descending into the abyss

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Ephesians 4:4-13; MSG

Abyss carries with it the idea of bottomless, like there’s no end to the evil and danger present. Christ is said to have descended to the lowest depths, afterwards ascending to the highest heights, this especially clear in Philippians 2:1-11, And so Christ lived and lives by the Spirit where we live, and gives us the gift and gifts to enable us to live in the same depths in which he lived. Though of course never to the same extent, since Jesus took upon himself the full brunt of evil in order to release the full flow of God’s goodness, someday to be experienced completely in the new heaven and new earth when God makes all things new.

This is an encouragement to me, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the trouble, and all that can go wrong and sometimes does. But God is present with us in Jesus, and gives us all we need to not only weather the storm, but glorify God in it. And that together, not just the gift he gives each one of us, though that indeed is important. But the gifts given to all for the benefit of all.

God will help us weary worn ones through this weary, worn world, as we are intent in following Christ come what may. God will see each and everyone of us through, together. In and through Jesus.

in Christ trumps all

Yesterday there was an especially good post, an apology from Jonathan Storment to Donald Miller with reference to the post Storment did in response to Miller’s post that he rarely goes to church. It is a post worth reading, putting Miller’s problem in context so that I myself can see that if I were in Miller’s shoes, church attendance would be something more, and really something less than what is is supposed to be.

I heard of one big time NFL quarterback who would get to the megachurch just in time for the service, sitting in the back, and would leave either immediately after, or before the end of the service. Otherwise he would have been buried just because of who he was.

In Christ we’re all on the same level. Whether the president of the United States or some floor sweeper in some lowly obscure job or someone homeless who lives in the street. In Christ we are one, one body in him. Stations of life, putting it in today’s terms, positions of power and influence make no difference there, or at least that should be the case in church life.

As Storment notes in his post, churches used to and still can make special efforts to see that this is so. In some ways this might be much easier for a liturgical church. You have your liturgy with a sermon and at or toward the end, the Lord’s Table. But in any church this can and should be practiced. So that the celebrity blends in with everyone else. They have their special place and it may end up being a rather prominent one. I recall President Jimmy Carter regularly teaching Sunday School in his Baptist church. But everyone blends in together. This would be a challenge for any church, as well as for the one who is so marked out, but it is one that we should be willing and committed to carry.

And so at least look at this post, and better yet take a little time to read it.  Pointing us to life in a kingdom in which the first will be last and the last first, and where a little child will lead them.

community in Jesus: a life and death matter

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In Christ we are members together of one body, Christ being the head. While we can talk about a universal, global church, most of the time in the New Testament, each local church is the body of Christ, in itself. This analogy presses home both the relationship we have with Christ and from that with each other. It is not the case that we all get our sustenance from the head and then everything is good. In God’s will and working Christ’s body depends not only on the head, but on the “work” of “each part.”

Early on in the history of the church, the church took on a ceremonial sacramental understanding of participation in the body of Christ. What came to the fore was the essential need to partake of Christ’s body and blood through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, in the bread and the wine. What was likely the case in the beginning, actual meals, was now about a ceremonial, sacramental practice.

In this sacrament through the partaking of the bread and the wine, the faithful partake of Christ. The church in its teaching made this essential for salvation, even if grace has been extended to those who either don’t believe in “the real presence” in the bread and the wine, or don’t practice the ordinance. I personally have no problem calling the Lord’s Supper a sacrament. I believe that through the Spirit the Lord is especially present during such times. However I wonder if unwittingly we can lose out on the aspect of sharing in Christ through our actual participation in him with each other. Not only is there a vertical aspect, but a horizontal one as well. We go on as best we can essentially by ourselves, of course in relationship with God through Christ, hardly touching the aspect the passage (quoted above) is referring to. We don’t experience much at all of the ministry of the body through the head. So much of the time it is more the case that we get what we can and go on, not really expecting much if anything in the way of ministry to each other. That does not necessarily follow, but I think it most often is the case, at least to some degree.

The danger in emphasizing what I want to emphasize here, is that we can simply try to minister, or probably better put, serve each other, apart from the needed emphasis on a relationship with Christ. On the other hand we may also simply be satisfied with getting what we think we need from the Lord himself, and minimize with a shrug of our shoulders, the need to give and receive in relationship with others. None of us will arrive on this, and perhaps we are weak one way or another, even both ways (“vertically” and “horizontally”). But God in his grace in Jesus continues his good work, even though it will suffer as a result of our lack of understanding and participation.

I believe this is a life and death matter. Christianity is essentially organic in the sense of a living union by the Spirit to Christ, which consists of all who belong to Christ being joined to each other, especially to be worked out in local settings. We all suffer much when this is not practiced. And this analogy of Christ’s body is not merely for itself, but for the world. We in Christ are Christ’s body for each other and for the world.

is it about individuals, or about community?

