The Body of Christ

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

We often rightly talk about the church as the body of Christ. Scripture clearly teaches about this concept and it is an amazing illustration of the believer’s relationship with Christ. Corporately, we are the body, and He alone is the head.  All of us have a tendency to either want to be the head or be able to influence it. It is a foreign concept to follow One we cannot see nor completely understand. The Israelites shared this same struggle to which they cried for a King, like all of the other nations (1 Samuel 8). The body must have a head, but it cannot be a man. Only One is qualified to lead the body. Only One has the wisdom, foresight, understanding, patience, love, and righteousness to lead perfectly. Understanding this then, leads to an amazing realization. Jesus chooses to use His body to accomplish His work.

The Head, who is Jesus Christ, perfect in every way, chooses to work though hands and feet that will spend their entire lives here struggling with their flesh. It is astounding to meditate on the simple reality that God not only loved us so much to send His Son to die on the Cross, but that He now chooses, in His patient love, to draw humanity to Himself through you and I. With our imperfect voices and lives, He speaks boldly and courageously. In our scattered priorities and busyness, He works to accomplish His purposes. Though I fail, He succeeds, and yet still uses me. The body of Christ is an intricate tapestry of believers gifted to live to the glory of God. Each hand, finger, leg, foot, and even toe is designed for balance to accomplish the work of the Head, who is Jesus Christ.

Thinking on these two truths, we can apply Ephesians 4:15-16. May we grow up into Jesus, who is the head of the body. May we align our lives to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). May we walk in such a way that we represent the Head well, whatever part of the body we are called to be (Ephesians 4:1). We are to be built on love and truth we are held together in Christ. Praise God that He chooses to work through His body. He has written us in to the great story of life. Let us play our role well, to His glory.

How strong are your walls?

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“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

I vividly recall walking through a grapevine in Israel examining each step attempting to avoid rolling my ankle when my gaze lifted above the vines to notice the remnants of a massive wall on the hillside above. Taken back by the enormity of the wall, I soon realized I was gazing at the remnants of one of the most powerful cities of ancient Israel, Lachish. The city was vitally important, protecting the valley leading to Jerusalem. The city gates and walls of Lachish were enormous and complex providing the greatest assurance of the time. Yet, 2 Kings 18 records the conquest of Lachish by Assyria. The walls of Lachish had fallen and Jerusalem was vulnerable to attack.

City walls were designed for one purpose, protection. An ancient city built without walls would have been easily destroyed and plundered by any invading force. Proverbs 25:28, written in a time of massive city walls, makes a startling comparison: “A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls.“ Essentially, a man who cannot control himself is one who is without protection. And I tend to believe that protection extends beyond himself to those he is designed to be a wall for. A man who cannot control his tongue towards his wife and children exposes them. A man who cannot control the integrity of his actions when no one else is watching exposes those closest to him to life’s looting.

Galatians 5, when listing the fruit of the Spirit, lists self-control. God designed us to live by the power of His Spirit enabling us to make choices that have either positive or negative consequences. A man who exercises self-control has an incredible opportunity to provide security to those he encounters, especially those closest to him. Living with integrity by controlling what he thinks, sees, touches, tastes, and hears builds a wall of protection around his own life and those he leads and loves.

God is described in Scripture as a fortress time and time again. He is the place we run to for protection. Living according to His truth builds the walls in our lives. We will still face the challenges of life but our walls will remain secure, built in Him. The rest of the story of 2 Kings 18 describes Hezekiah leading the people to trust the Lord, their fortress. God defeats the entire Assyrian army miraculously. The walls of Lachish had fallen, but the man who walks in self-control, rooted in Christ, will be protected.

In a day of instant self-gratification, how strong are your walls?

