Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Do You Want a Job or a Body? (Part 2)

In my last bulletin article I made the following comment: “Who we are and what we do begins in the body of Christ. Therefore, every decision we make must be grounded and conditioned by the calling, gifts, and the responsibilities Jesus places upon each man, woman, and child in the local church..”

The above quote is attempting to get at the centrality of the local congregation ought to have in our lives. I also used the question of what we choose to do for a living as one illustration of how disconnected we have become from seeing the local congregation as central to all we do: “For instance, imagine that Christ called you to be a hand in the local body. But what if you choose to make a living in the world with a job that takes up all your time and energy, so that you have no time and energy left to be and do what Christ calls you to be and do in the local body? Is it not possible to be faithful and successful to your career, but completely faithless and sinful in your calling to Christ’s local body?”

What we choose to do for a living is generally regarded as a deeply personal decision in which the fellowship of the local body of believers has absolutely nothing to contribute. Yet, the apostle Paul tells us: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-14). Our first priority in life is the building up of the local body of Christ.

In my more cynical moments I think to myself that such a notion that we are one body and each of us essential and integral to the life of one another is a pipedream. Oh, I know we speak a good talk of being family, brothers and sisters when we gather for worship on Sunday morning, but what does being members of one another mean realistically and practically? Being family surely means more than sitting in pews for an hour as we stare at the back of each other’s heads—does it not?

I recognize that the problem does not rest with members simply showing up to various activities planned by the congregation. There is a responsibility for the leadership of West Main to provide, stir, and lead every member to love and good deeds exercising the gifts Christ has granted each man, woman, and child of the West Main Church of Christ. Our leadership must seek to create the necessary space and opportunities for every member to obey the calling Christ has given them.

However, no leader of West Main can tell you what your gift is! So here is what I suggest: Demand from our leadership that you be put to work exercising the gifts Christ has given you! Pray with us for the imagination, will, and opportunity for you to be what Christ is calling you to be for the West Main Church of Christ. Then and only then can we say we are a body and not just carrying out a job.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do You Want a Job or a Body? (Pt.1)

Consider the following quote from a book on how central the body of Christ ought to be in our lives: “Christians have to earn a living, but we are not called to particular trades, careers, or jobs. So Christians should choose those jobs that will best let them serve the body of Christ (where the body of Christ is understood as local churches). Our actual employment is of limited importance” (Being Church: Reflections on How to Love as the People of God, pg., 70).
I imagine we would all have various reactions to the local congregation playing such a central role in our lives. Honestly, I have never personally heard someone decide on a means of employment based on how such work would serve the local congregation. After all, we might say, my life is my own and the local congregation has nothing to do with such a personal decision.

Yet the issue can be raised from Scripture that perhaps even how we choose to make a living is a concern for the local congregation. Consider the following familiar passage: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.  For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor 12:12-14). The previous text demonstrates that we are to identify our individual selves in relation to others in the local congregation, the local body of Christ.  If we identify who we are in relation to other members of the local body, then how can what we choose to do for a living not be a concern for the local body?

Take a moment and think about how especially young people are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The previous question reveals that within our society we often identify a person by what they do for a living.  The apostle Paul says we are to be identified by the gifts Christ has given each of us and how those gifts serve the local body of Christ (1 Cor 12:11ff). Now you may object here and say, “But what I do for a living is a separate question from what I do for the local church. I can separate my identity in Christ from what I do to make a living.” True, Christ did not die on a cross and resurrect from the dead so he could give us good jobs in General Electric. Jesus died and rose again so that we can be and serve the local body of Christ for the salvation of the world (Ephesians 3:1-12).

Who we are and what we do begins in the body of Christ. Therefore, every decision we make must be grounded and conditioned by the calling, gifts, and the responsibilities Jesus places upon each man, woman, and child in the local church. The question then is not so much what we choose to do for a living, but how what we choose to do for a living effects our first priority: What we do for the local congregation to be a living body of Christ in the world.

For instance, imagine that Christ called you to be a hand in the local body. But what if you choose to make a living in the world with a job that takes up all your time and energy, so that you have no time and energy left to be and do what Christ calls you to be and do in the local body? Is it not possible to be faithful and successful to your career, but completely faithless and sinful in your calling to Christ’s local body? We must not imagine that we can justify our careers that take us away for the local congregation by saying, “I sacrifice time away from church so that I can financially support all that the local congregation needs to do.” Brothers and Sisters, Jesus accomplished at the Cross all the work that is necessary for the body of Christ to exist. Jesus has no need of your career. Jesus is calling you to serve the local body with the spiritual gifts he has given you. In other words, you not called to a job, but to a body.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Running into a Frequent Truth

Have you ever had the experience where you learn a particular truth, or are reminded of a particular truth, and then you seem to hear that very truth on the radio, in books, on television, and even in casual conversations? When I have such an experience I wonder if God is trying to tell me something, or whether it is just some random chance experience. Maybe such experiences can be explained by our minds attention being filtered to hear that particular truth, and so it just seems like we are hearing it is more frequently.

