Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Divorce?

Currently, on Sunday mornings at Willow Community Church, we are looking at the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Matthew which covers just about everything Jesus said and taught while on earth. Every pastor must decide if he should present topics of a controversial nature or just pass by them in light of lesser difficult topics. Each pastor must adhere to both Biblical and doctrinal standards on every teaching whether it is popular or not, so it would make sense to some pastors to overlook something that might seem hard to talk about, let alone deliver a message to people in order to effect change. When I made the choice to follow God's calling to preach through the book of Matthew, I knew I would have to talk about the stuff that I really didn't want to. That is why my personal purpose statement is, "To preach the Word of God whether is is comfortable or not."

That is why I love how Jesus handled the very difficult topic of divorce as presented here in Matthew 19:1-12:

The pharisees really didn't like much of anything that Jesus said or did, especially when those things directly challenged a current trend that they liked or didn't like. In the case of divorce, there were two different schools of thought; 1)A man could divorce his wife for any reason as long as he gave her a written document stating that she was in, in fact, divorced, or 2) A man could only divorce if his wife had been unfaithful in an adulterous relationship. If Jesus came down on the side of #1, the pharisees could easily say that He was watering down the original meaning Moses gave for allowance of divorce just to appeal to the people He was ministering to. If He came down on the side of #2, the people would have been very upset because divorce was very, very common and no one likes to be told they are wrong. The pharisees actually thought they had Jesus in an impossible situation.

Look what Jesus did; He turned the question back on them and started talking about the original intent of marriage instead of the allowance for divorce. That was awesomely brilliant! He gave them the Old Testament background for the institution of marriage and what it was intended for in the first place! He went right back to the very source, the Old Testament Scriptures, that He knew no one could argue with.

He pointed out that marriage is between one man and one woman, bond together by God becoming one person that cannot be pulled apart. That's really the bottom line. We're going to talk at length about what "cannot pull apart" means in the next post, but for now, look at what the Bible says was the original intent of marriage as pointed out by Jesus and the Apostle Paul based on Scripture.

1) Procreation - Genesis 1:28 -Having Babies! Making more babies is making more potential worshipers!
2) Pleasure - 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 - Not to be inappropriate, but God gave us the physical feelings we have because He loves us. Think about your taste buds. God only needed to sustain us, He didn't have to give us a way enjoying our sustenance!
3)Purity - Hebrews 13:4 - There is no shame in the conjugal state. When two become one flesh, there is a closeness that cannot be replicated in any other relationship, physical or emotional. We are physical and emotional beings with physical and emotional needs and God gave us all we need to deal with those needs through the state of matrimony.
4) Provision - Ephesians 5:28-29 - Taking care of each other is both selfless and fulfilling. When you put someone else's needs before your own, you begin to think in less selfish tones.
5) Partnership - Genesis 2:18-25 - Giving Adam a helper was the reason God made Eve. He gave him another person for companionship, assistance, procreation and pleasure. Whoa! Man! What a gift!!
6) Picture - Ephesians 5:22-33 - Marriage is really the most beautiful picture of Intimacy ever painted. God always intended marriage to be symbolic of our relationship to Him through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. There is a sense of perpetuating our relationship with Jesus among others so that more people may find the intimacy Christians have with their Lord. There is has never been more pleasure in the mind of a human than knowing they are being pleasing to God. There is nothing more pure than to stand blameless before the Creator without the guilt of sin and shame. There is nothing more rewarding than to put your needs aside, if even for a short time, and help to provide for someone else in need as Jesus did when He went to the Cross for our greatest need. There is no better partner to accomplish more than we could ever have hoped for or imagined than in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is nothing more intimate than the relationship between a human being and the God who created him.

Next up... Divorce and Remarriage.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who and How?

I've talked a lot about vision. Maybe, just maybe, I've talked too much about vision. I guess I'm stuck on this point because there really doesn't seem any other way to describe how God moves His agenda along. Without giving His people an idea of who, why and how to expand His Kingdom, we would all just be in the throws of worship. Don't misunderstand my point; Christians are longing for the Day of the Lord when we will be judged unto righteousness and spend eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ enjoying Him forever, but that time begins when we are in the Kingdom of Heaven in Heaven. While we are in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, we must be about our Father's business.

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." This is the passage of Scripture Willow Community Church rallied around to bring our mission statement into focus. We struggled for hours and hours with what we need to be doing as a church. In fact, when we finally landed on this passage, there was a collective sigh! God had finally enlightened the Willow family with a vision to get His work started!

That was about two years ago. We still understand the we... Exist to Draw People to the Truth of Jesus Christ! We still rally around that war cry! We still feel energized and excited whenever we collectively state those awesome words! But, what does the statement really mean? As the pastor of Willow I think it means that we must do whatever is in our power to do in order to deliver the message of hope and love and peace to a people in tremendous need. Most likely, every regular attender of Willow would agree. Even you who are not from Willow would agree to a certain extent that churches should be going after the lost as Jesus did and that once you've reached them you must teach them as Jesus did.

Think about it though, can Willow Community Church, or any church, singlehandedly get the message out to every person in need? No. That would be impossible. I believe that Jesus is using churches all over the globe to do that. So, that leaves me with two simple but very important questions: 1) Just who are the People Willow is supposed to Draw to Jesus? 2) How is Willow supposed to Draw People to Jesus? (Notice that I didn't include the "why". If you need more clarity on why, just read the last 8 or so posts on this blog!)

