actions fail to reveal it. And why should we do good works? In order to glorify (reveal) the existence of God in us and available to others. Freedom from sin provides freedom to act in new ways, to choose new paths, and to ultimately arrive in new destinations. As Paul would later say, how could we want anything else? So it seems our real mission is to discover what this work is–the work you gave me to do–and then learn to do it fully, with all our might.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 296

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “Now this is eternal life: that they might know You…” (John 17:3).

It’s the life we were meant for. Too easily, our thoughts are dominated by what we see, the life in front of us, the day-in-day-out challenges that seem to easily overwhelm. But we were made for more. We were made to know God, to walk with God, and to live with God…forever. So, this is the life Jesus came to show us. It’s not just a life free from the dominance or even the effects of sin. It’s a life of communion with God. Tucked neatly in this idea is the apparent truth that such knowledge is possible. We have the capacity to engage such a relationship–even, apparently to choose it. While sin has marred us for sure, and propelled many toward senseless, almost animalistic behavior choices, humanity’s grip on the image of God remains sufficiently intact for us to embrace this eternal opportunity. Those who overstate our incapacity to know God fail to account fully for Jesus’ mission as He describes here.

What is the Church? – Part 4

February 22, 2016 Leave a comment

There are three moments among Jesus’ final days with His disciples that we would call formative for the Church. Without these, the initial confusion among the disciples as to what to do might have continued to this day, or more likely derailed the mission from the outset and led to horrid failure.

The first, at least in the order we’ll choose, is the Commission. Jesus aimed the destiny of their little band beyond the imagination. “Go into all the world” is a highly unlikely charge among those who’ve lived their lives among the familiar. It’s tempting to project our shrinking world on their moment, even though we know air travel and automatic engines weren’t within their reach. But go meant go, and the task was to do what they had seen Him do–make disciples. Jesus even defined what that meant. He said baptize them and teach them what you’ve been taught. It was the “them” that felt overwhelming in their moment. For us, it’s often the “teach” we struggle to fully engage.

Second among these signature moments comes to us over the span of a few of John’s chapters. The setting is the Passover and the moment explodes with Jesus’ core teaching. Nestled, but hardly hidden, in that night around the table is the priority of love. Jesus elevated love, not just as an ideal, but as the primary method. To that point in human history, ideas of gods had only spread through warfare. Tribes conquered tribes in the name of their gods. Peoples were subjected and their lands confiscated in the names of gods. You might say that the spread of religion was a very unpopular thing.

Not so in this kingdom. Instead, it will be love that marks them. In fact, Jesus said that people would connect the dots between their efforts and Him by the love they saw–a self-sacrificing, put other’s needs first ethic that would draw people toward them and Him. As the Church unfolded in the book of Acts and beyond, this is what you see. John grew into the apostle of love, even Paul shifted gears from being a bit hard to live with to a guy who said that without love he was nothing.

Finally, Acts 1 brings the third of our formative moments. In verse 5, Jesus places a premium on the soon-to-be-given Holy Spirit. He told them to wait–don’t start the mission–until they had been filled with his power. That made sense since we saw Simon Peter’s lack of capacity around a courtyard campfire.

But when He, the Holy Spirit, comes and that power is given, they would be witnesses, and the global focus of their assignment pops to the surface again as they will be propelled to destinations at home and abroad. The power of the Holy Spirit will equip them for a mission so much larger than their imaginations could even whimsically grasp.

So be witnesses–simply telling what you’ve seen and heard–was the assignment. Make disciples–teach what you’ve been taught–was the primary content. Ends of the earth was the only outer limit. And love, would be their unusual but extraordinary means. This is the Church on missional point, both two millennia ago and today–this is the Church.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 295

February 17, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John  17:1).

The hour had come for the big reveal. Jesus, once tucked quietly off the international scene, a miracle-working Teacher hidden in the hills of Judea, would now step to center stage in the greatest act of love ever known. God’s plan, in place since before the world was formed, was on the verge of full revelation. But this moment, the one clearly achieving the required redemptive transaction, was more than a sacrifice, more than a payment, more than a satisfaction of the Creator’s righteousness. For in this moment, every information to be gained about that Creator would be visible, no longer shielded from view, fully on display as Jesus would “glorify” the Father. Here, Jesus asks that in this moment His own true nature might be made known as well. That He would be glorified, apparent as one with the Father, even as His act of sacrifice would require the unbearable pain of separation.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

What is the Church? – Part 3

February 15, 2016 Leave a comment

Our titled question stirs something in me. If we could somehow begin to grasp the potential…heaven’s intent for the Church…

A quick glimpse of the analogies used in the Bible to describe the Church reveals amazing insights into that potential. Jesus, himself, started the conversation by insisting that the “gates of hell” would be unable to stop the march of His Church. Surely two millennia of spiritual warfare, persecution, and political aggression have tried, and yet the Church continues its spread of the Gospel’s love. Other “religions” have attempted their age-old strategy, spreading apparent power through violence. But Jesus’ people have been at their best when their weapons remained sheathed and their hearts are drawn instead.

The Apostle Paul showed us a few metaphors to describe the church’s potential. In 1 Corinthians (3:16-17) we are the temple of God–the place by which He dwells among His creation. Some of us might too quickly connect the idea to a church building, but those days are long past. Instead, we–you know, the “two or three gathered,” are that dwelling place. Wherever God’s people go, He is in the house! And frankly, God can’t be in the room without messing up the furniture a little bit.

In Ephesians (2:19), we are the household of God and (2:22-23), the body of Christ. Think of the implications here. We are God’s house–not the chapel on the corner. We are the body, attached to the Head, His working hands and feet, connected and led fully by His missional thoughts. He isn’t just the Head in that He is in charge. The analogy is a body, fully attached to Him!

Peter said we are the “people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). That means He can be expected to act on our behalf. As He desired with Israel, He wants to be known as our God. He wants to demonstrate what it means to connect with Him by revealing His love and power through us. Surely “people of God” shows us His supernatural intent. Remember some of the things He did for His people Israel? We can make a strong case that He was clearly on their side, in spite of their frequent failures. When they cried out, He showed up in big ways. Surely we His people can expect Him to show up in our worlds as well.

Finally, John sums us up as the bride of Christ–forever joined to Him. He has chosen us with a covenantal love. He has even provided the means that we might be spotless for Him. And the day is soon coming when that marriage will be celebrated and the happily ever after will ensue.

So what is the Church? You may occasionally feel the impotence of a small collection of humanity gathering in a less than impressive way, but hold on. You see, the Church is so much more than it may at times appear. Sure, we fail to live up to our potential at times and even allow what is ungodly to shape our actions, but we are made to be so much more. And when we are…

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 294

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

It can be done. Jesus proved it. The world with all its alluring temptations can be withstood, overcome, turned aside. He did it! And so can we. This is the message Jesus offers to the moments of struggle on the disciples’ immediate radar. You can make it because He has paved the way. He has broken down the brush on a previously uncharted path. He has conquered what couldn’t previously be conquered. He won and now the recipe for winning has been proven and is available to those who would follow His lead. So, yes, in the world you will have difficulty, but the road to victory is no longer a push through the unexplored. There’s a path!