The Real Owner

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18 ESV)

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

There is no doubt that according to the Scriptures, Christ is the Supreme Head of the Church, His Body.  The Church is here defined not as a building, not as a social club, not as a weekly appointment, but as the people of God redeemed by the blood of Christ.  These people have been born again.  They have passed from eternal death to eternal life.  They are now adopted by their Heavenly Father to be part of His family forever.  Everything about them is different.  They are completely transformed, now that Christ has changed them.  They are indeed “new creations” in Christ.

When we fail to define the church in this way, we get into all kinds of trouble when we “do church.”  If we think of the church as a building, those who put up the brick and mortar and those who paid for the brick and mortar see the church as “their church.”  (What then happens when someone else wants to paint the brick and mortar?)  If we think of the church as a social club, those who pay their “dues” expect certain perks to be given to them from the “paid staff,” whom they can fire if they don’t like what they are receiving, because “We pay their salary.”  If they see the church as another weekly appointment, they can cancel the appointment if another more fun and “profitable” use of their time can be found.  After all, their time is their own, and they can choose to do with their time what they choose.

All of these misconceptions about the church flow from a popular concept communicated in our churches today – “ownership”.  We want our people to feel “ownership” in the church so that they become more involved.  There is nothing more destructive than this.  When someone feels like they are the “owner,” they think they can control what they paid for.  They expect a certain return on their investment.  If what they own does not give them what they want and the cost outweighs the benefit, what do they do?  They sell.  Ownership is all about what you pay and what you get in return for your investment.

Is there anything more unbiblical?  I don’t want people to think that the church is theirs – it belongs to Christ!  And if they are part of the true church (the called-out redeemed ones), it is because they belong to Christ!  He is our Head – our owner.  He calls the shots.  It is all about what He gets in return for His investment.  He paid for the church by His shed blood!

Instead of feeling like owners, I want people to feel like they belong to the church because they belong to Christ.  If people feel like they are the owners, for them the church becomes all about power and control and getting a return for their investment.  This is one of the greatest reasons the western church is so unhealthy and unfruitful.  In the west, we base our church structure on a corporate model where we try to make all the people co-owners, with the staff being some kind of controlling partner.  But in this model, I guarantee that there will be a power struggle between investors and staff.  Each wants the church to be what they want it to be.  After all, aren’t they “the owners”?

I repeat – Christ is the Head of His Church!

The Broom Tree Prayer

Elijah just experienced a great spiritual victory.  He challenged 450 prophets of the Canaanite storm god Baal and 400 prophets of Baal’s consort, Asherah to a contest to determine which god is the real God – Baal/Asherah, or YHWH, the God of the Hebrew people.  Baal and Asherah just happened to be the preferred gods of the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  Elijah made the contest simple:

“Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:23-24 ESV)

Elijah let the pagan prophets go first, and even though they spent half the day cutting their bodies and crying out to their gods of sticks and stones, the sticks and stones didn’t answer.  Then it was Elijah’s turn.  He made it even more difficult by dowsing the burnt offering and wood three times with water, until the trench surrounding the altar became a moat.  Elijah didn’t cut himself nor pray half the day, but simply uttered these words of faith:

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV)

You probably know the result:

Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. (1 Kings 18:38-40 ESV)

What a showdown!  What a victory!  After this, Elijah must have been flying high and emboldened to take on all comers wanting to steal God’s glory!  But, no.  The next chapter finds Elijah cowering in fear because Queen Jezebel threatened his life.  Afraid, he runs away and exhausted, sits under a broom tree and asks God if he might die.  “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV)

How can this be?  The mighty prophet is not suicidal.  He knows that only God has the right to end human lives.  Yet, he wants to die.  He feels that in spite of his great ministry success, he is no better than his relatives already in the grave.  He is obviously clinically depressed, which commonly happens after a great emotional victory.

God answers the prayer, just in a different way than Elijah expects.  The first thing that God gives Elijah is the gift of rest.  “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.” (1 Kings 19:5 ESV)

God gives His prophet another gift.  He sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  The angel awakens Elijah and offers him food and water.  Elijah, still being exhausted, then takes another nap before being sent across country to his next ministry assignment.  That angelic lunch empowered him for the next forty days!  Heavenly food is better than a Red Bull and Power Bar.

Notice that at no point does the angel bring a message from God for Elijah to repent of his lack of faith.  He doesn’t scold Elijah and tell him to “buck up.”  He simply lets Elijah get some needed rest and provides some incredible food.  Are you suffering from discouragement and depression?  I have been lately, and there is nothing more exhausting.

If you have ever been depressed, you realize that perhaps the worst part about it is that your friends and loved ones just don’t know how to handle it.  Some, if they are religious, tell you to confess your sins, claim the promises, rebuke the devil and be thankful for your blessings and it will all go away.  To them, depression is just a spiritual problem.  Other friends encourage you to see a psychiatrist and get some medication.  To them, it is just a biochemical, physical problem.  To others, depression comes from emotional and relational wounds, so some sort of therapy is encouraged.  Each of these elements are true.  Depression (and other mental health issues) are caused by each of these things, most often in combination.  Confession, claiming, rebuking, being thankful, meeting physical needs, and talking to a trusted friend or counselor can all help.  But, mental health needs are rarely caused by just one of these things.  We, humans created in the image of God, are a unique blend of the spiritual, emotional and physical.  We cannot separate one from the other, and what impacts our bodies, will impact our souls, which will also impact our spirits (and vice versa).  We cannot compartmentalize these things and truly deal with the problem.  We must deal with such things holistically to see true results.  And this is the value of true Christianity.  Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished on the cross for us to bring us true shalom (wholeness), is the remedy for all we face – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Christians have the true answer for all the things we face, because we know that answer is Jesus.  So, if you are struggling, deal with the spiritual, emotional and physical issues you face.  Come to Jesus for them all!  And sometimes you need to start by taking a nap and having a good meal.

