” . . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
For a church to become mature, it is essential that it be a place where the truth is spoken in love. Without this, a church will never become what God would have it to be.
Sadly, what so often happens in the Church is that we want to be affirmed. We may recoil at the suggestion that there is some sin in our lives that needs to be addressed and become offended if someone should tell us what we need to hear. But limiting our speech–from the pulpit or otherwise–to words of affirmation alone does not lead to growth and maturity. Doing so allows sin to take root in our lives and do its destructive, deadening work. This is the danger in expecting love without truth.
The Church has also been known to err to the opposite extreme. For instance, preaching has a sometimes-well-earned reputation for thundering out truth judgmentally and with no hint of love. Those who stick around for such preaching may either become self-deprecating punching bags, certain of their wormlike worth, or find themselves morphing into Pharisees with pointing fingers and hawk-like eyes for seeing the faults in others. When that happens, it is not only from the pulpit that loveless truth will flow. Rather, it will become the culture of such a church.
If the Church is to be what Christ wants His Church to be (and it is His Church), we must avoid these extremes and speak the truth in love. In doing so, we lovingly help one another along on this journey of faith, saying what needs to be said only for the sake of building one another up toward maturity in Christ. This enables each of us to be enlightened to our blind spots and to come to terms with our flaws and our sin and allow the Lord to transform us as we humbly submit to His spiritual surgery. Only then will each part of the Body of Christ work properly, which is essential to seeing “the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
What a privilege it is to walk into a new year with Jesus. The year is sure to bring the usual difficulties, disappointments, and crises, but Jesus will be right there with me through all of them, as He will with you, if you know Him. And if we should not make it to 2019, it will mean that we have gone to our true home with Him.
One of the themes that is often at the forefront of my mind and turns up frequently in my sermons is that, when we are with Him in eternity, all of the things that beset us in life–things that cause some to walk away from Him–will prove to have been worth enduring with Him and for Him. May we who know Jesus not wander from the path this year. May we not step off of the firm Foundation. May we not let any deep darkness that may seem to enshroud us along the way keep us from seeing the light beyond the darkness–the light that is Jesus Himself.
And to any who read this who do not yet know Him, may you sense His tug at your heart and come to embrace Him as your Savior. For He died to pay the penalty for your sins against God, and He rose from the grave to conquer sin and death. He holds out a gift to you: the gift of eternal life, and He beckons you to receive it by faith.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Three days into 2017, are your New Years resolutions still intact? I’m not one for making such resolutions, but I do strive (however feebly) to live by the Scriptures every day of my life. The very end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us some good things to shoot for as believers in Jesus in 2017 (and beyond, should the Lord tarry). His last three statements (prior to the “amen”) are powerful:
- “Our Lord, come!”
- “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”
- “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.”
If we could wrap all of that into one resolution for the new year, it would look something like this: Long for the Lord’s return while living in the light of His grace and loving one another.
Can you imagine how transformed the Church of Jesus Christ would be if our lives were so defined? Can you imagine the focus we would have? Can you imagine the trivial things that might fall by the wayside in our lives as the things that really matter rise to the forefront? Can you imagine the impact we might make for Christ?
I arrived at the church yesterday morning to see a tag hanging on the door knob, informing me that a gas company meter reader had been here earlier and I had missed him. (The meter readers have to be let in since our meter is behind a locked gate). I found this curious, given that I had set up an appointment a couple of weeks ago to have the meter read between 1:00 and 400 pm yesterday. So I called Nicor to get it straightened out.
Turns out, they did have us on the schedule for between 1 and 4, and the customer service rep did not know why someone had shown up earlier. She asked me if I would be willing to read the meter myself and tell her the readings. After receiving a quick tutorial from her on how to do that, I left her on hold, made the walk to the meter, wrote down the readings, and returned about five minutes later to find her still holding for me. I gave her the readings. She said, “Wow, you did that really well.” I have no idea what it was about the numbers I gave her that made her say that, but I chuckled and said, “Well, I may be needing a part-time job in the near future.” She laughed and told me they were hiring and that I would probably be good at it.
I give all that detail just to show how the conversation went. It was a nice, pleasant time on the phone over a mundane bit of church business. It had taken a little bit of time for her to sort out the scheduling confusion, and she had had to put me on hold at one point. But we just progressed, showing common courtesy and friendliness toward each other. Which leads to how the call ended.
