What love is this?

Church-going folks talk a lot about the love of Christ. But, really…What love is this? Is it like when we really “love” a book, movie, or a new pair of shoes? Or is it like how I (most of the time) love my family and close friends?

The love of Christ far exceeds our temporal infatuations. It certainly surpasses our capacity to love those closest to us. Left to our ourselves, we are incapable of the kind of love Jesus offers…

  • Love that sacrifices. Ephesians 5:2 says that Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.
  • Love that heals. Matthew 9:35 speaks of Jesus traveling through all the cities and villages, healing every disease and every affliction.
  • Love that renews. Christ himself was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that we, too, might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
  • Love that beckons. John writes in the tenth chapter of his gospel about Jesus as the Shepherd who calls his sheep and leads them out.

It is truly amazing–a miracle!–that the love of Christ dwells in us who believe, and nothing can separate us from that love. We have Christ’s capacity to sacrifice, to heal, to renew, and to beckon…just as Christ did. Left to ourselves, we are incapable of that kind of love. But, thanks be to God, he did not leave us to ourselves!

Simply put, when we allow Christ to have his way in us, we sacrifice for one another. We truly see each other’s pain and heartache. We take the time and make the effort to pray regularly for one another, watching to see the healing come because we are agents of that healing. And a holy transformation takes place as we are renewed day by day, as we grow into the beautiful body of Christ.

That beauty, that Christlikeness, that unbelievable love of Christ that shines through us as we are transformed into his likeness is a light that attracts like no other. It beckons people to come and taste and see that the Lord is good, and that his incomparable love can dwell in them, too. They, too, can be healed and transformed as they join a family whose love isn’t fickle or shallow.

I encourage you to push the pause button on your day and engage in a little reflection. Where are you allowing the love of Christ to have its way in you? Love that sacrifices brings healing and renewal, and beckons others to do the same.

my-lord-what-love-is-this-2008

(This is the third of three related posts. You can read the first post here, and the second here. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences!)

Clergy/Laity Distinction?

question markClergy/laity distinction… It’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot, especially in the world of equipping leaders. But what does it really mean? Is there a clergy/laity distinction? Should there be? I think that it depends on who you ask and in what context you are asking.

I recently referenced the clergy/laity distinction in a sermon. Actually, I threw down my soapbox, climbed upon it, and proceeded to inform my parish that this distinction is a lie that divides the church and causes no small amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Apparently I was actually quite “feisty” about it, according to one listener! That’s not surprising, since for years I have been on a mini-crusade to promote equality of ministry. But another listener pointed out the irony that I would insist that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity, all the while appearing distinctly different from the rest of the parish as I stood before them in my white alb and deacon’s stole. Ouch!

I was preaching from Ephesians 4:1-16, pointing out that the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry themselves. The purpose of this is to create unity out of the variety of spiritual gifts and diversity of responsibilities so that we all grow up together as one body, into Christ who is the head. I referenced the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, using the body as a metaphor to help his readers understand that all the “working parts” are necessary and equal in their value to the body as a whole. I spoke at length on the way we are interdependent and how this creates unity in the church as we each recognize our part–our ministry–and serve accordingly. In this context, I believe there should be no distinction between the value of the ministry of the clergy and that of the laity.

On the other hand… Both the senior pastor and I are ordained. We wear vestments for worship. Doesn’t that distinguish us from everyone else? And our denomination has an episcopal structure; we are governed by bishops. Doesn’t that represent a hierarchy of power? The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. There is definitely a clergy/laity distinction in this context, that of creating order in the church. It is a system of authority that is intended to guard the integrity of scripture and the sacraments. As an Anglican, I value the distinction between clergy and laity in this ordering of our church.

My point? As equipping leaders, we need to be careful about how we throw that “clergy/laity distinction” phrase around. We might actually contribute to the misunderstanding and confusion, missing the opportunity to restore the worth of each and every minister and the ministry they perform.

I love my church!