Smile

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Flipping through the PBS channel of late has brought to mind one of the best, in my opinion, documentaries ever compiled on the Civil War. Ken Burns masterfully walks through the bloodiest and most important war in American history. His documentary style has created what is known as the “Ken Burns effect” when viewing photographs. Still photos have never made great live shots until he invented the art of zooming in or out, bringing action to black and white photos taken 150 years ago. But it isn’t the artistry of the documentary that caught my attention. Instead, it was the photos themselves. Interestingly, very few of captured individuals are smiling.

I realize that war is certainly not a motivating factor to smile, but looking at a variety of pictures from that time reveals the same intriguing phenomenon. Exploring other photos of other cultures often portray the same sentiment, even modern photos. There are no smiles to be found. I am not sure when culture in America began insisting on our happiness in photographs. It is possibly the prosperity of the 1950’s or maybe just the evolution of culture across decades. However the process developed, and the result is, “Smile!”

Perusing family photos of weddings, vacations, birthdays and gatherings, one could conclude that life is always good and we are always happy. It is positive and reassuring to fondly remember the good times. But it has also created a mask. We see it every Sunday morning. Masses of smiling faces pile into Kingsland. Some just finished heated arguments, yelling at uncooperative kids, and rotating outfits because of the toddler’s need to throw breakfast across the kitchen. But we are smiling! Worse, some marriages are crumbling, relationships with sons and daughters straining, and the pain of lost love ones wells just beneath the surface. But we are smiling…

Colossians 1:11 states, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”. Displaying joy, when living by the power of Christ, is right and always appropriate. Demonstrating joy, however, is often not smiling at all. Attempting to look Christian, we can miss the source of much joy in the difficult journey of life. We miss His overcoming power because we rob the community of believers of our present reality. The Church, or body of Christ, is designed to love one another and support each other. Wearing the mask is only the illusion of strength. True strength in Christ is found in vulnerability with other believers. Joy then becomes a deep enduring foundation, held in the power of Christ, surrounded by His very body, the Church.

So the next time you feel the pressure to smile, make sure the mask is off first. The world looks on and knows our lives are not perfect, so let’s stop pretending they are. Who knows, we might discover real joy surrounded by the prayers and love of other Christians and the world might find our raw honesty refreshing.

Wisdom at Luby’s

Luby’s and I have a definitive love-hate relationship. My wife and I began eating there even before we were married. Dining in Waco always felt eclectic, even at chain restaurants. In other words, eating out was like a box of chocolates. Luby’s, however, was consistent. The food tasted the same, the process never changed, and the cliental, predictable. A few college students and young couples adorned the tables looking for their one taste of vegetables for the month but largely, the restaurant was filled with life’s seasoned veterans.

Looking back now, I wish we had taken the opportunity to simply pull up a chair at each table and listen to the amazing life stories embodied in those seniors. Instead, we observed from our table. We watched some couples struggle to find the right table while carrying a tray full of Luby’s delights. Others quickly nodded to one another when the “right” table appeared, often the last communication that would take place until the meal was finished. Many couples appeared to have a disconnected relationship. It was almost as though they had discussed everything life had to offer and now, marriage was speechless. Others just seemed sad, and even lonely, sitting across the table from the “one” of so long ago.

Every once in a while, the scene would change. As if a new wind blew through the dining hall, we would notice a couple that still gazed into one another’s eyes. After decades of marriage, they were still affectionate, attentive and loving. Those couples brightly defined an amazing word, intimacy.

In the middle of our youth, Jessie and I recognized that two paths stood before our marriage. Only one would continually require our very best. Only one would require focused intentionality and constant attention. And only one would lead to intimacy.

Our walk with Christ is the same. Going on a date (church) with Jesus once a week only reveals a shallow depth to our love and commitment. Paul wrote in Philippians that his life mission is to know Jesus – to foster intimacy with the creator of his very life.

Decades later, will the intimacy I have with Jesus Christ reveal the intentionality and commitment to grow today? Will I look more like Him as the sun sets each evening? My salvation is clear, but the depth of our intimacy requires my very best. He has already given His.

