Looking for a Sign

“Lord, just give me a sign…”

“Teacher, we want to see a sign…”

“No sign with be given, except…”

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about signs in the last week or so. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been looking for signs. Wishing for a sign.

It’s Holy Week, a week for focusing on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A week to be thinking about my mortality, my weakness, my sinfulness, and the awesome gift of grace found in Jesus. A week to stand before the cross and empty tomb and listen to my Savior speaking peace to me.

But…

A week before Palm Sunday I was asked by another church to join their ministry team. I have a few weeks in which to gather information, seek advice, and make a decision that will affect my ministry, my family, and both congregations for years to come. Funny timing. Humbling that God and these church leaders would put such a decision in my hands.

So, Lord, could you just give me a sign what the best thing to do is?

Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a big decision to make, and wished for some divine graffiti to tell you what to do? Ever prayed, “Lord, just give me a sign”?

Here’s some more funny timing – this week, my teaching plan for a religion class I teach on Thursdays to a group of 8th graders had us looking at Jonah 2. In the materials for this class, materials I wrote four years ago, we are led to Matthew 12:38-41 –

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.” Ouch. Did you put that there for me, Lord?

I don’t think Jesus is trying to heap guilt on people for asking God to give them some direction. He’s addressing the sinful motives of the Pharisees, who are essentially saying, “We refuse to believe that you are from God, and refuse to believe anything you say, unless you can prove to us in a way that satisfies our arrogance that you truly are who you say you are.” In many ways, this is no different than people today who insist that faith in God is foolishness if you can’t produce evidence of his existence. “Show us a sign that your God really exists,” they say, and Jesus answer to them is, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.”

But there is a warning for believers in this as well. Many want to hear God’s voice whispering to their ears or hearts. Many want to see some kind of miraculous evidence that God is at work. The warning is not too look too hard for God to speak apart from his Word. What does Jesus point to? He points to the Scriptures, to the story of Jonah, and says, “This is the sign to look for. This was a foreshadowing of what will happen to me, and when it happens, then you will know that I am the Lord.”

And it did happen. And we have the testimony of the people who were there to see it. Today is Good Friday, and in just a few short days we will celebrate together the only sign Jesus says we should look for. Jesus died and came to life again. What greater sign do we need? This is where we get our confidence. This gives us every reassurance we need. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the Lord and God he claimed to be. The salvation he said he would bring is real. Nothing in this life can separate us from his love. Jesus is Lord, and we are his. What greater sign do we need?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is Lord wherever I go to serve. If Jesus rose from the dead, the choice to serve and the promise of blessings in either place is certain. If Jesus rose from the dead, I can’t make a wrong decision between serve him here or serve him there. If Jesus rose from the dead, it really isn’t that big of a decision, because in the end, he’ll use either choice to build his kingdom.

The same can be said of your big decisions. Jesus rose from the dead. That is the sign that he is Lord, and everything he said about your life and his promises is true. Are you wrestling with a job decision? Jesus is Lord and will bless either choice. Trying to decide if now is the time to work toward marriage? Jesus loves marriage and will be your strength. Deciding on a big purchase? Jesus is the giver of all good things, so if this is a good time for this, then take hold and enjoy with thanksgiving.

In the end, the decisions of this life are but a sliver of what is to come. We have eternity to look forward to – because Jesus rose from the dead. So while these decisions may feel very big today, when we pass on to glory, we won’t look back with regret. No need to worry, Jesus has this. Because he rose from the dead.

Now, I won’t say that God never gives us a nudge here or there. Sometimes everything falls into place and you just have to grin. It’s just that he doesn’t promise he will always work that way, and he doesn’t want us to get decision paralysis while we wait for him to convince us of something.

The empty tomb is the only sign we need. Would it be nice to have extra direction once in a while? Maybe. But it doesn’t really change anything. Jesus is Lord. That is enough.

Why I’m Not Boycotting Beauty and the Beast

Image result for beauty and the beast

The remake of Disney’s classic Beauty and the Beast will be in theatres this weekend, and my wife and I have our tickets to go and see it. However, I know that many Christians are opting not to, and that well-meaning articles have circulated explaining why. It all comes down to a brief moment in a single scene, where the actors and director make one character’s sexual orientation clear – and he is gay.

