Friday, February 13, 2015

The Church Is Full of Orphans

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The New Testament gives us an understanding of the "life cycle" of a Christian--from birth through maturity. First Peter 2:2 calls us "newborn infants" longing for "the pure spiritual milk" that helps us "grow up into salvation." I want us to think about that imagery not in a personal context but in the context of the church. If new believers are similar to babies, we must then begin to think about the healthiest way for them to grow up and to be nurtured.

Our world is full of orphans (one estimate puts the number at 153 million - or roughly half the population of the United States). Thankfully, many Christians and some others have organized funding and support for orphanages around the world. But every one of us understands that an orphanage is not the best nurturing environment for a baby. If no other option exists then it is better than nothing (that's why James commands true Christians to care for them in 1:27), but a nuclear family is the God-ordained best means for a child to mature, to be provided for, to be instructed, and to be loved.

This reality is no different in the church. For comparison's sake (and don't push this too far), we could compare the large church gathering on Sunday to an orphanage. Here's how this has worked in the past and even in the present. A person trusts Christ as Savior and Lord, and what do we often do with them? We invite them to "church" (meaning, the Sunday morning large group gathering). We hope that they will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love that they need, but in reality that often does not happen. That person gets lost in the crowd, gets enough to stay alive, yes, but never really flourishes in what they were created for. They feel more like a number than a family member.

Now compare that scenario to a different (seemingly more biblical) approach. Say that same person comes to trust in Christ. Instead of inviting them to an event, we invite them into our lives. We invite them into our "family," so to speak, where there are just a few of us in intimate relationship sharing life together. What I mean by this is a group of a few people not only meeting to study the Bible and to pray and to hold each other accountable, but people who go on errands together, eat meals together, serve the community together, etc. As these elements of life are shared, questions are asked, theology is clarified, and obedience to Christ in every area of life is modeled. There is no doubt that the new believer will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love they need. Not only do they get enough to stay alive, they actually flourish and mature as a member of a family.

Does it not make more sense to raise up a "child" in this way rather than in an "orphanage"? My challenge to us, church, is to take all of these orphans (physical orphans too!) into our lives and make them a part of a forever family, where they will receive all that they need to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised His children (John 10:10). You may not be the next Billy Graham, but you might be the one to disciple him. All it takes is one, so who is your one?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Eager for Christ's Return

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We know a number of couples/families personally in which the husband is in the military and has been stationed overseas for around a year (side note: thank you all for your service, and families, for your sacrifice!). One family was recently reunited and another will be in the next few days. To say either side was anticipating that day is an understatement, and we are so happy for them.

What causes us to eagerly anticipate those reunions? Drilling it down, it relates directly to the depth of loving relationship the two parties have. I am happy to see an old friend again, but it pales in comparison to the deep desire I have to get home to be with my wife in every way. The love and intimacy that we share magnifies the joy that we have when we are reunited.

Now, think about this: if that's true of healthy marriages and families here, how much greater should our desire be to see Jesus face-to-face one day? To gaze upon the beauty of the One who has taken away your sins by His blood, the One who shields you from God's wrath and brings you into eternal life with Him? Should this anticipation not be building in us more every day? Hebrews 9:28 clarifies: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Are you eager for Christ to return? Not only to leave this sin-stained world behind, but to see His face? I hope so, because that is who He is coming back for.

So what does it mean, then, to be "eagerly waiting for him"? When I was in North Carolina recently for a week, I desperately longed for that Saturday afternoon when I would be able to see my bride face-to-face. All week I could not stop thinking about her. And the closer that day came, the more I was consumed. I was still functioning in my day-to-day tasks, but it was all done with a forward-thinking mindset, with the goal of taking care of my responsibilities in order to allow me to get to her (I sure wasn't going to miss a flight!). I'm not meaning to discount the importance of daily life (see Col 3:23 and 1 Cor 10:31). I'm simply magnifying her preeminence over the rest of those tasks in my life. There is a joy in our relationship, there is a longing there. Why? Because of who she is and what she means to me and how deep our love and affection goes.

How much more with Jesus, then! Don't be deceived by a phony faith that simply wants to escape hell but has no affection and desire for Jesus. If you love Him and believe in Him then you will eagerly anticipate His return. And you will live your life differently in the mean time so you are ready for Him to come back. This world will take on less importance and will be less appealing. You will spend your money on things that matter eternally rather than trinkets and fleeting pleasures. You will purify yourself from all sin. All with the eternal perspective of your bridegroom returning from His work trip to take His bride into His house forever.

So, are you eager? If not, take some time right now to gaze upon His beauty. Ask Him for eyes to see how much better He is than anything else this world can offer. What joy we will have on that day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Steak and the Bible

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I love to eat a good steak. Honestly, a decent steak often will do. Rather than paying for them in a restaurant, though, I enjoy the savings and the excitement of grilling them myself at home. They seem to taste even better when you have handled them yourself, don't they?

But as much as I enjoy ribeyes, I understand that I must eat more than one meal in a week in order to maintain my health and energy. A steak dinner once a week will taste good for a while and will keep you alive, but you will not have the full nourishment you need. You will shrivel up. And in fact, that one huge dinner will end up sickening you and you will choke on it.

Sadly, this is how many Christians handle the Word of God. They might regularly attend church on Sunday where they receive a nice steak dinner from the Bible, but then they choose to fast the rest of the week, leading to undernourishment. Also, I have heard from some people that the Sunday sermon is just too much for them. If they are a baby Christian, that might be true (so we must mash it up and serve it in a form they can eat it--and make sure they have milk as well). But if they are a little older spiritually, the fact that they are starving themselves the rest of the week makes their "spiritual stomach" unable to handle the meat of the Word on Sundays. A healthy, balanced diet of Bible intake all week, feasting on the Bread of life, will enable you to enjoy that steak dinner more and it won't choke you. A few pieces of popcorn during the week won't cut it either. We must hear the Word, read the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, meditate on the Word, and apply the Word all week ourselves as the means of transformation--not just relying on someone else to chew it up for me and feed me on Sundays. 

A child has to have someone tell them what to eat since they tend toward junk food (my oldest son told me that he wants to eat tacos, hot dogs, and pizza for dinner in revolving order all week!). But mature adults are able to discipline themselves toward a healthy diet. Hebrews 5:14 says it this way: "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." The healthiest people are generally the ones who prioritize their health the most. It works spiritually too.

Now, some may ask, "Is it really worth it?" Think of a cost/benefit analysis. What does it cost? It costs you time and effort. We have 162 hours in a week, so yes, you could be doing other things with that time. That is a cost. But what is the benefit? Knowing God better, hearing truth against the lies of the world, and receiving hope and strength from God in the midst of a world full of despair and without peace. The result of our cost/benefit analysis? Incomparable. Absolutely it is worth it. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), and one basic piece of that is regular Bible intake all week. In fact, why don't you go grab a bite to eat right now? The Chef has some sweet delicacies waiting for you.