Autumn Breeze

The first cool front pummeled through Houston during the past 24 hours. Experiencing unrelenting heat and humidity for four months brings great appreciation to seasonal change. A cool breeze simply doesn’t happen during the summer this far South. But these later months ignite visions of northerly winds and light jackets. A certain brightness magnifies the clear blue sky and the dryness of the air invites a refreshingly deep breath. For a moment, the cares of the world fade and one can simply appreciate the moment.

The complications of life often mar the simplicity of living. Living is really taking a breath, eating a bite, hearing a song, laughing out loud and looking deeply into the eyes of one you love. I am beginning to appreciate that Life in Christ is the same. I complicate it often times with schedules, legalistic tendencies, self-imposed pressure and guilt. Living in Christ is simply reading His breath, tasting His goodness, worshipping the one who created songs, laughing at trials, and looking deeply into the eyes of the One who loves me more than I can understand.

Don’t misunderstand, suffering takes place throughout the world and injustice exists. Many people throughout the world won’t have the privilege of appreciating an autumn breeze. Those burdens are one’s I care about but they are not one’s I can carry. Today, the breeze reminds of me to pause doing and just “be” for a moment. It reminds me to cast off everything that entangles my heart and mind and live simply. It reminds me to joy and pleasure in His presence and at His hand (Psalm 16). So much competes for our attention and so much promises pleasure and fulfillment. Yet, with Iphone in pocket, and Starbucks in hand, my delight is in the Lord. There is no worthy joy or pleasure outside of His presence.

Thank you God for an autumn breeze.

The Well

Reading a book recently by an author I respect and enjoy led me to pause and rusty wheels began to turn. Every generation has certain general characteristics in which one can be proud or, well, not so proud. Without getting bogged down in those details, my generation (20s-30s or Millennials) have one characteristic I find positive and appealing: the desire to see justice prevail and poverty thwarted. This plays out well in the church because of a definite thread throughout Scripture highlighting God’s heart for the poor and unjustly treated. Reading the book I mentioned earlier, the author spent significant time citing statistics bringing to light serious social issues in the world. He pleaded for believers to care and act.

The problem that seemed to rise from these pages as well as many others is a theme often left out of the passionate pleas to action: sharing the gospel. While it may sound old-fashioned or pushy, it is the reason we go. Jesus Christ is the reason we care.

John 4 tells a magnificent story of cultures colliding at a water well of all places. At about noon (the wrong time to be at the well) Jesus met a peculiar woman who most likely visited the well during off hours to avoid troublesome conversations. She had no idea the encounter that day would change her life, especially when she approached the well and saw a Jew sitting close by. The Jews and Samaritans had longstanding cultural issues but Jesus was about to break those at the local watering hole. The story unfolds and Jesus challenges the woman with a simple statement, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

We must not forget to carry eternal water when we dig temporal water wells in villages that need fresh drinking water. We must not forget to carry the gospel when we carry the sick to treatment. We must not forget to give the Bread of Life when we give bread for sustinence. Otherwise, we missed the point that Jesus made. He could have given her a nalgene bottle that never ran dry but essentially nothing would have changed.

It is good to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and the sick. Jesus commanded us to do these things. But our purpose is to share Him as we do them. See let us not cease in doing good and never rob the good of its platform for eternal change – through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Follow-through

Bowling is one of the most popular sports in America, though some struggle to label it a sport. I would conclude it is a sport because of its competitive nature, score-keeping, some athletic ability is required and it has aired on ESPN (at least ESPN2). While bowling is certainly available to the masses and requires little training to play, a definite chasm exists between casual bowlers and competitive masters. Aside from their designer wrist-guards, highly-personalized bowling balls and shoes reminding all of an era gone by, these men and women truly have talent for hurling a weighted ball at 10 unsuspecting odd-shaped targets.

