Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Getting Our Feet Wet

In my final semester at Virginia Tech, I found myself taking a couple of philosophy classes.  One, called Knowledge and Reality, was on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  I took it because my friend was the TA, and he encouraged me to take the course; it didn't hurt that we were exploring philosophical themes through movies!

The other class was called Morality and Justice, and I found it much more interesting than the course on Knowledge and Reality.  In Morality and Justice, we explored Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mills, among others.  To be honest, I've forgotten the majority of what we studied in the class, but I remember that I found the class to be a challenge (in a good way!).

One conversation that stuck with me, however, was a hypothetical situation.  The teacher invited the class to consider a child who was drowning in a fountain in front of us.  As a passerby, was it our responsibility to save that child?  Yes, of course, the class answered.  What if you were wearing $150 shoes?  Yes, we would still have that responsibility.  Then the teacher asked, "What about the child in Africa dying of malnutrition?  Would it be your responsibility to save that child?  If so, wouldn't the responsible thing to do be to sell your $150 shoes and use the money to feed that child?"  This got the class involved in a much more dynamic discussion of morality and what the realm of responsibility is.

This example stuck with me, even though I cannot remember the philosophy we were discussing that day.  Why?  Because Jesus speaks about it himself.  I'm not saying Jesus challenged his followers to sell their $150 shoes, but he did challenge a rich man who wanted to follow him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor (Luke 18:22).  His cousin John encouraged those who came to listen to him to give away their extra coat to someone who has none (Luke 3:11).  And after Jesus' death and resurrection, his followers gave freely of their possessions to meet the needs of others (Acts 2:44-45; see the example of Barnabas in Acts 4:32-37) Throughout the Gospels, the way of Jesus is portrayed as the way of generosity, and it was lived by Jesus' earliest followers.

Yet the question often arises in church, "Who do I help?"  There are needs all of over the place:  near and far, big and small, deserving and not, and there are only so many resources (money, time, talent) the church can provide.  How does the church prioritize?

I've been part of 5 churches in my life, and each approached this question in a different manner.  Some chose to concentrate on local missions, caring extravagantly for those in the community who were in need and only sending money and resources elsewhere if they were leftover from local ministry.  Other churches chose to concentrate on evangelizing the lost and providing relief in far-off places, with little invested in the needs of the immediate community.  Most churches I've been part of and known about try to do some of each, yet that can become tricky if budgets are tight and giving is down.  So what is the church supposed to do?

We find our answer, I believe, in Acts 1:8.  As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gathered his disciples around him.  They asked all sorts of questions, but he wanted to leave them with a promise and a task.  "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

First, notice what Jesus wants them to do:  bear witness.  We bear witness to Christ, and to the kingdom of God, in many ways.  We bear witness when we proclaim the Gospel message.  We bear witness when we live out the way of Jesus Christ.  We bear witness when we work to bring a little bit of the kingdom of God to earth.  And we bear witness in how we live as a community of faith.

That witness, Christ said, is to be shown and proclaimed in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  For his disciples, that meant they had a responsibility to bear witness near and far, and to friends and enemies and strangers.  It also meant that they were to bear witness in all of those places; Jesus makes no priority here.

He does, however, note a second element of this bearing witness:  they are to receive power through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus' disciples are to do their part, yes, but God is also going to do his part.  They will receive power - whether that is power of talent, power of resources, power of spiritual will, or power of relationships and opportunities to bear witness.  Those things will be provided, and his disciples are to use that power to bear witness.  That is their job.

The church of today has the same challenge before it:  to bear witness in the power of the Holy Spirit near and far, among friends and enemies and strangers.  As God gives us opportunity and resources, we are to make him known and live out the life of his kingdom as a witness.  Along the way, we are to do what we can to challenge the works of evil in our world and bring the kingdom of God into being as much as we can, everywhere we can.

So would Jesus have saved the child in the fountain, even with $150 shoes on his feet?  Yes...but he would have also sold those shoes to feed the child in Africa, as well.  What's on our feet - will we get our feet wet to help others and bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ?

