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    Elders' Blog - Entries from July 2017

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    WedWednesdayJulJuly26th2017 The Paradoxes of Church Membership
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Church Membership 1 comments Add comment

    If you’re a church member, have you ever stopped to think about how weird you are? Because you are. Very, very weird.

    But don’t take it personally. It really has nothing to do with you. (You’re totally normal. I promise.) Instead, the weirdness has to do with the nature of church membership itself.

    Most of us have probably joined a club. Or been a part of a family. Or played on a team. And so we might be tempted to assume that being a church member is roughly the same thing. But there’s really nothing quite like church membership.

    Although the uniqueness of church membership manifests itself in many ways, today I’d like to point your attention to just one aspect of that: the strangely paradoxical expectations to which church members find themselves called. Let me explain.

    One of the things we know about church members is that they must be submissive. God has appointed leaders over his church, and he expects those leaders to be followed, respected, honored, and obeyed. The church should not be a disordered group of rogues in which everyone is going their own way, doing whatever is right in their own eyes. Rather, there should be a unified spirit of humble submission.

    But at the same time, a church member must be discerning. Leaders are fallen, faulty human beings, just like everyone else. And this means that they can easily be wrong. They can abuse power. They can rebel against God. They can teach what is false. In such cases, being a church member means knowing how to identify a wayward leader and deciding when not to follow.

    Or consider another example. A church member is needy. You come into the community of faith with areas of spiritual immaturity. You lack wisdom and understanding. Your ability to follow Jesus is still developing. In some cases, you may even have physical, financial, or other practical needs. And the church should be a place where you can be honest about your needs and allow others to meet them.

    But there’s a paradox here, because a church member should also be generous. You have been given gifts to be used for the edification and encouragement of your brothers and sisters. You have been given resources that God expects you to share. Even though you have needs of your own, God calls you to proactively meet the needs of others. You give, even as you receive.

    One last example: A church member should be restful. At the very heart of Christianity is the idea that we do not earn our salvation. Instead, we cast ourselves upon mercy and rest in what Jesus has done on our behalf. This means that we don’t need to be at the church building every time the doors are open, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, feverishly trying to prove something to God or to others. Our work is done, and Jesus is the one who has done it.

    But church membership brings a responsibility to be active, as well. We can’t just sit on the sidelines while everyone else does the works of service and ministry that make the church tick. Laziness is not an option. God has given us a globe-sized task, and we shouldn’t slack off until that task has been accomplished. (And for those of you scoring along at home, note that this task still remains unfinished!)

    The point is that church membership requires a truly unique interplay between seemingly contradictory ideals. Submissive yet discerning. Needy yet generous. Restful yet active. (If you can think of more such paradoxes, leave them in the comments below!) To be a church member is not a simple task.

    What tends to happen, however, is that we like to embrace one side of the paradox while overlooking the other. We veer toward what is most comfortable or natural. We try to eliminate the complexity. We stick to what’s straightforward and simple.

    But although simplicity might be easy, it’s not what church membership is meant to be. To reduce your role as a church member to something one-dimensional or one-sided is to lose what makes you unique.

    You’re supposed to be weird. So stay that way.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly20th2017 The Dangers of Life Management
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Busyness Life Prayer 1 comments Add comment

    Life management is good. From the early stages of childhood, our parents worked to train us in proper life management. We learned to use the restroom, to brush our teeth, to bathe, how to swim, what deodorant was, and how to limit pieces of candy.

    In college, we entered that interim phase of being adults while still having the care and guidance of our parents close at hand (at least with a phone call). We learned how to maintain a schedule, pace studying, keep a job, and take breaks when needed.

    After college, we sought a career, maintained time for relationships, and learned how to file our taxes.

    All the way through we learned how to manage life as responsible adults. But with that comes a certain set of dangers.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are few things more unfortunate than a forty-year-old who lacks the appropriate maturity. Maturity (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, digital, etc.) is a good thing and should be sought.

    But let me tell you something I’m learning. It is possible, over the course of years and decades, to turn life management (positive) into self-reliance (negative).

    God has been exposing self-reliance in my own life again and again over the past several months. As I’ve been peeling the layers of my heart back one at a time, I have seen a “God, I got this” attitude frequently.

    Here are some things I’ve identified that reveal a life management turned self-reliance:

    1. Equating Lifestyle. The alarm goes off on my phone. I wake up, get ready, follow the command of my calendar with an about face. Out the door I go and into the day’s events. Just as 1 + 1 = 2, so I put one and one together to get the result I want. I work these deeds of the day until I return to my pillow all to wake up again with the same movements. Now that looks like life management. But with the absence of inner dependence on God, in reality, it is self-reliance. That has been the state of my heart.

    2. Prayerlessness. Married to number one above, I can go through various events of the day, the entire day, without ever talking with God about what is going on. Even in key events or significant crisis I can push through, onward and upward, without involving God in prayer.

    3. Joylessness. This is more the outcome of the previous two points. I have recently looked inside and admitted a lack of joy. It makes sense. God designed us and life to be enjoyed with him, not without him. Self-reliance precludes experiencing his presence in life’s events. And without that comes a lack of joy.

    David said, “I have no good apart from you” and “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:1, 11).

    As I put these thoughts together several weeks ago and looked them square in the face I had to admit my fault and change. I did that. Here are two changes that I’ve found helpful so far. Both are related to prayer.

    First, I’m creating a rhythm and mind hook to not turn on my office computer until I have prayed. This is typically a short prayer of resignation but it packs a punch. I find it helps me be more aware of God-reliance at later points in my day.

