You Are God’s Temple

Every once in a while, I run into an individual who quotes this verse to support their position against smoking, or taking drugs, or alcohol. The rationale is that since our body is a Temple, then we need to treat it as a holy place, hence none of these intoxicating substances are allowed, since they are considered “unholy”. Well, that’s not exactly correct.

You see, Paul isn’t about about individual bodies here. You might get that if you were looking at the English. You might think that Paul is addressing each individual as a Temple of God, but that’s not so. If you peel back the thin veneer of English and look at the Greek, you might see that the term “you” used in this sentence is a plural you. It is as we say here in the South, a “y’all” which I have to admit is probably one of the smartest additions in the English language in this region, since the singular “you” and the plural “you” both sound the same to ear.

How does that change our understanding? Instead of each individual person being a Temple (and as such to treated as a holy place) it instead puts the onus upon the group as a whole. Collectively, we are the Temple, as the Church. This isn’t a text that is appropriate to use against drugs and smoking (there are better texts for that). This is a text to reinforce that the Church is the place of God’s presence on Earth, and we ought to treat it as such.

Let us no more squabble or argue as God’s Church. His Presence is here among us. His Holy Spirit fills us and indwells us. We ought to respect that fact. We ought to acknowledge that we do not rule here. Boards do not rule here. Little old ladies with crooked fingers do not rule here. God rules here. We are the Temple, as we ought to better resemble our namesake, not in buildings and gold and finery, but in beauty, love and peace, compassion, welcome, sacrifice, and holiness. We are God’s Temple. We need to start acting like it.

Lord, forgive me where I’ve forgotten just how important we are to Your plan to bring the gospel to this world. Let us be filled again with Your Presence, to remember again our purpose and direction You have called us to. Let us be Your Temple again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Just as God

I probably don’t need to remind you first that as Paul is writing here, he is writing to a church, where these behaviors are beginning to surface. This is a church that has lost its passion for the gospel and has settled into a pseudo-legalism, where religion is about following rules, rather than being obedient to God in faith.

Paul’s list of evil interaction is as follows:

  • Bitterness (acridity or poison) It’s not hard to imagine this person, as every word they speak is dripping with criticism. You can do nothing right about these people. Even if you do something right, you did it by accident.
  • Anger (violent passion) – This is a person whose anger flares up quickly. I’ve seen this in board meetings, and it’s not pretty. Such people are toxic to the faith, and their brief flashes of anger hurt other Christians because this person has no self-control.
  • Wrath (indignation) – This person wears their offense as a badge of honor. They are always offended, and even the slightest word can set them off, so you walk around them on eggshells, trying not to offend them again. They use their anger as a means to control others.
  • Shouting (crying out, intimidating speech?) – This is the loud-talker, because they know if they talk loudly, they will intimidate others. They like to dominate their conversation and their point of view is the only one that matters.
  • Slander (literally blasphemy) – This person has taken what little they know of the faith and use it to their own benefit. They are the kind of people who will tell you that if you give them money, God will bless you. They will salt their speech with just enough platitudes to encourage trust, but their “truth” is all about themselves.
  • Malice (depravity, evil) – This is the dark-hearted individual, who for whatever reason (usually past trauma) works to undermine and destroy your growth as a believer.

And his list of favored interaction is:

  • Kindness (graciousness) – There is no end of kindness with this person. They will be kind to you, even when you haven’t been kind to them. They are kindness without fail, and these are the ones that remind you what Jesus is like.
  • Compassion (deep-seated kindness) – These seek out those in need, those in pain, and actively work to relieve it.
  • Forgiveness (favor, pardon) – These are the ones who are never offended by you, accept you as you are, and love you because you are made in God’s image.

Paul’s remind to the church in Ephesus is to avoid the behaviors on the first list, and seeks the behaviors of the second. When you take Paul’s advice, you will find your church becoming a church people come to because the Spirit of God is there, where a person finds love and peace, and you will find a Church just as God intended.