In Christ,
Adam

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Faith Beyond Surety


Tonight, I join college football fans across the country when I tune into the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game.  Ohio State and Oregon are facing off with great pageantry to claim the title of “best college football team of 2014.”  It promises to be a great matchup – but it was one almost no one predicted would happen.

 

This was the bracket for the first College Football Playoff.  First, there was supposed to be no way that the #4 Buckeyes would topple the Alabama Crimson Tide, truly the #1 team in the land…except, they did just that, and with a third-string quarterback, no less!  Then, despite their #3 ranking, many people picked undefeated Florida State to outlast #2 Oregon.  I tuned into that game in the second half, just in time to watch the Jameis Winston-led Seminoles self-destruct.  Thus, I tune into ESPN tonight to watch the 13-1 Ohio State Buckeyes and the 13-1 Oregon Ducks square off for the national championship.  (By the way, the one Ohio State loss?  My Virginia Tech Hokies!)

At the start of the season, almost no one would have predicted this matchup.  In fact, just two weeks ago, almost no one predicted this matchup.  Yet tonight, the improbable has happened.  Who could have guessed?

Sports are a constant reminder to me that there are almost no sure things in life.  Take two teams, put them on the same field or court, and usually the favored side will win.  They won’t win all the time, though – in fact, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, underdogs win a disproportionate amount of the time.  There is no sure thing in sports, just as there is no sure thing in life.

Jesus knew this.  He told a parable once about a rich man whose fields produced an overabundance of grain, found in Luke 12.  The rich man was making plans for the future as he went to bed that night – but Jesus called him a fool.  It would have been better if he had been rich towards God.

Jesus went on to share words about worry that seem a bit strange to our modern ear.  We worry about everything.  We make plans for every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year.  Yet Jesus reminds us of our impotence to find surety in life by asking the rhetorical question, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”  (Luke 12:25)

The answer, of course, is no.  There is no sure thing in life.  We live in a world where planes can crash unexpectedly, cancer can strike an apparently healthy person, investments can plummet overnight, and underdog teams can beat juggernauts of the game.  So what can we do in such a crazy world?

Jesus says that we can concentrate on the work God wants us to do.  “Strive for his kingdom,” he says.  Show people love.  Help your neighbor.  Stand up for the weak.  Give sacrificially for those in need.  Proclaim what you know about Jesus.  Strive for God’s kingdom.  That is the formula, Jesus says, to make sense of this incredibly unsure world.  Why?  Because, as he says a few verses later, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Luke 12:34) When we make God’s kingdom our focus in life, all the things that seemed so sure (but weren’t) in life fade into the background.  We begin to look to the only sure thing – God – as our guiding light in life.  Then, Jesus says, it doesn’t matter what happens – we will be okay, because we are in the care of God, no matter what happens to our wealth, our health, or even our life.  God will take care of us, in this life and the next, because we are striving and seeking his kingdom.  Even when nothing else is sure, God is.
 
In Christ,
Adam


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Monday, January 5, 2015

Be It Resolved...

Ah, 2015 - a new year filled with new possibilities!  It's exciting!  It's refreshing!  It's...daunting? 



Yes, every year, we turn the calendar page.  A fresh, wide-open field of blank days stretches ahead of us.  We are challenged to fill them with things and events and choices that will make this year a year that matters, a year where we make a difference.  So we pull out our pens and start marking up those blank spaces.

We also pull out sheets of notebook paper and write boldly across the top, "Resolutions for 2015."  If we go back, we'll probably find similar sheets that say "Resolutions for 2014" and "2013" and so on.  They are lists of promises or challenges we have made for ourselves.  Probably, at least one resolution will include something about our weight, one will include something about our family, one will include something about our job, and one will include something related to having more fun.  They are a list of things we want to see happen in the year ahead, a roadmap we can follow to achieve our goals, at least for now.

