Saturday, January 31, 2009

I want to be a part of a church...

In recent weeks, Ronnie and I have been thinking a lot about the specific characteristics we desire to find in a church. We've talked about it, prayed about it, argued about it, and even dreamt about it. This afternoon, as I meditated on God's goodness and where we are in his plan, I wrote out the following thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. These are not all-encompassing, but for where we are right now, these make up the deepest cries of our hearts as we look forward to joining the people of God in another local context. These are the longings of our souls put into words.

I want to be a part of a church…

Where I am in real relationship with my fellow-disciples, so that I know others and am known by them, as well.

Where I am expected to extend grace to all and where I can expect to receive grace, as well. Where weakness is accepted, where love covers a multitude of sins, where tolerance is offered when disagreements arise.

Where I am expected to confess my sins and receive forgiveness, even as I hear the confessions of others and offer forgiveness in return.

Where I am held responsible for the bearing of good fruit, the evidencing of the fruit of the Spirit, and the production of “good works,” without which faith is dead.

Where my place of service is determined by the gifting of the Holy Spirit and the needs within the congregation, and not by my age or gender.

Where I am expected to give sacrificially, not because God needs my money, or others need my charity, but because I have more than enough for my needs and the dangers of wealth and comfort, preached by Christ, are very real.

Where I am challenged to think deeply about my faith, both theoretically and practically; never allowed to remain content for the Scripture to be my friend, but also to be my adversary, as well.

Where the call to intentional discipleship is central to the proclamation of the Good News, so that all are called to take up their cross daily and follow Christ.

Where the life of discipleship is not reduced to a checklist of dos and don’ts, but proclaimed and practiced to be about walking in the Spirit, pursuing love of God and love of others.

Where it is understood and proclaimed that God is making all things new, meaning that the effects of Christ’s redemptive work are understood to encompass all aspects of life: marriage, family, government, science, history, economics, business, technology, art, music, dance, and much more.

Where it is believed and practiced that all Truth is God’s Truth, wherever and in whatever form it is found.

Where worship is offered to God for who he is, shamelessly ascribing to him the greatness, goodness, and glory due his name, reminding disciples of their place in God’s world and plan.

Where as few stumbling blocks as possible are put in the way of people knowing Christ, but also where disciples do not apologize for the mysterious and sometimes puzzling truths of Christ.

Where the sacred rituals of the Christian faith, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are neither exalted above their place, nor emptied of their power, but practiced regularly, with a sense of participating in the worship of the one, holy, catholic church.

Where play, fun, and laughter are valued as integral parts of the abundant life in Christ.

Where children are valued. Where they are not merely hidden or entertained during worship, but encouraged to find their place in Christ’s community, however that works out in practice.

Where single and married disciples feel equally affirmed and valued, so that disciples are not made to feel incomplete without a partner, nor is marriage disdained or disrespected in the manner of our culture.

Where those who struggle with same-sex attraction can find love and acceptance, so that they are not defined by their temptation or denied the love of God because of it. But, instead, where they are offered the Good News of Christ and the abundant life of discipleship, which leads to God’s best life for all.

Where skeptics can safely voice their concerns, even if disciples cannot always provide the answers. And, where disciples do not shrink back from declaring truth, even when it is foolishness to the world.

Where the needs of the congregation and their families are known and addressed in practical ways, so that, as much as is possible, no one goes without essentials, whether food, shelter, clothing, security, or healthcare.

Where Scripture-focused thoughtfulness goes into the ethical ramifications of the Good News, impacting the way disciples view all manner of issues: abortion, capital punishment, incarceration, illegal immigration, torture, civil rights, war and peace, and much more.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Hymn for God's People

Ronnie and I are no longer employed by Liberty Heights Church. I'm not going to give details as to why, so please don't ask. This blog is not a place for discussions like that. Suffice it to say, we are confident in our decision, though deeply saddened by leaving. Even as I've faced the challenges these recent events present for us, I am also aware of the challenges before the people of God at LHC. God is good and he cares for his flock. I pray that Jesus would be lifted up among them. As I've prayed for them, the following hymn is brought to mind. May God's grace abound.

O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We’ll stand against the devil’s lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is “Love!”
Reaching out to those in darkness.

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev’ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

Come, see the cross where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen!
And as the stone is rolled away,
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This vict’ry march continues till the day
Ev’ry eye and heart shall see Him.

So Spirit, come, put strength in ev’ry stride,
Give grace for ev’ry hurdle,
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.

(Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music)