I have a theory which may at best end up something toward a maxim, meaning something that is true at times. But the theory simply stated is something like this: When a local church sees itself as the group of everyone present, in other words, when the church sees itself as the people of God in Jesus committed to their gathering and work (of course this involves worship, edification, etc.), then community comes to the fore. But when a church is focused on a leader, or a few leaders, the dynamic of community can dissipate, and perhaps all but disappear. It becomes the good work of a few which others benefit from.

That was probably rather crudely put. I think the most healthy churches are those that are quite interactive with bustling activity which is rooted in relationships, first to the Lord, and then to each other, and out of that to their neighborhood and world. Too many churches I suppose particularly in America, seem dependent on a superstar who if not present, makes the gathering seem not as good, or even second rate. Of course even in those cases the Spirit can work so that perhaps even more is accomplished when they are away. But generally speaking, I think this could be a problem.

Does it have to be that way? I don’t at all think so. But I also think that the best leaders will model leadership in a way which promotes the working of the Spirit through the body of Christ. There may be common steps as to how that may be done, but I think those gifted as overseers or set apart in positions such as elder or deacon especially need to pray and lead in such a way that somehow all are involved, or feel a part of God’s work, what God is doing.

It is hard to describe what I’m trying to get at, and exactly how it works out will differ since every community is composed of different people and therefore, different giftings. What might be easier to describe is what we want to avoid. A place which is dependent on only a few. In which many attend, Sunday after Sunday, but don’t contribute anything in the way of their gifting either that day or during the week. I am afraid that such fellowships will dry up and wither and die over time.

Now any church may have strong leaders, and in fact most churches do. A healthy church will likely have a pastor, or pastors along with leaders (perhaps teachers, etc.) who are gifted and do their work well, and are appreciated, even looked up to. But in those healthy churches, those same pastors and leaders will much appreciate others in the body, and God’s presence and work through them.

Perhaps this is a post which unlike the posts I like to write is more theoretical and not so much built on revealed truth. But I do believe there is a dynamic, which I’m afraid is largely, or perhaps often missing from churches. The dynamic of a thriving, growing community, in which if someone wasn’t present, would not miss a beat, since the dynamic is a Spirit-driven body.

Do I mean that a church won’t miss a leader or leaders? No, of course not. And a healthy church will be glad when they return. But a healthy church I take it, is one that is at heart a community, and not about one or more leaders everyone depends on.

my own niche

I love our church, and I actually love past church experiences in different ways. In this post I am reflecting with a goal to thinking in terms of whatever time I have left to serve our Lord in the fellowship of his church in mission to the world. I wish someone early on would have tapped me on the shoulder and mentored me to be a teacher, perhaps in the church or in a professional setting, whether in a Christian institution or not. I have always seen myself as having a pastor’s heart. I will always love the memory of Pastor Bill Hesse, a present day Barnabas. I wish I would have remained with him and under his influence. I think I may have ended up being a pastor. I was not sufficiently rooted once I left the upbringing of my youth, the Mennonite church.

I would love to start a home group, maybe even plant a church along with others. It would be rather Anabaptist and charismatic in theology. One church may not fit all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches could somehow do that? That is just kind of a dream, I suppose.

Something I think is more solid than that: I would like to just keep on reading and reading and reading, hopefully in ways which will help not only myself, but others. And humbly serve the Lord in the fellowship of his church in different ways as opportunities arise. I would like to contribute somehow to the faith of the church along with others. Just as one member within the body of believers, the body of Christ. We all have our special contribution to make.

In the meantime I think I need to continue to read on and on. Something some years back I thought the Lord said to me (something like: “Read.”). From that I will continue to work, hopefully be led by the Spirit and be open to that leading much better. In the fellowship of God’s people, the church, together in Jesus for the world.

in place

If there’s one sure sign of a good, healthy church, it is that each and every member there has a special place. Each contributes to the whole, as well as receiving from the whole, from each other.

In that there is a healthy sense of both belonging and of mission, in and through Jesus. This is aptly likened to a human body, and indeed is called “the body of Christ.” Each has their gift, their part in the functioning and well being of the whole.

This is to be at work, I take it, especially in local churches, or regular gatherings of believers committed to the Lord and to each other.

Church has often been a gathering of the faithful to receive the word and the sacrament from the pastor or the priest. In that context it often seems to have little to do with the interplay and working of the body/group/members as a whole, and to the extent that is the case, such churches are missing out on the vision God’s word sets forth, particularly in the letters, especially in Paul’s.

While the analogy of body is particularly at play/work when the community is meeting together, surely it is not confined to that. The good works for other believers and people certainly should include this inter-working and partnership, as well.

This is a vision of community growing together into maturity in Christ, into the likeness of Christ. And it is one of mission; as this is lived out in love, God’s love in Jesus is made evident to the world.

