To Easter… and Beyond!

My kids have grown up with the movie Toy Story that has the two lovable and imaginative characters, Buzz Lightyear and Woody. I have to admit, every time I watch one of the Toy Story movies and hear Buzz say, “To infinity… and beyond!”, I secretly hope that the movie creators would create a narrative that would take us up into a daydream with Buzz about what it’s like to actually go to “infinity and beyond.”

I think if we’re honest with ourselves and could break out of our hollow modern shells that has squashed the fairy tales, myths, and legends, we would all long to go to that place Buzz is talking about. To get away from the grind, to fly to a place far away, to be a hero in another realm, to slay the dragon, and take that adventure you’ve always wanted. We were made for more, and that’s where these longings could teach us something about God’s narrative.

In the biblical narrative, “infinity and beyond” came to us, invited us into that narrative, gave us a home called earth, and asked us to fill this place with purpose and meaning that is from “infinity and beyond.” You see, we live in an era that has honored science, reason, rational thinking, medicine, and the like, and the cost on our society has been a decapitation of the supernatural, and the Christian world has embraced it more than most people.

Sure there is Christian language about the supernatural and even a charismatic approach to prayer and the like, but the world to many Christians is still divided into the sacred and the profane, the material and the immaterial, the natural and the supernatural, and in many ways we do not have a context for merge both worlds, to give a fuller meaning to life as we know it. This is where Ash Wednesday comes to mind.

Ash Wednesday is a day for the many Christian denominations to ‘kick off’ if you will, the journey towards Easter. Originally, Ash Wednesday got its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and then placing them on the heads of participants, while an officiant recites something like this: “Turn from your sin, be faithful to the Gospel, and remember from dust were you made, and to dust you shall return.”

In the biblical narrative, the use of ashes were mostly used to show that someone is either grieving from a tragedy or showing remorse for sin, and it serve as an external sign of repentance (2 Samuel 13:19; Job 42:3-6; Jeremiah 6:26). Ash Wednesday is a day of remembrance, but it’s so much more to me. It’s a day to tangibly remember we broke trust with God. We ate a natural piece of forbidden fruit and brought upon natural and supernatural consequences, thus we need natural and supernatural help.

Ash Wednesday is reminding us that in humanity, we are stuck to the natural realm and do not have the ability to restore supernatural realities. In comes Jesus the Christ, and Ash Wednesday is definitely all about Jesus. It’s all about placing our sin in front of us, remember who were are and not placing the weight of salvation on ourselves, because we can’t restore the supernatural. It’s about preparing our hearts to see with both eyes wide open, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

In the very natural act of confessing and receiving ashes on our foreheads, we are re-enacting the garden narrative with Adam and Eve and accepting our fate of death and separating, but not without hope. We lament on Ash Wednesday and we fast over the 40 days (or so) of the Lenten season to prepare our bodies, minds, and hearts, to receive in a fresh new way every year, supernatural help that could only come from Jesus, the ultimate natural supernaturalist!

Jesus, the new Adam, invites his people into a new realm called righteousness in a world that will never be fully righteous. Even though Ash Wednesday is not an official sacrament of the church, it is very much an invitation into a supernatural world in a very natural kind of way. It is an invitation to go up to the mountain of mercy and receive something from God that no one or nothing in this natural world could ever offer to you.

Jesus, in the biblical narrative, was conceived supernaturally, but born of naturally to a virgin named Mary. He grew naturally in favor with man and supernaturally with God. He was sinless, offered a new way to be human, dismantled the religious life that missed God and therefore suffered under Pontius Pilate by the will of God, but the desire of the religious leaders. He was crucified, he died, and was buried naturally. On the third day, Jesus rose again supernaturally, showed himself to over 500 witnesses, then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of power of God the Father. From there, he will one day return to restore natural order supernaturally, as he will lovingly judge the living and the dead and give to each man what they longed for.