In defense of my Christian brothers and sisters, their concern is valid. The movie makers have unnecessarily altered an established character in their remake of a classic story. While not unprecedented, it’s a transparent maneuver. There is no reason other than to normalize a behavior that, when the original animated film debuted, would have offended virtually the entire audience. And while it is done in the name of acceptance and tolerance, Bible believing Christians see it for what it is: giving one more sin the status of every day human behavior.

As it is a movie aimed at children and families, it is especially onerous, because it means that Disney knows full well they are working to shift the center in the minds of the impressionable young. Christian parents have a right to be miffed, concerned, and grouchy that, without warning, Disney would hijack a classic for the sake of agenda. Why not simply write a new fairy tale with a same sex romance at the center, while leaving the other stories be? Wouldn’t this be more satisfying to both sides? This feels like a poorly executed bait and switch.

My criticism of Disney’s choice doesn’t end with the issue of normalizing sin, though. Frankly, I think they made a strangely poor choice of character in whome to insert their péché du jour. I’ll go so far as to say that what should really offend Christians here is the utter lovelessness and disrespect with which Disney has treated the matter. For those struggling with same-sex attraction, to be confronted with it in a popular movie in the form of a bumbling, comedic buffoon of a villain sidekick would be a slap in the face. Why isn’t the LGBT community up in arms at so ridiculous a portrayal? I certainly find it disrespectful.

If you’re a fellow Christian and for these reasons or others you’ve decided you’re not going to see the movie, I am not trying to persuade you otherwise. I respect your choice, and I support you, and I love you. Please do not take the rest of the post as a critique against your choices.

That said, I’m seeing the movie. My wife is a lifelong Disney fan, and Beauty and the Beast has always been her favorite story. Belle is an intelligent, ambitious, and courageous young woman, who demonstrates sacrificial love for her father and learns to show unconditional love and acceptance for the Beast. Yes, I know we can make sideline jokes about Stockholm Syndrome and all of that, but in the end, it’s a charming love story mixed in with grandly entertaining musical numbers.

Am I sacrificing my morals or my conviction by choosing to be entertained, given the inclusion of a gay character? According to some articles and comments I’ve seen on social media, I am. But I’m not so sure. Here are a few of the challenges from my fellow believers, and how I respond to them:

  1. You’re supporting their agenda by giving your money to them. First of all, I don’t think Disney executives think that every movie-goer who buys a Beauty and the Beast ticket is doing so to say, “Keep adding homosexual characters! It’s just what we’re looking for!” They know that people are going to see the movie because they love the story and want to be entertained, and they know that the inclusion of a gay character is a wink and nod and little more. Second, if I were to apply this consistently, I’d need to avoid anything by Disney because whether it’s through Beauty and the Beast, Moana, or Cars 3, it’s all one company. If giving money to the company supports their agenda, then I need to expunge Disney from my life completely. Besides all that, Disney doesn’t need my money to pursue their agenda, and their agenda isn’t going to fall apart for lack of my money. I can’t stop sin by boycotting its presence – only Jesus has the real solution to sin.
  2. You’re condoning sin – you’re making entertainment more important than taking a stand for what’s right. Is it not possible to be entertained by something and still disagree with some aspects of it? Can I find Friends, Big Bang Theory, or Seinfeld funny and still call premarital sex sinful and unwise? Our movies and TV choices have always included some amount of ungodly behavior, from cohabitation to no-fault divorce to casual sex. Yet we justify it when we are entertained by other aspects of the story. What makes homosexuality a “special case?” Perhaps it isn’t. And what about violence, foul language, insults, gossip, humor at the expense of dignity – do we get concerned about these in our entertainment choices? We live in a sin-filled world, and no entertainment will be squeaky clean. Is it taking a stand to identify one sin among the many and oppose just that? Is there a better way to speak to our culture about sin – and about grace?
  3. You’re letting yourself (or your children) become desensitized to sin. Here’s the funny thing about sin and sensitivity to it – I already do a really great job of desensitizing myself to the sins I like to fall into. The danger of being desensitized to sin is that it will capture me and try to make me its slave all over again. I have a whole host of sins that I need to worry about being desensitized to that are a real problem for me, I don’t need to worry about this one. But there’s a solution to the problem of a seared conscience – and it’s not found in boycotting certain movies. It’s found in returning to the Word, that shows me the mirror of God’s Law and reminds me of the ugliness inside of me, which is what Jesus said truly makes a person unclean. As for my kids? Well, I know the sins they need to face up to as well, and I will help them face them with the same mirror. Then together we’ll turn from that mirror to the cross, where we find the solution to the problem of sin.