The problem is, rarely do we achieve those resolutions.  There are many reasons:  they may be hard, they may be irrelevant to what life throws our way, they may be frivolous, they may be things we find we really don't like.  That's unfortunate, because it means we rarely succeed in achieving our goals.  Yet we still need to make plans for the future and work to meet those plans.  What are we to do?

What we need to do is what we should always do in life:  align our outlook with God's.  If we say we follow after Christ, then everything in our life should be in line with Christ's will.  Yet I can honestly say that many times, my New Year's resolutions have little to do with the kingdom of God.  Moreover, even when they do, they are goals I have set for myself; I have done little to see if they are what God would want me to choose.  If I want to succeed in life, I need to align my ultimate goals in life with God - and then make sure my choices along the way, including my New Year's resolutions, point in that direction.

Fortunately, we find guidance on how to do this throughout the Bible.  First, we have to trust that God wants us to plan for the future, because he has a plan for our future.  God consistently tells his people this, as he does in Jeremiah 29 ("For I know the plans I have for you...").  God has chosen to work in this world through his people.  He has a plan.  Our task is to figure out where we fit into his plan.

Then we have to make sure that our priorities are in order.  There are many things in life that distract us and confuse us.  These things can lead us away from God's plan...unless we get prioritize properly.  Jesus himself addressed this when he said, "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).   Of course, this doesn't mean that if we serve God's kingdom, we'll get everything we ever wanted and all of our problems will be solved.  It does mean that when we put God and his kingdom first, everything else will become secondary - and we will trust God to see us through.

Finally, we need to approach life with less concern about success...or rather, a redefined notion of success.  In the book of James, the author speaks of a person making plans for his or her business.  James scoffs at this plan - because we human beings do not know what the future will bring.  Instead, he says, we "ought to say, 'If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that'"(James 4:15).  When we reorient our lives to place God's will and God's kingdom first, we will redefine success.  Whatever promotes the kingdom of God and accomplishes the mission of God will be our yardstick, not how much money we make or how many countries we travel to or how many people know our name or how many pounds we lose.  It doesn't mean those measures of success aren't important or shouldn't be a goal - but they have importance and worth only in how they move us towards health and wholeness in our relationship with God and towards fulfilling our divine calling.

So this New Year, what resolutions should we make?  Careful ones, thoughtful ones, achievable ones - but above all, faithful ones.  God has a plan for you in 2015.  What do you need to do to accomplish it?

In Christ,
Adam

PS  One of my resolutions (that I pray is in line with God's will for me) is to increase my frequency of blog posts.  I plan to write every Monday, but I hold that loosely - because God's calling may shift.  For now, though, look for my blog updates every Monday!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why I Go

I have been very blessed in my life.  I was raised in a good and loving home.  I was able to receive a good education.  The churches I have served in ministry have been caring and devoted to God.  My wife is amazing and beautiful, inside and out.  I am in reasonably good health, I have friends who make life enjoyable and who support me, and I even have a dog who loves curling up next to me on the sofa.  Life is pretty good.

One of the other blessings I’ve had in my life is to go on several short-term mission trips to other countries.  In the past sixteen years, I have been on mission to four other countries (Panama, Honduras, South Africa, and Ghana) on a total of 9 trips.  This does not include several mission trips I have been able to take within the United States, and ongoing mission efforts and projects in the community.  I look forward to leading a team from my church to Panama again in July, in partnership with the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Panama Baptist Convention.




 

 
 
 
Each time I go on mission to another part of the world, someone will ask (in some form or another), “Why do you go?”  Why would I want to pay money and take time away from my home, my family, my job, and my comfortable life to travel somewhere else to do work for God?

When I began going on mission trips, my answer would have been much different than it is now.  I went to Panama for the first time when I was 15, and I went for a variety of reasons:  I had seen my father go on mission trips, and wanted to emulate him; I was excited for the opportunity to travel and see another country; I was looking forward to getting out of school for two weeks(!); and I thought that going on a mission trip was what God would want me to do.

