LentBlog ’14 Day 34: All things to edify.

1 Corinthians 14:20-40

I’m engaging this passage from 1 Corinthians 14 tonight, and it just keeps coming up: All things are to edify the body. Chaos is bad. Everyone for themselves, doing their own thing, is bad.  When the church gathers, having order is good. Exercising our gifts together is good. But it’s not a “to each his/her own” kind of thing. It’s an “us” thing.

“In thinking be adults.” (v. 20). The other thing this passage is saying to me is centered on being intentional. When we gather, it’s a good thing to engage the whole experience with everything we’ve got, including our brains. So many times folks get caught up in the emotional aspect of a worship gathering… taking stock of how we feel during a certain part of the gathering etc. I think if we could find ways of partnering the depth of emotional stuff with a depth of thinking in our theology, we might really be onto something.  I think our people want to engage God at a deeper level… and not limited to a deeper emotional level. I think they want to think deeper thoughts so they can live more authentic spiritual lives.  I think that means we have to be intentional about how we are discipling people in our worship gatherings. In this passage, Paul says something like, “whatever you do, don’t do it willy-nilly. Be intentional. Be organized. Do everything for the maximum edification of the whole group.”

I think we can do a much better job at this.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog ’14,Day 29: “I have no need of you…”

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

This is hands down one of my favorite passages in the whole of scripture. By “favorite” perhaps I mean one that is speaking to me profoundly these days. It’s worth reading in its entirety:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  NRSV

Lots to say here. Lots of ways this passage has been working on me. I talk a little about this stuff in this post about people leaving churches, but I can’t get away from it…

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'”  

For a long, long time I read stuff like that and envisioned a church, or a group within a church, looking at an individual and saying, “ehh, we don’t really need you.” That is at least part of what Paul is saying here, and we should be careful as pastors just cutting folks loose because they’re different than us (though as every pastor knows, some folks seem determined to cause strife and division, and their leaving can be seen as a “blessed subtraction.) But lately, my mind wants to flip that around…theresa

…an individual or a family can’t look at the church and say, “I have no need of you.” 

This whole idea where people get mad at what- or whomever, write a letter or social media post, and divorce their community of faith is not. God’s. will. It could be… I mean, it could very well be… that you and your family are God’s gift to the body just as much as the body is God’s gift to you.  Look at this passage… it’s all about giftedness. They all have unique gifts that are important to the body, and GOD is the one who so arranged it.

Now, if that’s true, then we, the church, are gifts of God to each other. And sorry, dear church hopper, but when you divorce your church, not only are you pulling the plug on what that body could do for you, you are depriving that body of one of God’s unique and special gifts: the gift of yourself and your family.

Now, a bit of a disclaimer: I do not think it is always wrong to leave a church. If the theology of a church changes so drastically that you wake up one day and think, “Wow. You know, I really don’t believe that…” then it’s time to leave. In the same way, if there is known sin in the leadership that is condoned either actively or by inaction, it’s time to leave.

But “I don’t like the ___________.” isn’t a legit reason to leave. “I’m not getting my needs met” isn’t a legit reason to leave. Various versions of “someone told me ‘no.'” aren’t legit reasons to leave.

The eye cannot look at the hand and say, “I have no need of you.”

Think about it. I know I am.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 28: ONE.

1 Corinthians 12:1-12.

So check this out. Here is tonight’s passage, with some usages of the words “same” or “one”  highlighted:

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Get it?sum

It’s almost as if Paul wants the folks at Corinth to understand their unity in the Spirit is more important than their individual gifts.

Regardless of one’s giftedness, the same Spirit is the source. When the individual’s contributions to the community are truly in the Spirit, they fit within the diverse framework that is the Church.

What I guess I want to say here is that churches are significantly more than just haphazard groups of people who believe roughly similar stuff who happen to hang out together an hour or two per week. There’s more to it than that. The total is greater than the sum of the parts. Our gifts are diverse, thank God. We don’t all have the same role, preferences, or God-given abilities. But  the unity, health, vibrance, and ministry that can happen when we  recognize (and embody) the same Spirit working in and through is is nothing short of miraculous.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 26: Consider the Other

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Are you sensing a theme yet? I am. And it won’t be too long before Paul whammies them over the head with it: Christians are to live their lives with a constant consideration of others. Paul’s not speaking of a passing thought that thinks about other people every once in a while. He’s build to a point where he’s about to say a life lived without discerning the body–  that is, without significant consideration of others, either as the church gathered or scattered–  is idolatrous and sinful.