Driving past a local church yesterday, the message on their sign seized my attention.love my church

I didn’t quite know why it hit me the way it did, this seemingly innocuous message. After all, I’ve often said that I love my church! But something just didn’t set well. As I pondered, I realized that it was the little two-letter word, the possessive adjective “my,”  that bothered me.

You see, the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church.

What’s the point? Why pay so much attention to such a small word? Because the more we think in terms of my church, the more we risk inviting a consumerist mentality. When something belongs to me, I can treat it however I please. I can insist that it meet certain needs, fulfill a particular function the way I see fit. I can ignore it, or I can jealously guard it. If something belongs to me, I can control it.

But the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. The church doesn’t exist to serve me. I exist to bless God as I serve in and through his church. To think of it any other way is to risk loving the church more than I love God.

The role of the church member is to listen to the Head, responding obediently to His direction. She is to do her part, which is to work properly within the body, in order that the body–the church–grows and builds itself up in love in response to the Head’s–Jesus Christ’s–direction. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

As a pastor, I am a steward of God’s church. But that does not grant me ownership of it! I am called to equip the people to do the ministry of God’s church, working alongside them, guiding us all towards unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. (Ephesians 4:12-13) I love God first, then I love His church!

I hope the folks in that church had a wonderful time celebrating yesterday! I think it’s wonderful to be part of a church that I love, and I’m sure they do, to0. But I always want to remember to whom the church really belongs. “My” church is really not mine at all. It belongs to God!

Doers of the Word

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in the mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. -James 1:22-24

These words from James conjure up a vision of a thick fog, rolling and billowing along, fogexpanding into the space before it. As I read or hear God’s word, it is as though the scriptures are the fog, entering into my head, permeating my thoughts, occupying every nook and cranny of my mind.

The word-fog fills my mouth and I taste it on my lips as I speak. Downward through my body it rolls, expanding and filling the dead, empty spaces within me.

The word-fog saturates my heart. It billows into my hands and feet as I move toward others, reaching out in love to serve them…reaching out in love to serve Jesus.

It is only when the word of God is allowed to seep into my deepest self, to thoroughly penetrate my mind and heart, becoming a catalyst for action–only then will it not be immediately forgotten.

If I believe anything less, I am hopelessly deceiving myself.

Yes or No?

Your word is your bond.

Walk your talk.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Or, as Jesus put it:

Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil. (Matt. 5:37, J.B. Phillips translation)

I am asked regularly how to cope with volunteers who just don’t show up. I have no magic answer, but there are some trouble-shooting questions I usually ask which can shed light on gaps in the structures and processes a leader employs with their volunteers. But I think the problem runs much deeper than any organizational strategy.

It has become commonplace in our culture to say “yes” to something when we know full well that we won’t honor the commitment. “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying no,” is the typical excuse. But more often than not, that’s not the real reason. If we are honest, the true motivation is that we don’t want to look bad because we don’t want to give up our resources (time, money, energy, influence). We don’t want to appear unwilling to help, or blind to the need. It’s why we walk past the beggar on the street corner without looking at him. If we look, we will see the need and then be faced with our own selfishness in not responding. It’s just easier not to make eye contact. If I don’t see you, then you can’t see my hardness of heart. Sure.

Lest you think I am being judgmental, I assure you that the first person to stand in judgment on this is me! I have said “yes” when I knew my real answer was “no.” I have lied–let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?–to make myself look better. I have refused to make eye contact with someone I knew would ask something of me that I didn’t want to give.

But here is what I have come to see: Every time I don’t keep my word, I breed distrust in someone. That distrust may begin with me, or I may be just one more in a long line of liars (ouch! such an unpleasant descriptor, isn’t it?).  Either way, I’m contributing to the fabric of distrust that pervades our society and encourages self-protective behavior, which often leads to violence of all kinds. I add to the disease of independence that eats away at Christ’s mandate to serve each other (John 13:14-15) , to Paul’s exhortation that the body of Christ must be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12).

