Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some Assembly Required…Batteries Not Included

“But you dear friends, must continue to build your most holy faith for your own benefit. Furthermore, continue to pray in the Holy Spirit. Jude 1:2

It would be nice if salvation was an instantaneous fix-all-broken-parts, learn  everything needed to advance-to-the-head-of-the-class event. In a moment of time we’d be completely whole spirit, soul and body; possess all wisdom and knowledge and flawlessly execute any task. If this were the case, Jude would never have needed to pen his admonition to us. However, he did, so it behooves us to take heed.
Jude wrote that building one’s faith is mandatory, not optional. The ongoing process means “some assembly required” occurs regularly. We are in a constant state of change, improving or regressing, never static, based on our actions. Paul addressed this issue in 1 Cor. 3:10. As new believers, our foundations are established with the help of more mature and experienced brothers and sisters in Christ. We are responsible for building the “structure” of our life. Paul warns,“each should build with care.” The quality of our workmanship will be tested. What makes the cut brings reward, what fails will result in loss.
Part of the growth process is our responsibility alone. However, God’s system provides participation and help of others. “…and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints (emphasis mine) to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Eph. 3:17b-18 Paul sees the total comprehension of Christ’s love as a group effort, not a “Lone Ranger” expedition.
God, as Master Builder, has an interesting challenge on His hands. He is building His church with people who are in a constant state of flux, giving new meaning to the term fluid dynamics. Erecting a permanent structure with materials that are constantly changing on an individual basis sounds like “some assembly required” is the rule and not the exception.
Heb. 10:25 hammers home this point. We are instructed to not “forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” All the parts need to be in place for the whole to function as designed. God wants the church to act as a cohesive unit. Some consider church attendance irrelevant and unnecessary. Others, having been hurt, walked away. Whatever the reason, these missing parts hinder the body as a whole from fulfilling God’s plans. Teacher and prophetess Joni Ames summed this up clearly. “NO church is perfect! If you know how to ‘do it right’, then by golly, get in there and show the rest of us how it should be done!” Our “mission” should we choose to accept it, requires interaction with other believers. It is time for us to find our place and get involved.
If left to our own talents and resources, individually and corporately, we would be sunk. We cannot walk out our daily faith walk and accomplish God’s destiny using our own strength. Natural ability will not produce supernatural results. Not to fear, although “batteries are not included” God has a solution. “You will receive power when the Holy Ghost comes on you, and you will be my witnesses.” Acts 1:8 God supplies the power to get the job done. Rom. 8:11 tells us the Spirit will “give life to our mortal bodies.” We have access to all the heavenly high octane we need to get the job done.
So, what are we waiting for? God to “wave His magic wand” making everything right?  Probably. If that is the case, why would He build the church? Christ’s death and resurrection returned dominion of the earth originally given to Adam back into the hands of its rightful owners-us. God’s original intention that we, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.” Gen. 1:28 NLT still stands. Looks like “some assembly required” is part of our job description. To accomplish this goal, we need to work as a team, even as we individually continue our own growth process. It can get messy and confusing sometimes, requiring flexibility on our part. With the “battery” power of Holy Spirit, we can motor through the obstacles and challenges and complete the task.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eureka! The Parable of the Carpet Dimple

Recently the Lord shared with me some similarities between people and carpets. Both can be walked all over repeatedly and display no signs of wear and tear. When either is placed under heavy pressure for an extended period of time, their stance goes from upright to bent down and crushed. When circumstances change and the weight removed, neither immediately snaps back to original form. Both remain misshapen, reacting as if the non-existent load is still in place.
Time alone neither heals all wounds nor removes carpet dimples. Needed is an outside source capable of generating pressure strong enough to cause the depressed fibers to stand erect. Eureka! Enter the vacuum cleaner. Repeated application of the powerful suction produced by the vacuum raises the beaten down carpet pile back up to original condition. The fibers, to weak to resist the pull of the air flow exerted by the vacuum, eventually return to an upright position.
God realizes that unlike carpeting, people have feelings and emotions.  We have the ability to think and react to situations and develop coping mechanisms for protection. When situations change, and the problems resolved, the conscious mind often recognizes the shift. However, sometime our unconscious mind keeps us stuck in the same old patterns and behaviors. God sees the damage we have incurred and sets about bringing restoration. When it comes to helping hurting people, God has His own version of the vacuum cleaner, Holy Spirit.
The love of God, applied to any individual can return them to wholeness. The difference between people and carpeting is this; we can resist the work of Holy Spirit and remain as we are. Why? As bad as things were, this lifestyle is now normal and familiar, affording a degree of comfort. Change brings the element of uncertainty. It feels safer to remain as we are, rather than risk additional disappointment.
God is patient. He continuously works to bring us back up to His standard of normalcy. When we open ourselves up to Him, healing and wholeness comes. God sends people across our path, intersecting our lives at the precise moment their giftings and abilities have the greatest positive impact. God is not in a hurry. He does not make quick fixes that yield temporary results. He moves gradually and deliberately until all the distorted aspects of our lives are straightened out. 2 Cor. 4:8 NIV states, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” One day, Eureka! We recognize that not only has our life changed, but so have we. Once again, God has come through.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roommates From Hell