I have some very certain thoughts in this area, but I would like some feedback from you before I say anything more about my answers to these questions. Please comment and let me know who you think your church should consider going after and how. This subject absolutely fascinates me, so the more replies the better!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His Church (Corporate # 2)

York, England

York Castle is an absolutely remarkable work of medieval construction. It is has everything that you would expect a castle to have: mote, watchtower, grand ball room, throne room, etc... But check this out; the foundation of this monstrosity was first laid in 1068 A.D.! What is even more remarkable is that it continued to be built, rebuilt and added on to up through the late 20th century. Think about it, this castle has had some kind of continuous construction for almost 1,000 years! The last major work to be done, was to knock down a few buildings built in the 1800's that were used for a prison. Now, the prison buildings that remain on the site are used as a museum to show visitors how the different owners over the last 900 plus years have each envisioned the use of such a unique land mark.

York Castle, or any other castle for that matter, is made up of millions of bricks piled, one on top of the other, to make up a huge amount of rooms. There are rooms of every size and for just about every occasion. Each room has a different decor to it depending on what it is used for, but each room is still a part of the same foundation as the rest of the castle. I like the progression of York because I can imagine how, over time, certain people, kings for instance, developed a different vision for a certain room and set about to change that room to fit their particular taste or function for that room. I also can see how sometimes there just wasn't a room suitable to change for the vision the king had, so a new room was added to what was already there, which meant that the foundation of the castle had to be extended. I can also imagine that there were just some pretty old parts of the castle that nobody wanted to go to or do anything with, so those parts fell into disrepair. Over the last 1000 years or so, York has been changed to look different than it's original shape and size, but it is still the same castle, just bigger.

I think the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is very much the same as York. The Foundation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God was laid over 2000 years ago. On that Foundation are many, many Bricks (The Followers) that make up many, many rooms of varying sizes and shapes. Each room is based on a vision from God given to one person (the Leader) who develops a plan to make that room what it should be (the Cause). Usually, the person blessed with the vision (The Leader) has an idea of what the final outcome will look like, but until the room is fully complete the vision will not be 100% clear. However, the room can not be built on the Foundation by only one person. It is built by a group of others (The Followers) who understand the vision for that room and have a vision of their own on how to best enhance it. Someone will have a vision for the heating and duct work that must be installed. Someone else will begin to see how they can use their gifts and talents to lay the flooring or install the electrical wiring. Someone else will develop a sense of vision for a color scheme in order to make the room attractive. And, just like York, while working on the vision of one person (The Leader), some individual (A Follower) may develop a vision for a different part of the castle. The person (now The Leader) then develops a plan to make that room what it should be (The Cause) and others (The Followers) begin to understand the vision for that room.

I believe that every church, missionary board, Christian rock band, Christian liberal arts college and the like are just different rooms built on the same Foundation. We all follow Jesus because we believe that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God. We are each given a vision of our own unique contribution to expanding the Kingdom while we follow the vision someone has for a certain country, state, city, neighborhood or people group until such a time a more definitive vision for something else becomes a little more clear. Look at it this way, I have a vision for Willow Community Church to Draw People to the Truth of Jesus Christ in Northwest Lansing, MI. I even have a pretty good idea of what that could look like in the not too distant future. While I share my vision with other Believers, some begin to see what their unique role might be to help accomplish my goals. While they work with me, they help me refine my vision and help bring that vision into sharper focus. Some even begin to develop a vision for a new ministry that wasn't a part of my original vision but could strongly enhance my vision. And, on occasion, some may sense Jesus giving them a vision for a different people group, neighborhood, community, state or country based on what they have seen and learned while working with me and the vision that I have.

You see, Jesus has a vision of seeing His Kingdom expanded. He has given each person what they need to do their part and has chosen to use people to manage His Kingdom in order to see more people come to the belief that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God! Every Christian, every church and every Christian organization has but one goal in mind and that is put more Bricks on the Foundation! And that is Corporate Vision!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His Church (Corporate)

8.8.08
The 2008 Olympic Games open on Friday night! My family will be complete and total TV bums! The thing that is so interesting about The Games is how our country becomes embroiled in seeing our athletes win as many contests as they can. Every single athlete that makes the team have visions of standing on the podium and receiving the the ultimate prize for all the hard work, training and God-given talent they have. All the athletes have a huge support/coaching staff that help them do their very best. Everybody has a role and everybody has one thing on their mind: Winning the Gold! The more medals USA wins, the more pride we collectively have as a nation. We have a corporate vision of kicking butt and waving our Flag!

The Church isn't so different. In fact, Jesus gave the apostle Peter a vision of leading a new ministry that would eventually become a world wide movement. That's an Individual Vision. Jesus also knew that there would be a lot of work to be done in order to build His Kingdom on Earth. He endowed the other 11 apostles and many, many other followers with talents, gifts and abilities to accomplish that goal. As discussed earlier, Jesus is in the business of people, so it would stand to reason that He would use people to manage the work that needs to be done with people. That's a Structural Vision. All the individual vision and leadership structure that was in place had just one thing to work toward, drawing more people into the Cause of building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. That's a corporate vision.

Just like all the countries that compete on the world stage of the Olympic Games have a vision to win more medals than any other country, the Church has a vision of winning more souls for Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Remember, the Church is not a building of brick and stone, it is a movement of people, Believers, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Each individual Believer has been given gifts, talents and abilities to help the Kingdom grow. Each group of Believers has to be managed in order to have some sort of structure because more can be accomplished in numbers than by individual effort. But... the effort of every individual or group of Believers is not to gain personal fame or glory, it is and always has been to see more people become Believers, or to build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Every Christian church, regardless of denomination or location exists to expand the Kingdom on Earth. Jesus makes it very clear that He came to seek and save the lost. To fulfill that purpose, He died and took the punishment for all of our sin. He did His job, but are we doing ours?

To Be Continued...