Jesus offers a supernatural life now, in this very natural realm, and asks that those who have received this mercy and become family with him, live in such a way that brings greater purpose and meaning to what he has created. Ash Wednesday is a way to take Jesu by the hand, and follow him to a realm outside of time and space, and meet with him so that you are never the same naturally or supernaturally. We were created for more than what our eyes have seen and our brains can comprehend. We were created to live with both eyes open to the natural and the supernatural world and to see the beauty, the joy, the color, the smells, the tastes, the feelings, of what the supernatural world has breathed into the natural realm.

It ought not to remain a divide between the material and the immaterial realms. Jesus, the immaterial God became material, and restored what man broke in Eden. Jesus is the restoration of shalom, the Eucharistic life, the life of divine thankfulness invites freely all who would have eyes to see and ears to hear, the taste of a new kind of food that will restore what was lost in the garden through the forbidden fruit being carelessly eaten.

So this lenten season, may you ascend the hill, and through your fasting, your confession of what’s really true about you, your turning from sin, and believing that the natural and supernatural realms aren’t mutually exclusive, may you learn to live today in the natural realm with a natural supernatural savior. He is waiting for you to close the gap and believe that there is more to life than just rationale, reason, and boring parties. He’s longing for you so say like Buzz, “To Easter and beyond!” where the mysterious  resurrection is a divine reality for all who believe, today!

Eugene Peterson’s Isaiah 58: A Necessary Word for Western Christendom

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
Yes! God says so!

Deaths and Resurrections

The narratives of life are many and messy most of the time and they follow certain story lines. Two of the most dominant parts of any narrative are the deaths that take place and then the resurrections that happen thereafter. This is what we pay for when we go see movies, these plot lines that ultimately take us to the point of death or near death, and then we get to see the story turn and a type of resurrection happens. Deaths and resurrections.

From a Christian worldview (at least ‘Christian’ in the sense of those who actually follow Jesus) we know that this theme is birthed from within us, that is, we all have this longing to be resurrected from a death, a loss, from pain. And within this same worldview we know that this longing is actualized in what Christ Jesus did for all of us, when we were still his enemies. Jesus’ death and resurrection secure reconciliation for those who trust in Christ, but it also gives purpose and meaning to various forms a sufferings, deaths, as the ultimate purpose in life isn’t to dodge pain, but to be resurrected and reconciled to the truest source of life out of our pain, the life of life, Jesus.

But on this side of redemption, it seems that there too few resurrections and too many deaths. Yes, I can hear the cliche Christianese response say, “But death where is your victory, death where is your sting!” And to that I’d say, that phrase isn’t completely true until the final days when Christ returns and the final resurrection of the dead takes place. This Christianese response has pervaded Christian religious mumbo jumbo so much that we live in a culture that has numbed ourselves from truly dying (or feeling the sting of death, or at least giving acknowledgement to it) that our resurrections are weak and fabrcarted with emotions and words, false lights, void of power and transformation that comes from the life of life.

Today, I feel death all around me and I’m grateful for friends who know how to face the reality of death and grieve properly so when the resurrection actually comes, it’s real and tangible, and Jesus’ life and presence are more beautiful than they were before. Life sucks at times and brings you to the point of death, indeed it will even kill us in more ways that just physical death. But when the life of life shows up, the life that didn’t just shine light into our darkness, but the life that shined light out from the darkness our darkness. It’s then that we realized that Jesus sits with us in our pain and loss and deaths, and offers a life that life is really all about.

The life of life, shining the light of all lights out of dark backgrounds so that we can actually see him, because when fabricated lights are always around us, we lose the dark backdrop that allows us to see Jesus on this side of redemtpion. Deaths are many today, and resurrections are few and far between, but I live in the hope of the true resurrection that it will not always be that way. That good will win, evil will be destroyed forever, Satan and all those who prey on the weak will reap their pay in full, and that all that has been lost will be recovered through the resurrection. This narrative I so utterly believe in and long for when it’s complete.

