Psalm 42:5, Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
As Pastor Dick was speaking a couple of weeks ago some thoughts came to my mind. One of the thoughts was about something once said about Helen and I, which we were later told about.
Some college aged Japanese had come to our home for dinner. Helen and our children had met a young lady a few days earlier and she said that she was attempting to find a host family for her cousin who wished to have an American home stay to improve her English. Helen invited Yuki (Yu-ke), her cousin Norie (Nor-E-A) and Yuki’s boyfriend, Yoshi (Yo-she), to join us for dinner so we could discuss the possibility. We had a pleasant time and agreed to host Norie for a few months.
Yuki later told us about their conversation after having left our place. Yuki mentioned she thought that Helen and Les were Christians. Yoshi flatly answered that we were not. Yuki asked him why he thought that and Yoshi replied, “They are too happy”.
I have always considered that statement to be one of the nicest things anyone ever said about us. Still, it is disquieting that Yoshi had previously met enough unhappy or despondent acting Christians that he thought it to be normal.
As Pastor Dick said during his July 10th message, being a Christian is a serious matter; a matter that we need to be mindful of as we go about our daily lives. Still, having accepted Christ into our hearts should be cause to be overjoyed. Knowing Christ is a freedom to wear a smile and warmly interact with others, Christian and non-Christian alike.
We are free to exercise the gifts that the Spirit has placed within us. We are free to ignore those who seem to have ‘the spiritual gift of discouragement’ and still warmly accept them while praying for them to have a change of heart. We are free to act positively while recalling the words of Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consist in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”
I have often thought that one of the joys in Christ comes from exercising the gift that the Spirit has bestowed upon us. The gifts exist to build up, to encourage and to comfort the church. The church is a body of believers, a group of Christ minded people who congregate for the purpose of worship and service. Using the gifts bestowed upon us is a blessing to both ourselves and to others.
Ephesians 2: 19-21,
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Rev. Stan Crews served as an ABC missionary to Mexico during the 1990s. He pastored a church there during a period when their government wasn’t always friendly to Christians or churches.
Stan once spoke of a time that the government sent troops to destroy the church building that he was pastor of. As the bulldozer approached the church building, Stan placed himself between the machine and the building and was shouting, “You cannot destroy the church”. Amidst this chaos, an elderly member of the church walked up to Pastor Stan and said, “But Pastor, you have always told us that WE are the church”. Stan admitted to shaking his head and stepping aside as the troops carried out their orders. He had been reminded that the building was only a meeting place and the church would remain and continue within the hearts of the people.
So what does it mean to say that ‘we are the church’? Many would say that it means that the church is within us and the church building is the structure that we gather in. 1 Timothy 5 describes the church as a people dedicated to reaching out and helping others.
In the Bible, church is always a reference to people and not to a place. The church is a body of believers that live out the Gospel in their words and actions. The church is at its best when the believers step outside the building and take Jesus’ message to those they meet outside the church building.
Whom will you, with the church within you, meet today?
Be the Church!
Today we celebrate its 246th year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That excellent document led to a hard fought struggle to grapple our nation’s freedom from the rule of the King of England. Our forefather’s struggles, which led to their amazing victory, are an accomplishment that created a sense of self-sufficiency that has become a part of our American psyche and character.
As Christians we should ponder the meaning of both freedom and dependence, not independence, through a couple of scriptures.
First consider John 8:31-32.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
If you read further into chapter 8 you will find that the context is about becoming free from being a slave to sin. All have sinned and are deserving of death; that is, separation from God. Jesus changed that, he surrendered himself to reclaim us from eternal separation. We, as eternal living creations, have been rescued, redeemed, through Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus died for me, he died for you, and he died for all who believe in him that we shall enter into God’s eternal kingdom. This is our true freedom; the freedom that will remain with us after we are no longer citizens of this nation and enter into the presence of God.
In John 15:4-5 we learn that we are actually dependent on Christ.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Just as no tomatoes will develop if you remove all of the blossoms from a tomato plant, Christians will not bear fruit if removed from Christ. In order to produce fruit, to be a living functioning part of the body of Christ, Christians need to remain connected to Christ just as the blossom needs to remain attached to the tomato vine in order to bear a tomato. Christians are dependent upon Christ in order to grow and mature. Far too many Christians have detached themselves from the church or from having any connection with a body of believers in a spiritually meaningful and refreshing way. It is only through union with fellow believers that the Fruit of the Spirit may thrive and be productive.
Christ has indeed blessed us with freedom from being a slave to sin. It is a gift that we can never reimburse Him for and we should thank him daily for this gift. To be worthwhile and beneficial to Christ’s instruction to make disciples we must remain forever dependent upon him. To be in Christ is to be dependent and to be dependent is to be free indeed.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
When Steve (not actual name) and his wife married neither of them were Christians. His wife came to know Jesus a few years following their marriage and some difficulties began between them. Enough so that his wife told her grandmother that she was considering divorce. Her grandmother, a devout woman of Christ, told her that she should pray for Steve before making that decision. Although Steve wasn’t happy with the friction that had developed between him and his wife he saw no reason to change how he lived.
Steve was a barber who had his own shop during the time VHS video tape came into existence. Available from his barber shop were VHS tape rentals, most of which Christians would think inappropriate to view.
Time passed and the church that Steve’s wife attended held a revival weekend and she had several times asked Steve to attend the evening gatherings. He resisted but, out of love for her, decided to attend one evening although he intentionally arrived late. He stood at the doorway of the sanctuary, not wanting to enter, and saw that his wife was sitting with the choir behind the man who was speaking. As he stood there he began listening and he felt as though the pastor was looking directly at him, speaking directly to him, and the words began to reach his heart. Being someone who had rarely attended church Steve didn’t know how to respond to what he was experiencing.
While the minister continued to speak Steve began walking down the aisle. He walked past the minister and reached his hand out to his wife. She took his hand and he led her out of the church and to their home. At home he poured out his convicted heart and she led him through the prayer of salvation.
Being a new creation Steve felt that he had more to do. He told his wife he would return shortly and left the house. He went to his work place where he burned all the VHS tapes in the area behind his barber shop.
Following the purge of videos, customers who entered his shop would ask where all the tapes had gone and Steve would tell them he burned them and why he did so. He witnessed to all who entered and it wasn’t long before his customers were no longer returning. With the lack of customers Steve and his wife began discussing where God was leading them. That path led them to Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Steve became an ordained minister. In time the two of them became American Baptist missionaries and served outside the United States.
Steve experienced God in a miraculous way and, through their growth in their faith; the two of them began serving others in previously unexpected ways.
Following Christ isn’t without cost, for Steve it was the loss of his customers and business. But, having gained Christ and following the Holy Spirit’s lead into the ministry, and also having renewed his relationship with his wife, Steve would say that his gain far outweighed any loss that he experienced.