May God bless you and your fellowship tomorrow!

Happy Birthday, Church!

Today marks another birthday for the Church. Today the church is 1990 years old (assuming an early date for the resurrection of AD 30). We mark today as the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, and the day that the Holy Spirit fell upon the early disciples and empowered them to deliver the good news to the people gather in Jerusalem. By contrast, Tabernacle/ Temple Judaism lasted from 1440 BC to AD 70, which was about 1509 years (you don’t count the zero year). From a group of 120 on the day before 3000 were added, to today, where a quarter of the earth’s population (about 2 billion) is considered Christian, that’s quite a feat. I think the Church is here to stay.

The church has suffered countless persecutions and been nearly wiped out in one area after another, and yet even today “the gates hell will not prevail against it.” The Church survives, thrives and continues. Jesus is that important. So a three-month closure of church buildings in the United States is not the worst thing to ever happen to the church. Asking Churches to close due to COVID-19 will not destroy the church.

I don’t know who said it, but I have heard the saying that the tree of liberty has to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots. I think that means that from generation to generation, there need to be tangible examples of why we continue to strive for freedom. I also hold that the same ought to be true for the church. For the church to resist complacency, there ought to be from time to time the onus of persecution placed upon the church. The church needs to suffer occasionally to remind everyone that we do not belong to this world. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven. And when Christians are made to stand out in a crown of their peers, mocked or even jeered, we find faith tested and made sure. Will you still believe when the world singles you out? Will you testify to your faith or duck behind the cover of conformity?

1900 years ago or so, Christians were ordered, along with everyone else, to pay homage to the Emperor by coming before an altar, pouring out a little oil or wine, and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” This was no casual usage of lord, as it was meant to say, Caesar is the almighty deity. Christians in good conscience could not do this. They could not bow to the will of the state. But not all. Some Christians reasoned among themselves that it’s only words. It’s only a little oil. And they looked down on their brothers who would not give such “respect” to the governing authorities. Those who refused were arrested for atheism (yes, that was a legal charge in ancient Rome) for refusing to worship the Emperor. Many were beaten, some even put to death. All because they wouldn’t pour out a little oil and say a few words.

I think we need this “light and momentary affliction” upon the church. We need a little persecution, and little inconvenience, to put our faith to the test. Do we really believe what we believe, or is it just words? Do we really believe God is sovereign? Or do we allow the State to tell us when and where to worship? I can admit that for a short time, the Church can listen to Science and heed its warnings. I also believe that short time has passed. States that continue to hold on their their power of forbidding assembly, particularly for the Church, are putting themselves in the place of God, and have never had the right to do so.

If Science is true, then in a few days, we will start to see the rioters and looters begin to get sick, and their hospitals will be overloaded, and Science will be vindicated. But if they do not, why should Christians be arrested to meeting together peacefully and worship the Creator and the Savior through the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when they let pass hordes of rioters and looters without reprisal?

The time for abundance of caution has passed. Now those who love God will be revealed as they emerge from their homes to worship in the Lord’s house. Can you worship in your own home? Absolutely. I hope you do everyday. But let us not forsake the meeting of ourselves together in the assembly. It is a strong statement to the world that the Church is alive and well, even after 1990 years.

God grant us the strength and courage to stand against those who would keep us from You, who by their demands for “an abundance of caution” and “flattening the curve” keep peaceful Christians from meeting together for worship. Lord I know the issues are complex, and the Church is flexible, but Father let us not shun one another. We were not called to shun and “social distance” but to love, to expand the gospel, and this You have placed upon us as Your ambassadors. Lord grant us wisdom in this. Help us to be as peacful as doves, but as wise as serpents. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

A Better Word

I like the rendition of the Christian Standard Bible here over the usual, as “Be still and know that I am God” just doesn’t have the same oomph to it. That and it has been taken out of context so often it hurts. It has been often used as a source text for “Christian Meditation” which is a sad pathway for other powers to masquerade their way into the Christian mind.

