Living in peace within the Church … easier said than done

Have you ever thought about what life would be like if your body tried to destroy itself? I’ve met some people with diseases that do that, where one part of their body tries to destroy another part of their body. Their whole body is basically at war with itself. It’s a terrible way to live, knowing your own body is incapable of living in harmony with itself.

That’s what I thought about when I read today’s verse, Colossians 3:15.

15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

As members of one body, we are called to live in peace. Read that again.

The Church is often called the Body of Christ, and all of us who are believers are a part of the Church. That makes all of us who believe in Christ part of the Body of Christ. One body. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But oftentimes we live as though we are one of the people with a body-killing disease, where one member of the body is trying to destroy another member of the body. And that’s not healthy. It’s not helpful either.

Churches seem dead set on tearing each other down in today’s world. One church is bigger and better than another one. Another church is smaller and better. Another church is less ornate. Another church is more ornate. Another church has better music. Another church has no music. And it goes on and on and on, and we become consumed with judging each other.

That’s not what we’re here to do.

As members of one body, we are called to live in peace.

But anyone who is a believer knows that there is nothing harder than learning to agree to disagree with another Christian. There’s something grating about having to leave the minor issues to God and focus on the major issues, because it’s the tiny rocks in your shoes that are more annoying than the big one that hits your head. But many times, that’s what we have to do. Because God deals with different people in different ways. No one is in the same place as everyone else.

Obviously, God saves us all the same way. But we are all in different places in our individual walks, and no one will agree completely on every single subject in Scripture. And at that point when you reach a disagreement with a fellow believer, what do you do?

Do you tear each other down? Do you break your friendship? Do you walk away?

You can. But what good will that do either of you?

At that point, you have a choice. You can choose to walk away or you can choose to peacefully coexist.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is peace. Peace isn’t something that just happens, though. It’s something that comes from God, and we have to let it. We have to allow God’s peace to “rule in our hearts.” It’s a choice. To keep our mouths shut.

It’s the same with a church. Churches who preach the truth of the Scripture are supposed to support each other, not tear each other down. There are so many churches — just in Wichita — that preach the Truth, but because they disagree on minor issues, they hate each other. The whole denomination fiasco has done more harm within the church than almost anything else. People define themselves by their denomination instead of by Scripture. There are no Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists or any other -ists or -ics in the Bible. There are just people who follow Christ and people who don’t.

Now am I saying that the Church (and I mean those who believe in Christ and the Bible) need to support other churches that don’t? No.

Church means the people who follow Christ. So that doesn’t mean that the Church needs to go out and support other “churches” that are proliferating error and falsehoods about Scripture.

However, the Church does need to seek them and welcome them.

But I’m not talking about churches that don’t preach Truth. There’s enough conflict between the members of the actual Church. And there shouldn’t be. As members of one body, we are called to live in peace, and as followers of Christ, we all have access to God’s peace. We just have to allow it to rule in our hearts, which means we listen and obey the Spirit’s leading instead of our own pride.

Whenever I hear other Christians speaking badly of another Bible-preaching church, I always think of Luke 9:50. Where the Disciples saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and told him to stop. Why? Because he was doing it wrong? Because he wasn’t being successful? Or because he was taking credit for it?

No. The Disciples told him to stop because “he wasn’t part of their group.”

And Jesus’ response has always fascinated me.

 50 But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.”

Fellow members of the Body of Christ, remember this. If you have a problem with another Bible-preaching church and they are reaching their community in a way that no one else can, stop speaking ill of them. Don’t try to stop them, and don’t try to discourage them.

If they’re not against us, they’re for us. We’re all on the same side. Especially now as the night is nearly over and the day is coming when Christ will return, we need all the help we can get to reach a world that still doesn’t believe. And you never know if some other church may be positioned better to reach the people you can’t.

Let God’s peace rule in your life. Live at peace with other believers. And don’t let the minor issues between you cause the Body of Christ to fail.