Whatever the case may be, I have recently been hearing a particular truth quite frequently. Here is just one random example in reading an article about art that surprised me with my frequently heard truth: “That the joyful life must be nourished by participation of the individual in a story larger than his own is everywhere a theme . . . The individual who makes a choice for life, and for others, finds joy in others and thus in life.” The truth I seem to be hearing frequently is the need to serve others in order to flourish as a human being.

Now you may think to yourself, “Wow Terry, you are just now coming to the realization of the fundamental need to serve others in order to live fully?” I can say that I realized the necessity of this truth and even preached and taught it over the years. For instance, I have often drew attention to passages like Ephesians where the apostle Paul says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift . . . .And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:7, 11-13).

I have long recognized we cannot reach the fullness of Christ as individual Christians. We need the gifts Christ has given others and others need the gifts Christ has given us. Only together as brothers and sisters in Christ participating corporately can we mature into “the stature of the fullness of Christ.” What I think has changed for me personally is the appreciation of the necessity of others in my own spiritual growth.

What I mean is that while I acknowledged the need for the gifts of others, I looked at that need as for the congregation and not for myself. “Yes,” I would think to myself, “we need the gifts of all for the local congregation to grow.” What I have now come to understand is that I have up until recently still been a selfish Christian in my attitude about the gifts others. In other words, I had been thinking the congregation needs the gifts of others, but I do not need the gifts of others. I was looking at the congregation almost like a sick patient that needs my services and even the services of others to get well. My problem is that I never saw myself as the sick patient needing the services of others.

The sin of pride kept me from seeing that not only does the corporate body of Christ need the gifts of all to grow, I personally need the gifts of others to grow into the full stature of Christ. May we all run into this truth with ever increasing frequency.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Church is on FIRE!

I was reading a book review this past week where the author asks the question, “Why is it so hard for us to be church?” One answer that is proposed is that the contemporary church is on FIRE. FIRE is an acronym that stands for freedom, independence, rights, and equality. FIRE at first blush probably sounds like a good thing. After all, FIRE sounds like the Bill of Rights upon which our country is built upon. So what is so bad about FIRE?

The author gives the following example of why FIRE is dangerous for the local congregation: “If freedom seems essential to a person, she’ll insist on floating from church to church.  As soon as she gets bored with the music in one church, she’ll change to a church with a better choir, and as soon as a better job beckons, she’ll move to another town.”  The reviewer goes on to add the insight that “Scripture calls us to communities of mutual submission—how can we submit when we are centered on demanding our own freedom?” 
In other words, how can we be the Church of Christ God calls us to be without commitment and submission to one another? Can you have freedom without commitment or commitment without freedom? When we read the pages of the New Testament the image is of a body that needs every member. The body of Christ cannot function or be Christ’s body without each member exercising their gifts to the enrichment of every other member.

To be a child of God added to the body of Christ inherently means we are born again with responsibilities and accountabilities to one another. Now responsibility and accountability immediately implies time and commitment. The New Testament is replete with admonitions to use our Christ-given gifts to the strengthening of the local body (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12 are just a few noteworthy passages).

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul gives us the question, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).  What we choose to do with our bodies is a choice about where, when, and how we value the gifts Christ has given and the value we have for one another in the local congregation.

Whatever secular and political freedom, independence, rights, and equality we imagine ourselves as Americans to possess dies with us as we die by faith with Christ in baptism. We are born again to a new life and a new allegiance to the Church of Jesus Christ. What freedom, independence, rights, and equality mean are completely re-ordered in Jesus Christ.

Now I recognize that the authority of the local congregation can become corrupt and even in some cases abusive. The local congregation must constantly remind itself that we are called to use FIRE for the sake of others and not for our own sakes. What the West Main Church of Christ needs is to be on FIRE for one another, and to put out the FIRE that currently burns the citizens of this world from enjoying the peace of Christ that could be theirs.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012


(What follows is a more full text of a recent bulletin article. I did not have enough space in the bulletin to say more fully what I wanted to say. I needed to get this out of my system)

Recently I have been reading, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn. The quote I like to share is a bit heady, but stay with me and I will explain why you should find it relevant. Here is the quote: “In the realm of thinking, as in that of social action, human rights are best understood as survivors: the god that did not fail (italics mine) while other political ideologies did. If they avoided failure, it was because they were widely understood as a moral alternative to bankrupt political utopias.”