Nope. “Stop fighting” is so much more relevant, and many Christians could learn this lesson. Who is in charge of this church after all? Is it the keepers of truth or the keepers of love? The keepers of orthodoxy or the keepers of inclusion? Who are the rightful masters of the church? None of them. Jesus is the Master of His Church, His Bride. None of us have the right.

Okay, so that’s all well and good. So how do you decide problems in the church that we often fight about? How do you determine the nature of baptism? Communion? Musical instruments? Paid staff? Contemporary or traditional? Small church or big church? What is a Christian?

I may not know the answers, but I know for certain the path to the solution isn’t the separation of brothers. It isn’t the tyrannical despotism of one side over the other. It isn’t an Inquisition. Of all people on earth, we ought to be best known for our unity. If there is a better way, may we speak the truth in love, seeking union, rather than division.

“Oh, that’s easy for you to say.” No. It’s not. It is a much harder path to seek unity than to declare that I am my own church and only we are going to heaven. It is much easier to say that only my translation of the Scripture is the right one. Are we to be still? Yes. But that isn’t intended as a gentle command, but a warning. It comes from a God who sees us fighting against each other and against Him and He says, “Be Still!” And remember who is God here. If we can’t stop fighting, then we aren’t much of a witness to the world of a God of peace and hope.

Dear God, I don’t know how we are going to solve all the many problems we have made for ourselves as people of faith, but I know the answer isn’t fighting each other, when you expressly command us to “love one another.” We may agree to disagree, but Lord help us never to forget to love. If there is an orthodoxy, help us find it together, let us stop fighting about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I Need Joy

Its not that its a bad day today. In fact, its been a pretty good day. I was able to go to work today. I cam home. Did not run into anyone with the virus, as far as I know. I was able to talk to people today, and I hoped that listening to their troubles gave then some relief. But coming home is staying in and not going anywhere. This weekend was planned tkt be my daughter’s eighth grade trip to DC. Next week was going to belt wife and I’s 25th wedding anniversary trip, but now we need to cancer that too. She doesn’t want to be away from home so far with all the stuff happening. I don’t blame her.

It seems everyday we wake up to new rules. Everyday new businesses are being told to close for fear of drawing crowds, all except the stores that draw the largest crowds, like grocery stores. Nevermind logic. Each day we are given new insights into how thus virus works, how deadly it is, and what I need to do to stop it. I feel more informed about this one subject than anything else I’ve ever seen in the news.

But on top of all this, churches are voluntarily closed. One place that people can go when times are tough is the church. But now you have to have Internet or a phone to get that kind of ministry. I know it’s not permanent, but its one thing that will help all of us get through the next few weeks. I need the church. I need the social gathering. If where two or three or gathered, Christ is there, there is a sense I feel kind of cut off.

I’m sure I’m not the first to sense it. And maybe I just need to get over it for the duration of this crisis. Others have been cut off from church. I am not the first. Others have survived. I will too. But I am down and need joy. And I know my Lord can bring me joy.

Heavenly Father, this is not a good time. In fact, this is a difficult time. I feel Your church has been slighted. And I am angry. But I know these happen or not at Your word. If we need some time away from pretty buildings and slide presentations, loud music and smoke machines to help us hear your voice again, help me hear it. Help me hear that voice that calls to me day and night, so that I might enter the joy of the Lord. In Your Son’s holy Name, Amen.

Not Easily Broken

Who is your other cord? With whom are you not easily broken? Do you have backup? Or do you try to go on your own?

I find that nothing binds people together faster than shared adversity. Total strangers stuck in an elevator can become close friends. But once the adversity is over, well, there’s no guarantees. We are social creatures and we naturally congregate. But if we isolate ourselves, we cut off that natural instinct.

