Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Practice of Renunciation

In ancient Christianity there was recognized a Christian discipline called “The practice of renunciation.” It was an intentional fight against temptations that the things and possessions of this world inherently posed as a threat against the Christian faith.
          Amma Theodora expressed it this way: “Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms, cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and without many trials and temptations we cannot obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven” [F. M. Young. (2007). Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing House; page 22].
          Standing up before the storm, in the form of trials and temptations—what a daily challenge! We prefer not to have to do that. But as Theodora so rightly points out, we know that facing the storm develops strength, fortitude and resiliency.
          The apostles James confirms this reality when he says, “ Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
          Not only is it hard to stand up before the storm, but James is so bold as to challenge us to do it with joy! Why is it this way? Notice the reason:
·        Testing of our faith produces perseverance
·        Perseverance finishes its work
·        So that we can be mature and complete

Our faith-walk in maturity and completeness demands facing trials and temptations! This is the reason for such joy. We have the ability to perceive the eventual outcome and the blessings of facing many different kinds of trials. James and Theodora nowhere indicate it has to feel good at the moment! But, the eventual outcome is so rich and so formative that we would desire no other way to live! In Christian love, Curtis

Friday, June 16, 2017

Joint-Heirs with Christ

Paul says: “The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).
When we start living according to this truth, our lives will be radically transformed. We will not only come to know the full freedom of the children of God but also the full rejection of the world. It is understandable that we hesitate to claim the honor so as to avoid the pain. But, provided we are willing to share in Christ’s suffering, we also will share in his glory (see Romans 8:17).
            The above thoughts are provided by the Christian writer, Henri J. M. Nouwen. It brings to the forefront of our awareness who we really are. Our inheritance is our present possession now! That is why we are the richest people on the face of the earth.
            I  have no idea how the Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are indeed the children of God! But the awareness that this is happening daily is a gospel blessing that goes largely unrecognized in the Christian community. Think of how this helps us in our daily living as a Christian.
            When I feel like I have no inheritance, and there appear to be no blessings in sight because my daily life has become so chaotic, painful and desperate, I can go forward in the faith that the Spirit himself is still bearing witness as to who I am.
            This means that my external situations and frustrations and anxieties do not define my spiritual childhood with God, nor does it negate and take away my inheritance as a joint-heir with God and with Christ.
            Another astounding aspect of all this is, that in our own suffering we share in the suffering of Christ. The pain of life helps me appropriate the pain of Christ’s suffering which is mysteriously and divinely appropriated toward making me more like Him.
            Being a child of God, with Spirit’s testimony, and being a joint-heir with my inheritance being enjoyed now redemptively transforms the pain in my life. Being open to God’s providential working in the world, my commitment to a faith walk with God says that I will open up my pain for others to see the glory of God working through it all to transform me to be more and more like Christ.
            What a blessing to be a joint-heir! And, I wonder how those of us who are in Christian leadership roles understand our being a joint-heir with  Christ, and do we embody the joy of our inheritance for others to see?

In Christian love, Curtis

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

“Eye-Service” and People-Pleasers

Being a people-pleaser can be exhausting. What one soon learns is that the more you try to please people, or even a certain person, the less successful at that venture you become! The Christian faith was never devised by God to be lived on the surface, seeking to please people with “eye-service.”

            This word for people-pleaser that the apostle Paul uses in Ephesians 6:6, “eye-service,” is only used this once in all of the New Testament. “Eye-service” is a good translation of ophthalmodoulian, which is a compound word made up of two words put together—eye + service. What does this mean?

            “Eye-service” has the basic and root idea of doing only what pleases other people, “it is labor when the master is present, but relaxing and laziness as soon as he is  gone” (Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, 1998, p. 446). It literally carries the idea of service under the master’s eye. One writer expresses it this way: “…For the master’s eye usually stimulates to greater diligence; his absence, on the other hand, renders sluggish.”

            Paul does not address the systemic issue of slavery as to whether it is moral or not. Instead, the gospel demands that those servants who are Christians care about the quality of their work. They are not to be shirkers, claiming that their new life of grace gives them freedom to do whatever they want. Rather, they are to work as to the Lord Jesus Christ. The risen Lord is their true Master!

            A lot of lessons are imbedded in this admonition that can apply to us nearly 2,000 years later. We work for the Lord, not our bosses. This means “eye-service” is not an option. We work hard regardless of who is watching. This kind of work ethic is what commends the gospel to those who do not know Jesus. Our sincere, hard-working, authentic lifestyle of living and being accountable to Jesus, the higher moral ground, will commend the good news to those who are not Christians. May God give us the daily motivation to live like this all of the time!

In Christian love, Curtis

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Biblical Basis for Small Groups in the Church

As far back as 1996 Darrin Kennedy offered the following caution in regard to small groups: “The church today should not have small groups simply because the early church had them”[Kennedy, Darin. (1996,  Third Quarter). “A Theology of Small Groups.” Restoration Quarterly 38.3: 175-183. He bases this caution on other simplistic attempts at reproducing the early church in the twentieth and twenty-first century with the practices of foot-washing, women having their heads  covered, etc.

We have to admit that it is not an easy thing deciding on what congregational life needs to look like in order to reflect the life of the church in the first century.