All right, some explanation is in order. “Utopia” is a word popularized in 1516 by Thomas More’s book Utopia, a book about a fictional island where people enjoy the perfection of politics, law, economy, and culture. So the word utopia is often generalized to mean “any visionary system of political or social perfection” (

The human rights that Moyn is primarily considering are the rights delineated in the Declaration of Human Rights (see the following link: In the declaration’s preamble it states, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Following this preamble there are thirty articles of human rights declared of which the Church (with Scriptural qualification) could applaud and support.  

In a world literally hell bent on killing, humiliation, and destruction of the human race, The Declaration of Human Rights is a focus in the right direction. Human dignity in Scripture is grounded in all human beings created in the image of God and therefore all human beings deserving of the sanctity of life. Human rights promote the sanctity of life. Yet as Christians we know from God’s revelation that the world is fallen into sin and death, so any vision of life not rooted in the sovereignty of God lacks “perfection” and will fail. 

We live in a world as the Apostle Paul says, For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21). When humanity as a whole abandons the truth of God and gives over to “futile thinking,” such thinking will show up in human society as a philosophy or doctrine of life. What personally concerns me as that Paul gives further insight into this “futile thinking” by noting, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).

In spite of the world forsaking God, the world still needs a vision of hope to make life worth the living. Satan’s grand deception is to provide the world with false visions of utopia that promise salvation and redemption (“teachings of demons”). These false visions, philosophies, ideologies, or doctrines come in all shapes and sizes. What makes these “teachings of demons” difficult to discern rests in the fact that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). Satan wraps his deceit up in presentations of politics (all versions and persuasions), freedom, nationalism, revolution, and religion (to name but a few).

What caught my attention in the quote from Moyn above is the part I italicized concerning human rights as, “the god that did not fail.” While I believe the author is speaking metaphorically about human rights being a “god,” nevertheless, from the vantage point of Scripture, he spoke more truly then he perhaps realizes. In other words, when society puts its hope in a declaration of human rights (as much good as they may contain), they put their hope in a false god that will not save or deliver.

Paul also reveals that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). If human rights are rooted in being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), then what of the claim to human rights that do not acknowledge God in Jesus Christ? Is Satan possibly blinding the world with a false god and hope of human rights?

We would do well to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Galatian churches, “You were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal 4:8-9). The Church of Jesus Christ needs to remember that some fallen angels are rebellious “gods” of nations:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” [LXX, “angels of God”!] (Deut 32:8).

 “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? . . . . Nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince" (Pss 82:1-2, 7).

There is much to the above passages that will remain a mystery, but we can certainly be confident that these angels of nations (ie., elemental spirits) seek to enslave humanity with utopian visions. Samuel Moyn further states in his book, “Human rights were born as the last utopia—but one day another may appear.”  If human rights is indeed a “god that did not fail,” then it is only a matter of time before this “god” does fail or is judged by the living God (Pss 82). As a read this book, I wondered to myself if the demons are running out of utopian visions to keep the world deceived. We truly are living in the “last days” when perhaps even demons are running out of teachings to deceive. But rather than despair, now is the time when the Church can especially make “known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” the power and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 3:8-11).  

The Church of Jesus Christ is city on a hill and a light in the darkness of lost utopias, darkened understandings, and futile thinking. What the world needs is Jesus. In our saturated political climate we would do well to remember what is utopian and what is real.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What are You Thinking

Recently, I have been reading some excellent literature on the Lord’s Supper. What has provoked my thoughts as I was reading was the depth of the meditations on celebrating the Lord’s Supper; a depth of thought I often find lacking in my own contemplation's.  As I was reading, I thought to myself, “How can an individual author write literally hundreds of pages on this one, though highly significant, act?”   What further astounds me is not only a single large book on the Lord’s Supper, but the literally thousands of books hundreds of pages long on the Lord’s Supper.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that the Lord’s Supper does not merit such a sea of words.  Rather, what I am saying is that I sometimes feel I could barely fill a dixie-cup of words about the Lord’s Supper. My dearth of words is a reflection of a sad state of affairs.  Perhaps I have fallen into such a routine habit of participating in the Lord’s Supper that I just do it without thinking much about it.