    Second, a friend pointed me to the idea of “the space between the space.” This has been a much more difficult discipline and rhythm to brew. The idea is to pause and pray as I finish one activity and before I begin the next. Again, this is brief. It also requires that I engage God about my emotions and how I’m doing. For me, it is usually accompanied by a deep breath (and sometimes journaling). It serves as an opportunity for me to be honest with God about how I am feeling, what’s going on in my day and to acknowledge his presence before a next step.

    You may find a different pathway of prayer that leads from self to God-reliance. But I share these thoughts in hopes that they at least stir some thinking and action toward a God-reliant day (and life) for you.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly13th2017 The Wrong Question
    byMikel Berger Tagged Love Service 0 comments Add comment

    The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the more commonly known passages of the Bible. You can search the Internet and pretty easily come up with dozens of recent news stories that reference a “Good Samaritan” that in some way helped out a neighbor.

    Jesus told the parable in Luke 10:25-37 in response to a series of questions asked to him by a lawyer. The lawyer answered the first question himself: "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He knew exactly what the law required of him. He needed to love God and love his neighbor. But Jesus told the lawyer it wasn’t enough for him just to know what to do; he had to actually do it. The lawyer’s response was to ask Jesus who he thinks qualified as the lawyer’s neighbor.

    As Jesus frequently did, he didn’t answer directly but with a story. But even the story doesn’t directly answer the question. Read the passage. Jesus is saying much more than just those not like you are your neighbor, or whoever you come across is your neighbor, or everyone is your neighbor. The parable says all those things, but even more than that it states the lawyer’s question and the attitude that drive it are pointed in the wrong direction.

    The lawyer wants to know about himself. What must he do so that he won’t die? Who is a neighbor as defined in relation to himself? Jesus shows that the Samaritan wasn’t concerned with his own status, his own safety, or his own future comfort. The Samaritan was concerned only with the injured man. He had compassion. Compassion is focused on others. You can’t have compassion for yourself.

    The lawyer could have asked Jesus how to be a better neighbor. How he could be aware of more opportunities to care for others. Maybe even to show him areas in his life that were inhibiting his ability to act on all the knowledge he had.

    It’s fine to question our God. The parable of the Good Samaritan has taught me to ask myself if I’m asking the wrong question though.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly6th2017 Unbearable Pain
    byPaul Briggs Tagged No tags 2 comments Add comment

    It had been building for quite some time, certainly for well over a month. A subtle increasing sense of pressure. Nothing I couldn’t live with, mind you. Then one day the pressure became a dull pain. I could live with that, as well. But it began to concern me. So I reached out for help.

    I gave in and called the dentist. He got me right in. Sat me down in the chair, you know the drill. (Certainly, an erroneous word choice when talking about all things dentistry!) He took a couple of x-rays, but couldn’t see anything obvious. He tapped on the row of teeth in the vicinity of where I was feeling the pain. No obvious culprit. Having found nothing, the dentist sent me home advising me to let him know if I encountered further issues.

    Several days later I was awakened in the middle of the night with a greater sense of pain than I had previously experienced. I reasoned with myself that I had just been to the dentist and he hadn’t found anything. Besides, it was a Saturday night and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to call the dentist until Monday. “Stop being a wimp, just take a few over the counter painkillers and get back to sleep!” The painkillers finally had their desired effect and sleep took over. I repeated this experience for several nights until the pain became so great that I began to get desperate as I contemplated living with pain like this long-term. Eating and drinking were no longer pleasurable. My sleep pattern was erratic at best. It felt like half of my head was falling off much of the time.

    The first thing the next morning I called my dentist. I asked him: “If this was your tooth, what would you be doing?” He told me that he would call the endodontist (dentist specialized in dealing with the soft inner tissue of the teeth). He told me to tell them I had a “hot tooth.” I didn’t waste any time, the call was made immediately and I was told they didn’t have any openings until the following month. I pleaded with the receptionist telling her that I couldn’t wait that long! She asked me to wait while she went to talk to the endodontist. When she came back to the phone, she asked if I could come in that afternoon. I told her I would do anything to be there at that time and thanked her for working me into the schedule that day.

    The endodontist repeated the procedure of sitting me in the chair, x-raying the teeth in the vicinity of the pain and then tapping on those same teeth. This time, however, I nearly hit the ceiling when he tapped on a particular tooth. He asked me if I was ready to do a root canal. I told him that I was ready to do anything that would get me beyond the pain this tooth was causing me. I wanted to be able to sleep again. I wanted to have the ability to enjoy eating again. I wanted to enjoy my coffee in the morning! I didn’t want to have to think so hard about the “little things” of life to avoid the pain they were causing me. Thankfully, when the drill (this time quite literally!) was over I walked out of his office feeling much better than I had when I entered it!

    As I reflected on my recent tooth drama, I realized how the progression (digression might be the better word for it!) of my thinking was similar to how we, as humans, often deal with “the sin that so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1). Rather than “setting it aside” as we are exhorted to do, our initial reaction might be to barely notice it, moving to the point of being able to put up with it until it moves to the point of making us so miserable that we can’t bear it anymore.

    It is no wonder then that the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers:

    See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 12:15-17

    Vigilance (“See to it that…”) in the life of the believer is commanded. Recognizing and receiving the grace of God is essential (this happens by faith). Recognizing and uprooting the “root of bitterness” (which has SO many potential sources) is imperative for a thriving and maturing walk with God.

    1. The initial stages of sin must be recognized and acknowledged, NOT put off or ignored.
    2. There must be a ZERO tolerance policy employed regarding the effects of sin. There must be NO willingness to just “buck up and live with it.”
    3. The root cause of the symptoms of sin must be sought out and eradicated BEFORE the trouble is caused.

    Don’t do with sin what I did with my tooth….wait until the pain becomes unbearable to seek help to find the root cause and deal with it!

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