The Scripture reinforces the truth of our nature, but explains why God made us like this. He knows in this world we will have trouble. That trouble may break us if we attempt life solo. I’ve talked with people who have tried life alone. But inevitably they come into situations when someone else is needed. If you’ve never married and have no children, all your family is gone and you are alone, to whom do you turn?

Even in this, God has created a social community where you can have family without marriage and children without procreation. Parents without adoption. It’s called Church. You can find this amazing extended family in the relationships you develop within the community of faith. The strength of your family will depend on how much time and energy you invest. Don’t have anyone you can call in adversity? Join a church. At least the pastor will help. Relationships will grow over time. God will help you form connections with strangers, because we are all facing this world together. We are all strangers here.

Father God. I am alone in this world. I don’t know who to turn to or to whom to run. Please show me those strangers who can become friends. show me and bind to those cords that I will need when adversity comes. And Lord God, be that strongest cord of all. In Jesus Name, Amen!

To Love is Our Command

Jesus our Lord orders us not to love Him, but one another. This is akin to a parent putting siblings in a get-along shirt, where each sibling get an armhole in a great big daddy shirt. This may be the hardest command He has ever given us.Today Christians exist in 1000 different denominations. Christians of different stripes have fought wars over doctrine with each other. Some Christians have rounded up other Christians just for printing Bibles. Even today some Christians are jealous because their church is smaller than their neighbor, or self-righteous because their church is smaller. Even when we have no reason to be petty with one another, we still find ways to dislike one another.

I think the kind of love Jesus is speaking of here is more than the toleration you have for family on Thanksgiving. It goes deeper than that. I think it may even be more like the love a parent has for a child who is addict, but who never gives up hope of their getting clean. Love is a hard taskmaster. It asks us to do things we don’t want to do, like get along.

The Methodist right now are going through these labor pains. They are looking to separate themselves one from another over the issue of homosexuality. Some want homosexuals to be their pastors. Others do not. As such, they are willing separate their common bond in Christ over the issue. For those who campaign that love must prevail, let me remind you that this is a truth that comes from Scripture. If you would honor the same God who commands us to love, you would also need to respect what else He has to say. You cannot take one piece out for your benefit and ignore the rest.

They should absolutely not separate. But as Paul once pointed, perhaps it is necessary to point out those who are Christ’s and those who are not. Christ also said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus is very specific what constitutes the marriage relationship (Matthew 19). He tells us what relationship has the blessing and binding of God, and it not the homosexual one. This anyone who teaches and practices that homosexual relationships are okay by God is teaching blasphemy.

The basis for love in any relationship is and ought always to be truth. Without truth you do not have honesty. Without honesty there is no integrity and no stability in a relationship. As Christians, we need to be honest with one another, and stop hiding from one another. There is no such thing as “fine” in our world. No one is “fine” because we are all struggling. If you are in honest relationships with other Christians, you have found a rare jewel. Fight for it if you have to.

Heavenly Father, we have so totally messed up obeying this command that we don’t even know where to begin to obey it. We are scattered across a thousand denominations that can’t talk to each other. Father we have hurt each other, deeply. We have done the opposite of this command so many times. We repent Lord of the mess we have made. Show us Lord the path we would take to love our brother and our sister. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Love and Sacrifice

In the many definitions of love, you rarely hear sacrifice. It is usually compassion for another, embracing and feeling close. But sacrifice is as natural as breathing when it comes to love. In the famous story, The Gift of the Magi, the young couple each sacrifices what is most precious to them to give good gifts to each other. It is a precious story in that it is a fitting parable for love. Love gives with little thought for itself. It is the new mother who gets up in the wee hours to care for a crying child. It is the father who sacrifices time with his family and those precious first moments so that he can provide for their needs in work. While love takes on many forms, one which we easily recognize is sacrifice.

So it is with our Christian family. Today is a test of your love. Will you sacrifice your time, energy, even comfort to express your love for the brethren by going to church this morning? Jesus came and died for you. That was a tremendous and powerful sacrifice. Men and women died for your right to worship freely in this nation. No one is stopping you from going to a church of your choosing. It may involve some sacrifice, but many have been given for you. You can give this much.