Now, as I look back on 16 years of short-term mission experiences, and contemplate another trip in a couple of weeks, I have some different thoughts.  I’ve had more time to consider the benefits and costs of short-term mission work, both to myself and to those I go to serve amongst.  I’ve also had conversations with other ministers who I respect and admire, classes in seminary on what the meaning of mission is, and friendships with Christians in other nations and cultures.  Some of those conversations and encounters have called the efficacy of short-term mission work into question, while others have confirmed that it is a vital part of God’s kingdom plan.  After considering all of this, I feel better prepared to answer the question, “Why do you go on short-term mission trips?”

1.       The Great Commission/Acts 1:8 – In both the Gospel of Matthew and the book of Acts, Jesus leaves his disciples with marching orders.  In Matthew, he tells his disciples to make more disciples as they go in life – disciples of all nations.  Acts records Jesus telling his disciples to be his witnesses everywhere – even to the utter ends of the earth.  If I believe that I have received the same charge that the first disciples did (and I do believe that), then I have to take his command seriously to go forth into the entire world and bear witness to Christ.


2.       Personal faith – I have heard it said over and over by people who return from short-term mission experiences:  “I received the blessing,” or some variation of that statement.  That has been my experience, as well.  Going out on mission increases my faith in God, exposes me to new understandings of Christ, and gives me the opportunity to see the Spirit at work in different ways.  I always return rejuvenated and challenged to be more committed to my Lord.


3.       Making a difference – On every short-term mission trip I have been on, I felt like I was doing my best to make a difference.  Whether that difference was helping with a medical clinic, passing out mosquito nets, preaching a sermon about Jesus and salvation, or building a relationship with a local pastor or family, I tried my hardest to do my part to help.  Not only that, I tried to help in a way that respected the dignity of the individuals I met and honored the work and commitment of the local church I was working with.


4.       Bearing witness to Christ’s kingdom work – It is far too easy for any church to get self-centered, only aware of its own work and witness.  Yet Jesus didn’t call a church, he called the church.  All around the globe, God’s people are doing amazing things as they proclaim the Gospel and work to make this world more like what God wants it to be.  An important part of my mission, then, is to bear witness when I return home:  to share what God is doing in other places, to relate how our Christian brothers and sisters in other cultures are connecting with God, and to challenge myself and my church to learn from the work of others.

There are probably additional reasons that I go on short-term mission trips, including those I held as a 15-year old.  However, these four reasons are how I would answer the question, “Why do you go on short-term mission trips?”  I believe they are reasons that honor Christ and respect my Christian brothers and sisters as partners in the kingdom mission of God...and they are the reasons I will continue going on short-term mission trips whenever the Lord calls me to go.
 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Alternative Society


My computer homepage is a MSN compilation of news, sports, weather, and entertainment stories that are currently trending.  I don’t know who exactly decided this should be the homepage (it is my computer’s default setting), but it isn’t too bad.  I can have a snapshot (in visual form, even!) of what popular stories are right now, every time I open my internet browser.  It’s a good way to stay abreast of what is going on in the wider world.

Unfortunately, what’s going on in the wider world is often not all that encouraging.  I’ve noticed that, over the past month, probably 80% of the mornings I turn on my computer, the lead story is something tragic or disturbing.  Today, for example, the first story that pops up is, “Mother suspected of killing 3 daughters.”  Some days it is something relatively localized, like today’s story.  Other days, it is something widespread, such as when tornadoes touch down in the Midwest or wildfires ravage California.  And, of course, a large percentage of the stories bemoan missteps by politicians and media personalities.  The only conclusion I can draw from my MSN feed is that the world is falling apart, and we see evidence of it continuing every single day.

This cannot be what God wanted or intended when he made the world.  Scripture tells us that God finished creating the world and said “This is very good.”  Those are words that cannot be applied very often to the world as we know it, at least not without a qualifying statement.  And it has been this way for a long, long time!  In Isaiah 3, the prophet calls out the leaders and merchants, the men and women, the old and young of his day.  Leaders are failing, elders are greedy, youths are oppressive, and women are haughty.  Things are, in Isaiah’s mind, falling apart!  Is there any hope?