As we were ready to say goodbye, she said to me, “Before I go, I just want to thank you for being so kind and patient and polite as I was straightening this all out. Not everyone is.” I replied, “Well, I think that’s how Jesus would have me be.” She said, “You would think so, but it’s not always the case.” She noted that she, too, was a Christian and that some of the rudest people she deals with are those who call from churches. That broke my heart. I think it says something about why people view Jesus and the Church the way they do. As I think about it now, it bothers me that, though I try not to be, I may have been that rude Christian on the other end of the phone at sometime. I hope not.
I’m struck by the power of common courtesy to make a good impression for Jesus. This goes along with what we read in Titus 3:2. Paul instructs Titus there to remind his congregation “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”If we are not able to do these things, perhaps we have become too full of ourselves and need to spend some time meditating on Philippians 2. Perhaps some humility is in order. If I think I am better than someone, I may tend not to show courtesy to that person. But the fact is, I am not better than anyone else.None of us are. We all stand before God as condemned sinners apart from having had our sins washed in the blood through faith in Jesus.
As ambassadors for Christ, we Christians need to take note of this, especially given the reputation we have with at least one customer service rep.How we treat people matters. It matters to the Lord who suffered and died for them. It even matters for how people may ultimately view Jesus. This is not earth-shattering spiritual truth here. It’s just a matter of being nice, polite, friendly, and things like that. It’s just common courtesy.
I am going to be very transparent here, not in a passive-aggressive attempt to gain anybody’s sympathy but in the hopes that someone might be helped by my experience.
I have this calling from God to preach His Word. He brought the calling to me so strongly one night that I had to fall on my face and surrender. That moment was phenomenal, but the calling has been difficult for me over the years. I have always been a self-doubter, and I struggle with the idea that I could ever do anything that really matters. Don’t get me wrong; I envision myself in more great moments than Walter Mitty, but when it comes to reality, I am more like Winnie the Pooh’s pal, Eeyore.
And so, all these years later, I find myself at the stage of life where it seems most pastors who have pastored as long as I have pastor churches of at least an average size. I, though, pastor a little church that not many people attend. The people who do attend are dear to me, and I love being their pastor. But honestly, we could all fit into two or three of the church’s pews. I sometimes wonder if we will ever be even an average sized church. But visitors are rare, and even my friends and family in the area choose to worship elsewhere. This leads me into periodic moments of confusion, wondering if anyone likes me, and sometimes questioning whether I heard my calling correctly. (Like I said, just being transparent). Those moments can become quite dark and debilitating. However, no sooner do I question the call than the Lord reminds me of the night I fell face down in surrender to Him, and I am reminded that I do not deserve to pastor even one person. And so I press on, doing the only thing on this planet that I want to do and that which gives me joy like nothing else, even though I have questions that remain unanswered.
But that’s how we shine the light of Christ; we press on in faith. Whether you’re a pastor or a plumber, a missionary or a manager, pressing on with Christ is no big deal if everything is lining up nicely for you. Even as I type this, thoughts of confusion begin to swirl in my head. “Why, Lord? I’m faithful to teach Your Word. I’m not asking for a mega-church. Maybe 150 or 200 people. Even just 5 or 10 new families would make a huge difference. Is that asking too much? Am I doing something wrong? Did I mishear the call to preach all those years ago? Etc.”
My fear is that a lot of the people I hear about who are walking away from ministry (and even from the Lord) might be doing it because of questions like that. The confusion I have expressed is about ministry, but maybe someone is confused over other matters in their walk with the Lord and is growing tired of asking the “Why, Lord” questions and is on the verge of throwing in the towel on ministry or faith. If that’s you, I hope you hang in there. It really is worth it, and there are eternal benefits to doing so. Your questions may not ever be answered. Mine, either. We may be in the company of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-40, who suffered and pressed on and endured much more than we may ever endure, all to reach the ends of their lives without tangibly receiving what they were pressing on toward. But it was never the Lord’s plan to fulfill in their earthly lifetimes the promise they pursued. Their involvement with the promise was as links in the chain that would one day lead to the promise’s fulfillment. Eternity will show that their faithfulness was worth the cost and that God did keep His promises.
And so it is for us. Eternity will show that pressing on through the waiting and the disappointment and the confusion was more than worth it. Such will be the case for you and for me if we press on in faith, faithful to our calling, no matter its difficulties or the fact that it bears no resemblance to what we had expected when we began the journey. Over time, we learn that the Lord knows just what He is doing. And the end of the journey–in the presence of the Lord where we will know as we are known–will tell the true tale of what the Lord was doing through us.