When Dreams Are Fading

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Switchfoot has a song called “Sooner or Later (Søren’s Song)”, which is more or less a prayer of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (May 5, 1813 – November 11, 1855), who was a nineteenth century Danish philosopher and theologian. Much of Søren’s work and thoughts were criticized while he was alive, but after he passed, many people realized his contribution to the break down of rationalism that was overtaking the institutional church of his day.

It seems to me that much of Søren’s work desired to bring together the spiritual and material realms, as the Christian “religion” had pitted the “material” against the “spiritual”, which had deprived the material life (eating, drinking, pleasure, etc.) of having any meaning or value. In other words, the good Christian was boring and unable to enjoy the better parts of God’s material world. Friedrich Nietzsche’s keen but sad critique of Christians of his day was that their religion made them boring.

This is where the lyrics of this song come in. Søren longed for more and was honest about his struggle with faith. I struggle with faith, the boring and taxing parts of it. The suffering for doing good, and the regret of my actions. The loss of a reality that movies told me life was like when I was a child. The let down that Christendom handed me when I entered adulthood and the formula for joy was a disappointment. The struggle is everywhere and the desire to hold on to hope is relentless for those who are willing to be honest.

Søren wanted more than a rational understanding of faith, and so do I. He longed for an experience of faith, of God; a faith that haunted him, met him in the mundane every day, followed him, swallowed him, consumed him; so do I. I’m convinced that anything less than the divine invading the material realm in every part of life will lead to a major disappointment in any spiritual journey. Here’s the lyrics to this Switchfoot song from the album, New Way to be Human (1999):

“Sooner Or Later (Søren’s Song)”

Come back and haunt me
Follow me home
Give me a motive
Swallow me whole

They say I’ve lost it
What could I know
When I’m but a mockery?
I’m so alone

Sooner or later you’ll find out
There’s a hole in the wall

Today is ours
Condemned to be free
Free to keep breathing
Free to believe

I look to find you
Down on my knees
Oh God, I believe!
Please help me believe

Sooner or later they’ll find out
There’s a hole in the wall
Sooner or later you’ll find out
That you’ll dream to be that small

I’m a believer, help me believe

I gave it all away and lost who I am
I threw it all away
With everything to gain
And I’m taking the leap
With dreams of shrinking
Yeah, dreams of shrinking

There’s much to leave open ended about this song and I do not want to draw too many conclusions, but one I must is that this longing to experience God for Søren, I believe, was a desire to enter into the presence of God in a different dimension than what was offered to him through the “religion” of Christianity.

That “hole in the wall” metaphorically refers to an entrance, an invitation if you will, into the dimension where a Kingdom utterly different than ours exists. And the entrance is small, so small that we have to shrink, become lowly, humble enough to receive a new set of lenses and senses, new wine skins if you will, to see and experience the God of this universe.

Søren’s prayer was honest, much like the father of the epileptic son in Mark 9, who believed, yet asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief. Jesus invited the father to enter into a new dimension of faith, faith that would redeem a broken part of his material realm, but for some, only to leave that person once again wanting more because life breaks down.

The material realm is so wonderful in so many ways, until it breaks down. Betrayal. Loss. Pain. Abuse. Neglect. Anger. Bitterness. Failure. Broken dreams. Broken bodies. At that point, we long to separate from the material either from our religion of choice, or through other false stories of salvation such as various chemicals or sex.

So we begin to live in this dualism. We love the material realm until it breaks down, and then we long to be in another realm, spiritually or imaginatively. We need the God of this universe to penetrate our material reality in every way so that our dual understanding of life and faith is shattered and we begin to embrace that every moment is a sacrament waiting to be noticed, not necessarily celebrated all the time, but noticed.

This is the beginning of experiencing God in a new dimension. This is the beginning of becoming small enough to enter the hole in the wall, to walk in to the real realm that is fully divine and spiritual, and fully material and fully good. This is the beginning of rightly understanding pain and loss, and joyfully receiving good meals and drinks with friends. This is the beginning of not giving up when life is unbearable and has broken you down. This is the beginning of learning to have fun and laugh and to have extended time of silence that heals and restores.