Now let me explain a few good reasons I have for going:

  • I want to understand my culture. I’m actually blessed with the job of being a student of both culture and theology and trying to meet the one with the other. I know people who do that as a hobby, I actually have people who give me a livelihood for doing it. But the only way to do that is to see how the culture presents its values, and yes, even how it seeks to normalize its pet sins. If I step back every time the culture piles on a new immorality, I’m going to get too far back to make sense of it anymore.
  • I want to engage with the world. Be in the world, not of the world. So said Paul, who spoke about his desire to be all things to all people, so that by all possible means he might save some. That doesn’t mean joining them in their sin, nor does it mean silently endorsing it. But it does mean being close enough to talk about it. Being able to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone and say, “Let’s talk about this,” rather than standing on the other side of the fence saying, “It’s awfully nasty over there, you know.”
  • I want to help my children understand what they see. I will not be able to shield my kids from the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit was eaten before they were born, and they’re going to eat of that fruit every day of their lives. I can’t keep them from knowing about homosexuality. Or porn. Or premarital sex. Or divorce. Or sex trafficking. Or gossip. Or brazen disrespect. They will learn of these things sooner or later – and actually, they already know about almost all of those things. What I can do is talk to them about them and guide them in seeing them for what they are. And I can show them how to love people who fall into them. I can love my children when they fall into them. And they will. Maybe not all. Hopefully not most. But maybe some, and a host of other sins. My job is to prepare them to face those things. Now, I’m not going to parade sin in front of my boys intentionally day after day – but I’m not going to live in fear or hide them in my cloak whenever sin walks by either.

As I said much nearer the top of this, I do not fault the Christian who says they will not be seeing this movie. I’m explaining my choice, and giving you food for thought, but you might come to different conclusions. In the end, we stand in grace, under the cross of the one who set us free so that we can live in freedom.

The Election is Over – What Now?

For the last several months we’ve been scrolling through political posts on Facebook, sighing through political ads on TV, and throwing our phones through our windows after political arguments and conversations with our friends and family. Now that the election is past and we know who our president and other leaders will be, what will we do to pass the time?

Well, we could get right back on social media and express our outrage/triumph/ambivalence. We could drown ourselves in drink or chocolate or ice cream (or all three!) and feel sorry for ourselves. We could assign blame to groups of people or toxic attitudes or the media or demonic forces (I wouldn’t discount that last one) and feel better about ourselves. We could celebrate and pump our fists in the faces of our opponents, or take the streets in protest and break a lot of stuff. We could curl up in a fetal position and contemplate staying that way for the next four years.

But none of that would be all that helpful.

We could take the slightly more constructive approach of reposting memes reminding us all to try and get along, or articles asking us to be introspective and consider that the problems with our country might start with ourselves. I happen to agree with many of these sentiments, by the way, but I think we can do even better. Because if an election proves anything, it’s that we’re very good at polarizing ourselves, and not very good at considering the possibility that the people on the “other side” might have very valid and justifiable reasons for believing and voting the way they do. And I believe that the way to move past an election is to do more than just play nice or look inward. We need to be intentional about drawing together as a people, and those of us who have been called by grace should be leading that charge.

So I’m offering some suggestions for what we can do, and they all stem from the pen of Jesus’ best friend, John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

  • Trust the love of Christ. Jesus laid down his life for us. He’s not going to let the people he bought with his own blood suffer needlessly. His grace is with you.
  • Reach out to a friend, family member, coworker or neighbor who voted differently than you did. Affirm the positives of that relationship. Let them know you care about them.
  • Help someone nearby you who is in need. Let them see that the love of Christ is in you. Even a small act can have a big impact.
  • Repent of angry words and feelings against people on “the other side” of the issues from you. We’re all sinners. None of us have this completely right. Ask forgiveness, and then show forgiveness.
  • Be salt and light. This election put the dark sides of humanity on display in some pretty powerful ways, and exposed our culture’s sicknesses. Show that we have the cure by living as a redeemed child of God.
  • Share Jesus with someone. The Gospel is the power that changes hearts and lives. Use that power.