A gifted church

What makes a church? Well … that’s a strange question. Mostly because a church wasn’t originally supposed to be a singular entity. All churches were supposed to stand together, united, as one body. In ancient cities, like Corinth, there weren’t twelve different churches. There was one. Just like in Ephesus, Philippi, Antioch, etc. There were no denominations. That’s why you’ll hear ministers refer to the Church in Corinth or the Church in Antioch.

The Church is supposed to be one, united force. In America, the concept of a church is different than what it was in the Bible. In America, a church is a building with beautiful statues or stained glass windows. Or, depending on denomination, it’s a modern complex with high-technology and stadium seating and McDonald’s in the lobby.

But that’s not the Church. The Church isn’t a building. The Church is people. If the building were to fall down or blow away, the Church would still stand because the people yet remain.

Nowadays, especially in American Christianity, the Church has entered the realm of tradition. It’s something we do because our parents did. It’s something we suffer through because it alleviates our guilt. It’s something that is performed for us instead of us participating in.

Some churches operate under the belief that they exist to keep their members happy. Some churches operate like a country club, welcoming only the people who fit their defined mold of what a Christian should look like and rejecting (politely) the people who don’t. Some churches operate like a zoo, keeping their members under lock and key. Some churches operate like party with no adult supervision, with wild chaos and noise and no direction or goals.

Some churches care about their communities and work to see people come to Christ. Some churches only care about their own needs, although they donate a little bit of money to a good cause every Christmas. Some churches only care about putting on a good show and are willing to sacrifice the truth to keep their numbers up.

But which one is right?

I don’t know if I have the right to determine that. But what stands out to me is what makes a church effective. And it doesn’t matter how big a church is or how few people attend or where it’s located or how good it’s music is or how talented its pastor is. What matters is if everyone recognizes that anything good in the Church comes from God.

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 1:4-5.

4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.

I think it’s so funny that Paul starts this Book of the Bible off with praise. I think he wanted to soften the blow of following chapters. Because 1 Corinthians is a scathing letter to a church that had lost its senses. The Church in Corinth had been making some very very foolish choices.

What stood out to me this morning was how Paul pointed out that the enrichment of the Church of Corinth was a result of the gifts God had given its people when they accepted Christ. Whenever someone accept Christ and receives the Holy Spirit, God gives that person a Spiritual Gift. Some folks have more than one. But every believer has a gift, and that gift is designed to serve the Church. It may be an obvious gift, like preaching. It may be a serving gift, like hospitality. It may be a quiet gift, like prayer. But every believer has one.

And it’s essential that those gifts be used in the church. But more important that using those gifts, it’s important to remember where those gifts came from.

I have the privilege of attending the most awesome church in the world. My church is my family. It’s my second home. And I know people say that all the time, but I mean it. There are few places where I feel at home, and my church is one of those places. But what makes my church awesome isn’t our beautiful building. It’s the people. And what makes those people so gifted is God and the power of the gifts He’s given them and their willingness to use their gifts AND their understanding that those gifts aren’t their own doing.

My church is a gifted church, a blessed church. And the only reason it has remained blessed is because no one is seeking the spotlight and no one is trying to be more important than someone else. And no one has forgotten where our blessing came from. God has drawn people from all over the place, people with gifts that defy explanation. The talent base at this church is unreal. But all it would take for everything to fall apart is for us to forget that God is the One who brought us here.

There’s nothing special about what happened at my church. There’s no secret formula, and there’s no magic words. What happened to us was we decided to take God at His word and love people and give Him the credit for anything and everything that happened.

The Church is here to point toward Christ, to lead others to Christ and to encourage other believers to keep going. And I don’t know if we can really judge what makes an effective church, mostly because what the Church is here to accomplish can’t be seen with human eyes. It’s true that some church have a higher ratio of gifted people in attendance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a church will be “more effective” because of it. Because all it takes is forgetting.

Holy hole in the donut, Batman!

Religious people like to talk about being holy. Holy is this buzzword that church people talk about all the time, speaking of it as though it’s a grand state of existence that only those who follow the rules can attain.