This is the beginning of experiencing the life of life, who is God, revealed to us through Jesus, the suffering servant who grew in stature and favor with God and man. This is the beginning of receiving the whole gospel that says God will never abandon you, and will relentlessly act in such a way for you to truly know him and hunger for him more than anything else. The life that God offers is his Son, the light that has always shone, not from the beauty into the dark, but out of the darkness pointing towards the beauty; reconciliation with God through faith in the Son who sines light out of darkness.

So today, I cry out with Søren for the faith to believe and to experience the light and life of God, and for it to shine with all of it’s brightness into my dark life, into this dark world, so that on the days of hopelessness, myself and many others may not abandon post and cause more pain to others and ourselves on this journey to the heavenly realm that will be our reality here on earth one day.

If this light in not true and is not experienced in our material world, then to what are we witnesses of? What have we to offer if we have not seen and touched with our hands? Where will we call others who are hopeless to? What can we offer?

Come back and haunt me. Follow me home. Give me a motive. Swallow me whole. Make of me a living liturgy that encounters the Eucharist today. Let me touch your body. the hands that were wounded with holes. Let me see and taste of your blood that was spilled in the darkness so that light would be shone for all. Give us something to truly be a witness of in the midst of despair.

The Ancient Catholic Church

Back Camera

I am committed to this thing called ‘ecumenism’. It’s a funny word, I know, and it has multiple meanings depending on the context one hears it. In it’s simplest form, for me, ecumenism is referring to any inter-denominational movement towards unity or concerted cooperation among Christian denominations, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. I’m not here to define clearly my view of ecumenism, which would be a good post for another day. As I have thought and prayed and connected outside of theological ‘tribes’ that I’m usually comfortable with, I have wrestled with what the word “catholic” means, and particularly, what did it originally mean when referring to the church.

Justo González, in his fantastic work of retelling The Story of Christianity (volume I), ends his 8th chapter with a small closing entitled, “The Ancient Catholic Church”. The context of the chapter is a discussion of the 2nd and 3rd century church’s “deposit of the faith”, which would be how the church would refute false testimonies about their lifestyle, their doctrine, and their traditions. Creeds, the canon of Scripture, and the apostolic succession were all a part of determining “the rule of faith” for followers of Jesus.

González mentions that the first time the phrase “Catholic church” is used among Christians, it was used to identify Christians in the 2nd century apart from Gnostics and Marcionites (google the meaning of those sects if you’re curious). The Catholic church was not only the church that was connected to apostolic successors (Christians who were discipled by an apostle in the 1st century or by a disciple of someone who was an apostle; see the first comment from Matt Marino for a brief background of the episcopal collegiality and why apostolic succession was so important in their apologetic), but it was also the church that was connected to the network of bishops or church leaders who desired to stay true to the rule of faith and who were approved as godly leaders by apostolic successors.

Many people may think of the word catholic as referring to the Roman Catholic church, and some creedal Protestants and Orthodox would understand the word catholic to mean “universal” in terms of being the “one” church of God. However, the ancient church in the 2nd century first used the word catholic to mean “according to the whole”, or “according to all the bishops and church leaders” who were interconnected by creeds, apostolic succession, and the canon of Scripture, to preserve the truth of the gospel.

González goes on to say that the ancient church understood this title to refer to “both its universality and the inclusiveness of the witness on which it stood… the total witness of all the apostles and all the evangelists.” This “Catholicity” among the church would be it’s claim to a true witness of Christ Jesus and his gospel. This was what kept the teaching of the person and divinity of Christ truthful, or orthodox, or catholic. 

The irony of this story is that after many centuries of church growth and polity, arguments and discussions about what the word catholic really meant began to be centered on “the person and authority of a single apostle–Peter”, more so than the authority “according to the whole”.

Now I’m not here to pick on any Catholic forms of authority, but I wanted to tell this story to draw our attention back to the ancient church’s desire to hear the collective voice of the whole, which provided a type of shared leadership that formed organically before it was institutionalized in the 4th century.

