Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What does it mean to be a church member?

Connect, Grow, Serve, Go. What does it mean to connect with the local body of Christ, to be a “church member”?  Membership begins with salvation. Eph. 2:1-10 teaches we are saved from eternal death to life (1-3, 5), saved in love and mercy (4), saved by grace (7-8a), saved through faith (8b) and saved to do good works, but not by our good works (8c-10).

Introduction to Church Membership. Just as a baby is born into both the human race and a local family, a Christian is born again into the universal church (Matt. 16:18) and also the local church (see Matt. 18:17). The Bible uses analogies of the church as a building (1 Cor. 3), a body (1 Cor. 12) and a bride (Rev. 21:2-3), showing how we all connect with Christ. He is the Foundation, the Head and the Husband.

Scriptures also show the church as a family (Rom. 8:15), a fellowship (1 Cor. 1:9) and a flock (Acts 20:28), analogies to show how we connect to each other, our fellow members.

I often say to others, “It’s important to go to church, but it’s even more important to go to heaven.” It is also important to be a member of the universal church, connecting with Christ in salvation, but it is also important to be a member of the local church, connecting with other believers.

To find more about how to Make Membership More Meaningful, click the above page headings, beginning with 1. Introduction.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

6e--Accepting Distinctions Without Disapproval

Individuality--Distinctively Different

You've been there, right? Working with someone with whom you just don't seem compatible? Or maybe someone outside of work, in school perhaps, or just in your circle of friends, or your spouse's friends? Or maybe even your spouse...ugh, let's hope not! 
Quite possibly it was someone at church, even a respected leader, and yes, even the pastor. But perhaps over time, as you got to know that person, you began to respect them and even appreciate their differences from you. You began to see those differences in temperament or personality not as a disadvantage, but a distinctive. I jokingly said that earlier about spouses, but often times this can be the case on first impressions with a future spouse. You know the guy who just drives you crazy at first, later comes back and you begin to see that the differences that initially separated you from that person can actually draw you closer to each other.

Verse 21-24. Paul goes to the absurd in making his case for accepting one another as distinctly individual. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' " His absurdity is to shame those who have looked down on others within the church who were not gifted as they were. He even deemed others to be initially viewed as them weaker, yet later revealed be very necessary to the whole of the body.
        The New International Version puts verse 22-24a this way, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modest, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.”
        Plainly stated, if some members of the church, especially those who are less than prominent, think that because they are gifted with the “lesser gifts,” that somehow that makes them weaker or less important because they are less visible, they are just wrong. It is consistent with the teachings of Jesus that those who do not receive their rewards here on earth and those who do not earn visible recognition for their service to God here on earth will receive them in heaven. Read His words found in Matthew 6:1-6, but also in other places.

1 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Suggested prayer: "Giver of every perfect gift, help me today to express my appreciation of those who are different from me, but nonetheless important to Your Kingdom's work. Help me find joy in those who might otherwise in the flesh cause me sorrow, not because they are wrong, but because they are different."

