We experienced another “first” in our home since Diana’s departure from us — a stomach bug of some sort.
Wow, was I ever not ready for that ! The first wave hit Sunday night after everyone had gone to bed. (Why do these things always seem to happen – or, at least start – at night ?) And, since Sunday night dinner at our house usually involves popcorn, … pizza, … salad, … well, you get the picture. Clean-up Sunday night and Monday involved both bathrooms, a hallway, walls, doors, bed covers, sections of carpet, etc.
Is there a picture here for the church ?
As I sit back today in a super-clean and cloroxed house, it’s a reminder to me that sickness is always just below the surface in the church.
You may have noticed that one of the recurring themes in the adult 101, 201, and 301 classes we’ve been a part of this school year is that of working hard to preserve unity in the church. There are many New Testament passages which exhort Christians to do everything they can – to work hard – at preserving unity in the church.
I’ve been reading the book of 1 Corinthians this week and have been struck that Paul’s purpose in writing this challenging letter was to address the illness of division in the church. “I beg you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with each other and not be split into groups. I beg that you be completely joined together by having the same kind of thinking and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10, NCV).
Some of the reasons for illness (division) in the Corinthian church were these :
— Pride in one’s spiritual background or in one’s spiritual mentor. We might add today pride in one’s pastor (current or former). It was at Corinth where people were saying, “I follow Paul.” “No, I follow Apollos’ teachings.” “Not me, I prefer Peter.” It’s interesting, though, that no one had much regard for the young pastor, Timothy. At the end of the letter, Paul has to say, in regard to Timothy, “When he comes to you, make sure he doesn’t have any reason to be afraid” (16:10-11) ! At Emmanuel, we come from so many different backgrounds – and have so many church connections in our circle of relationships – that spiritual or church pride is an illness that could always be close to the surface. We may always need to take pains to guard against. Not to us, O Lord, nor to any person, but to you be the glory (Psalm 115:1) !
— Differing understandings, and experiences, of baptism. Further explanation about the confusion over baptism in Corinth can be found in Acts 18:23-19:6. Paul finally had to say to the Corinthians, “Christ didn’t send me to you to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). He underscores the fact that everyone who is a Christian through personal faith in Jesus possesses the Holy Spirit and is part of the Church (1 Cor 12:3, 13).
— Ongoing sin in the church. We’re so used to thinking that our sin is our own business. Yet, Paul says ongoing sin in the lives of church members creates division in the church. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we know this to be true. Sin in my life causes sorrow in those who observe me ; it creates a need on the part of others to pray for my situation (instead of praying for the unsaved or for other urgent ministry needs) ; it puts pressure on the shepherds of the church who must seek a right course of action to bring the wayward sheep back into the fold. Some in the church of Corinth boasted in their tolerance of sin, disregarding the fact that sin destroys lives and divides the church.
— Lawsuits among the members. Members of the Corinthian church were taking each other to court in order to resolve their disputes. Paul says there are wise people in the church who can help settle such disputes, if we will be willing to submit ourselves to God’s counsel through them. This is a hard notion for those of us who have grown up in a litigious society where such a heavy importance is placed on our individual rights. As difficult as it may be to understand or practice, it seems to me – from Scripture and from experience – that God’s work is most powerfully and effectively accomplished when we give up our rights. I’m forever struck by the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot, in Genesis. The land belonged to Abraham, but the two men’s families and herds had become so large they needed to split up. Abraham, the elder, deferred to Lot, asking him first which part of the land he wanted. Lot, naturally, took the best part of the land. But immediately after the split was made, God, in an alone moment with Abraham, reassured him, “I will give you all the land” (Genesis 13).
— Lack of regard for what is in the best interests of another person. Corinthian Christians had differing beliefs about certain lifestyle questions. Some chose lifestyle options without regard for how their choices might affect another follower of Christ. Division, suspicion, doubt, and hurt result when we do so.
— Pride in a person’s gifting or role in the church. “My abilities and gifts are better than yours.” “My work in the church is more important than yours.” “What I contribute to the church is more important than what you do.” Here are attitudes that lead to major clean-up. This past Sunday our soundboard operator was unable to be at church because of a health-related need. I was so thankful that someone else was able and willing to fill in at the last minute. It dawned on me during Sunday’s service that that role was one of the most important (and most difficult) exercised on Sunday morning. (Another is the greeters’ role. Imagine Sunday after Sunday with no one to greet you at the door !) Yet, it’s easy to criticize audio-visual team members or think that “anyone could do that.” Not so. “If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But truly God put all the parts, each one of them, in the body as he wanted them” (1 Cor 12:18-19, NCV).
“God has so composed the body, … that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:24-25).