There is much we can learn from the ancient, or the first Catholic church, and their desire to have a collective voice together, protected by creeds, apostolic successors, and Scripture. There is much division among the body of Christ today, and there is no one answer, but there are on ramps to this movement for us today.

One on ramp that I am reminded of today is that we need to work really hard in each city to connect the whole body as much as we are able to, and begin dialogues and prayer gatherings, trusting once again the “forgotten” God of the Protestants, the Holy Spirit, to be the one to preserve the purity of the church and for Christian leaders stop living in fear of “going down the slippery slope” of universalism or theological liberalism if they were to embrace those who differ from them theologically.

God preserves his church and his people. We are to be so utterly confident in that truth that we can be free to reach across tribal boundaries and trust that Jesus’ people are in more corners of our cities than we ever imagined, and that if we were to be courageous enough to go to those places and extend a hand of friendship, that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 would begin to reverse some of the curse we see in modern day Christendom.

Ecumenism is an important endeavor for the bride of Christ, and for many, it will mean that you may lose friends and favor among some of your “Christian” circles. So be it. Be courageous and confident in the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus the Christ, to begin friendships and gatherings with those who claim to follow Jesus. Give God’s Spirit a chance to surprise you and sift through the junk of all of differing theologies.

I will close with the words of Pope Francis at a vespers prayer in St. Paul (Rome) last Sunday: “To plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another, and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts.”

Lessons From The Early Church: A Person, Not a Form

Lessons From The Early Church: A Person, Not a Form

The first century church has much to teach us followers of Jesus in the twenty-first century, not in the way of copying forms or methods, but as a way of peering into the heart of this movement which is still moving today. One notable lesson for us is that they did not seem as concerned as we do today with the “form” of the church. The idea of church structure seemed to occupy very little brain or heart space. Plans for how the building should look or what the stage should be decorated as bore little weight in the hearts and minds of our fore-fathers and mothers.

Indeed, the One they followed, Christ Jesus, did not leave a blueprint for the church, for the building or the form of her gatherings. I guess the question/statement to be made is, “Why would he? It’s his workmanship, not ours.” He has said, “I will build my Church,” and gave no builders manual, codes, or forms for its development.

So, from he heart of the One who is followed, the first century believers were more concerned with the proclamation of that One person, than the building of an institution or method of “doing” church. As they declared and displayed the person of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, things began to take shape, and in many different shapes they formed, from context to context, city to city, culture to culture. As Christ built, they observed, learned, and applied within their particular geographic locale.

The early church took lessons from Jesus, lessons that shaped this unstoppable movement. In a series of posts to come, I will share small lessons from Jesus that I have gleaned from as I observe the gospels and the early church.

Ramblings On Being the Church

When talking about church over the last decade, it has been popular to use the phrase “missional church”, and with that, there are probably thousands of meanings. Many people see a hipster church, with indie rock worship, a funny, cool looking, gospel-centered preacher, and then give that church the title, “missional”. This is misleading, as if looking cool and fitting in with pop culture is what it means to be missional. It may come with it in some ways, but this is not “missional” in and of itself.

At best, the word “missional” describes not a “specific activity” of the church but “the very essence and identity” of the church as it participates in God’s mission.

“Mission” (John 20:21) reminds us that the church was created to be oriented to the world, existing for the sake of others. Cross-cultural missionaries of the past few centuries were sent with a task that was primarily not for themselves but for the sake of those to whom they were sent. Thus, to describe the church as “missional” is to define the entire Christian community as a “BODY”, sent into the world, existing not for itself but to bring good news to the world. This is our identity.

The Church According to our Generation
We do not historically see the church in this light. In fact, the church that we see and speak of is very disconnected from this kind of talk when we get right down to the reality of how we’ve treated it. The forms of church we see today, in many ways, is not like what the church was meant to be, and the purpose of our existence as God’s people has been radically lost since Genesis 12 (a blessed family, so that it can be a blessing to all families, forming one family under Christ).