6d--Accepting Diversity Without Division

Individuality: Diversity, Not Adversity

 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 One the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness. 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
        Verse 20, 25. The emphasis now switches from the believer’s view of himself and herself (verses 14-19) to the believer’s view of the rest of the body (20-24). There are many members within the church and each member needs the rest of the church.
        We must accept the diversity of gifts within our church and appreciate one another without allowing our diversity to divide us. In other words, there should not be a desire to separate ourselves from one another, causing factions and schisms within. There is one church, unified under Christ. When we looked at the church as an incorporated body, we saw the need for unity without uniformity. As we look at other members, we must see the need for diversity without division.
        If a church divides to the point that it forms two churches, is that a necessarily a bad thing? If the division is out of pettiness, anger or other worldly issues, then yes, such divisions are ungodly and the church should repent of such issues. The passage here specifically refers to the call to avoid divisions due to differences in giftednesses among the members. Such differences are necessary for the continual health of the body and failure to accept those differences will negatively affect the church.
        It should be noted that many churches are divided for such impure reasons, yet still meet under one roof. Such divisions are unhealthy and will surface eventually. Paul encouraged divisions due to personal, non-doctrinal matters to seek reconciliation (Ephesians 4:2). The division we saw in Acts 15 between Paul and Barnabas, although not a church but rather a mission team, was a division of preference, not doctrine.
      Different denominations and even differences within the same denomination does not conflict with the truth that there are “many members but one body.” We can separate from other brothers and sisters in Christ without sinning and we disagree without being divisive. Country music and Rock music are distinctive and definitively different, but both are still music. Baptists and other denominations within Christianity are separate but still part of Christianity.
        On the other hand, there appears in Scripture at least two reasons when division is healthy and even necessary for the good of the church. First, if a church divides in order to better meet the needs of the community, it may be meeting in two separate locations, yet still united in “one body” in the universal body of Christ. Paul stated that to the Jews, he became a Jew to win the Jews; to the weak he became weak to win the weak. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” One of the weaknesses in a foreign mission strategy is that sometimes cultural norms of the home base filters over and alienates the mission project.
        Secondly, division is called for when it comes to doctrine and practice of sound teaching. In an era where ecumenical movements and religious broadcasting seek to appeal to a broad range of denominations, we need to remember that there is a place for divisions due to Biblical doctrines. Paul wrote that we should “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), that Christians should “withdraw yourselves from every brother” who does not follow true teachings (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Timothy 6:5). Also we should expel those who do not follow or obey sound doctrine.
        Diversity has come to be a buzzword for accepting alternate lifestyles (which ironically in the secular world does not seem to include acceptance of Christianity). However, what true Biblical membership means that we accept diversity in gifts, but not to the degree we accept or affirm sin or heretical teachings. In fact, the distinguishing or discernment of spirits is a spiritual gift, meaning some Christians are spiritually gifted to know truth from falsehood. In 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, Paul makes a very strong case that Christians should and must execute sound judgment within the church. 

Suggested Prayer: "Lord, help me have the spiritually gifted ability to distinguish between good and evil. Help me be tolerant of differences but intolerant of sin. Grant me the wisdom in discernment today. Amen."  

Sugges
      

6c--Appreciating Our Differences

Individuality: I've Got To Be ME

APPRECIATING OUR OWN DIFFERENCES IN CHRIST

         19 “And if they were all one member, where would the body be?”
      Paul underscores the importance of accepting not only our design within ourselves but also the individual differences between us and others. He was in verse 19 essentially asking, “If every member of the church did the same ministry, where would the church be?” The obvious answer is that there would be no church, or at least not a very functional one. We must learn to appreciate how God has gifted us individually.
      Case in point: Some may learn to memorize Scripture quickly, as they may be gifted in knowledge or wisdom. Another may struggle with learning a verse a week. Should that person feel down or less than a Christian? By no means, especially if he or she is using other areas of giftedness to the glory of God and the edification of the church. 
      Where would the church be if all we did was memorize Scriptures, but never applied it or served one another?
       Or consider a person who is gifted in faith, and is able to pray for hours a day, and effectively at that. Should another feel less a part of the church because they go and visit those in the hospital, but pray only a few seconds for that person, and even that little amount of prayer is a struggle? Absolutely not! While the power of prayer is great, how hollow would the words sound to the person who was not visited in the hospital, but afterwards heard dozens say, “I sure did pray for you.” How would the church’s impact and power be limited if the church viewed itself only as a praying, faith-filled church, but nothing else?
      If you feel our church is missing something in its ministry, perhaps you are the missing piece. Each one of us must come to appreciate our unique contributions to the cause of Christ and seek to have God utilize them to their fullest extent.
      One of the most prime examples of accepting the differences of others is found in the book of Acts 15:

35 Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing."

     Great right? Paul and Barnabas, getting along so well. But...

37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

     What Paul failed to appreciate in Barnabas was that he was an encourager. Which Paul should not have had to forget, since "Barnabas" means "Son of Encouragement." And the fact that when no one else would have anything to do with Paul after his conversion, Barnabas took Paul by the hand to the other disciples. See Acts 9:26-27.

 26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

      Paul was different than Barnabas; he was bold, brave, confrontational. But rather than appreciating their differences, they instead became divisive. We as members of the church should not expect others to be like us.