Yes, there is!  Isaiah goes on in chapter 4 to describe a segment of his society that is seen as a shelter from the storm and a place to recover true identity, peace, and purpose.  That segment of society:  the community of the faithful people of God.  Whatever form it took in that day, the gathering of God’s people – small though it was in relation to the wider society – was an alternative to what was being offered in the mainstream.  Not an angry alternative, not a clannish alternative, and not a semi-alternative that rejected one or two things vehemently but otherwise embrace the values of the surrounding culture.  Instead, it was a true alternative society, governed by different values – God’s values! – and sustained by a different concept of what was good, right, noble, and worthy.

Flash forward 2500+ years.  All around us, we see evidence of the decadence and self-centeredness of modern Western life returning a cost on most of human society that is far too high.  The vast majority of scientists state that we are killing our planet.  War and strife run rampant in our world.  Economic insecurities leave billions in precarious circumstances.  People are skeptical that our leaders can make a difference.  It’s the world of Isaiah 3 all over again.

And where is the shelter that Isaiah saw in his day?  Who is the alternative society or community now that can be a place to recover true identity, peace, and purpose?  It is the church, the gathered people of God committed to living according to the values of God’s kingdom – this is the community that is supposed to be the shelter in the storm of life.  This is the place where all of us can find an alternative to the world.  This is the fellowship that lives life differently, more meaningfully…when we actually do.  Far too often, we try to live according to what we learn is the way of life in the world:  that money is what matters, that appearances are most important, that comfort is more vital than effectiveness, and that safety trumps obedience to the commands of Christ.

We as the church need to repent when we find ourselves falling back into the same habits as the world – because we were called to be something else.  We are called to be a colony of a different kingdom, a different world, governed by a different law and held to a different standard.  Our central command shouldn’t be “he with the most toys wins;” it should be “love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  We shouldn’t demand what is rightfully ours, but rather be sacrificial and generous with what we have.  And we shouldn’t act shocked when non-Christians act in a way contrary to the way of Jesus – we should be honest and admit that often what passes for religious behavior in our own lives and in our own community can stand in serious conflict with the teachings of Christ.

God has called us to be different than the world, to hunger for something more, something greater than fame or fortune or power or influence.  God has called us to be ambassadors of the kingdom of God, because we have accepted a way of life that so different from the world – but it is what the world is desperately longing for.  Let’s be that shelter in the storm of life, a place that says, “You were made for something more – and we want to help you find it.”

In Christ,

Adam

 

PS.  Many thanks to my good friend, John Chandler, whose devotional thoughts on Isaiah 3-4 in “Praying the Prophets” sparked my thinking in this blog post.


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Friday, May 2, 2014

Goodbye to a Sacred Place


There is a country song that has been with me the past few weeks – The House that Built Me by Miranda Lambert.  Now, I’m not necessarily a huge Miranda Lambert fan.  I like some of her songs, but I probably wouldn’t name her as one of my favorite artists.  Yet there is something about the song that sticks with me, because I, too, have a house (or a place) that helped build me…and really soon, I won’t be able to go back again.
 

Tonight, I begin my last trip to Grandma’s farm.  After my grandmother’s death on the last day of 2012, I have known this day would come:  the farm has sold and it is time to move on.  Yet in that long period of “in-between,” it has been hard to let go.  This is where my mother grew up, from the age of 2 onward.  This is where I came for visits in the summer and on holidays.  This is where I spent all but two Christmases in my life.  It’s where I learned to shuck corn and string snaps from the garden, go fishin’ in the pond, and peruse old picture albums from the comfort of my granddaddy’s recliner.  More than that, though, this is where I ate grandma’s cooking, played with my cousins, and learned as I grew up to have adult conversations with my aunts and uncles.  For me, this has been one of a few central places that have shaped me and grounded me.
 