Church as a Building
Many people in our generation sees the church as a building. If the church is a building, then we are consumers. If we are consumers, then church becomes a vendor of religious goods and services, and we go and we pick out what works best for us. We treat the church much like a grocery store. We go to pick out the kind of fruit we like, we search through the bananas to find the bundle that fits our liking. We pick through all the cereals (and this is a chore these days!) to find the one that will best satisfy our ever so picky taste buds.

And the whole time we are shopping at the grocery store as consumers, we are trying to find the biggest bargain for ourselves. We want the biggest bang for our buck, with as little loss or sacrifice as possible. So we come to church, or shop for churches, and think, “What style is gonna work best for me.” “What products does this church have that will make me happy and feel like it’s worthy of my time and money.” “If this church won’t give me what I want, then I won’t give my money to it.” “I’m not gonna stay because the deal’s weren’t paying off for me anymore.”; and our motives behind all that we do at church, or what we look for in a church, is backwards.

We are out for our best interest and we have lost sight of the fact that we are part of the body (family) of Christ that exists for the world, not for our comforts. If the church is a building, then we are consumers.

Church as a Business
Another way that many people in our culture view church is through the lens of being a profitable business that can be self-sustainable. The problem with this view, much like the “building” view, is that if the church is a business, then we are competitors.

Many church leaders tend to operate the church as a business, and most leadership conversations and meetings end up being very “business-like”, discussing business matters, financial matters, building issues, legal issues, etc… Staff meetings end up looking the same as business meetings except for a short devotion or prayer before the machine is tended to. We are meeting to make our church better than other churches, to be more marketable, more attractive, to grow more, and to make more money to do more things, to be more effective for the kingdom (or maybe we should say, “for our little kingdoms”).

When we give our money, we give our money to the business, not the church. If the church is a business, then we all become managers with different opinions, and we all fight and bicker as to the way we think things should be managed; complaints aren’t because the church isn’t on mission, but because the business end of the church isn’t operating the way we think it should.

When we talk about “our church”, we talk about how our church does this, and our church did that, our church has this program and this focus. We compare ourselves to other churches and we have this sort of arrogance about the way we do church, and we think that other churches are missing it, as if somehow, this is fulfilling God’s will.

This business view creates within the church, a DNA of people who are jockeying for position, authority, power, and we are competitors within the church, not to mention it destroys the unity between believers that Christ prayed for in John 17. We’re so worried about our small unbiblical view of church, that we are completely missing out on the rest of the world who is perishing. We’ve let culture dictate the church’s mission!

John Stackhouse, a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, cites several historical instances when the church has allowed itself to be shaped by its surrounding culture, including the church in Nazi Germany, the South African church under apartheid, the Rwandan church in their long period of tribal violence, as well as the Western church in modern and postmodern secular culture. In each of these examples, the church forgot its biblical role and instead adopted the cultures’ identity and forms.

The church must not be a building or a business. These world views must be destroyed, and we must beg Jesus to once again restore to us the belief and the conviction to live out the belief, that the Church is one body, one family of God, working to reconcile the warring factions of this one family.

Church as a Body
In the book of Ephesians, the word body is sṓma in Greek, which means “an organized whole made up of parts and members; a whole, an aggregate, a collective mass.” In other words, the whole body of Christians collectively, of which Christ is the head. This word shows up in the book of Ephesians (1:22-23; 2:15-16; 3:6; 4:4, 11-12, 16, 25; 5:23, 30) (see also Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13, 27; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).

There is a very striking illustration in 1 Corinthians 6:15 regarding the body of Christ (the Church), where Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a “member”, joined as a part of the body (family) of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ’s body.

We’re not Christians, we’re ‘family members’ joined by and with Christ, with a mission to make His beauty and worth known over every earthly treasure.

Jesus Christ has a body here on earth. It is called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry.

Paul said that his aim in life was that “the life of Jesus might be made known to others in his mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). In other words, his aim is that his body might make Christ’s body real to the world.