    Thom Rainer said in his book I am a Church Member, "The foot is to walk. The hand is to grasp and hold. The ear is to hear. The eye is to see. The nose is to smell...The fact that there is so much diversity in our church is our strength. Everyone has a function. Everyone should be functioning. Everyone should have a role. Because we are all different with different gifts and abilities, we will function differently from other members. But is we are true and biblical church members, we will be functioning members." (pg. 16).

Suggested prayer: "Thank you Father for the diversity of gifts, talents, experiences and abilities in our churches. Grant in me the gift to not only like those who like me and those who are like me, but help me to like those who are not like me. In Jesus' Name. Amen."




6b--Appreciating Our Design

Individuality: We Are Designed By God

1 Corinthians 12:14-19

     Do you ever feel unappreciated? Sure you do, we all do from time to time. I think that is the reason for Facebook's popularity, everybody gets to be somebody and there is constant affirmation with "likes".
     But there are times when we don't appreciate ourselves and our unique gifts, abilities, personalities, and talents. Even in our experiences, there are events in our lives we wish would have never happened, some traumatic, others more mundane, but we wish we could take a historical eraser and etch that part of our lives out.
     But read this from 1 Corinthians 12
 14For the body is not one member, but many 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 

17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 

20But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

     Last week, we looked at how God composed us to work together in unity. This week, we are going to emphasize our individuality. 

     Verses 14-19. A casual reading of this section, especially verses 14-16 and 20-21, without reading verses 17-19 would lead you to see the would miss a very strong contrast. A more careful reading reveals that Paul is at first addressing those who feel unappreciated because they don’t feel a part of the body. As a result, Paul introduces this section by emphasizing that the body is not one member, but many (verse 14). In other words, he is emphasizing the individual parts.


     The significance of this is crucial. “Just because you are not gifted with the more obvious gifts does not mean you are not important to the church and the cause of Christ,” Paul is saying in effect. There are many parts of the body that are important and vital to the church.

      Last week we emphasized God as the orchestrator, the conductor, the composer, leading the entire body. This week, we see God as the individual tutor, giving us private lessons. God places believers with their gifts, talents and abilities within the church as He pleases, and we need to appreciate how we are different but still vital to God. Each person is important to the functioning of the whole. Paul admits there are some gifts which are greater than others (see 1 Corinthians 14:1), but that does not exclude the gifts which God has already endowed upon us. He is the source of every good gift for the church body.

     As a way of introducing this section, imagine Andrew, almost always referred to as Simon Peter's brother, even though he was perhaps the VERY first disciple whom Jesus called, along with John, the brother of James. Do you ever think he felt unappreciated. Imagine him writing the following letter to his wife. 