And now…it’s gone.  In January, the family found out that someone was interested in purchasing the farm from the estate.  Although we knew this needed to happen, it brought home that there was a ticking clock on our time with the old farm.  So we began the tasks that we had to do to prepare…at least physically.  My aunts and uncles started going through the clothes and household items.  My cousins helped clean out the cellar, sorting through years’ worth of produce from the garden, faithfully canned and preserved by my grandmother and my aunt.  All of us children and grandchildren helped move furniture and tag items for the estate sale and clean out the smokehouse and pack barn.  We did the things we had to do to get the farm ready.

In the process, I wonder if we – if I – have done the things we need to do to get ready emotionally.  I am the youngest grandchild, with a mere 31 years of memory in this place.  What about my oldest cousins, with 50 or so years?  My aunts and uncles and cousins who still live in the neighborhood, who have literally grown up on this plot of land?  Have all of us really recognized the way that this place has shaped us, and have we recognized both how the sale of this land will affect us, and how the mark it left on us will never really fade?

The Scriptures tell us that place matters – particularly a place that includes encounters with the divine.  There is a sacredness that can become a part of any land.  Why?  Because it has been a place of deep, loving relationship, a place where God instilled his presence into the collective memory and experience of those who met in that location.  Sometimes we know it’s a sacred place from the beginning…but often we don’t until we are looking back.  Sometimes, we are there with Jacob awakening from a dream, sitting bolt upright and stammering, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16) The next day, Jacob left that place…but not before doing something to mark the significance of that location in his memory.

This afternoon, I begin the last visit I may ever make to my grandmother’s house and farm – certainly the last one I’ll make before it stops being “ours.”  I pray that I’ll be able, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparations for tomorrow’s sale, to drink in the sacredness of this place.  Grandma’s is a place where I experienced the love of my Lord and the joy of sharing life with family.  That is something to remember, and something to carry with me as I leave this sacred place – because while God was and is in this place, he is not bound to it.  He will be with me and with my family as we leave that place behind and step forward into a new day, strengthened by the memories and shared experiences of doing life together.
 


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Monday, March 17, 2014

A Healthy Body


Over the past week, I’ve suffered from a few little aches and pains and fatigue that remind me that I’m not as young as I used to be.  My elbow has been twinging as a result of playing too much pickleball (a relatively new sport – sort of like indoor tennis – that is taking off at Grace Hills).  Occasionally, I’ll have a muscle spasm or stitch in my side for no apparent reason.  Saturday morning, I awoke to a flare-up of tendonitis in my left knee that left me hobbling around the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  Finally, last weekend’s late nights and early mornings, combined with a shift to Daylight Savings Time and a week full of stress and travel, has left me feeling behind on sleep.  A lazy Sunday afternoon yesterday was quite in order, especially the two (unplanned) naps!

Our bodies are wonderful combinations of flesh, bone, and chemical connections that God has fashioned to work together in an amazing manner.  Yet those very connections are designed to work within very specific tolerances.  I’m fairly sure that my tennis elbow developed from overuse of the muscles and tendons in my right arm by playing too much pickleball in too short a time.  I’m equally sure that my back spasms and tendonitis are affected, at least in part, because I’m carrying around a few (ok, more than a few) extra pounds.  And my fatigue?  Why wouldn’t I expect to be tired if I got less than 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row, followed by a week of travel and interspersed nights of interrupted sleep?

 

I’m no health expert.  I’m not THAT kind of doctor, nor am I a personal trainer, an expert in kinesiology, a dietician, or even an exercise enthusiast.  I don’t need to be to know something fundamental about the human body:  to feel good and maintain health, there are certain things we need to do.  We need to get an appropriate amount of exercise (without overtraining).  We need to get an appropriate amount of rest and relaxation (without becoming couch potatoes).  We need to have a balanced diet with good nutrition.  We need to maintain our bodies and pay attention to any warning signals we get (like pain, a grumbling stomach, or shortness of breath).  In short, to maintain the amazing organic system that is our body, we have to intentionally take care of it.