While it doesn’t come from anything John said, here or otherwise, I would also advise taking the time to read and digest Mr. Trump’s policies and plans. Whether you’re happy with the election or not, these are the plans that will set the direction for our country, so become familiar with them. Understand the goods from the bads, and decide what you need to do with your life to work within what is to come. I’ve seen a lot of fear about what Mr. Trump will do, and it’s hard to love from a position of fear. But it’s easy to fear what you don’t understand. Fight fear with knowledge, and trust it all to the God who holds the nations in his hands. He’s got this.

In the dairy barn

“Spend more than half an hour in a dairy barn and you can hardly smell it any more.”

Let me ask you: When was the last time you heard of a church pursuing “church discipline” (i.e., excommunication) for a matter that didn’t involve either sexual sin or church politics? Or when was the last time you heard of a case of church discipline for idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander or swindling?

I haven’t made any careful research on the matter, but based on just observation and recollection, it seems to me that the main reasons people come under church discipline is for one of two reasons:

  • Sexual/marital issues of some kind: divorce, cohabitation, adultery, homosexuality, or some other form of related issue.
  • Church Politics: not in the pejorative sense, but in the simple sense of whether or not a person is adhering to the church’s teaching, or if their church attendance shows faithfulness and a desire to maintain membership.

I’m not saying every case relates to one of those two things. I can think of one or two examples of those other things that I’ve heard of in my ten years of ministry. But the abundance of cases I’ve been aware of fall under one of my two bulleted categories. I’m not suggesting that those things should not be addressed. I would suggest – and I’m not alone in this – that this should be a warning sign to us.

I’m at a pastors’ retreat today. We have with us Professor Joel Fredrich, a New Testament scholar, and this morning we’ve had the opportunity to pick his brain on 1 Corinthians. Looking at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, one of the men here made the analogy I quoted at the opening, and he applied it especially to the sin of greed. Prof. Fredrich, following that trail, talked a bit about the American pursuit of wealth and material blessings, and asked when the last time any of us had heard of someone being put under church discipline because they were greedy. He concluded by stating, “This is what proves as much as anything that we are in the dairy barn, and we can’t smell what fresh air smells like.”

There are two big issues here:

  1. We obsess over sexual sins because we don’t understand sex. Every culture of every period has had issues with sex. Ours is no different. It sells us a view of sex that is the opposite direction from God’s intended purpose for it. Sadly, the church too often pushes back with an equally unBiblical view of sex, an attempt to force morality on a world that doesn’t want it. The problem is that morality isn’t the same thing as the Gospel. It’s like we say, “It stinks in this barn. If we put around a lot of air fresheners, that will fix the problem.” It is meaningless to fix someone’s sexual life without showing them the Gospel, and helping them see how beautifully the sexual relationship reflects the Gospel.
  2. We ignore the sins that are rooted in our national identity. As Americans, we are committed to the concept of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We can do what we want, say what we want, and pursue the life we want. Anyone who says otherwise is simply unAmerican. So we ignore it when we make an idol of our pleasures and entertainment, when we make a habit of gossip, and when we throw ourselves into acquiring everything the commercials tell us we can’t live without. We don’t just ignore it – we’re so steeped in it we don’t even smell that it stinks in here.

The results of this are likewise twofold: Christians appear to be hypocrites, only interested in denouncing sexual sins and blind to all other lovelessness; and worse, we don’t address these American sins adequately and souls are harmed because of it.

So what do we do about this? Start rooting out anyone who seems a little greedy and starting kicking them out of membership? Not the best solution.

Here’s what we can do:

Each of us can start with self examination, repentance, and trust in our forgiveness. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul says, “This is what some of you were.” How can I know if such a thing includes me? If I search my sinful heart, honestly and openly in the light of God’s Law, I’m not likely to come away saying, “No, actually, I’m doing pretty good here.” And in that state of repentance, I see how Paul finishes the verse: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This is forgiveness I can bask in, I can rest and relax knowing that I’m completely clean. This is fresh air I can breathe and remember what fresh air smells like.