          “To my beloved wife,
          I am thinking once again about quitting my life as a disciple of the Messiah! As you know, I am constantly being left out of the loop. It seems Jesus always wants to be with James and John and my own brother Simon. But not poor Andrew, no sir.
          I should be included more. After all, Simon and I were the first one Jesus called to follow Him, even before James and John. I can understand John being good pals with Jesus. We were disciples of John the Baptist first. But the day John and I went to Jesus’ house, I knew immediately He was the Christ, the Messiah! I was so excited I went to go get Simon. That’s what really gets me! I was the one who told Simon, "Is this not the Messiah?" I introduced Simon to Jesus in the first place. I should have expected trouble right from the start when Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter.
          Peter, the rock! Humph! Some rock he’s been! (I never will forget how he sunk like a rock after getting out of the boat. Still, I guess he thinks he can walk on water!) More like "Shaky" than the Rock! It took him more than a year to proclaim Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But as soon as Jesus started praising my brother for his “great proclamation,” it went straight to his head. Then, that “Stone” had the gall to try to rebuke Jesus. Peter “the rock” started to crumble when Jesus practically called Simon the devil himself!
          I really don’t understand why Jesus doesn’t include me more. I’m a spiritual guy! Not only did I bring Simon to Jesus, but it was me who brought the little boy with the five loaves and two fish to Jesus. Okay, I have to admit, I never expected Jesus to feed 5,000 hungry men with so little. But it sure was better than Philip’s idea of getting eight months’ salary to let each one have a bite. I know I learned that day that Jesus can use the smallest things to make a biggest blessings, but I just wish Jesus would make me a bigger blessing! I think it was on that day that I got so fed up!
          Believe you me, now, I still love Jesus! I think He hung the moon! But do you remember when I told you He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead? He only let Simon, James and John go in. I was stuck outside with Philip and a bunch of crybabies!
          And I know something happened on that mountain that time. It was just Jesus, Simon, James and John who went up there. I and the other eight disciples were left down below, with so many people, we didn't even have a chance to pray! I’ve heard these “inner three” whispering about how Jesus was just glowing about being up there. But when I ask them about it, they'll just say, "we'll tell you later!" I bet Simon stuck his foot in his mouth again and he’s too proud to admit it. Still, I wish I was in with the “in crowd.”
         Don't get me wrong, I’m still bringing people to Jesus. Just this week, some Gentiles wanted to see Jesus. Can you imagine that? At Passover time, no less! Well, they came to Philip and of course Philip came to me. (I’m always having to help that Bethsaida boy out!) Well, I went and told Jesus and you won’t believe what happened! It was as though it was a fulfillment of prophecy or something! When Jesus heard that the Greeks were coming to believe in Him, He began to pray. If I were a swearing man like my brother, I would have sworn I heard a voice from heaven answer Jesus. (And, No, Simon still hasn’t been delivered from swearing).
          But tonight was the last straw. We were eating Passover, and of course John was reclining right up front, next to Jesus. (Did I tell you about how Jesus rebuked him and James when they wanted to call down fire from heaven. And ALL of us remember those mama's boys when Mrs. Zebedee asked Jesus to let them sit at His right and left hand in the kingdom!) Anyway, shifting Simon had gone from refusing Jesus from washing his feet to asking him to give a sponge bath. Jesus put Simon in his place when the Lord said that before the rooster crowed twice, Simon was going to deny Jesus three times! But after all the ways those three have messed up, I heard Jesus say tonight that he wants Simon, James and John to pray closest to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Well, I am not going to take that lying down!
          While Jesus and the inner three are praying, I’ll be out there with the other eight disciples, praying too. (That is, if Judas comes back from wherever he went off to.) Perhaps a little prayer and some shut eye will help straighten everything out. I sure am sleepy. Maybe a good night’s sleep will help me see what’s really most important in the morning! I sure hope tomorrow will be a good day.
                                      Your beloved (but unappreciated) husband,
                                      Andrew” 

    Now of course the Bible never shows Andrew even coming close to being this petty, but I must admit to you, I sure would have been feeling a lot of the things in this fictional letter above. 

Suggested Prayer: "Oh Father, thank you for my unique abilities. Even if they may not be as great as someone else's, never let me feel unappreciated or without value to You and Your Kingdom. Thank you for making me the way I am and having gone through what I've gone through to make me who I can become. In Jesus' Name, Amen."

6a -- Individuality: Enjoying the Snowflakes

Making Membership More Meaningful
 So far, we have seen four parts of what it means to be a member of the local church body. 
...Membership means Introduction...
Acts 2:37-47
...Membership means Interdependence... 
Romans 12:3-21
...Membership means Identification... 
Ephesians 4:1-6
...Membership means Involvement...
Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16

...Membership means Incorporation...

1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 25-27

This week, we will see part six of Making Membership More Meaningful.
     
     Do you like to write poetry? Love junk food or sing in the shower. Well maybe that is not so unique, but can you juggle more than three objects at once? Have you ever been to China? The field narrows a bit. How about being related to a president of the United States? Even more.
     We all have some similarities but we also have some differences in abilities, experiences, wants, needs, and flat out preferences. The things that often separate us can be the very things that God wants to use to make us stronger together.

     Last week’s lesson and this week’s are two different sides of the same coin so we will be revisiting 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, remembering that sandwiched in between these two chapters of diversity and individuality is the famous love chapter.

Membership Means Individuality



    Central Bible Truth

     The local church is made up of very distinct individuals, differently gifted by God, designed to work together.
  
Background Passage
     1 Corinthians 12 

Focal Passage:

Goal of Part 6 of This Study 

        To help church members appreciate their individual giftednesses and accept the individual giftednesses of others. Someone has said that the church is an organism, not an organization. As the body of Christ works together, special care must be made to coordinate each part. Just as there are no two snowflakes exactly alike, there are no two church members exactly alike nor do they believe exactly alike. We need different perspectives to see God more completely and to minister to the world more concretely.