I remember learning to bowl in 4th grade. Rosedell Elementary began an after-school program and I was enrolled. My grandpa was an avid bowler and my parents still had their bowling paraphernalia of a decade earlier. I thought I might have the gene. After a great deal of time and practice, I learned to hold my own but it never amounted the career I dreamed (ok, not really dreamed). However, the most important lesson I learned from a true expert was to follow-through. You could step the right steps, release the ball well, and even look great doing it, but without follow-though, the ball would likely miss most of the abused ten pins. What I believed about the ball and its trajectory mattered little without good follow-through. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a bowler. But without good follow-through, I was utterly ineffective.

James 2 begins painting a picture of follow-through. He opens the chapter with a challenge to treat everyone equally with love and a heart to serve. The church was no place for partiality. Brothers and sisters in Christ are equal no matter their upbringing, race, socio-economic status or appearance. He then follows this discussion by writing a difficult passage about Faith and Works. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) Remember that taken in context, James isn’t discussing salvation but instead refuting ineffective and apathetic Christianity. These Christians were still lacing up their shoes, pulling out their colorful ball, and displayed their league and team colors. But they lacked follow-through.

Scripture is full of mandates to effectively follow-through your beliefs. If we say we really believe something, like Scripture, why do we not live like it? Why do I not? My kids, my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends are watching my follow-through every day. Frankly, they don’t care what I look like or if my ball curves brilliantly down the lane. They are watching to see if the pins fall. They are watching to see if I am faithful to live what I say I believe. Only then will I attract them to this amazing game. Only then will they see that it isn’t a game at all. How’s your follow-through?

Banner

Presidential elections seem to bring out the best and worst in each of us. They are polarizing. Voters choose sides and often vehemently defend their candidate. Yet, inevitably, only months later, disappointment sets it. Historically, the political affiliation the new president holds matters little. Lofty promises and lack of delivery send approval ratings spiraling downward. The speeches made, debates fought and strong campaign posture rallied the candidates troops under the banner of his name. But as reality set in, we recognize again that this is American politics.

However, there is another name by which men and women have rallied. It is a banner which has stood firm through the test of time and pain. This banner has been proven faithful and just even in the darkest times of humanity. From its first flight in Exodus 17 to the victory waved at the cross, the banner still flies today with unfailing faithfulness and the promise of life, real life.

King David, in Psalm 20:7, penned a simple verse, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Imagine a time when military might was measured in cavalry and chariots. They were far superior to the Israelite foot soldiers. The technology of the day rested on the mighty nations such as Egypt and the Philistines. Yet David laid aside the things so easy to place trust in. He acknowledged the appearance of power found in military might and technology could not stand against the name of the Lord. For the name of the Lord was their banner. He was the rallying cry that stood against any enemy. Under that banner, any foe could be vanquished no matter how obscene the odds. He is sovereign!

So it begs the question, what do I trust in? Under what banner do I regularly reside? When circumstances take difficult turns, which banner do I rally to? Which name do I trust? It is certainly easy to proclaim allegiance to Christ. It is far more difficult to live that allegiance practically. I can see the chariots and horses and they carry the appearance of power. But in the end, they will fail to deliver on their promise of security, wealth and power.

His name is the only one worthy of trust. He is the only One who keeps every promise. He is true, always. The Lord is our banner.

Law

A couple of months ago during the early evening, three of the five of our family piled in the car to escape our house for a moment. Adventurously, we traveled less than five miles to a family favorite drive-up institution affectionally called “Sonic.” After ordering our small apple juices and a large diet coke with cherry, we ventured home. While approaching home, my 2 year old accidentally inverted her beverage. Some spilled on her lap. One of the greatest things about Sonic drinks is the ice which keeps the drink very cold. Spilling a sonic drink in your lap often transfers that cold feeling to an uncomfortable level. She cried out and I decided that coming to a complete stop at the approaching stop sign simply wasn’t necessary. Fifteen minutes later, holding a small pink piece of paper, I realized the officer didn’t see things the same way. Alas, I had broken the law and my sin was ever before me, spelled c-i-t-a-t-i-o-n.