Love is expressed through sacrifice. Our Lord showed us this. We can do this for each other. God bless you today.

Power in Harmony

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.
(Rom 15:5-6)

Last Saturday, my daughter was taking part in a band combined with all the regional bands from their middle schools. I didn’t expect what I heard. Over the course of one day, my daughter has managed to learn how to play three new songs, songs she didn’t even know to start, and then learn how to play them with complete strangers. By the time of the concert, they had managed to learn how to play together and bring off a most impressive concert, despite their youth and inexperience. I credit this in part to the instructors who worked with them, but also the power of harmony, when everyone is working together to a common goal. In this case, everyone was working on the same music, if not the same page.

I think we Christians could take a page out of this book. We are all trying to save the world according to our own silos. Each of us think we have the right way and correct understanding of how the Bible works and how Jesus saves. The fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of churches (and yes, each have their own thing), would seem to give lie to that fact. Either only one of us is completely right, some of us are partially right or we’re all completely wrong.

Truthfully, I think we have much more in common than we think, and we probably ought to cooperate more than we do. If we all claim to be Christians, then surely there must be some real Christians among us. I believe each one must be firmly convinced in his own mind what he believes. But I also believe we tend to nitpick over non-essentials, like whether or not we use musical instruments in worship.

I believe the essentials are these: Jesus Christ is the Living Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified on a cross, risen from the dead and alive in Heaven at God’s right hand, but just as near to us. If this isn’t at the core of your faith, you are not a Christian. The resurrection alone as Paul said is the most important fact of our faith, and must be upheld.

The second is like the first: The Bible as written in its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) is the final authority of God on this earth. It was written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of about 40 men (and maybe women) to its minimum extent of 66 books, the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New. All of the Church recognizes these books. It is true in all that it attests to and affirms. It is our final authority of faith, and cannot be interpreted to the opposite of what it clearly says. It was written to be understood, and written so that even common men (and women) could understand it. Anyone who denies the written Word of God or its authority is not a Christian because they deny the surest source of authority they have.

Beyond these two, we can talk about others, but I believe you need these two to start having a conversation. God bless you today!


Fearless Love

So what do we know today? I feel like I’ve written about this recently, but I couldn’t find it. Perfect love, mature love, is fearless. Because when Daddy is with you, you aren’t afraid of risk.

So what do we have to fear? You might have heard recently about Kanye West. I too was cautiously optimistic that this conversion might actually be authentic. Here is someone from the celebrity scene that is now taking about Jesus in a good way. He is openly evangelizing. He is doing the work of the church. And the church, well, is being the church.

What I mean is, many churches are downplaying this conversion because he didn’t come from us. If this were a pastor from an unknown church who suddenly popped up on the national scene, the church would be far more accepting. But he’s not. He is like a Paul, someone who openly despised conservative values and was a popular rap artist singing what rap artists rap about until one day God got a hold of him.

I think the church needs to take this as a warning. This is what we need to fear. God picked Kanye because we weren’t getting the message out. Let that sink in. We’ve kept the gospel bottled up in church buildings and Christian lifestyle, so that if you are not like us, you cannot be us. It is a condition the church ought to be familiar with, as we have repeated the same cycle throughout history, until God calls a Paul, or a Martin Luther, or a Tyndale, or a Billy Sunday, or a Tim Tebow. Over and again, God has had to call someone outside the box because the gospel couldn’t get out of the box.

So if God is calling Kanye West to evangelize the lost, it’s because the church wasn’t reaching who He wanted to reach. For Paul, it was outreach to the Gentiles. For Martin Luther, it was outreach to the non-Latins. And so on, and so forth. If the church will not go, then God will call someone else to go. Be afraid Church that you have not lost your relevance.

Something to ponder on this Monday.