The Bible in Context

(The context is the same as last week, with a slightly different emphasis).
     1 Corinthians 12 repeatedly shows that the church is one body with many members, each one uniquely gifted and talented for the service to the church as a whole. Today’s lesson on the individuality of the members in the same church body is balanced with last week’s topic on unity in our incorporation into the church. The Purpose of the Body Incorporated and the Priesthood of the Believers Individually are both to bring glory to Jesus Christ through His church.

     This lengthy response about spiritual gifts is really not about spiritual gifts but helping individuals gifted differently to work together in harmony, and specifically this week about accepting and appreciating those differences in ourselves and others.
     
   Lesson Outline:
             Appreciating our own giftedness. (14-19)
1. Appreciating our own design by God. (14-18)
2. Appreciating our own differences. (19)
     Accepting the giftedness of others. (20-25)
1. Accepting diversity without division. (20, 25)
2. Accepting distinctions without disapproval. (21-24)

Suggested Prayer: "A new day means that something is going to be different today than yesterday. Help me to appreciate each day's new challenges, new goals, new problems, and that You are the author and perfector of my faith and my life. Give me strength to embrace the differences of life and individuals that I come in contact with. In Jesus' Name, Amen."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

5d--The Composer Is Fine Tuning His Symphony



Incorporation: No Non-Essential Personnel

            24  But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,  25  that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another,  26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  27  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

    I love an orchestra. I was in the band in school. My part was pretty blah, the baritone. But every once in a while, a composer would put a part in the piece to let the bass clef shine. But even when we just played the oom pahs, I knew that it  just sounded better with all of us working together, everyone playing their part. Even today, I sit at church generally on the left hand side during the Blended Service, just to hear the different instruments all in tune. 
     Did you know God composed an orchestra, a symphony. It's called the church.    
     Verse 24b. Composed By God. The truth of this verse cannot be overemphasized. God composes the body, His church. The Amplified Bible translates verse 24b this way: “But God has so adjusted (mingled, harmonized and subtly proportioned the parts of the whole) body...”
     Frequently, Christians who are gifted in ways different from others in the church believe they should go to another church to unite with those who are similarly gifted. But how ridiculous it would be if a physical body thought that way. Such thinking in the church would be like a body which was only an eye, never hearing, never speaking.
     Paul stated in Romans 13 that God puts governing officials where He desires. If He would do that with secular worldly authorities, how much more will He compose the church as he desires! In 1 Corinthians 12:18-19, Paul said, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. and if they were all one member, where would the body be?”
     Chuck Swindoll said it this way, “An eye may be able to see a hurt child, but it could never reach out to comfort the child like a hand could. And a head wouldn’t have much information to process if the feet didn’t carry it around, letting it experience the life around it. In the same way, some members in the body of Christ seem insignificant on the surface. But like the tiny anvil bones of the inner ear that hold part of the secret to the world of hearing, they are desperately needed by the other members.”[1]
     Verse 25-26. Care For One Another. Because God composed the church, any disharmony within it disturbs the very reason God brought differing gift mixes together. The divisions in Corinth, it should be noted, are not doctrinal differences, as was found in Galatia (see Galatians 5). Rather, the differences were due to feelings of inferiority and superiority. There were factions and schisms motivated from a concern about self, not unlike the disputes within the disciples over who would receive the most honor in the kingdom.
     When an element of the body hurts, all should feel the effects. When one part of the church receives honor, all should share the joy.
     The members of our body must care for those who are hurting and must rejoice over those who are honored.
     Verse 27. Contribution by All. There is no part of the body that is not placed for a purpose. Each part of the Christ’s body needs to contribute to the ministry as a whole. God does not place “non-essential personnel” within the body of the Church.
     If our work and success helps the good of the entire body, then we will be successful in the eyes of God. Next week we will discuss more in depth of how God wants us to continue in our individuality in service within the church.

   Suggested Prayer. "God thank you for composing the body as You desire, giving gifts to each one of us as You please. May we, in turn, care for each other for the good of the entire church. In Jesus' Name, Amen."




[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Calm Answers for a Confused Church (A Study of 1 Corinthians 12-16) Bible Study Guide, (Insight For Living, Fullerton, California), pg. 11.