And simply because something is associated with the church, people get the idea that it’s holy. There are holy altars and holy goblets and holy candles and holy robes and holy hymns. I used to watch the reruns of the Adam West Batman television show as a child, and I loved all the different “holy” things that Robin would come up with. And sometimes I think that people in the church are the same way with religious icons and habits. We slap “holy” on it and suddenly it becomes something more important and superior to anything like it. And this doesn’t just apply to inanimate objects. It applies to people too.

And even though most everyone gets that the word holy means “set apart,” I think a lot of the time we get confused about how to be holy.

Today’s verse is John 17:17.

17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

John 17 is a chapter in the Bible that is called The High Priestly Prayer, where Jesus is praying for the disciples and for all the believers that would follow them. It’s an example of how Jesus intercedes for us. If you have a moment, you should read the whole chapter. How Jesus prays for us tells us a lot about Him and a lot about why we are here on earth.

But I want to focus on verse 17, this morning. Verse 17 is Jesus asking God to make us holy by His truth.

What does that mean?

I’ve been in a lot of churches and I’ve known a lot of church people, and the prevailing attitude among the churched is that being holy means you have to act holy. You have to dress holy. You have to speak holy. You have to sing holy. You have to look holy. You have to eat holy. You have to teach your children holy and work holy.

But what I have discovered about many churched folks is that even though they are trying to act holy, holy, holy, in actuality, they are no holier than a drug-addicted bum on the street. At the end of the day, even if you’re dressed holy and you’re eating holy food, on the inside you’re still the same rotten person you were before you covered it up with your clothes and your habits and your speech patterns.

It’s not our actions that make us holy. God’s truth makes us holy, and that holiness is (or should be) reflected in our actions and our habits and our lives.

If we don’t have God’s truth in our lives, we have no chance of being truly holy at all. So where does God’s truth come from? The Bible, of course.

Now, am I saying that we don’t need to behave differently than people who don’t believe? No. As believers, we are to live according to the Bible. We are to be modest. We are to be pure in speech and thought. We are to be separate, made obvious by our love for each other and for those who don’t believe yet.

But living that way doesn’t come automatically. Holy living is something that comes from having the Holy Spirit in you. If you’re trusting your actions to make you holy without trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you, it won’t do you any good. Because all you’ll accomplish is turning yourself into a hypocrite.

But if you let God’s holiness change you from the inside, your life can’t help but change as a result. If you let God teach you His truth — His Word — the holiness will come along with it. True holiness — like God’s holiness — is different and set apart from any earthly holiness. And we are called to be like God, not like the religious churched crowd.

So if you want to live a holy life, for real, first get into the Scriptures. Read about what being holy really means. And learn who God is. Because you can’t be holy just by changing the way you dress or the food you eat or the music you listen to. Being holy is outside our capability, and it’s something that God does inside us, not something we do for God.

Night Vision

I live out in the country so there aren’t a lot of people around me. My closest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away. When my family first moved out to this crazy old farm, though, we had a lot of trouble with the electric company. It wasn’t that they were unpleasant. It was just difficult to get the electric utilities set up because everything was rural. And even after we got everything set up, it wasn’t reliable.

I can remember how we had to stock our basement cellar full of candles in expectation of all the power outages that were going to occur. It didn’t matter what time of year it was. The power would just go out.

In the summertime, it wasn’t such a bad problem. We kept water in jugs to drink and water in a huge tank to flush the toilet with. Since our well pump is electric in the house, when the power goes out, that means no water.

The times when the power went out in the winter, though — that was difficult. No heat in the wintertime doesn’t make for a very pleasant evening. I remember one time when the power went out during a bad winter storm. We have a wood stove in the basement, and it’s the only one on our section line. So our closest neighbors at the time came over and camped out in our basement until the power came back on.

The other part of winter that makes power outages difficult is the dark. The days get shorter in winter, so the world stays darker for longer. And when you live out in the middle of nowhere, there aren’t any lights.

