Thursday, February 26, 2015

Individualism and the Church

There is an old story that hi-lights the irony of individualism. It goes like this: an ordinary guy gets mistaken for a great religious leader. A large crowd gathers outside his house, wanting to hear him teach. Surprised to see the crowd, the man tries to correct them: “Look, you’ve got it all wrong…you don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You need to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.” The crowd responds by shouting in unison: “Yes, we’re all individuals!” The reluctant leader tries to correct them again: “You’re all different!” The crowd responds: “Yes, we’re all different!” Then, interrupting the crowd, one crowd member disagrees: “I’m not (different).” The surrounding crowd quickly tells the man to be quiet. The lone voice claiming to not be an individual is instructed to chant about individualism with the crowd.

There lies the problem of over emphasizing individualism. The moment you promote it as a group, you lessen the autonomy of the individual. The group decides what individualism looks like and therefore undermines individualism (for the sake of individualism).

Christianity steers clear of such irony. For Christians, the way to be the individual God made you to be is to play your part in the body of Christ. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul tells the church that God gives individuals all types of unique gifts and abilities. These gifts have a purpose: edify the church. Paul writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” So, Christians readily accept that our individualism is connected to Christian community.

As you worship this morning, recognize that God has given you unique gifts and abilities for the sake of His body. Use those gifts for the sake of Jesus’ church. Bless your brothers and sisters. Encourage them. Invest in their gifts. As you do, you will enjoy fellowship with God's people. You will also be growing into the unique individual God intends you to be.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Huddle Up and Love Your Neighbor

In college, a couple of guys recruited me to play on an intramural football team. They promised that our team would be great. They recruited several guys who had won awards playing high school football. I joined and looked forward to the game.

I showed up on game day and found my teammates. Everyone was there, except for the two guys who had recruited me to play. The people who had the idea to put the team together were nowhere to be found.

We huddled up and tried to organize ourselves. As I waited for direction, I looked around the huddle. I realized everyone was looking at me. They were waiting for me to give them direction. Though I hadn’t asked for the responsibility, I was given it.  I was put in charge.

In life, there are times when we are given authority and responsibility. Often, the stakes are much higher than a game.  We have to figure out what to do with our new found influence.  We may not have asked for it. We may not have expected it. But, there are times we are given it regardless.

The scriptures offer some direction for times like that. It is simple and important direction.  This is it: use the authority you have been given for the greatest benefit of others. When people look to you for direction, leverage authority for their greatest benefit (as one pastor puts it).

In the scriptures, Jesus teaches His people to love their neighbors as themselves. That includes situations where we are the most influential person in the room. We use our influence for our neighbor’s greatest benefit, treating them the way we would like to be treated.

The next time you look around life’s huddles and realize everyone is looking to you, remember the teachings of Jesus. Love your neighbor. Use your authority for their greatest benefit. As you do, you will find great satisfaction in the people around you. You’ll also find yourself honoring Jesus Christ – which is the greatest victory of all.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Master of a Re-Masterpiece

The famous artist Raphael painted a masterpiece in the 16th century. The painting is called the Madonna del Cardellino and depicts the Mother Mary with her son Jesus and John the Baptist. Over the years, the prized artwork was damaged in an earthquake, shattering into 17 different pieces. People tried to repair the art by nailing it together, patching tears, and painting over cracks. Coupled with the dust and grime that accumulated over the centuries, the beauty of Rachael’s original was lost.

In the late 1990’s, a team of fifty art experts attempted to restore the painting. It took them ten years and all the advantages of the latest technology. The results are incredible: the dirt and grime are gone. Old patches and paints covering the original picture have been cleaned away. Cracks and tears vanished. The finished product looks the way Raphael intended it to look.

The neat thing about the Madonna del Cardellino is that the restoration of the artwork is as impressive as the artwork itself. The skill and ability used to restore the painting deserves to be celebrated as much as the creation of the piece. What had been lost was brought back to life by the incredible skills and abilities of a team. Art lovers will be forever grateful.

In a way, the masterful restoration of that masterpiece illustrates the graceful work of Jesus Christ. God’s masterpiece has been broken, dirtied and obscured by sin and death. Over the centuries, the original beauty of God’s creation has become almost unrecognizable. But, in Jesus, God undertook the restoration project to end all restoration projects. God’s masterpiece will be restored and the restoration work itself will be as impressive as the masterpiece He created.

As you go through the coming week, praise the Lord who is restoring your life. He is not only deserving of praise for the beauty of His creation. He is also deserving of praise for the beauty of His RE-creation. In praising the God of the restoration, you will marvel at the glories of the master – and not just the masterpiece.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Loving Your Enemy and the Family of God

When I was a kid, I had a mortal enemy.  His name was Jeremy.  Jeremy lived next door and proved to be a formidable foe.  He stole my bike, broke my toys, ratted me out to my parents, and even beat me up once.  Many times, I shook my fist in the air and thought, “You’ll get yours Jeremy.  You’ll…get…yours!”   I behaved very badly, doing everything I could to make sure Jeremy got his.

When I turned eight, my family moved away and I thought I was rid of Jeremy.  But, years later, he began dating my cousin.  They married and had a little boy.  Years after that, their boy served as the ring bearer in my wedding.  All said and done, my nemesis had become a shirttail relative!

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His people to love their enemies.  I wish I had known that as a kid.  Loving Jeremy (instead of hating Jeremy) would have made things a lot less awkward when we became kin.  I wouldn’t have to apologize for all the bad behavior.

While that is a funny coincidence, there is a lesson there.  It is this: love your enemies...because Jesus Christ is inviting your enemies into the family of God.  Your enemies could very well become members of the faith.  When they do, you could spend an eternity seated right next to them at a heavenly banquet.  You might save yourself an awkward moment then, by loving them now.

As you go through the coming week, take time to love your enemies.  Pray for those who have wronged you.  Forgive those who aren’t asking for forgiveness.  Be gracious with those who hurt you.  As you do, you won’t waste time shaking your fist in the air, thinking, “You’ll get yours.”  You may just be mending a relationship with a future family member!