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Monday, October 19, 2009

Oct. 19 – Different Strokes for Different Folks…and Churches

I don’t know about you, but the number of quizzes my Facebook friends take is often staggering. Which Disney character are you most like? How much to you know about your hometown? What flower would you be? How long will you survive when zombies take over the earth? Where do they find the time, much less the inclination?

Not that I haven’t taken my share of quizzes—I’ve just leaned toward the sort that can help in the real world (assuming we’re never invaded by zombies). From temperament tests to spiritual gifts, from personality tests to determining my love language, these are actually helpful in determining our places in the body of Christ. We’re not all mouths, obviously, although sometimes it seems that way.

Let’s look at the New Testament scriptures that celebrate our diversity within the Body of Christ:

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV).

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1st Corinthians 12:7-11, NIV).

“It was (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV).

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides” (!st Peter 4:10-11, NIV).

These verses make it clear that Christians have different gifts, different flavors, if you will. Churches are like that as well—not just denominationally. Some churches, for instance, are called to focus on evangelism and discipleship while others have an anointing for worship and teaching. One church may be extremely active in mission work, while another is led to social activism. Every church will have elements of The Church—incorporating worship, teaching, evangelism, outreach, etc.—but sometimes one “gifting” sets a church apart. People in the community will sometimes pick up on this when members of the church don’t even notice. “That’s the church that helps the poor,” you might hear. “If you want strong Bible teaching, that’s the place to go,” “My cousin was healed at that church’s Sunday night service,” etc.

It is helpful to know when choosing a church home, or when (ideally) God leads you to a church and you are getting acclimated. If the church back back home spent two hours in spontaneous praise and worship and the one you’re visiting manages to squeeze in three hymns and the Doxology, you’re going to need to adjust if you decide to put down roots—chances are, they’re not going to adjust for you! If you’re strictly into exegesis and homiletics with a good mix of Greek and Hebrew thrown in, a church that doesn’t require seminary-trained preachers (1) may not be the best fit or (2) be exactly what you need.

One of the main complaints about churches is that “it just doesn’t meet my needs.” Years ago, I heard a speaker say that church isn’t supposed to be like a grocery store. The shelves aren’t stocked with everything you need. The church is where we are trained and equipped to give ourselves away. When we look to others to meet our needs, rather than to God himself, we will always be disappointed.

Permission to copy with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5, 2009 Reexamining the Real Questions

We get hung up on the questions of life, but sometimes we're not asking the right ones.

We get hung up on “when”. When I finally get married…when I get that promotion…when we get out of debt…when I get a little R&R…when the kids are grown…when I graduate…when I can drive…when I retire…when we get back from vacation…when we get a new pastor…when my spouse changes…when my friend calls to apologize…when, when, when.

We wait for something else to happen, for others to act, for God to change those around us or for God to change our circumstances, or even for God to change us.

But it’s not about when, it’s about where. Not timing, but geography:

“If we walk IN THE LIGHT as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, NRSV).
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide IN ME and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing: (John 15: 5, NRSV).
"As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge IN HIM” (2 Samuel 22:31, NIV).

Not when, but where.

We get hung up on ”how.” How is this ever going to work out? How will we ever make it through this? How can I face that person again? How can I be sure this is the right thing to do? How will I be able to live, after this? How, how, how. But it’s not about how, it’s about who. Not by what means shall something be accomplished, but by whom it will be accomplished:

“For from HIM and through HIM and to HIM are all things. To HIM be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36, NIV)
“HE who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
“And God said unto Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM’: and he said, ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you’” (Exodus 3:14, KJV).

We try to figure it all out ahead of time. We try to see further down the road than we have light for. We want to know the answers now, but why? So that we can offer our opinion? Approve the methods and strategies at work? How foolish we are, as if we could possibly know the Best.
It’s not about how, but Who.

And finally, perhaps most often, we get hung up on “why”. Why did this happen? Why did he die? Why can’t my loved one change? Why won’t they understand? Why can’t I let this go? Why can’t I do what I want, for once? Why, why, why.

But it’s not about why. I heard Carmen Leal speak at a Caregivers Conference a few years ago. When her husband was diagnosed with a rare illness and her own life turned upside down, she cried out to God with the inevitable “Why me?” After searching her heart, however, she changed her question to “Why NOT me?”

There is suffering all over the world. Why shouldn’t I have a taste? People are undergoing terrible trials and tribulations at any given moment. Why should I be any different? Whether the trouble comes from my own choices, or from someone else’s choices, or whether it is the hand of God training me for his own purposes, or whether it is an attack from the enemy of my soul…not one of us is exempt:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NIV).
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, KJV).
“In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33, NRSV).

Not why, but why not? We’re in this together, learning, growing, being stretched and challenged, being disciplined and blessed, but we’re in this with “him seated on the throne and…the Lamb…be blessing and honor and glory and might (to them) forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NRSV)

Permission to use with source given.