Repent!

The book of Nehemiah chapter 8 holds a beloved passage of Scripture: “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  We sing these words in a chorus, but what do they mean?

Nehemiah is a story of restoration.  God’s people had been exiled because of their sin and unbelief, but now a portion of them have returned to the promised land and were rebuilding.  In chapter 8, the wall around Jerusalem has been rebuilt, but now there needs to be a rebuilding of the people.  The building project brought safety, but it couldn’t change their sinful hearts.  To begin this internal rebuilding, Nehemiah asks Ezra the priest to publicly read the law of God.  Nehemiah makes it clear that before there can rebuilding, there needs to be an acknowledgement that things are broken and the law does just that.

They held the gathering at the “water gate.”  In the Scriptures, water is a picture for the Word of God, which cleanses (John 15:3, Eph. 5:26).  It is also a picture of the Spirit of God, Who gives joyous life which satisfies our parched soul (John 7:37-39).

When they heard the Word, the people mourned over their sins, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  They had just observed the Day of Atonement, and had spent 10 days examining their hearts.  Now the Word confirmed their guilt.

But revival doesn’t end with people feeling guilty.  When they repent (lit. a change of mind that brings a change of heart that brings a change of will that brings a change of life), they are cleansed, and they should rejoice in their forgiveness.  True repentance brings joy and restoration with their God!  The Feast of Tabernacles (a fun, celebratory festival) follows the Day of Atonement.  During the Feast, they lived in “booths” to remind them of their 40 years in the wilderness that resulted in their entering of the Promised Land.  What joy!  Warren Wiersbe said, “Conviction is followed by cleansing, then celebration.”

The Word brings conviction which leads to repentance.  It also brings joy.  “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by your Name (Jer. 15:16).”  “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart (Ps. 19:8).”  “Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart (Ps. 119:111).”  “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands (Ps. 112:1).”  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.”

When we truly repent, we are forgiven!  The past is gone.  The Feast of Tabernacles in the book of Zechariah (14:4, 9, 16-20) is a feast that looks forward to a glorious future when Jesus will return.  That is why the “joy of the Lord is your strength (8:10).”  When your hope is gone, when your joy is weak, think about where you have come from.  Think about where you are going because of Christ.  That gives you the strength for today.  We can live lives of obedience today (8:13-18) because of the joy of the Lord.  The joy of the Lord is your strength!

A New Relationship

As we begin this new year, many are thinking of new jobs, new financial streams of income, and a “new you.”  Many are also thinking of new relationships.  But how many are thinking of a new relationship to God’s law?

I was reading from chapter 5 of Matthew this morning, the first chapter recording the famous “Sermon on the Mount.”  I don’t know how many times I have heard even those who don’t follow Christ say, “I like the teachings of Jesus.  The things He said about love – the things He said on the Sermon in the Mount – those things are beautiful!”  Let me agree.  It is a beautiful sermon.  But if you actually read what Jesus said, it is also terrifying!  After the beatitudes (“blessed are the…”), Jesus tells us that if we aren’t salty enough, we are good for nothing except to be path pavement.  He tells us that unless we are more righteous than even the most religious, we won’t see His Kingdom.  He clarifies that we are guilty of breaking the laws of His Kingdom not only if we murder, but even if we get angry.  The same is true of adultery – we are guilty of breaking this law not only when we commit the physical act, but when we lust in our heart!  He proclaims that most who get divorced and remarried are committing adultery.  He says that if we don’t keep our word, if we hold something against our brother, if we try to retaliate against our enemies, in fact if we don’t LOVE our enemies, we are not living up to the standard of His Kingdom, which is, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  If we honestly read this beautiful sermon, we have to admit, we’re in big trouble!

This sermon is a “kingdom sermon.”  It describes what God’s Kingdom is like, and how His kingdom people are to live.  Right before this chapter, we read, “Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  Jesus talked about His Kingdom, and He demonstrated the power of the Kingdom.  In this context He gave us a sermon about the Kingdom.  It is much like the giving of the law in the Old Testament.  The law describes the character of God and what the character of His covenant people should look like.  Paul accurately teaches that on our own, none of us can live as God’s people.  On our own, with our sinful hearts, none of us can live as Kingdom people.  That is the purpose of the law – to tell us we can’t be good enough on our own (read Galatians or Romans).  What we realize when we see God’s standard is this – we need new hearts, indeed new lives, to truly be Kingdom people who live like the King!  And only Jesus can make us new and give us the circumcised hearts that His people must have.

In other words, you won’t be able to live up to the requirements of the Kingdom unless you have been made a citizen of the Kingdom – unless you have been made into a new creation.  Unless you have been born again.  Only then, after this miraculous transformation, will you have a heart and a life capable of living like the King.  It is then that you have a new relationship with the law and with this message of the Kingdom.  It no longer condemns you as guilty and incapable of living right.  When you are made new, it now describes who God is and who He has made you.