The laws we live by are designed with certain purposes and functions in mind. Whether I agree with those purposes and functions matter little. The law simply tells me when I am wrong. It doesn’t affirm the hours of driving well nor does it take into consideration circumstances. The law simply tells me when I am wrong. Growing up in small churches across our country, I developed a sense of God’s law in my life. When I behave well, God is pleased and I am treated with peace, love, and some level of comfort. Sin, breaking God’s law, is punished with guilt, pain, and a feeling of lost favor with God. My actions determine God’s level of love for me and his favor is dependent on how well I am following the law. By law, I don’t mean the Mosaic law or the laws of the Old Testament though that might be part of it. Law indicates this internal code by which I make God happy with me.

Two major issues surface here. One, God’s love, favor and blessing become dependent on me. I essentially begin to earn His love. Two, the law becomes void of a relationship with Jesus. While it may sound so churchy, rules void of a relationship will only lead to bitterness, frustration, and rebellion. Many parents have seen this in their grown kids. Both of these issues create incredible problems in light of Scripture. The law challenges me to be a good moral person. Often, this seems a noble goal! But God doesn’t want good moral people who don’t relate to Him. For whatever reason, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to repair a torn relationship. Sin severed the ties between God and His beautiful creation known as humanity. For thousands of years, creation anticipated the restoration of God with His people.

Jesus was crucified to defeat sin and sin’s result, death. The reality is, I can’t do it. I can’t stop sin in my own life. I long to but I don’t have the ability. Only through a relationship, and adoption, can I find reprieve. So what does this mean?

Instead of trying hard not to sin, I need to talk to and hear from God. Instead of making every effort to eliminate sinful influence, I need to draw near to the influence of my Father. I have spent much of my life trying not to mess up, to fail. Instead, God desires me to rest in Him. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds of the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) The connection is a relationship with the Spirit, the God of the Universe who lives inside me. Choosing to take off the nature of sin is then replaced with putting on life in Christ. My sin has been taken care of, but not because I am a moral good person. I am wretched and my flesh runs from God. But only in receiving His grace, extended to all mankind, did I become free. Peace fills my heart because my sin is dealt with and the law (which shows me when I have sinned) has been fulfilled.

On my way home

Sitting at the airport after being away from home for so long is excruciating. It is almost as if I can see my family and reengage life as it was meant to be. However, what stands before me is a long flight filled with bumps, delays, people I don’t know and some I do. There will be times when food is served, water is plentiful and possibly even a diet coke. Other times I will feel parched and frankly the restrooms just aren’t comfortable. We will be marched through business class and from a distance glance toward those who ride in the most style. At times, especially when attempting to sleep, I will long for that comfort.

During the early hours of the morning, caught between 30 minute naps, I know I will long for the comfort but jammed into coach with just enough leg space to gently press into the seat in front, I will attempt to sleep. How I long for comfort…

Life is not much different. It is often a long flight succumb to the will of many around you. Some will make noise while others quietly ignore you. At times, you are blessed with abundance and at times you will be parched. No matter what section or seat you have, we so often want one that is just above that seat. As life moves along and seems to become more complicated, we long for more comfort. it is easy to forget the point of the journey. The flight isn’t really about me at all. I am merely a passenger. I have been placed in my seat for a reason, to influence those around me. Being consumed with the quest for a better space and more comfort distracts me from the reason I’m flying. I can easily make it about me, with the best motivations.

So how do I learn to be content with my seat? Well, I think it begins by taking my headphones off and simply looking to my left and right. I don’t want the middle seat but really, it provides the best place to influence others. I don’t want to ride in coach but then again, I am surrounded. I guess I am learning to look again. I am learning to listen again to the stories of others waiting for the right moment to introduce them to the God who can change their story. Their story needs to change and then we both can turn to the other passengers and keep the story moving. It has worked for thousands of years and it is God’s way. He chooses me and you.

I’m on my way home and it is a microcosm of my real journey. May we all tell our story, His story well.