The thing I like most about Kennedy’s caution is that he follows it up with a solid biblical reason to have small groups that is based on two things: the biblical concept of community, and the biblical identity of election. This means that small groups are not pursued because it is the best pragmatic decision to make the church grow. Rather, small groups are offered as place to experience community and identity. I cannot think of a stronger case to make for the existence of and offering of small groups by a congregation for its members!

Small groups perhaps are akin to small house churches in the first century. Therein perhaps lies a potential disadvantage that seems to scare people off—being that close-knit means that too many other people are going to know about my business!

This fear does not come from a heart that is pursuing Jesus. Fear of being known is a radical, rugged individualistic value that is diametrically opposed to Christian community. The only way that I can grow spiritually is to let others know me as I am. After all, the basic stance of the Christian life is to be known by God (See Galatians 4:9). The natural outcome of that is to let each of us know one another.

Small groups are perhaps the best format to implement meaningful “one another” religion. We really do need one another to live out our life of faith. Paul greets his readers at the end of his letter to the Colossians by saying, “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house” (Colossians 4:15).  It seems that the church met from house to house in many cities of the first century. In this context two things were solidified: community and identity.

May we all here at Highland View pursue those opportunities of community and identity where we seriously live out our Christian calling!

In Christian love, Curtis

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Maybe I am Not Ready Yet…!

            This week I came across the following personal confession of a Christian writer: “Maybe I am not ready yet to suffer for the Kingdom of God. My heart is too impure, my soul too divided, my love too fragile.”

            Suffering for the kingdom of God is something we would rather not think about. But recent news events have forced the thoughts upon us. For too long, perhaps, we have tried to separate any form of suffering being related to faithfulness in the kingdom. Especially if we are thinking about undeserved suffering.

            But in the quote above we are made aware that perhaps it is our heart, soul and love that are not ready for this level of acceptance and commitment. It is a topic that is touched on in Scripture. In fact, nearly 150 times it is mentioned by various biblical writers.
            Perhaps the one Scripture passage that hits home on this topic is the following one in the Book of Revelation:

            “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10).

          The apostle John, while in exile on Patmos, is instructed to write this message to the angel of the church in Smyrna. He begins by counseling his readers from that city to not be afraid of what they are about to suffer. That gets at the heart of it all. We who are Christians must daily ask God, Christ and the Spirit to strengthen our faith and not let any kind of fear to debilitate us.

            Spiritual persecution is pictured by John as the devil putting some of them in prison to test them. They are counseled to be faithful, even to the point of death. As a direct result of that faithfulness, a victor’s crown will be given them in the form of eternal life with God—a present and future presence with Sovereign God.

            Are we ready yet to suffer for the Kingdom of God? Christians in other parts of the world already are suffering at the point of giving their lives. May our hearts be made more pure, our souls more undivided in our commitment, and our love stronger so that when the time comes we will be ready to lay our lives down for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the kingdom of God!

In Christian love, Curtis

Monday, August 18, 2014

What is the Church?

 Recently Dr. Wendell Willis shared his frustration with his students at Abilene Christian University who do not share his passion for the New Testament teaching about the church (see his article: “The Erosion of Community—A Challenge to the Church,” Christian Studies No. 25, 2011-2012; pages 9-19). Even though many of the students would be characterized as committed believers at some level, most do not have a solid belief about the church, “nor do they see a need for one” (p. 9).

            It raises a fundamental question: does the church exist to cater to my felt needs and keep me happy, or does the church exist as a visible community for me to be committed to as the ongoing work of God? This question frames the “continental divide” for us regarding the nature of the church. Our culture has deeply ingrained in all of us that institutions, organizations and groups exist to meet all of our needs. This supersedes any thought of my committing myself to serve in such a setting.

            I am especially intrigued with the first two occurrences of the word “church” (ekklesia) in the New Testament. They are both in the Gospel of Matthew (16:18 & 18:17). The first reference talks about the nature and power of the church, and the second reference points out the key role that church has in the reconciliation of relationships. The church is built upon a confessional recognition of Jesus as Lord, and even death itself cannot prevent this community of faith forming. Additionally, this community of faith is the context where reconciliation occurs because of the initial reconciling work of God in Christ for that community to start with! What a place to start with our ideas regarding the nature and need for the church!

In Christian love, Curtis

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Meeting God [1]

Christian faith travels a continuum. It goes from believing about, to believing in, to believing together. Sometimes this “believing together” is spoken of in the Scriptures in two ways: meeting God and covenant faithfulness.
            In the Old Testament Moses goes up into the mountain to meet God. In that meeting Moses is given the Ten Commandments. Joshua tells the entire congregation of Israel to get ready to meet God the next day to worship Him.
            Probably the most well known expression of this is found in the Psalms.
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

        God created each one of us to have a deep thirst for Him. Only the Living Waters from the Living God can quench the thirst of my living soul. The Psalmist is so sensitive and aware of this inner reality that he asks the question regarding the next time he can go and meet with God?

            Traditionally, in the history of Christian thought this question has been answered by recognizing the various ways we can meet God. They are listed as follows:
1.     Meeting God in Prayer
2.     Meeting God in Service
3.     Meeting God in the Assembly of Worship
4.     Meeting God in the Created Order
5.     Meeting God in Scripture
6.     Meeting God in the Community of Faith
7.     Meeting God in Everyday Life
8.     Meeting God in Mystical Moments

Starting in next week’s bulletin, we will look at each of these 8 ways to meet God. How have you answered this question lately: “when can I go and meet with God?”

In Christian love, Curtis