the church Jesus goes to

 

I know where Jesus goes to church. Without a doubt. He goes to the church that lives deliberately, boldly, and consistently …

pursuing peace and reconciliation. Though it lives in a world saturated with anger, disrespect, snarkiness, and insult, with a will it refuses to go there. It’s done with living by rage, choosing righteousness instead. It’s not defined by its own insecurities and its ability to utter barbed wit in retort to those who mock it, but by its humble confidence in its Christ and its dependence on the provision of God’s Spirit in every situation, no matter how dark or difficult. Imagine: a church made distinctive to all by not being abrasive and hard to live with.

unruled by its wants. Though surrounded on every side by people chasing after every kind of lust and sanctifying all sorts of unfaithfulness in every relationship, it isn’t seduced to do the same. It doesn’t seek its own will, but whatever God’s will is for it. Instead of searching for meaning in whatever it perceives as sexy (not just sex itself, by whatever is “sexy”), it finds its meaning in its Lord and Savior, for he is enough, and more. Picture this: a church known to the world for its contentment and reliability.

by its words of honesty. Though the culture in which is resides is given over to dishonesty and deception, it quietly walks its talk. It practices what it preaches, not merely what’s “practical” in the moment. Its ways aren’t determined by always choosing what works out for its own best interest, but by going after the truth that true love can truly rejoice in always. Capture this vision: a church perceived as genuine and true by all who care to truly engage it.

extending mercy generously. Though its world is largely driven by retaliation and payback, fueled by fear and the never ending yearning for hard justice, it walks by faith on higher ground. It thrives on the Spirit of compassion, not the spirit of competition. Its life map is not of doing whatever would instill fear in others of it, but to do whatever would help install faith in others in the God it follows. Draw it in your head like this: a church characterized by selfless giving and costly care.

loving the unlovable. Though seemingly all of society continually calls it to elicit indifference, ill will, hate, or anything and everything else that dehumanizes, it chooses to love with the love of the divine instead. By so doing, it traffics in forgiveness, not fierceness or fighting. This is because it seeks its definition not in its enemies, but in him who allowed his enemies to spike him to a tree. Place this before your eyes: a church that will mount the cross with its Lord, and die with him. Daily.

After all, what else could a person honestly conclude after reading what Jesus candidly said in Matthew 5.21-26,27-32,33-37,38-42,43-48?

And so, I have to ask: what might a church become if it understood and made these matters its chief means of worshiping and following Jesus Christ? In a week? A month? A few years? Over the course of a lifetime? Or after several generations?

Would it not become more and more like the One it worshiped? And wouldn’t that be what both the Lord, and they, wanted most of all?

Let’s find out. Let’s go to church with Jesus!

this went thru my mind

 

Consumerism: Committed to Unhappiness: Consumerism is the Enemy of the Church by Tony Campolo [required reading]

“The truth is that secular humanism is not the primary enemy of the Church.  Instead, the enemy of the Church is consumerism.  We have made an idol out of the things that are being sold.  We bow down and worship the commodities that are paraded before us on television.  We are enslaved to a mindset that tells us that we must possess more and more because we can never have enough.  These are the things that are dragging us away from Jesus. Our inability to enjoy life without a continual sense of craving consumer goods and being continuously satisfied with who we are and what we have is good news for economic growth and, after all, economic growth is what both political parties are preaching these days.”

Elections: * A Post-Election Reminder by Rubel Shelly [required reading]; * David Lipscomb on Voting by Richard Beck

* “If your candidate wins, can you assume that his every promise will be kept promptly and without fail? … If your candidate loses, will you be demoralized with the thought that all is lost? … You know better. The election of neither candidate will destroy the country, shatter the global economy, or make it impossible for godly people to seek the Kingdom of God. … A believer’s ultimate allegiance – and hope – is in the reign of God. Her hope is not in a human system, political party, or leader; it is in Jesus Christ.”

* “May the voice of David Lipscomb be recovered and increase in the Churches of Christ. Our churches need him.”