We can live as the people of God. Just because I live and work in the barn doesn’t mean I have to love the smell. Knowing I’m forgiven for my sins of idolatry, greed, slander, and so on, why would I go back and revel in the dung heap? So much better to devote my heart to the God who saves, embrace contentment with all he’s given, and show his grace to others.

We can boldly and graciously confront all sin and call others to repentance. We do need to deal appropriately with sin, including those issues of a sexual/marital nature and church politics. But we also need to address all the other stuff, and we need to do so in the light of the grace we’ve been given. Then we’re not just living with the smell because we’re used to it, but actually finding a real solution to its cause.

Gospel Go

It has millions of followers, with more added every day. It is drawing people together from all walks of life, opening doors of communication, cooperation, and friendship between people who otherwise never would have glanced at each other. It is inspiring people to go out into the world and explore.

And it’s a video game, about made up animals with goofy names. But wow! It’s incredible that a children’s game that first appeared twenty years ago has become a world-wide phenomenon with the release of a free-to-play mobile app, and that it has literally changed the way people go about their daily life!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m astounded, because Pokemon Go is everywhere in the news, social media, and your neighborhood. I’m not even joking about it being in your neighborhood – to play the game, people walk around towns and neighborhoods, looking at a map on their smartphones, and the program plots the creatures onto the map. Players “catch” the creatures – called Pokemon – and add them to their collection.

They can take the Pokemon to assigned places called “Gyms” (designated locations in towns and cities) and let them compete against other people’s Pokemon, or they can feed them candy to make them change forms. When you visit certain landmarks and monuments in your area you can collect special items. Sometimes you find an egg, which you “incubate” by walking around, and when it hatches who knows what you’ll find!

You’ve probably heard horror stories in the news of people getting into trouble while playing this game – crashing their car or bike because they’re playing while driving. Walking off a cliff while playing. Getting attacked by people because they wandered into the wrong place. These stories might make it sound like it isn’t worth the trouble.

But those horror stories only make news because they’re sensational – and actually fairly rare, compared to the number of people playing. For more common is the kinds of stories the news media doesn’t find exciting enough. In Kalamazoo the police department shared a story from one of their off duty police officers. He was hanging out one evening in a park, watching people all over the place playing the game. A man in a business suit comparing collections with a couple of goth kids. Dads running around with their kids catching Pokemon. A pizza guy selling pizzas for $5, and someone bought one for a homeless man who spends a lot of time in that park. The homeless guy ended up walking around handing people the extra slices.

Community. Cooperation. Communication. Friendship. And all because of something as simple as a mobile phone game.

Church, I think we should be paying attention to this. See, we have something way more meaningful, way more powerful, way more lasting than Pokemon Go. It unites us, it breaks down all barriers of culture and age and gender and walk of life. It opens doors for communication, it inspires us to go out into the world and work together, and it instantly makes friends – no, brothers and sisters – of everyone who has it.

I’m not talking about a hymnal. I’m talking about the Gospel, the foundation of our faith. It is the simple, beautiful truth that in Christ we have been forgiven all our sins, given life, salvation, and a future, and that through faith in Jesus we are adopted into his family, called sons and daughters of the one true God. In the Gospel we have the promise of a day when we will all spend forever in a world of perfection, with nothing to separate us from each other or to stand in the way of us truly loving each other, and no prospect of it ever being ruined. That knowledge alone already gives us reasons to care for each other, to look for our brothers and sisters in Christ, to communicate and cooperate with them and grow in friendship and community with each other.

If a mobile app about a children’s game can do all this, I guarantee the Gospel can do so much more. But in order for it to do so, it has to take as much of a priority in all of our lives as Pokemon Go does in its players lives. Here’s what I mean: I’ve played Pokemon Go, and so have my kids, and when you start playing it, I’ll tell you, it catches you as much as you catch the Pokemon. You want to have the app open while you walk around, just in the hope that you’ll find something. You want to keep it open so that your eggs will hatch. You assign it a spot on the home screen of your phone so that you don’t forget to open it the second you walk out the door. You think about it and read about it when you’re not playing.