When we are healthy, this is what we are, according to 1 Corinthians :
— simple servants (3:5-8). Always, always, in God’s economy, we are only servants. That’s the thought I wrestled with Sunday night, cleaning up bathrooms. Really, God ? This kind of servant ?! Guess I still need to learn the lesson.
— workers (3:9). Co-laborers, working alongside each other.
— a field (3:9). Interesting – while we are workers in the field, we are also the field. God is working on us !
— a building (3:9) Same idea. God is doing the building. Unity is paramount.
— stewards of God’s mysteries (4:1). The church is not a competition, some people trying to be better than other people, or some churches trying to be better than other churches. We are simply, together, bearers of the powerful and mysterious news of the Gospel.
Then, a final thing we all have in common, something which should keep us humble and help us guard against division …
— We will all be changed. “Behold, I tell you a mystery ; we will not all sleep (die), but we will all be changed” (1 Cor 15:51). Ha ! Just when I thought my background or my baptism or my self-justification or my rights or my choices or my role were better than others’, God says, “Remember this : I still have a lot to change about you !”
God bless his Church, here at Emmanuel and around the world, and keep it healthy.
201, 301, 401, Easter, & the Gospel of John
A few thoughts about our adult classes looking back and moving forward :
This Sunday :
We will begin the 201 course, “Discovering Spiritual Maturity,” for those who missed it the first time. Perhaps this Lenten season is a good time for you to renew a commitment to habits that foster spiritual growth.
The adult Gospel of John course will pick back up this Sunday, under the guidance of David Kiser, in John 5. All youth and adults are welcome to join either of these classes.
If you were part of the 301 course in February & March and would like a brief meeting with the Elder Board to discuss your spiritual gifts and interest in serving at Emmanuel, be sure to turn in your “SHAPE Personal Profile” to me. We will then set up an appointment with you.
Thank you for your involvement in the 301 course and for last Sunday’s discussion. It’s interesting that in answer to the question “What ministries do you think are missing from the list of Emmanuel ministry opportunities,” your answers were quite different from ones we came up with on the Elder Board a week or so earlier. What the elders noticed missing in our slate of ministries are more opportunities or classes for new believers in Christ, or for those who are very close to faith in Christ. Outreach and immediate follow-up of new believers seemed to the elders to be weak in our programmed activities. Food for thought, … and the subject of our 401 class after Easter.
Good plans are being made for Easter, including a youth-led worship & discussion time early in the morning, a breakfast, and Easter worship at 10:15. If you are interested in being baptized Easter Sunday, please let me or Pastor Jeff know soon. We would love for you to be included.
The 401 class, “Discovering My Mission,” which is a class on witnessing and missions, will begin on the Sunday after Easter and continue through most of the month of May. I hope you’ll make plans to join us !
Trials & Doubt
As we continue in 1 Peter this Sunday, “Faith in the Midst of Trials,” be encouraged by this excerpt from a book that’s ministered powerfully to me, Every Day Is a New Shade of Blue, by David Roper :
Any view of justice seems to demand that life ought to be better than it is, especially for those of us who want God and who are responsive to His love. God should go soft on us and give us the good life. Things should get easier as we get along in years, grow closer to Him, and get more in touch with His heart. For some that certainty is an article of faith, but God doesn’t back up that creed.
We suffer. Painful, frustrating, discouraging, depressing, and costly things keep happening to us. Sorrow upon sorrow is often our lot, and sometimes the hardest parts of the journey are yet further along. All of this may convince us that the world is a very unfair place and leave us with serious doubt as to whether or not God is good.
But one thing we have to say about God : He subjected himself to all the indignities and indecencies the world inflicts upon us. “He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile (Dorothy Sayers).”
We look at our Lord’s life and death here on earth and listen to His words and we say, “Here is one who understands what I’m going through !” He has experienced all of life’s bitterness and heartache. He knows how difficult it is to burn the bridges we’re called to destroy ; He understands our inertia and our soul’s resistance to change. He understands the power of sensual attraction. He has felt the disdain of others ; He has seen their smirks and amused smiles ; He has experienced coldness and the inability of others to understand. He knows. He understands. We can approach Him “with confidence (boldness), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Doubts come and go, but we need not be dismayed by them. Doubt is not at first a sign that our faith has failed but that it’s being assailed. When doubts come, we should counter by reminding ourselves of their source and that what the Devil says about God is not true – Satan is a liar. Then we can renew our minds and strengthen our hearts with the truth that God is the God “who does not lie” (Titus 1:2). He is Eternal Good, and He is working for our good.
I’m praying that you and I will see and trust God’s goodness this week ! I’ll be preparing Sunday’s bulletin this week in Rebecca’s place. Please let me know by Thursday noon if you have something that needs to go in the bulletin. Thanks !