Each time I say “yes” when my real answer is “no,” I injure the body of Christ, or place a stumbling block in the path to faith of someone who does not yet know Christ. You may think I look good in the “yes” moment, but God sees my heart and knows my lie. Just because I don’t look at him doesn’t mean he is not seeing me.

Let’s try this the next time you are tempted to say “yes” when you know you don’t mean it. Stop for a moment. Ask for time to consider the request or, if you know your mind already, just say “no” right then. In so doing, you will honor God, the person making the request, and yourself. Yes, that’s right: you will honor your self… in a healthy manner that encourages the same in others.

 

Coffee, African Tea, or Fanta?

My husband teases me regularly about the number of times I meet friends for coffee. I frequent all three Panera Cafes on my side of town, rarely with any agenda other than conversation over a cup of coffee or tea. There’s usually no project in the works, no motive other than encouraging one another and building relationships.

Last summer I traveled to Rwanda to visit our sister parish and meet the pastor, a joyful man named David. As we chatted over a shared meal, he was clear that he wanted us to come again–as many as would come and as often as we could–simply to spend time with the people of his parish. No work project, no teaching agenda. Just fellowship…the only intention being to build the relationship between the people of his parsh and the people of mine. He was puzzled at my suggestion that it would be easier to get people to come if they had a project to work on.

I recently returned from another trip to Rwanda. I was blessed to spend two days with our sister parish with no agenda ???????????????????????????????other than strengthening our relationship. Just being together was encouragement that transcended the language barrier. We conversed over a cup of African tea or a bottle of Fanta, each working to understand the other. We ate together, laughed together, worshipped together. And the body of Christ between two continents was strengthened through this together-ness.

As I’ve been inviting others to visit our sister parish in Rwanda next year, I’m often met with the response, “But what would I do?”  I admit that, in the beginning, I asked this same question. But now I find myself wondering why we think we must have an agenda when we go to another culture, even though it is perfectly acceptable in our everyday life here to meet a friend for no other purpose than deepening our relationship through conversation? Why does naming a specific project or task to be accomplished validate the trip and justify a request for prayer and financial support? Is it not enough to simply be together, encouraging one another as we share in the love of Christ that binds us into one body?

I think it is. And I’m really looking forward to the next conversation with my Rwandan friends. I’ll have the African tea, please!

It’s Not Enough

Have you ever noticed the word “all” in Ephesians 4:13?

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

Altogether too often I am tempted to read Paul’s letters as though they were written to one individual (namely me) rather than to a church full of people. I know I am not alone in this approach to reading the Epistles, which can be an obstacle to the kind of selfless service to others to which Christ calls us. It is so easy to be deceived into thinking that being a disciple of Christ is all about me and my spiritual maturity. That attitude, however, is a testament to immaturity, the very state I am struggling to rise above!

The whole point of this passage is that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers are to equip all the people for the work of ministry–that is, serving others–for the building up of the whole body, not just one or two or a dozen individuals. What’s more, Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that every believer has a role to play, that service to others is the name of the game when it comes to following Christ and being part of His body. I really don’t see Paul making any provision for the “it’s all about me” mentality prevalent in today’s culture!

If I were to stand before Christ today and point to my spiritual maturity, there is no doubt in my mind that He would say something along the lines of, “Well, I’m pleased that you are maturing, Andee. But it’s not enough. There are so many who don’t yet have knowledge of Me, so many who are stuck in their maturation. It is good that you have matured, but it won’t be enough until all have matured! How are you helping others to grow?”

I love how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message:people_are_the_church.20682523

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

It’s time the church awakens to the fact that we are together one body–not a collection of individual units, each responsible only for himself or herself. It’s not enough that I concern myself only with my spiritual maturity. My maturity benefits the person next to me. His maturity benefits me. Only when we are growing together is the body functioning as it is meant to. Only then can we be fully alive like Christ. Only then will Christ say, “Yes! This is enough!”

I know I need to worry a little less about my spiritual maturity and focus on how I can come alongside others to encourage their growth. How about you?