"...Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had come out;" Luke 8:2
     Her invited guests were the roommates from Hell; seven of them, each as mean and vicious as the other. Originally, the lady welcomed them in; offered them a comfortable place to reside. Eventually their true nature emerged. They proceeded to turn their surroundings into a mirror image of their own home...Hell. Unfortunately, the woman was powerless to evict them. No legal system had authority or jurisdiction over them.
     Such was the state of affairs of Mary of Magdala. Life might have been more bearable if she could leave her residence and escape the uproar and chaos. She could not. Her roommates from Hell possessed her very being. There was no place short of death, a thought they would have highly endorsed, where she could flee.
     Scripture does not share the details of how she crossed paths with the One who possessed the ability and willingness to set her free. He not only vanquished the spirits responsible for her state of torment; but also gave her access to a whole new way of life. Once an outcast by social standards, Mary found herself in the company of women who enjoyed being with her. The men...when was the last time she interacted with them without pressure to give her body away either willingly or by force? Now she was treated with courtesy and respect, like a lady.
     "I Don't Know How To Love Him", from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar attempted to address the the conflicting emotions Mary experienced in her new lifestyle. I do not endorse the theological or biblical accuracy of the song, but there is a kernel of truth to be found there. "In the past few days when I see myself, I seem like someone else" and indeed Mary was someone else. Scripture teaches that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away-behold all things have become new." 2 Cor 5:17 In the original Greek, new creation has the connotation of something created that never existed before. The removal of the demonic invaders gave Mary her first opportunity to experience peace and quiet in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. Jesus made a profound mark on her life changing her forever.
     Her former life produced a degree of fearlessness. Mary stood at the cross with the other women and John and witnessed the brutality of a crucifixion. She joined several women and went to the tomb despite the fact that it was sealed and under Roman guard. The Master deserved a proper burial. Mary was determined He would have it. This would be the last time she could lavish her love on the One Who gave her life. What a surprise Jesus had in store for her. The first to see Him, the former demoniac proclaimed the inaugural Easter message, HE IS RISEN!
     The radical change in Mary's life was the direct result of the transforming power of God's love, grace and mercy. God avails these gifts to all in need of a complete overhaul or a simple tune-up to their life. God believed Mary and each of us was worth the price He paid to restore our relationship with Him. Because of His love, Mary went from having "roommates from Hell" to being God's roommate in Heaven eternally.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You Must Be Mistaken; This is the Church Not the Bathroom

