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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesdays with Morrie (3): I Promised to Keep in Touch

       
   Mitch Albom confesses that for 17 years he lost contact with his former professor. At his graduation he promised his teacher, Morrie Swartz, that he would stay in touch. He did not. He laments,
“In fact, I lost contact with most of the people I knew in college…The years after graduation hardened me into someone quite different from the strutting graduate who left campus that day headed for New York City, ready to offer the world his talent.”

                How many of us have been guilty of the same thing? We promise to stay in touch with people we think we should at the time. But, life’s circumstances and the demands of job, home, school, etc. drive a wedge between our good intentions and the fulfilling of our promises.

                Why is this so important?

                Keeping promises eliminates guilt. We all have done this. Whenever you think of a person, you know you need to communicate with them, but you put it off. Guilt has a strange way of operating off of compound interest: guilt ignored produces more guilt. We find out that when we fail to stay in touch, good memories are replaced with a burdened conscience that feels like a backpack full of rocks.

                Staying in touch validates relationships. Nothing is more important in the world than people. Think about what Christ died for: not programs, but people. Not money, but people. Not power, prowess or prestige, but people. When we keep our word and stay in touch with people, it validates those relationships. There are wonderful blessings and benefits that accrue both ways between friends when relationships are tended to!

                Staying in contact keeps priorities straight. Mitch reveals in his own life that the demands of chasing his dreams, and the demands of deadline-oriented career made him forget some very important people in his life. Once we are caught up in the web of “the tyranny of the urgent,” we are spun into a cocoon  of our own making that becomes a straightjacket binding us to a selfish existence. We forget about others, and our priorities in view of others and eternity gets all messed up.

                Have we followed up on our own promises of staying in touch?


In Christian love, Curtis

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tuesdays with Morrie

It seems that every year during vacation I pick out a book to read. This year it was Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Mitch is a famous sports writer with the Detroit Free Press. Morrie was Mitch’s college professor and mentor. They both connected back up after 16 years absence when Mitch found out that Ted Koppel on Nightline was having an interview with Morrie because he was slowly dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. This book is the weekly visits on Tuesday that Mitch had with his old professor.

This book was originally published in 1997. I have the 2007 edition with Mitch’s Afterward in it. Nancy and I both read it to each other while traveling in the car during our vacation. Mitch presents his weekly conversations as a final test, a final thesis, to be turned in and the lessons learned during the intense and emotional conversations.

The book is at once easy to read and hard to read. Easy—because snapshots of the past are woven into present narrative and conversation. Hard—because heart, personal memories and fears, are all drawn out for each reader with their raw edge of harsh reality.

Over the next few weeks I want to draw ideas and quotes from this best seller. I will reflect on them with relevant observations.

To get us started, I want to reflect on part of the title. The book is entitled…Tuesdays with Morrie: An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lessons. It is published by Broadway Books out of New York.

“Life’s greatest lessons.” If you could take time and share with someone younger than yourself about life’s greatest lessons, what would you share? When you begin talking about life’s greatest lessons, several dynamics come into play.

First, life’s greatest lessons are hard won and blood bought, so to speak. The reason they are lessons is because they come at a price. It is from the University of Hard Knocks that one receives his or her degree. Those hard knocks are the harsh reality of life that cannot be ignored.

Second, life’s greatest lessons are akin to the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. They speak of practical wisdom,  understanding God’s providential hand in the learning process. Wisdom gained from life shapes and molds one’s character, which is God’s divine intent for each human being.

Third, some of life’s hardest lessons  become part of the process of divine discipline. The big question here is, “Am I willing to learn from life’s experiences, and allow my heart, mind and soul to be shaped into a Christ-like character?”

Find you a copy and join me in this journey over the next few weeks!


In Christian love, Curtis