The short version: You ain’t the center of the universe, Jack.

At the core of the divisions found in the church at Corinth is the idea that each individual is sovereign and should live autonomously. 

It’s also at the core of the divisions we find in our churches presently, particularly in the West.

So here’s Paul spending another half a chapter trying to kill the bloated leech, and I find myself wondering what our churches would look like if we really lived like this.

Something to ponder…

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

LentBlog ’14 Day 21: “This Liberty of Yours…” (AKA: The Bloated Leech of Individualism)

1 Corinthians 8

This is a pretty important chapter in all of Paul’s writings, and I wish I had time to respond in such a way as to do it at least some justice. But alas, this blog is for me to log my responses as I read devotionally, not as a (feeble) attempt at a running commentary or something.  So without further adieu, I’m going to jump right into the heart of what this passage is saying to me tonight.

Methinks we have allowed the rampant, unchecked individualism of our culture to plaster itself onto the church and suck the life out of it like a big, bloated leech.leech

Leeches are ugly. They give me the creeps. While they were once thought to be a normal part of human medicine, it turns out they are not the healthiest of creatures, either. They’re parasites that suck the blood from a healthy host and then move on to another, concerned only about from where their next meal will come.

The same can be said for individualism in the life of a church.

Individualism is ugly. It goes against the very heart of the command to love our neighbors. When I hear someone describe his/her Christian faith in terms resembling “just Jesus and me” (Or as Paul Bassett once said, “Just Cheez-its and me”) it gives me the creeps.

Paul says:

“Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak” (v.9 NRSV). That dynamic is at the heart of this whole food sacrificed to idols thing. It’s not that eating that food is a sin. Eat or don’t eat– you’re not sinning either way in the eating in and of itself. What is a sin– and an ugly, bloated sin at that– is to eat without discerning your neighbor. The attitude that says, “I have my own personal thing with Jesus, that’s my focus, and whether my actions affect you or not isn’t important to me” is a parasite that sucks the lifeblood out of a church and infects it with a disease that can threaten its continued existence. Paul will go further with this theme later, but the main point is this: We are not Christians alone. We must pay attention to the Body or we’re sinning. Like, sinning. In Paul’s definition of the church, there is no room for the kind of “Me Church” individualism we find so rampant here in the west.  Now, for years the church catered to Western individualism. We thought the leech was a good thing, with our over-emphasis of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” We structured our churches to meet the individual felt needs of people. And we’re paying the price for that, because it turns out the church never has existed to meet people’s felt needs. The church exists to bear witness to a new way of living in the world together, being reconciled with God and each other. The church supposed to be the beginning of the end of “me first” individualism.

Honestly, it’s way past time we killed the leech.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 36: Members of One Another…

Romans 12:3-8

May I just say how difficult it is tonight looking for a picture to go with this post? Go on Google Images and search “individualism” and notice everything that comes up is PRO individualism.

And while the Body of Christ is not made up of identical members, for sure, is it most certainly not a purely individual thing, as our culture perhaps wishes it were.

The key here is when Paul reminds the Romans they are members of one another.  We don’t have the same function. We don’t all have the same giftedness. We don’t all do the same things. And this is OK.

BUT to assume that the church is just this loose collection of individuals with no vital connection with each other is a big fat mistake. What might it mean for us to be members of one another? It means your sin affects me, as does your righteousness. It means faith is corporate. It means “community” is not just a recent church marketing buzzword.  It means there is no such thing as a Lone-Ranger Christian (even he had Tonto). It means there is no salvation outside the church.

It means my individual wants, desires, and will aren’t #1 anymore. In the church we– collectively and individually– submit to the Lordship of Jesus. As we authentically do that, we discover a unity that is beyond what the world offers. The authentic church is the death of the sovereignty of the individual.

Blessings on this snowy (In Indiana, at least) Palm Sunday.

Mark