The same is true of the church.  Several passages in Scripture use the image of the body to describe the nature of the church.  Ephesians 4 speaks to the importance of unity and maturity in the body of Christ, and finishes in verse 16 with a beautiful image:  “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  This wonderfully organic image of the church, as a body growing and becoming healthy, reminds us that the same techniques we use to care for and develop our physical bodies are often helpful in developing, strengthening, and caring for the body of Christ.

 

Exercise:  One of the hardest things to do for our physical bodies is establish an appropriate exercise regimen.  Despite its difficulty, though, exercise is needed to develop and maintain a healthy body.  This is also true for the church; without spiritual exercise, or mission, the church is just another civic organization or country club.  Jesus tells us that we are called to follow him for a purpose:  to do the things he did.  We do this when we make disciples, when we care for the needy, when we share the Gospel message, and when we generally strive to make the world more like the world God wants it to be.  Those are important tasks that we do as a body of Christian believers, but they can be overwhelming in the same way that running a marathon can be overwhelming for a couch potato like me.  So how can we incorporate spiritual “exercise” into the life of our church?  By having mission and witness integrated into the life of the church.  When a church can offer several options for people to engage in mission, with varying levels of commitment and effort, the burden of missional “exercise” can be alleviated; it just becomes one more part of the rhythm of the church’s life.  It becomes part of the day-in, day-out life of the congregation, and the church is challenged to continue to grow and develop as a healthy body of Christ.

Rest:  A body needs more than exercise to thrive, because exercise without appropriate rest results in overwork, discomfort, and injury.  Indeed, a well-rested body makes for better and more productive exercise than a fatigued body.  Rest is a glorious part of the rhythm of life that God has built into our bodies, and the body of Christ needs periods of rest, as well.  There are busy seasons in church life:  Christmas and Easter, of course, but also other regular times of energy and effort such as VBS.  After such times of exertion, it is important that the church include a period of rest, with less programming and less demands on people, particularly in church leadership.  Such times of rest and recuperation allow the recovery of energy and creativity, and those periods of rest also serve as wells of strength for the church and its leaders to draw from in the next period of activity and mission.

Nutrition:  If I eat junk food all day, my body is going to rebel:  I’ll get stomach aches, I’ll have a lack of energy, and I’ll gain weight.  To operate in a healthy way, my body needs good and balanced nutrition.  In the same way, the church needs spiritual nourishment to grow and develop in a healthy manner.  Scripture and the person of Jesus is the source of nutrition for the church.  The church needs to get a steady diet of grounded and relevant sermons, informative and helpful Bible studies, and timely recommendations for Bible reading and personal devotions.  It also needs to receive encouragement and opportunities to engage in personal and corporate prayer, learning to hear and heed the voice of our Lord.  These practices nourish the souls of both the individuals who make up the church and the corporate body of the church itself.

Care:  When our bodies are hurt or fall ill, the prudent thing to do is to provide care.  A wound untended will get infected, a cough disregarded will become bronchitis, and a sprain ignored could lead to a more lasting injury.  Caring for our bodies when they are hurt or compromised is vital to our overall health.  This is true for the body of Christ, too.  Sometimes, a member of the body is hurt:  an individual loses someone close to them, or suffers an illness, or faces turmoil in their family or job.  Other times, the hurt is to the whole church:  the congregation experiences conflict, has a major financial problem, or is hit with ridicule or obstruction from an outside party.  In each of these cases, care is needed.  The church needs to do those things that promote healing:  rebuilding broken relationships, spending time with despairing members, working through conflict instead of ignoring it, and encouraging one another instead of tearing each other down.

When the church acknowledges its identity as the body of Christ, it draws from a metaphor that we know well:  our own bodies.  Like our physical bodies, the church body needs exercise, rest, nutrition, and care to remain healthy.  When those things are present, the conditions are right for the church to grow and develop as the body of Christ.  May all of our churches become the healthy churches that God wants them to be!

In Christ,

Adam


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