And so we in Jesus are in this together for the world.

attention on Christ

We who follow Jesus can get quite caught up in godly and gifted persons in the church. We can even get caught up at times in God’s work in our own lives in such a way that we may think ourselves as special in a way that we’re not. There is always such a tension here, because in a sense we in Jesus are all gifts from God through Jesus by the Spirit, and we can and do take delight in God’s people. But we also know that all is a gift from God, that everything is of grace in and through Christ, that all the glory (and here, etc.) certainly goes to him. That strictly speaking, in and of ourselves we are always beggars, always in need of Christ. At the same time, being clothed with Christ in baptism, we are one with him, and becoming more and more like him, as well as gifted by the Spirit for good works for Christ’s body- the church and for the world.

The older I get the more I know that it is not about me, or because of me. It is about Christ; he is the theme: the way and the truth and the life. By faith we are taken up into him, and we enjoy that. But we’re like little children finding our way in all the Father’s gifts and gifting. It is a God-breathed existence, full of God’s love.

And so if our attention is ever turned in on ourselves as if we are the source of anything, then we’re off track, and we will (hopefully) figure that out soon enough. We do live in God’s love, a love from which we both love God and others in and through Christ.

finding one’s niche

We all have our place in the world, in Christ in the body of Christ and in mission. It is a community effort to be sure, but it is made up of individuals in community.

Finding one’s niche means we each have something to do, something to contribute. Sometimes I wish I could contribute in this and that way. I wish I was studied in this or that, or could do some of the same kinds of work I see others doing. Even just in contributing along the same lines.

But I find that we do well to see what’s put in front of us, how the Lord has been leading us, what he’s given us to do, and then doing that. However humble it might be.

We each have our part from God in Christ by the Spirit, and we do this as part of the whole, the community in Christ. Together in him for the world.

what is a pastor?

John Frye has a helpful series going on over at his blog, considering what a pastor is. I think without oversimplifying the issue, he is hitting on something which I think about as well from time to time. Considering just what a pastor is, or the whole concept of pastor in this day.

I used to sense a call to be a pastor, but I was too unsettled in life I suppose, trying to find where I fit, indeed even trying to find where my own feet fit on the ground. Interestingly enough for me I think the place I most fulfilled this perceived calling from God was in a fellowship which doctrinally was farthest removed from where I am. I was an elder and did some teaching, maybe a message or two of preaching (aside from my regular nursing home ministry) and simply enjoyed the people there, trying to be present for them. Of course we had a pastor, and he was a good pastor as far as trying to teach and preach faithfully the word, as well as seeking to be present and accessible to the sheep.

I scratch my head over what the church does today, as well as over what people, including those with influence in the church, think a pastor is. Boards consist of those who are competent on worldly terms. Maybe the hierarchy of a denomination either dictates that, or suggests it. Within a context where there is close association and a certain amount of dependency so that it may be indeed hard to buck the trend.

A pastor is this or that, in some kind of professional understanding within some kind of model which seems removed from the New Testament, at least to me. Of course no two pastors will be alike, and we should not expect that. Everyone is gifted differently, and as one pastor, Charles Swindoll discovered in his own life, which set him free, each one simply needs to learn to be themselves in the Lord and by the Spirit. But what essentially is a pastor?

A pastor is one of the group listed in Ephesians 4 consisting of apostles, prophets and evangelists, and pastor-teachers (fits Greek, see Klyne Snodgrass). They are given by Christ for the church, to build it up, equipping God’s holy people so that God’s holy people will do the work of the ministry. Certainly not exactly in line with what has been embedded in our own tradition, the people expecting the pastor to do the work of the ministry, in large part by tending to them.

John Frye aptly takes us to John 10 to understand what a pastor is in terms of the good pastor himself, Jesus. Of course pastor can also be translated, “shepherd.” In our non-agrarian culture shepherding and sheep are not known. Jesus is said to be the gate of the sheep, that they go in and out and find pasture, that he has come that they may have life, and have it to the full. That he knows them each by name, he takes a personal interest in them; indeed the Shepherd and the sheep know each other. That he lays down his life for his sheep. And that he has other sheep who are not in this fold who he must also bring in, so that there will be one flock along with the one shepherd.

Peter wrote of elders being undershepherds to the chief shepherd, Jesus. That they are to serve faithfully as such. And as Jesus told Peter, Peter was to both feed and take care of Jesus’ sheep. That is essentially what pastors are to do. They are to feed God’s people with the truth as it is in Jesus, from God’s word. And they are to take care of them, watching faithfully over them in love, being present to gently help them in the way of the Lord. To the end again that Paul brings out in Ephesians 4. That they might mature into the fullness no less of Christ himself, in love each one doing their work for each other, yes doing the work of the ministry.

So much more should be said from this. This is something of the basics of what a pastor is as I understand it. Again I used to have the sense of a special calling from God in this, but over time I lost heart. I couldn’t overcome a deep inward sense of being troubled in terms of certain lies Satan had been able to work in my mind stemming from earlier times and occurrences I never got over. I wish this or that would have been true, but I need to be thankful for the good that was present and how God did work in my own life to bring me to where I presently am.

We need to pray for our pastors, and stand by them. Not criticize them week after week, but instead encourage them. At the same time holding on to what scripture teaches pastoring actually is, in line with the good and chief pastor himself, Jesus. Together in him for the world.