During many of those winter power outages, I learned pretty quickly that my night vision is fairly good. But it’s not perfect. So whenever the power would go out, we’d all tromp downstairs to the basement and light the candles we’d stockpiled.

I can still remember being curled up in a blanket on one end of our basement couch with my family all around, watching that one candle burn. It’s amazing how much light one candle can put out when there’s nothing but darkness around you. It can light up an entire room just by itself.

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:105.

105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

The Bible is often called a light or a lamp because it gives us everything we need to be able to navigate through the darkness of life, just like that candle in my basement all those years ago.

If you have a candle when the power goes out, wouldn’t it make sense to use it? Or does it make sense to rely on your own night vision?

My night vision is good. I can make out people and objects. I can maneuver in rooms full of obstacles. And maybe I can do all of that without stubbing my toe, but what I can’t do is see the details. And I can’t see colors. To see detail and colors, I need light.

I think it’s the same with living life without Scripture.

The world is dark. It’s full of darkness all the time. And maybe some of us have better night vision than others, but no one has perfect vision in the dark. You need a light. You need a light to show you what path is the best to take or what the obstacles in your path mean. And that’s what the Bible can do.

I know as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to prefer using a candle to just relying on my own eyes. But just like a candle, the Bible is only good if you use it. It isn’t going to put off much light if it’s just gathering dust on your coffee table.

 

Nobody knows nothing

Nobody knows nothing. That was some advice that I received at a writer’s workshop in Colorado this past June, from author Bill Myers. (Yes, it’s a double negative. That’s what makes it funny.) He wanted to make sure we all knew that just because he was a published author and we were didn’t make his ideas better than ours. So basically he was telling us to take all his writing advice with a grain of salt.

I’m not sure what it is about people, but we think we have to know everything. And when we don’t know the answer to something, that means we are insufficient in some way. Maybe that’s just me and other people don’t feel that way. But I don’t think so.

And we’re the same way about the Bible, especially if you’ve grown up in church. If you don’t know the answer to some random biblical question, it’s really easy to think you’re lacking something.

Well, honestly, the Bible is a big book. And not just that, but it’s a really involved book. And not just that, it wasn’t originally written in English so many things get lost in translation.

So when you run into something that doesn’t make sense to you, what do you do? Do you give up? Do you just tell yourself that you’re faulty and that you can’t understand it? Or do you tell yourself that the Bible is faulty and can’t be understood?

Neither of those are a very good idea. Because both of them are untrue.

Instead of giving up, just ask for help. And I’m not talking about going to a pastor or a mature believer exactly. You certainly can, and that’s a great idea. But I feel like there’s someone you should ask first.

David figured it out in Psalm 119:18.

18 Open my eyes to see
the wonderful truths in your instructions.

Ask God.

The Bible isn’t difficult to understand, but there are a lot of stories to keep track of. And there is so much inside that you can spend a lifetime and not understand it all. You can spend a lifetime studying Scripture and still get something new out of it every morning.

But you need to start studying Scripture with the understanding that you’re not going to grasp it all by yourself. God needs to be studying right along with you, explaining things to you and helping you make sense of everything that’s in there.

And asking Him for help understanding Scripture isn’t wrong or bad. And it doesn’t displease Him. Actually, from what I know about God, there’s nothing He’d rather do than help you work through something in Scripture that doesn’t make sense.

So the next time you’re reading the Bible and you stumble on to something that confuses you, pray about it. Ask God to help you. Ask Him to reveal another verse to you that will explain what you just read.

That’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible. It will always interpret itself if you let it.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to your pastor or a mature believer. That’s a great idea. But you don’t need them. Ask God for help, and He’ll help you. Compare what you think you understand to the rest of Scripture, and if it aligns you may have your answer.

The Bible isn’t hard to understand, and with God’s help you can do anything. Just don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be ashamed that you don’t know the answer. Because, honestly, nobody knows nothing about nothing.