That sounds like a lot of obsession for a silly game, right? But what if we had the same obsession with the Gospel? I know some Christians who do, and it’s evident in their lives. They really live it. And if you ask them, “How do you have such a deep relationship with Christ and his Word?” they’ll answer, “I read it. I think about it. It’s the first thing I look at in my day. I make sure to have ready access to it. The Bible app is on my home screen on my phone. I read books to help me understand it, and I pray about what I read.”

I want to encourage you, Church, to make the Gospel your obsession. Sink into it day after day. Let it change the way you go about your day. You know, God said something like this to his people a long time ago.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

The blessings of all of us growing deeper into the Gospel don’t stop with those of us who are already part of the Church. See, with Pokemon Go it’s all about us seeking out and finding the Pokemon wherever they’re hiding. An important part of the Gospel is all of us going out and seeking and finding people who need to hear it, looking for the people we can call to know who Jesus is and what he’s done. The more familiar we become with the Gospel, the more eagerly we want to let other people know about it.

Go ahead and download Pokemon Go and have some fun with it. It’s a fun game to play. But all the more, sink into the Gospel and let it guide the way you live day after day.

#onelifematters

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. But no matter how many hashtags we post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Friendster, MySpace, etc., in the end it seems like it… doesn’t matter. At least, it doesn’t seem like the hashtags are solving the problems, does it?

I’m not trying to be cynical. I recognize that there are deep issues here. I’m distressed by the stories of what seem to be hasty decisions by police officers. I’m distressed by stories of violent protests against police officers. My little brother is black; his life matters. One of my closest friends is a cop; his life matters. I have a wife and two children; their lives matter. My life… well, that might be debatable some days, but you get the point.

In the end, there’s only one life that matters. More on that in a moment.

It’s been weighing on my mind how we react on social media to every incident. (And note, I say “we” because I believe I have been just as hasty at times.) We see a video or a meme and quickly hit the “share” button, but have we bothered to look more than three paragraphs into the news articles before forming an opinion? Have we waited for due process to reveal the truth of the matter? Are we so quick to jump to a conclusion based on which voice is telling us what to think that we end up contributing to the problem?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? – Matthew 7:3

In so many ways this is just our human nature blatantly on display. It’s no different than when we rush to judgment on our neighbor because something in their life doesn’t look right to us. We think we know all that’s behind their behavior, we put on our holiness hat, we point a finger and cry foul.

But God will judge us all. And what will he see when he looks at us?

Well, this is why I say there’s only one life that matters. And it isn’t mine. Or yours. It’s the life of a man who came exactly because of all the crap we do to each other day after day. All the times we rush to judgment. All the times we assume we know the score. All the times we take sides against each other. All the times someone makes a hasty decision that ends a life, or a deliberate and well planned one.

Jesus came for all this. He saw this moment in time, when it seems like the world is falling apart around us. He saw all the other moments when our hopes soared and when they came crashing down. He saw all the rottenness in all of us and the rotten things we do to each other. He stepped in… and lived better.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. – Lamentations 3:22

He was compassionate. He was kind. He healed. He forgave. He chastised. He called for repentance. He rebuked. He called. He sought. He sacrificed.

Jesus lived as though every life matters, because to him, every life matters. So he didn’t just live to show us an example, he lived to be a substitute, and then did the unthinkable – he gave up the only life that truly matters, the only perfect life anyone ever lived. He offered it up as appeasement for all of our failure to love each other, for our failure live as though all lives matter. His one life for all of our lives, to make our lives matter.

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10

And God accepted that sacrifice as full substitution for everyone. That’s the point of the resurrection. Jesus’s return to life was no gimmick to wow the crowds. It was a sign that his life matters so much that even death can’t hold him down. Can’t hold us down, either, because we have him on our side. That’s how it works – he can overcome death for himself, he can overcome it for us.

So now what? I’m of the mind that if we live as though his life is the only one that truly matters, because only his life truly gives our meaning, then we don’t contribute to the problems – we become the solution. When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we think less about how we can make ourselves significant and more about how we can accomplish his mission of saving the lost. When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we’re less likely to point the finger of blame at others and more likely to ask the question, “How can I help?” When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we draw others to him and show the true meaning of the Gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Blue lives matter. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

One life matters.