Necessary Corrections
Jesus calls out this kind of religious short-sightedness in Matthew 23:23c: “…you neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

It seems we as a church in all our forms have often neglected the weightier matters of God:
We’ve been far too concerned with success in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too concerned with entertainment and comfort in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too concerned with being the best in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too competitive in a way that Jesus wasn’t…
We’ve been far too promiscuous in a way that Jesus wasn’t…

The late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, writes this in 1967 with her message being addressed to the church: “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.” “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter”, The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2.

So it is there I will leave you. The body is the bride. She is messy. She is adulterous. She does not act like a bride of a king at many times. She is entangled in affairs that makes the groom cringe. She is in many ways lost. She needs to run back to Christ. She needs a conversion of the heart, not a reform of methods or an updated approach to being “more missional”.

So how do we not duplicate history? Where do we start as a people of God? Maybe you’re having self dialogue saying this: “I’m convicted and I want to live out my identity of being the body of Christ, but I don’t know how.” I want to close today with 3 identities that the church must adopt if it wants to be the true church of the 21st century, the visible body of Christ:

Body Life as Family
1 Peter 2:9-10 is one of many verse in scripture that teaches us that we are all children of God who care for each other as a family. We are God’s chosen people – His family – set apart to live in such a way that the world would know what He is like. Through faith in Jesus we believe we are children of God, and brothers and sisters with each other.

As God’s family, we see it as our obligation to personally care for the needs of one another, both physically and spiritually. We disciple, nurture and hold each other accountable to gospel life together. We also labor to reconcile the broken and warring factions of this family across denominational lines. This is the messy and sometimes dysfunctional part of the church that makes relationships hard, but that’s what family does (Gen. 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Rom. 12:10-16).

Body Life as Servants
Luke 4:18-20 reminds us of the words of God through the prophet Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2), as Jesus quotes this passage among a very religious church culture, claiming that it points to Him and what He came to do. We are servants of Jesus who serve Him by serving others around us as He did. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus took on the posture of a servant. He gave his life, even unto death, so that others could experience salvation, peace and restoration. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves…” All those who follow Jesus are called to serve in the same humility.

For us, this means joyfully submitting to Jesus as Lord, to the leaders He has placed over us, and to each other as we also serve whomever God brings into our lives. We do whatever He leads us to do, whenever He tells us to, and wherever He wants us to do it. As servants of Jesus, we give a foretaste of what the eternal city will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ; our humility points to his ultimate humility, our servant hood is led by the Servant of all, and our sacrifice is motivated by the One who gave up his life for us (Matt. 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16).

Body Life as Ambassadors
In Galatians 3:8 we are reminded of the gospel that was preached before Christ moved into our neighborhood (see. Gen. 12:1-3), the very gospel that we too are to take into all the world; to proclaim and display. We are sent by the Spirit to restore all things to God through Jesus Christ through lives that proclaim and display our homeland. God sent Jesus to Earth to take on human form and live within our world, to show us what his world is like. He worked, ate and interacted among the people; living in such a way that those around Him could see and experience what God and his kingdom was truly like. Jesus came so that all people, places and things could be restored to a right relationship with God. In the same way, we believe we are ambassadors sent by God’s Spirit, into our culture to restore all things to God through Jesus, by living and proclaiming what it looks like to be a citizen of heaven on earth (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

As ambassadors, we are sent to share the truth about God’s love for the world through the sending of His Son. The Spirit has been given to us so that we can know what is true of Jesus (John 14:26; 16:12-15), live fruitful lives as evidence of God’s power to change (Gal. 5:16-24), be empowered to share it boldly (Acts 4:23-31) and trust that He is the One who convicts the heart and gives new life (John 3:4-8). All fruitful work of an ambassador is a result of being people who are born of, filled with, and led by the Spirit. (these three points have been adapted from Soma Communities in Tacoma)

As we labor to gather as the body of Christ in new forms, may we not lose sight of the mission of Jesus’ body, gathered to gather as one family, to serve and to display what God’s kingdom citizenship is like and to raise up worshipers of Jesus.