So what do I think about when partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Honestly, I often think about my week in terms of how sinful I have been, where I have fallen short of God’s holiness, and how I am desiring God’s forgiveness in order to be renewed and live better for God starting anew this week. How pathetic is that? What I notice about my own contemplations when partaking of the Lord’s Supper is that I think of my life in terms of week-long blocks. In other words, how have I lived in relation to God this week?  Celebrating the Lord’s Supper each week certainly lends itself to thinking about my life in terms of each week. The Lord’s Supper for me is a beginning and ending point in time. My week is coming to an end, but there is hope and promise that I can live for Christ again this coming week beginning this Lord’s Day.

Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with the above kind of contemplation. My issue is that I seem to be stuck in the same kind of contemplation. I come before Jesus at His Supper and typically say something like the following: “Lord, you know I have not lived for you as I ought. How can I share a meal with you when I have denied you with my sin this week? There is so much I ought to have done, said, or thought that would have been a witness to your glory and power. I am an unworthy servant. Yet, you died for me so that I might live. You gave your blood and body as a sacrifice of love. I can come to your table precisely because I am a sinner!  As I taste this bread and wine, may the sensation of this taste remind me that it is no longer I who live, but it is your body and blood that now lives in me.”

Now I do not say the above verbatim every time I celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but the above contemplation is the gist of what I am typically thinking. In fact, I routinely virtually say the same thing every time that I now use a kind of shorthand thought like,  “Lord, you know . . .” Nothing more needs to be said, as both the Lord and I know what follows. As I read the thoughts of others on what they think of when celebrating the Lord’s Supper, I realize I have not thought enough and it is time to think beyond the formulaic, “I sin. I fall short. I need forgiveness.” The Lord’s Supper is far more than what I have thought. The question I leave for you is: “When celebrating the Lord’s Supper, what are you thinking?”


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Resting at the Bottom of the Sea

A truth I keep coming back to in life and that is growing larger and larger in my mind concerns the nature of God.  The truth that is looming ever larger in my mind and life is represented well by the literary critic, Terry Eagleton, who says, “For Christian theology there is no necessity to the world at all . . . He [God] created it out of love, not need.”  God is not a reason, answer, or an explanation for life. Rather, God is life.

In other words, God is not the final result of an equation, the conclusion to a philosophical riddle, or a scientific solution. You have heard me say on a number of occasions, “God is not the answer, because God is bigger than the question.” What I find so invaluable about God being larger than the questions of life is the fact that nothing in life therefore can rob God of life. Yet we experience much in this life in terms of tragedy and heartache that seems to strip many of hope in this world. Thus, we often want an explanation for everything under the sun, and so there is a human impulse and tendency to try and answer every difficulty, riddle, and mystery in order to cope.

Our compulsion as human beings to seek answers to all of life’s questions is understandable. We not only want to cope, we also want to control the future.  If I know the reason “why things happen,” and the “reasons for things happening,” then I think I can increase the good and decrease the bad happenings in my life.  Or if I cannot prevent or predict the trouble I experience, then I can at least cope better and deal with life knowing “why” things turned out the way they did. To put it another way, I need to know that what I experience in life has a purpose.

However, the necessity for understanding the purpose of our life events can bring us into emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually troubled waters. Like a boat being tossed back and forth in stormy waters we often flay about seeking answers and resolutions to our troubles. The old expression, “Any port in a storm will do,” is an apt description of our frequent desperation to escape our difficulties with solutions. To put it simply, we are not comfortable not knowing why something difficult is happening to us, and so will latch on to any answer that would appear to solve the problem or question.

The patriarch Job, along with his four would-be comforters, is a prime example of desperately seeking an explanation to life’s struggles. After Job exhausts his friends’ attempts at explanations for his sufferings and Job concludes his experience is unjust, God speaks. What is particularly interesting about God’s response to Job is the fact that God never answers why or to what purpose Job suffered.  Job simply confesses to God, “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 424-6).

God does not answer the mystery of Job’s life. God is bigger than the question and bigger than life itself. What Job and all of us need to learn is that God in and of Himself is more than what is needed in this life. If there is necessity in this life, then the only necessary necessity is God. Everything and everyone else is ultimately unnecessary.  Sadly, it often seems necessary to go through the shortfall of all our explanations and proposed solutions to arrive at what is only truly necessary: the presence of God. 

In keeping with our sea analogy, we may often be tossed to-and-for by the waves and winds of life’s struggles. Yet, despite the emotional, psychological, and spiritual hurricanes we encounter, the bottom of the sea where God is present is calm, still, and at peace. We can only manage life’s storms for so long with our answers, solutions, and resolutions. If we do not make our way to the necessity of God’s presence at the bottom of the sea, then we will eventually discover our proposed answers have shipwrecked our faith. Let us therefore abandon the ship of answers, resolutions, and solutions, and come to rest at the bottom of the sea where God is present in peace and rest.