Instead of delving in depth into Scripture, I’ll share an analogy I find humorous although unsettling. These observations are based on almost forty years of church attendance. The opinions expressed are my own and I do so with a slight bit of trepidation. My hope, to convey my thoughts in a way that make you chuckle; to tackle a sensitive subject with a light hearted twist. If you say “ouch” may it be between laughs. My premise presented is this: people, including Christians, confuse the church with a bathroom. There are similarities, but they are definitely different.
First –both are identified with a specific, physical location. In every city and town, large or small you will find bathrooms and churches. They come in all sizes, shapes and d├ęcor. Homes, commercial and industrial complexes, business and retail spaces,  governmental and municipal buildings all have bathrooms. Churches are found in these same locations in addition to structures specifically built for their use.
The bathroom has come a long way. From the outhouse out back, to a room large enough to hold basic necessities, bathrooms can be spa-like retreats complete with whirlpool tub, oversized shower, custom fixtures and lighting, wrapped in marble and granite. Bigger is better with no expense spared. Churches have also evolved from simple structures with plain benches, pulpit, and funeral parlor fan climate control to high tech facilities with comfortable seating, educational and special event annexes and the latest addition (and my personal favorite), the coffee shop.
I’ve discovered an attitude about upgrades available for bathrooms and churches. I don’t recall hearing complaints about a well designed and appointed bathroom. However, I have heard individuals rant and rave over what is deemed money wasted on “luxurious” church buildings. It appears that finances are no object when our most personal needs are at stake. For spiritual matters, “spare the buck or you will spoil the congregation, not to mention the preacher!” (book of Contusions) That said there are probably instances when bathrooms and churches do go “over the top”. These are the exceptions and not the rule and who are we to judge?
Second – bathrooms and churches serve similar functions. Both provide opportunities for self improvement. We may need a simple splash of water on our face, a long relaxing soak in a tub or a complete scrubbing after a dirty job. When sickness hits, the bathroom is one of the first places we run. Many have spent time hugging a certain fixture like a best friend. Bathrooms are designed to receive and sanitarily remove all the waste materials our bodies output. When we are finished, we close the door and leave the mess behind us.
Churches work much the same way. Depending on one’s spiritual condition, state of mind and life circumstances the results of attendance varies. We may need a pick-me-up or a tweak that revitalizes a stale spot; an opportunity to collectively soak in the presence of God (Who does not live there but in each believer); or a cleansing from defilement that has attached itself to us. This accomplished, we leave and should re-enter the outside world a better person.
           Third – there is a popular slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” which implies that behavior there is out of the “norm”, often of a nature not suitable for discussion in polite company. Innuendos are made, jokes are told off the cuff. Better to keep these activities to one self.
This can be applied to bathroom usage. Although humor about what happens behind its door peppers comedy routines and occasional conversations, we all know occurs there. Expounding on the details of one’s visit to the facility is TMI – too much information.
Some people classify church attendance in this catagory; “What happens in the church stays in the church.” Plenty of religious versions of bathroom jokes poke fun at the establishment and those who believe in it. Life inside its four walls is “private”, definitely not open for discussion.
Despite similarities the church and the bathroom are vastly different. Failure to discern this may explain attitudes directed toward religious institutions, especially Christianity.
First – bathrooms are tangible structures in physical locations, the church is not. Scripturally defined, the church is an assembly of people, not a building or structure. Where and how a branch of the church meets may impose an identity upon it. Groups gathering in established locations, or affiliated with recognized denominations may be looked upon as “official” or “real” churches, as opposed to home based fellowships without organizational ties. Value based on these criteria is worthless. Where the church meets is inconsequential. What happens when they do is what is important.
Second – in both bathrooms and churches our most intimate, personal and at times stinky and messy issues are dealt with. A bathroom contains equipment specifically designed for this purpose; inanimate objects devoid of feelings and emotions. The frequency of use is immaterial, physical condition unimportant (except to the user). Barring mechanical failure the system works flawlessly without complaint.
The church, however, is people and people have feelings and emotions. In a perfect world, all believers would act like Jesus all the time. They would handle anything thrown at them like a fine tuned piece of precision machinery operating on the high test fuel of God’s love and emerge unscathed every time (sounds like La-La Land). The church is expected to meet all types of needs: help, healing, restoration, reconciliation, etc. and failure to do so invokes criticism and judgment. Does this occur because most expect more from others as a rule, than from themselves? The statement, “I have a problem with religion and the church but not with God” makes me wonder. Were the speaker’s failed expectations the result of fatigue on the part of a church being treated like a bathroom? Believers have problems also that need to be addressed and ministered to. In order to give of themselves, they need time to be refilled. Pressing circumstances in someone’s life can blind them to the humanity and frailties of those who try to help. This could be the root of some of the dissatisfaction leveled at the church as a whole.
Third – “What happens in the church stays in the church” is only partially true. Those in distress, in need of salvation, help, healing, and deliverance etc. must know their “business” will be handled with compassion and confidentiality. Life is messy, the clean up process loving and sensitive. Corrective actions may be taken, but done in an atmosphere of respect for the individual and all other parties involved.
Church is not a place we check into once or twice a week to experience our spiritual side. Our life outside its walls is not separate from the one inside. The dynamic of corporate worship and fellowship, coupled with our personal discipline of spiritual growth and development, empowers us to face challenges encountered daily.
Some consider their relationship with God a “private” matter, not a subject for conversation. I disagree. Christianity is a lifestyle that takes place for the most part outside of the place we worship. Speaking for myself, at times I have not been open and vocal about my beliefs due to embarrassment. I want to be liked and accepted and not considered a religious wacko or fanatic. This is wrong on my part. My relationship with God is nothing to be ashamed of. I have not always acted as I should. Perhaps I was tired of being used as a depository for unsanitary stuff. Nevertheless, Who God is and what He has done for me is nothing to be silent or “private” about.
Everyone needs a Savior. If everything that happens in the church stays in the church how will those outside its walls, who don’t know God, ever learn He exists? How will they know He loves them, has a destiny for their lives and answers to the problems they face? Our role in helping those in need at times be unpleasant yet every individual deserves attention. Not always the cleanest or neatest job, the eternal benefits for others and for us outweigh the downside. God empowers individuals to deal with the mess in their lives and to come out smelling like roses, just like another bathroom staple, air freshener.