Little Churches

How do you define church?

Dictionary.com offers these top definitions of the word “church”:

1. a building for public Christian worship.
2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.
3. the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
4. any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.
5. that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination,belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
6. a body of Christians worshiping in a particular building or constituting one congregation: She is a member of this church.
7. ecclesiastical organization, power, and affairs, as distinguished from the state.
Every one of those definitions falls short of the true meaning of what the Church is, and even all of them taken together still doesn’t measure up to it. Our English word “church” can be traced back to the Greek word kyriakos, which literally means “the Lord’s dwelling.” Where does God dwell? Paul writes in Eph 2:22 – “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” In other words, God dwells in his people.
Whenever you see the word “church” in Scripture, we’re actually translating a different Greek word, ecclesia. This word can either mean “a called out people” or “a gathering.” Words like “assembly” and “congregation” work as well. But the most important point about this word is that Scripture never uses it to refer to an organization, a hierarchy, a building, or a function or event. It refers to people – people called out of the world gathered together in the name of Jesus.
Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” While the Church can be all the people of God in all the world, it is also present where two or more people come together in the name of Jesus, united by their saving faith in him.
Have you ever thought of your family as a church? It fits the definition. If you are a Christian parent seeking to raise your children as disciples of Jesus, you should know that your family is a little church all on its own. You might not be called by a larger congregation into public ministry, yet you have a responsibility to shepherd – to pastor – your family. This is especially true of fathers, to whom God has given the role of leadership in the family, but it’s also true of mothers (all the more when the father is not present or not a believer), grandparents, uncles and aunts.
As a Little Church, your family can do all the things a larger congregation, and the Church as a whole, does. Think about the main things you do at church:
  1. Worship: In corporate (large body) worship with your congregation, you sing, praise, pray, and hear the Word. At home, you can sing songs of praise and devotion to Jesus. You can lead your children in prayer, confessing sins and asking God for what you need. You can read the Bible to each other.
  2. Grow: In your congregation you have Bible studies, Sunday School, and other activities to help you grow in your faith and knowledge of Scripture. At home, you can study the Bible together, talking about its meaning, and read devotions that help to explain what Scripture says.
  3. Serve: In your congregation you have opportunities to give of your time, talents, and treasures to bring the Gospel to others and to help meet people’s needs. As a family, you can find ways to financially support someone you know who is struggling, or reach out to people with the Gospel, or do work to benefit someone who needs your help.

 

Really, the only difference between your local congregation and your family is size. So start looking at your family as a Little Church, and use some of these practical ideas to help you worship, grow, and serve:

  • Who is the “pastor” of your Little Church? If you have the nuclear family, God’s clearest call is to the dad. But not every family is the same. Determine who is the natural “head” of the household, bearing in mind the roles God has given us in Scripture. If there is no dad, then it’s mom. But maybe it’s Grandpa, or an adult son, or an uncle. That person should take responsibility to lead the family spiritually.
  • Set aside time for study of the Word and for prayer. Not sure where to start? Remember that the Word has power all on its own, so the simplest thing is just to open the Bible and read. There are also many great devotion books, kids’ Bibles, and other resources for families. (see the bottom of this article for some links to some good resources)
  • Look for ways to serve. Sit down as a family and brainstorm the things you’re interested in and can do in your community. Try to come up with a family or an individual you know who needs your help. Look for a mission opportunity through your congregation. Find a way to serve together as a family, using the gifts God has given you.

 

Resources for growth:

  • The Story Bible – a beautifully illustrated Bible written toward kids, with questions for discussion about each story.
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – a cute kids’ Bible aimed at helping children see Jesus in every story.
  • WELS.net Daily Devotions – a resource site from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with daily devotions on many topics.
  • Focus on the Family – a conservative Christian organization aimed at helping families be spiritually strong, with lots of great devotional content
  • Seeds Family Worship – a site full of Scripture songs and devotional content designed for families
  • Mike Westendorf’s blog – the blog of Christian musician Mike Westendorf. Why his blog specifically? Because he’s the one who got me thinking about this topic a lot lately, and he has lots on his blog to encourage and get you thinking about how to grow your Little Church.