Hurricane Sandy relief efforts: New Jersey Congregation Brings Hope to Beach Town Hit Hard by Superstorm Sandy

“Among the New Jersey congregations heavily involved in the relief effort is the Gateway Church of Christ … Carl Williamson provides a first-person account of his family’s experience during the storm and shares details on the Gateway church’s relief work in hard-hit Union Beach, N.J.”

Jesus, our conception of & culture: Oh Constantine by Greg Boyd [required viewing; 5:45 min. clip]

“When you pick up the sword, you put down the cross.”

Marriage: Marriage With a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse by Brad Hambrick

“We are all married to a self-centered spouse. That is what it means for us to be fallen people who are bound to experience life from within our bodies. But there are cases where this ‘general self-centeredness’ becomes chronic — severe to a point that it either results in a marital environment of abuse or neglect.”

Meditation: What Did the Psalmist Mean by “Meditation”?

“… neither of the Hebrew words translated as ‘meditate’ or ‘meditation’ refers to silent activities. … we should probably imagine him singing or reciting the psalm from memory.”

Truth: Our Glaring Obsession With Truth by Terry Rush

“Jesus is the train wreck that must happen to any tribe.  He will not let us continue to do church our smug and small ways.  Yes, narrow is the way; but narrow isn’t that we don’t allow much.  Rather, narrow is defined by one singular Son of God named Jesus….as the author of salvation….and no one else.”

U.S. culture & religious diversity: Map of Religious Diversity in America

“This gets at how varied, or diverse, religious affiliation is in different regions of the country. As you can see, the areas with the most diversity also tend to have the lowest rates of adherence.”

journey through James (17): twenty questions on James 4:13-5:6

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 20) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:13-5:6. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: successfully navigating the intersection of plans, pride, prosperity, and poverty. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.

Scripture

Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.” (14) You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. (15) Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (16) But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil. (17) It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it.

(5:1) Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. (2) Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. (3) Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. (4) Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. (5) You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. (6) You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you. (James 4:13-5:6 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. What words or stories told by Jesus come to mind you read this text?

2. This section urges us to pay attention not to ourselves so much as to others, namely God (4:13-17) and people (5:1-6). Why is it so easy for us to forget God and others and become self-centered?

3. Is James saying it’s a sin to plan for the future (4:13-17)? Why or why not?

4. Who would you say James has in view in 4:13-17, Christians or non-Christians? Why? Would you say the audience changes or remains the same in 5:1-6? Explain.

5. Verse 14 speaks to the brevity of life with vivid imagery: we’re like a mist that quickly disappears. What other Scriptures come to mind that illustrate life’s brevity?

6. Though cemeteries surround us and we know no one gets out of this world alive (unless the Lord first returns), why are we seemingly always shocked and surprised by death? Do the subjects discussed in 4:13-17 help answer that question?

7. What is the chief sin James sets his sights on in 4:13-17? Sum up the teaching of 4:13-17, in your own words, in a single sentence.

8. How does 4:17 fit with the context that precedes it, or does it fit at all?

9. Sins of omission are in view in 4:17. Which would you say is most common among Christians, sins of commission (willfully doing wrong things) or sins of omission (willfully leaving good things undone). Explain.

10. What other passages in James’ letter do the words of 5:1b remind you?

11. A number of our senses are touched by the various images in 5:1-6. List the word pictures you find in that section along with the physical senses they affect.

12. It would be difficult to find stronger words in the NT against oppression than the words of 5:1-6. Name some modern day situations where these words are clearly applicable.

13. You’re a Christian and you run a business. You have a number of employees. Looking for guidance as to how to be a truly Christ-like businessperson, you read 5:1-6. What sort of principles and business practices might you adopt in light of reflection on this passage?

14. You’re a Christian. You work for a selfish, difficult boss who makes your life miserable. What help or hope, advice or advantage, does 5:1-6 extend to you?

15. What sin does James zero in on in 5:1-6? Sum up the teaching of 5:1-6, in your own words, in a single sentence.

16. In light of 5:1-6, would you say it’s a sin to be wealthy or a sin to use wealth wickedly? Explain.

17. What two specific abilities of God are referenced in this text? Hint: focus on 4:15 and 5:4. What do these two qualities have to do with how we humans should act?