There is no greater word than “grace.” It speaks of the undeserved favor of God. That’s FAVOR! UNDESERVED!
I didn’t deserve God’s favor when Christ died for my sins before I knew Him; I didn’t deserve God’s favor when He accepted me as His adopted child through faith in what Christ did for me on that cross; I don’t deserve His favor all the while since then, sinning, even while knowing better.
The thought of it sometimes pulls me into a sense of shame. Guilt wants to take over and pull me down into the depths. “How could someone speak the glories of God with his mouth and think the things you’ve thought – do the things you’ve done?” the enemy of my soul seems to whisper.
But then there is grace. Undeserved favor. Freely bestowed, as the hymn writer says, on all who believe.
“How could you love me, Lord,” my heart wonders, “when I feel I have so often sullied your name?”
And the answer comes: GRACE! From which flows peace.
For about six years of my life, I acted in community theater productions. In the first year of that experience, I landed the role of Officer Krupke in a production of my favorite play, “West Side Story.” I was thrilled to be part of telling that story and listening to Leonard Bernstein’s amazing music as I sat in the wings when not on stage. Ah yes, that music.
Krupke makes his initial appearance in the story during the musical “Prologue.” A street fight has broken out between the Jets and the Sharks, and at a certain point in the music, Krupke rushes on stage, blowing his whistle, followed by Lt. Shrank, and they break up the fight. The entry and blowing of the whistle have to be precise. There is a brief pause in the score where the whistle is to blow, followed by the orchestra playing its final measure or two. Therefore, Krupke has to blow his whistle at exactly the right time, which means he also has to enter at exactly the right time. The problem I had with this precision requirement was that the music at that moment in the score is all over the place. It’s hard to pick out a discernible melody, from which you can find a cue, upon which you know to blow the whistle. And I was having a terrible time trying to get it right (which greatly humbled me because I usually have a good ear for music).
One night, during a performance, I was waiting in the wings with Shrank, listening for my cue. Shrank actually knew the cue better than I did, and on that night, when I mistakenly thought I had heard it and headed for the stage, in character, whistle in mouth, ready to blow, I heard the actor playing Shrank whisper-yell “No!” But it was too late. I was already in the sight of the audience. I had a fraction of a second to decide that turning back at that point would look like a huge and obvious mistake, so I pressed on. I would have to improvise until the cue came up in the music and I could blow my whistle and break up the fight.
The problem was, though, I couldn’t think of a single thing to do once out I was out there in the midst of the two gangs at war with one another. And to make matters worse, I had gone out a full minute early. So for 60 seconds, I stood there, baton in hand, whistle in mouth, frozen behind the action. And if you’ve ever been in such a situation on stage, in front of an audience (and there were a few hundred there!), you know that one minute feels like about fifteen minutes. It was horrible – my most embarrassing moment on stage by far.
The next day, I went to Borders and found myself praising God that they actually had on hand, in the store, CDs of the original Broadway soundtrack to “West Side Story.” I bought one, took it home, popped it into a CD player, and played the “Prologue” until I heard the whistle blow. I then backed it up a few seconds and listened again. Over and over, I backed it up and re-listened. I must have done that fifty times. By the time I was done, I knew that cue cold. And at that night’s performance, I was right on time, as I would be for every performance thereafter.
Out of curiosity, just before writing this, I put on the “Prologue” to see if I could still hear the cue. It’s been about eight years, and that cue sticks out to me like a sore thumb. If I ever play Krupke again, I will be right on time with my entry and whistle.
As I was reliving that incident in my mind this morning, it got me thinking about how important it is to get the Word of God into our hearts and minds. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” What this is saying is that, when we take the Word of God into our hearts again and again and again – in other words, we make a regular practice of ingesting the Bible – its truths will speak to us during those crossroad moments when we decide how we will act or speak or think. The more we take it in, the more we will hear its cues – KNOW its cues – and we will be better adept at being where we need to be, when we need to be there, in our walks with God.
This Scripture ingestion can take the form of memorizing Bible verses, which is usually the way I hear Psalm 119:11 applied, but it also involves just reading the Bible regularly – daily, even. Sometimes, people try to read the Bible and then stop because they don’t understand it. Just keep on reading. Ask God to make it clear to you. The more you read it and put it into practice, the more you will understand about your own human condition and about God. In fact, in time, you will begin to think biblically, sometimes without even realizing you’re doing it. The Word will become to you what that musical cue became to me when I listened to it over and over and over again. It will guide you as you walk with God.