18. What is “the day of slaughter” James has in mind in 5:5b?

19. Would you say 5:6b (“… the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you”) upholds non-resistance as a virtue to be imitated? Explain.

20. Is prayer alluded to anywhere in 4:13-5:6 (directly or indirectly)? Explain.

you have

You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you. (James 5:5-6 CEB)

“I most certainly have not! You have me confused with someone else.”

That’s my gut reaction to this passage.

“I have not lived a selfish life. I do not live a life of luxury. I’ve stuffed my face at times, but no, I haven’t stuffed my heart. And I most assuredly have not condemned and murdered innocent people.”

Or have I?

If I linger over this word, rather than hastily and smugly leave it behind, I realize the difference between the person described and myself is not a difference in kind, but only of degree.

“I am selfish at times. Compared to the vast majority of the world, I do live in the very lap of luxury. I have stuck stuff down deep in my heart that has no business being there. I do judge others on occasion and God alone knows if through the course of my years I’ve cut the life out of someone, not with a knife, but with my words or ways.”

All of which reminds me, in terms of both degree and kind, to humbly think, say, and live:

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

As you do time here, look at how you’ve been living. You’ve been living selfishly and luxuriously. You’ve been packing yourself full of full of condemnation and murder of innocent people who do not resist you. And for what? To fatten yourself up for a day of slaughter, I say. (James 5:5-6 DSV)

Holy Father, this day I will live less for me and more for you. Bring me to completeness and wholeness in this through my Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

journey through James (16): twenty questions on James 4:1-12

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 6) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:1-12. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: learning how to grow toward God and away from Satan, selfishness, and sin. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.

Scripture

What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? (2) You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. (3) You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.

(4) You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? (5) Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? (6) But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble. (7) Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. (8) Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(11) Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4:1-12 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. List all of the things we know that God does or will do in light of the teaching of this text.

2. List all of the sins you see directly referenced or implied in this passage that were apparently common among the Christians to whom James originally wrote.

3. List what we know about the devil from what is directly stated or implied in this passage.

4. List all of the direct commands given to Christians in this Scripture.

5. Clearly, selfishness is a huge problem among the Christians to whom James is writing. How big a problem would you say selfishness is among Christians in our country today? Explain.

6. Given the immediate context (and other passages in James such as 5:6), would you say the reference to “murder” in vs. 2 is literal or figurative? Explain.

7. “You long for something you don’t have …” (vs.2). Good thing we don’t have that problem anymore, huh? Comment on our culture’s “cravings” and how we Christians often share the same cravings.

8. Struggle and fighting among Christians is sin and comes from sin. What sort of sins does James say fueled the struggles and fights he references in vs.1-3?

9. What does vs.2-3 teach you about prayer?

10. What does vs.3 have to say about the common teaching known as the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel?

11. Given what is said in vs.4, would you say it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation?

12. Verse 5-6b is notoriously difficult text to translate. Notice the variation in rendering by comparing the passage in several different English translations.

13. What does James mean that God “gives us more grace” (vs.6)?

14. Paul says God does not play favorites (Romans 2:11) and yet, here James says God “favors the humble” (vs.6b)? How can both of these statements be true, or can they be?

15. Given the context, what would you say might happen to a person if God draws near to them (vs.8a)?

16. What does it mean to be “double-minded?” (vs.8b)

17. As surely as we’re called to “rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4), we’re also called to “mourn” our sins (vs.8-10). How can a Christian do both of these things?

18. James says criticizing, disrespecting, insulting, or mistreating other Christians is akin to put yourself in the place of God (vs.10-12). What accounts elsewhere in Scripture come to your mind when you think of people (wittingly or unwittingly) putting themselves in God’s place?

19. James is using every possible means of persuasion as he urges the Christians to whom he is writing to get their act together. Try to list the various motivations James appeals to in this text. Which do you find most powerful or persuasive?

20. This much is certain from this passage: church life can sometimes resemble be hell on earth. What advice, derived from this text or elsewhere in Scripture, would you give to a new or troubled Christians who found themselves in the middle of a selfish church caught up in civil war among themselves?